This is cheating perhaps, because this week’s Death Of The Week features five deaths…though virtually all at once. Now Halloween and perhaps even more, Friday The 13th, inspired a wave of slasher movies during the early 80’s. The Burning is one of the best of these films. In terms of content, it doesn’t really add anything new, and for much of its length could masquerade as one of the Friday The 13th sequels quite easily [though it was supposedly written before, something I don’t believe for a minute!]. A summer camp, teenagers out in the woods, a vengeful maniac called Crospy who was horribly disfigured from burning [hence the title] and now wants to kill all teenagers etc; it’s all very familiar. The film somehow works very well though, creating a decent atmosphere, building up some decent suspense and delivering some good deaths. For me, there’s something about the rough and ready feel of these older slashers which makes me enjoy them more than most of the better acted, slicker efforts that many years later followed in the wake of Scream, whose success virtually led to a second wave of slashers.
Sadly The Burning had some of its gruesome effects removed by the US censors, who around the time of its release started to clamp down on this kind of movie [Friday The 13th Part 2 was even more mutilated, far more so than any of Jason Voorhees’s victims!]. Some good stuff remains though, in particular during the film’s highlight, a death scene which, despite being obviously built up to, totally took me by surprise when I first saw the film decades ago on video, in a version that actually removed a few gory shots. The fact that it still shocked me is tantamont to its effectiveness. It has a lengthy build up which seems to go on forever, as five of the teenagers are in a raft looking for a girl who has recently disapeared. They see her raft, and row towards it. Director Tony Maylam expertly handles the build up, often putting the increasingly nearer stationary raft and the teenagers’s raft in the same shot. You know something is going to happen and then……
It does and you’ll still probably jump. We see Cropsy, shot from low down, rise up from the still raft for just a second, his sheers raised, then after that we get a series of quick edits as all five teenagers are dispatched. There’s actually isn’t that much gore; yes, you see some slashing and a horrendous finger snipping, but the majority of the shots show other things like the sheers slamming into the wood and the victim’s covered in blood. I’m not saying that this scene is as brilliant as the Psycho shower scene, but Maylam certainly knows that you don’t need neccessarily need to show much gore to shock an audience and has Hitchcock’s ability to make you think you’ve seen more than you actually have. If there are gruesome shots missing due to those pesky censors, I don’t think they would make the scene much better. It’s a classic slasher scene from the Golden Age of the sub-genre.
Check out Matt Wavish’s review of The Burning here http://horrorcultfilms.co.uk/2011/09/the-burning-aka-cropsy-1981/