It’s a hot summer night in Camp Blackfoot, where a group of teenagers are preparing to pull the prank of the year on the camp’s caretaker, Cropsy. We learn that he’s obviously a bully who deserves a lesson, and the kids also learn in the hard way that a prank with matches and fire isn’t the best combination. They sneak into his cabin, planning to scare him with a rotten skull full of maggots and candles in its eye sockets. It gets from bad to worse when the fire gets to Cropsy himself, and he runs out in full flame, with the kids being helpless witnesses as he stumbles down to the lake. Five years later, he is released from the hospital, completely deformed and disfigured by the burning, and of course, hungry for revenge.
So this is the premise of “The Burning”, the film which is best known for kick-starting the movie career for the Weinstein brothers, Harvey and Bob. Having founded the company Miramax Films in 1979, with only two obscure films in its catalog, the young brothers were desperate for a hit. And having realized that making a slasher is quick and cheap and could be big business like both “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and John Carpenter’s “Halloween”, and other slashers who came and went. So, why not. Harvey Weinstein was inspired by Cropsey, a boogeyman-urban legend from New York that was a popular campfire story, but ended up using only the name for the movie’s killer. And yeah, we all know at this point who turned out to be the real boogeyman here, but that’s a whole different story. Brother Bob was involved in writing the script and their mommy Mira worked as a consultant. So this was more or less a family project. The Brit Tony Maylan, who previously made documentaries, was set to direct while Jack Sholder worked as the editor, who later made “Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge”. Yes-keyboardist Rick Wakeman gives a great soundtrack, and Tom Savini stands for the effects. But the big star here is probably a young Jason “George Costanza” Alexander in one of the roles. Here he is 22, slim and has hair. Would you imagine. This was also his debut role. And no, we don’t get a twist where Cropsy is actually Cosmo Kramer, even though it’s a hilarious thought. And enough Seinfeld references for today.
With some great talents in place with lots of potential, it’s too bad that the film itself is nothing much. After the opening sequence and a quick, gritty scene where Cropsy, dressed as a giallo killer, visits a brothel and find his weapon of choice with which he kills one of the whores before he heads to the camp, the film is pretty dull and boring. There’s too far between the interesting moments, and most of the second act is just lots of filler scenes where the kids bathe, smoke, and mostly do nothing to keep the interest up. No build up, no tension, just a bunch of random scenes that goes nowhere. And visually this looks more like a cheap teen comedy, where atmosphere is nowhere to be found. And the night scenes in the woods that were shot day-for-night…why even bother? This is just lazy and uninspiring. Yawn. Where did the budget go? Who knows. So, where’s all the killing scenes? In the last twenty minutes, if you’re patient. And some of them are brutal and juicy, at least.
And if you want to know more about the original “Cropsey”, watch the documentary “Cropsey” from 2009.
Director: Tony Maylam
Country & year: USA, 1981
Actors: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Jason Alexander, Ned Eisenberg, Carrick Glenn, Carolyn Houlihan, Fisher Stevens, Lou David