The Burning (AKA Cropsy) (1981)
First released: 1981
Director: Tony Maylam
Current UK Status: Available uncut on Region 2, although there are rumours the Region 1 version is the full, uncut version.
The Burning was first released in 1981 with a mere ten seconds of BBFC cuts. Thorn EMI who first released the film tried to release it uncut, and then after the cuts were made, tried to replace the cut rental video’s with the uncut version. Even after the BBFC cuts, most rental stores stuck with the uncut version of the film. The uncut version of The Burning was later removed from shelves as a Video Nasty in October 1983, and remained on the list until 1992 when it was re-released by Thorn EMI with 19 seconds of cuts. In 2002 Vipco got hold of distributing the film again, and this time had it passed 18 uncut, and later in 2008 Blackhorse also released the film, on DVD uncut. The last version released in the US was thanks to MGM and with an MPAA rating of ‘R’, this too is uncut, although there are rumours that the MGM region one version is the true uncut version.
Out of all the Video Nasty’s covered so far, director Tony Maylam is the one who doesn’t quite fit the bill to have made a Video Nasty. More interested in sports than horror films at the beginning of his career, Tony started his career as an actor and TV presenter for shows like ZDF Bermuda (The Tony Maylam Show) and in the UK he presented Sportsweek. After this he went on to direct such films as Cup Glory (1972) with Richard Attenborough, a film which spanned 100 years of the World Cup, and White Rock starring James Coburn which featured a best-selling soundtrack by Rick Wakeman, the film was so popular it stayed in UK cinemas for six months! Maylam also directed a documentary called Graham, based on Graham Hill and featuring Paul Newman, this was one of the highest rated documentaries on British TV in the 70’s. Hardly the basis for a film like The Burning, but a particular film got Maylam involved with the Weinsteins, and this led to the Burning being made. Maylam directed a film about legendary group Genesis called Genesis in Concert (1976), and the Weinsteins bought the rights for US distribution along with White Rock at the same time, and released them both together under the name Sensasia. The three then moved on to a whole new genre, and The Burning was born, with the Weinsteins producing for the first time in their careers, and Maylam approaching horror for the first time in his. Clearly, for the Weinsteins anyway, the horror genre stuck! As for Maylam, how the guy could make such a brilliant film like The Burning and then decide to venture away from in, in a way.
After a couple of TV movies and a documentary, it was over ten years later that Maylam returned to feature films, this time tackling sci-fi in the classic film Split Second. Starring Rutger Hauer, the film is one of the finest of the genre for that decade in particular, and once again, after this Maylam left sci-fi behind and moved on to documentaries again. Once again, he left the feature films for close to twenty years this time, and then made a comeback with the dark thriller Journal of a Contract Killer which won the Grand Jury Prize at the New York International Independent Film Festival in 2008. It would seem that Maylam is skilled in all genres, but it is the Burning we are here to talk about, and what a film it is…
Many people say that The Burning is a rip off of the Friday the 13th movies; however, producer and writer Harvey Weinstein claims to have written the film long before Jason and his Mother stalked Camp Crystal Lake. Whoever got there first, it doesn’t matter, as for me The Burning is one of the finest examples of not only 80’s horror and the whole Video Nasty shenanigans, but of horror in general. The Burning is everything classic horror should be, sure we’ve moved on now, but back in those days a simple campfire story, some half naked girls and a killer on the loose was all you needed (come to think of it, we haven’t moved on!) The killer in this film is based on a real life campfire tale of terror about a nasty old fella named Cropsy. There is actually a documentary about the Cropsy myth which was highly rated by one of our writers, and you can click here to view his feelings. In The Burning, Cropsy is a strange little man who spends his days cleaning up Summer Camp trouble makers mess. An odd chap, and one year a group of teens decide to play a little practical joke on the poor defenceless janitor. They leave a frightening skull by his bedside with candles in its eyes, and wait outside his shack for the sleeping Cropsy to wake up and see a horrific image looking at him. He wakes up, but in blind panic kicks the skull over and the candles set fire to his bed, and then his shack, burning poor old Cropsy with it. The teens look on, stunned and scared as Cropsy burns and runs down to the lake. In a brilliant moment of error on the filmmaker’s part, you can clearly see the actor’s crash helmet, shielding his head from the flames! Anyway, he lands in the lake, stops the flames and ends up in hospital, for five years and is sadly disfigured for life.
At the hospital we meet two chaps on duty, a back fella rumoured to be Laurence Fishburne (it is not!) and a new guy. Taking the new guy to Cropsy’s bedside, the black nurse states “wanna be a Doctor? This is where it’s at man. Never seen nothing like this in ten years!” God how I miss the simple conversations of 80’s horror, you could overact and it would look genius. Overact these days and they’ll shoot you down for it! Anyway, at the bedside Cropsy’s burnt hand fly’s out, grabs the back man’s arm and all he can do is scream his head off while the new guy runs away and classic 80’s high pitch music bellows out the speakers! The stage is now set, and soon Cropsy leaves hospital with voices echoing in his head of Dr’s advice not to take revenge. The advice doesn’t work, and the maniac is hell bent on getting back to Summer Camp and killing whatever poor little bastards are there to enjoy their Summer, the selfish bugger! However, he must make one quick stop off first, to see a hooker. Nothing wrong with that, the poor old fella hasn’t had sex in over five years, but he doesn’t want sex, he wants to kill and the first kill of the film arrives! In classic horror style, the lights are turned off, a storm brews outside, lightning, thunder, a confused, dipsy hooker, and a big pair of scissors! Hurrah!
Now we know his intentions, director Maylam lightens the mood with the camera suddenly panning to daylight, Summer Camp and a great big close up of some girls ass in tight little knickers! Perfect, and we now go through the process of meeting our group of victims as they happily play rounders, laughing, joking, tits bouncing as they run and sexual perversions everywhere. If a film is to work, then you have to like your cast, and this bunch are good fun, and very likeable. Some of the 80’s horrors, and indeed horrors ever since, suffer from bad casting choices, but the cast assembled here are perfect. It is even more fun looking at each one and trying to figure out where you have seen them since. I do not want to go into detail and spoil your enjoyment of guessing, so I will leave the guessing game up to you! We have the strong group of girls, including the one everyone wants to be with, and in the guys they are mainly jokers, with Glazer the bully who desperately wants the girl everyone else wants, and there is even a weird chap who can’t seem to get on with the rest. He soon joins a group of lads who spend their days wishing for sex, reading porn mags and generally pissing off Glazer. This cast are fun to be around, and considering the un-written rule of 80’s horror which states after your opening kill you cannot start killing until at least an hour in, this lot pass the time nicely.
Playing by every rule in the book of horror films, we are even treated to a classic shower scene, and it is a fine shower scene too. The camera teases with the “will it or won’t it reveal” of the young girls chest area, and as if it heard the viewer, the camera reveals everything in all its glory. Perfectly timed for maximum effect. In fact, this reminds me of how pervy the camera was when we first meet the youngsters, following the girls around, moving up and down and using slow motion, all harmless, good fun. As the story moves on, Cropsy ‘crops’ up during a campfire story, and the terrified teens buy into the story, unaware that a real life Cropsy is stalking the woods, waiting for his chance to strike. He came close earlier, as the camera takes on a brilliant use of POV were we become Cropsy’s eyes as he attempts to plunge his garden sheers into an unsuspecting girl. The garden sheers were so heavy that many actors struggled to lift them in a way the director wanted, resulting in the director himself having to do the heavy work! And so that we know we are in the killers point of view, the edges of the screen were blurred, a technique created by wiping Vaseline on the camera lens!
You can pretty much guess where the film goes, and Cropsy does eventually get his first kill 50 minutes in. The kill is brief, but nasty, but it is probably the later boat massacre which gained the film its notoriety. Garden sheers are plunged into throats and chests with blood splattering everywhere! In one scene, you can clearly see the sheers have been shaped to fit the person they are killing, and in another blood squirts out before the sheer even make contact, but these are mistakes which make old horrors so great. Back then they didn’t have CGI, and some of the creations with makeup effects were incredible, and any mistakes just added to the authenticity. The Burning leads to a satisfying, if messy climax which was originally intended to be filmed in a cave, however the cave was filled with bats and recently collapsed, so actors were less than keen to go in to shoot a climax for a horror. The resulting end battle is great, and offers up yet more violence, and ends on an epic scale that really fits the film. Man, back then horror really knew how to end it all, usually with an over the top scene which lead into the credits and carried the credits which, incidentally, were always shorter. If you had a film with a running time of, sat, 92 minutes, you could bet your ass that 91 minutes of that running time would be the film, not 87 minutes and 5 minutes of bloody credits!
The Burning is a masterpiece of 80’s slasher horror, it showcases everything we loved about horror back then, and everything we love about horror now, it’s influences (rightly or wrongly so) can be seen in every slasher you see today, and pretty much every horror involving a bunch of youngsters getting killed off one by one. You could argue the film owes a huge debt to films like Friday the 13th, but then horror likes to take influences from other horrors. The Burning, influenced or not, is a brilliant, masterful piece of horror filmmaking that deserves its place amongst the ranks of the best of what the genre has to offer. This is quality horror, made for horror fans and it takes no prisoners. It knows where to draw the line, and it knows how to step over it, it plays by the rules, and every so often, breaks those rules, The Burning is, essentially, a must own for every horror fan!
Did The Burning deserve to be on the Video Nasty’s List? No chance, some brutal deaths but they never crossed the line of being too explicit.