Directed By: Tony Maylam
Starring: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer
Tag line: "If you go down to the woods today... Watch out for Cropsy!"
Trivia: The shot of Cropsy's legs kicking wildly in the fire are actually those of make-up artist Tom Savini
1981’s The Burning is a trivia lover’s delight. Not only did it mark the big screen debuts of Holly Hunter (Raising Arizona, The Piano), Jason Alexander (George from Seinfeld) and Fisher Stevens (Short Circuit), but it was written (at least in part) and produced by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who would go on to found Miramax pictures and, over the course of a few decades, haul in a number of Academy Awards.
Oh, and The Burning is also one of the best ‘80s slashers out there. Don’t want to forget that!
Some of the kids at Camp Blackfoot have had enough of the site’s miserable caretaker, Cropsy (Lou David). So, one evening, they decide to play a practical joke on him, only things go very wrong and Cropsy ends up in the emergency room with burns covering most of his body. After five years, Cropsy, still badly deformed, is finally released from the hospital, and, wielding a pair of garden shears, takes his revenge against the current crop of teens inhabiting Camp Blackfoot.
With its story of a killer stalking young adults at a campsite, The Burning was obviously designed to cash in on the success of 1980’s Friday the 13th. Yet the movie ends up being so much more than your typical, run-of-the-mill rip-off. For one, the opening scene, where we witness first-hand the burning of Cropsy, was executed brilliantly (the sight of Cropsy engulfed in flames is one of the film’s strongest images). Next, the collection of “kids” (many of whom look well over 20, but what are you gonna do?) the filmmakers assembled proved to be much more than generic slasher victims. Dave, played by Jason Alexander is a precursor of Seinfeld’s George Costanza, and steals nearly every scene he’s in. Brain Backer is solid as Alfred, the awkward camper who spends most of the movie running for his life, and Larry Joshua’s Glazer is the perfect bully, a guy you can’t wait to see the killer get his hands on.
The Burning has all this, and Tim Savini to boot. An expert at make-up and special effects, Savini rejected an offer from Friday the 13th, Part 2 to make The Burning instead, and his handiwork is on full display in the film’s most famous sequence, where Cropsy attacks five campers as they float down the river on a makeshift raft (one poor teen even loses a few fingers in the melee).
Featuring a number of talented people at the start of their careers, and a make-up artist who was already a master of his craft, The Burning simply had too much going for it to be just another knock-off.