Jarv’s Schlock Vault: The Burning
Man, this guy is so burned, he’s cooked! A fucking Big Mac, overdone!
Jarv’s Rating: A pretty solid 2 Changs out of 4. One of the better Friday 13th clones out there, but in the end, The Burning hardly counts as essential. Unless you’re some sort of weird Holly Hunter/ Tom Savini completist.
The Video Nasty list made not a jot of sense. On one hand there were some truly despicable films banned (such as Cannibal Holocaust) and on the other some bona fides classics were locked away (the Exorcist). In between these two poles were a whole lot of shitty Italian horror, some American exploitation and the odd completely unremarkable slasher film by numbers. The Burning, a 1981 rip off of Friday 13th that’s so blatant it could quite easily be called “Saturday 14th”, is one of this group. I’m at a bit of a loss as to what the ban is for. Sure, there’s some nudity and the odd messy killing, but there’s nothing in it that would merit a ban- it’s just standard slasher fare.
I first came across this film when the censor unbunched his panties and started allowing the video nasties to be released. The Burning was one of the first off the blocks, and that can only be because of the presence of a very young Holly Hunter. Needless to say, I sat down, watched it and was left with the overwhelming feeling of “meh”. It isn’t a bad film, really, and compared to almost all the Friday rip-offs and sequels out there it stands up really well, but there’s nothing in it that you’d say was especially remarkable. Anyway, having seen it, I then promptly forgot about it until recently. Giving it a whirl this time, I’m actually astonished to notice that my feelings on it haven’t changed at all in the interim 15 years. Not one iota, and I honestly think that’s down to the fact that what you see here really is what you get. It feels exactly like a Friday 13th copy, because it is a Friday 13th copy. There’s nothing really to add to that.
The Burning opens with its strongest scene. Set a few years before the main action of the film, a group of punks on camp are playing a “prank” on an ornery and grumpy caretaker. Inevitably the prank goes horribly awry, and the poor bastard is lit up like the 5th of November. He’s then invalided out to hospital, and the boys responsible, I presume, are sent home from camp and made to sit on the naughty step. Fast forward a few years, and our now hideously deformed caretaker is, and arguably completely justifiably, mightily pissed off and possessed with the urge to kill horny teenagers at camp. The remaining run time is the teenagers shagging, smoking weed and being slaughtered messily with garden shears before he’s eventually overcome.
There’s not a lot of point me going in to more detail with the plot of this film because it is so totally run of the mill, and the characters are so generic. The “hero” for want of a better expression is a counsellor, who coincidentally happened to be one of the boys in on the prank. The rest of the characters are the exact stereotypes you’d expect to see: slutty chicks, misogynist jocks, nerdy kids that don’t really belong at camp etc. Therefore, if you’ve seen one of these films, you’ve seen all of them, and do you really give a monkey’s about the characters? I don’t and for me, these films have to do something truly exceptional with them to make them stand out in any way- otherwise they’re just static. Sleepaway Camp and particularly Sleepaway Camp 2 did manage it, but that was based on a twisted-like-a-corkscrew premise, and the unique nature of the killer in those films elevated the material higher than it would otherwise have done. Here, the killer may as well be called Jason Vorhees. (Actually, I can’t remember his name at all- looking at IMDB, though, it’s “Cropsy”).
The acting is, again, serviceable. Brian Matthews is OK as Todd, our leading man. He doesn’t really put a foot wrong, and that’s all you can really say about him, as the character is the epitome of single dimensional writing. Jason Alexander (who went on to Seinfeld) is on reasonable form, but Holly Hunter (the other actress that went on to greater things) barely registers, as the character is barely in the film. Aside from that, the female shear-fodder (Leah Ayres and Carolyn Houlihan and Carrick Glenn) show a commendable dedication to getting naked at the drop of a hat and Larry Joshua is mildly amusing as boneheaded jock Glazer.
So, reasons to watch? Well, there are a few. Firstly, the kills are fucking messy (particularly the raft scene, which is, well, horrible), so there’s plenty there for gorehounds. Cropsy’s weapon of choice is a pair of rusty garden shears, and he’s not afraid to lop off fingers, slash necks and generally make as much mess as he can. He’s a right mucky bastard, and to be fair to the film, the gore effects by Tom Savini are pretty effective for the most part (the only exception is Cropsy’s actual face, which is clearly rubber).
Secondly, there is an awful lot of nudity here. In fact, to quote Porky’s there’s enough wool on display to knit a jumper. There is also, so consider yourselves warned, the most horrifying arse-shot in history (thank you Fisher Stevens), an arse-shot that manages to be more scarring than any amount of severed carotid arteries and the like. Yikes.
Thirdly, the score was done by one Rick Wakeman. Now, Rick may well be one of the biggest tossers on the planet, and Yes were indeed a prog rock abomination that deserve to rot in the fires of hell for inflicting 45 minute keyboard solos on the world, but his electro-type noodlings that make up the score for this film completely and utterly outclass the strings used in Friday 13th. So well done there.
Nevertheless, I’m completely ambivalent to it. I can’t summon up any real enthusiasm, and I can’t summon up any real hatred. It’s just there and it’s just alright, and I’m sure that this is a direct effect of the writing (one H. Weinstein is credited). It’s very much a slasher by numbers, a slightly average slasher by numbers, but if you’ve seen one of these, then you’ve seen all of them. If there was something, anything, to distinguish the characters from the usual archetypes of the genre, then I’d probably give more of a shit as the score and makeup are really, really quite good.
Overall, do I recommend this? I certainly recommend it more than the original Friday 13th, so kudos there, but I do have to say that the answer is no, not really. It’s OK, and mildly entertaining, and the effects are messy enough. It’s not po-faced but at the same time it lacks a sense of fun, but is simply not scary at any point. What I’m trying and failing to get across is that if I were to go out of my way to find a totally run of the mill slasher film, then I do have to say that this is probably the quintessential example. The Burning is not bad, but at the end of the day, probably not really worth it.
Until next time,