The Burning Blu-ray Review
Directed by Tony Maylam
Written by Peter Lawrence and Bob Weinstein
1981, Region A, 91 minutes, Unrated
Blu-ray released on May 21st, 2013
Brian Matthews as Todd
Leah Ayres as Michelle
Brian Backer as Alfred
Jason Alexander as Dave
Ned Eisenberg as Eddie
Fisher Stevens as Woodstock
Holly Hunter as Sophie
Lou David as Cropsy
There’s a legend about a maniac named “Cropsey” repeated at campgrounds around the east coast. One version of the story goes that he was a caretaker at a local camp, hated and feared by everyone for his cruelty. When he pushed a group of kids too far, they decided to get back at him with a prank that would instill fear in him. It appears the campers got more than they bargained for and created a real monster that now haunts campsites everywhere. The evil man supposedly roams the countryside with a large pair of garden shears looking for anyone foolish enough to be young, naked and of low moral fiber.
What follows is a plotline fairly standard in the endless wave of 1980s horror films: kids go camping and they don’t come home. The usual stereotypes are on display and the rules of pairing sex and death apply. Before anyone dismisses The Burning as another recycled example of “been there, done that”, I encourage sticking around because this film is a bit different. While obviously influenced by Friday the 13th, it has more in common with the sequels in that franchise than the original. The first half hour at the camp looks more like a spin on Meatballs, since director Tony Maylam (Split Second) takes the time to develop his characters before dispatching them. Another nice twist is the absence of a traditional “final girl,” as this movie saves the final moments for the boys.
The Burning has developed a cult following for three reasons. First, the film is awesome. Next, it was caught up in the British “video nasties” scandal (under the Obscene Publications Act) and was banned for its vicious content. Lastly, there is an unbelievably high number of “first time” talent attached to this project on both sides of the camera. The highest profile credits belong to writers/producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, as this is the first Miramax production. The cast features future stars including Jason Alexander (Seinfeld), Ned Eisenberg (Moving Violations), Fisher Stevens (Hackers) and Holly Hunter (Raising Arizona). The movie was edited by Jack Sholder who went on to direct a number of genre pictures including Alone in the Dark, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 and The Hidden. Sharing story credit with the Weinsteins is Brad Grey, who later became chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures. Also of note, musician Rick Wakeman of the band Yes composed the score. The “Cropsey” urban legend has circulated for decades and was the basis for the documentary of the same name in 2009.
The silent star of the picture is the effects work of make-up legend, Tom Savini. The gore is limited to a few brief but memorable sequences, the highlight of which takes place in broad daylight. The year 1981 found the artist at the top of his game, creating one shocking murder-set-piece after another with apparent ease. While much of his efforts ended up the victim of the ratings board censors, poor quality uncut prints began to circulate around the underground video circuit in the early 1990s. Eventually, an authorized DVD came out and introduced the title to new audiences in for that rare treat, a horror film that lives up to the hype.
The Burning was released in the middle of the golden age of slasher movies. Eleven titles competed for the same audience in 1981 and despite the success of these films, the oversaturation of the market quickly killed the subgenre as viewers moved on to different forms of cinematic entertainment. The Burning contains a lot of familiar elements, not because it ripped off every other film that came down the pike, but rather that it set the tone for several slashers that followed. The film gets lumped into a mix of those that are similar, but if you give it a chance, you’ll see that in reality it’s a far cry better than most of its counterparts.
Video and Audio:
The Burning debuts on Blu-ray with a stunning new transfer that really delivers. The picture is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with nice color saturation, natural looking skin tones, solid black levels and plenty of fine detail. There are some moments of minor print damage, but nothing terrible.
The film receives only a single DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that is surprisingly effective. Dialogue remains clear are free from distortion, but is tested during some of the sequences filled with screaming. English subtitles are also provided.
Anyone owning the previous DVD release will be happy to know that all of the special features have been ported over to this new edition and Shout! Factory continues to impress by commissioning an additional set of bonus materials.
A pair of informative and highly entertaining audio commentaries starts things off in the right direction. The first features a conversation recorded for the earlier DVD with director Tony Maylam and film journalist Alan Jones. This discussion includes numerous anecdotes about the origins of the film, working with the Weinstein brothers, principal photography and the critic’s reaction to the finished product. Maylam is a good storyteller and Jones coaxes a lot out of him without resulting to merely narrating the on-screen action.
The second commentary, newly recorded for this edition, is a laid-back piece with actresses Shelley Bruce and Bonnie Deroski. The two are filled with energy and share a lot of fond memories about their experiences working on this film. There are a few moments where the conversation stalls, but it is nice to hear their take on the proceedings.
Blood ‘n Fire Memories: A Detailed Look at the Creation of the Film’s Make-Up Effects with Tom Savini (18 minutes) is another hold over from the earlier release, but is easily the strongest supplement on the disc. Savini is instantly likeable and he shares his secrets on creating the many elaborate gags that became the real stars of the film.
Slash & Cut: An Interview with Editor Jack Sholder (12 minutes) is a self-explanatory featurette that details the challenges of assembling the film, particularly the infamous “raft scene”.
Cropsy Speaks: An Interview with Actor Lou David (11 minutes) invites audiences to sit back and enjoy the company of the creepy Cropsy maniac in this informative segment.
Summer Camp Nightmares: An Interview with Actress Leah Ayres (7 minutes) is a nice segment with The Burning’s female lead, in which she discusses her role in the film and working with various members of the cast and crew.
Next up is a collection of behind-the-scenes footage (8 minutes) courtesy of Tom Savini, whom fans should thank for his early adoption of the video camera.
There are two stills galleries, one focusing on the make-up effects and the other on poster art and marketing.
The theatrical trailer rounds out the special features.
A DVD copy of the film is also provided.