The Burning (1981) **1/2
D: Tony Maylam
C: Brian Matthews, Lou David, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Fisher Stevens, Jason Alexander, Ned Eisenberg, Carolyn Houlihan, Holly Hunter
Plot Synopsis: A former summer camp caretaker, horribly burned from a prank gone wrong, lurks around an upstate New York summer camp bent on killing the teenagers responsible for his disfigurement.
Review: With its story involving a camp ground's keeper who's horribly disfigured after a prank gone awry and that same ground's keeper returning to the same aforementioned camp to exact bloody revenge, The Burning was dismissed by critics & audiences alike as a ripoff of Friday the 13th. Who can blame them? The base story is almost a carbon copy: an employee, at a camp, executing bloody revenge due to a series of tragic events.
With that said, to simply dismiss a movie, because the premise is overtly familiar is a disservice to films in general. You could say that Badlands was influenced by Bonnie and Clyde, that Indiana Jones aped the serials of yesteryear. Yet, Badlands & Indiana Jones are considered classics. My point is, it's what a filmmaker does with the premise that's going to make it or break it. So how does The Burning measure up?
It begins well. The aforementioned prank gets things off to an attention grabbing start. The faces that populate the camp are played by an agreeable lot. There's the usual hi-jinks and T&A. There's nothing remarkable about these scenes, but they're entertaining none the less.
When it comes to the villain, their overall appearance & the makeup effects, create a distinct impression. The weapon of choice, a pair of over exaggerated garden sheers, provides a memorable visual effect. There's some suspenseful POV sequences of the villain stalking victims to be. The carnage is appropriately gory with a scene taking place on a raft, in which campers are dispatched of (including a young Holly Hunter & Fisher Stevens), deservedly becoming a stand out in 80's horror. This is well realized, in graphic detail, by special effects artist Tom Savini.
However, right when things should be getting good, it peters out with an unsatisfactory finale. The action is shifted from the camp setting to an abandoned mine. The first thought that came to mind is WHY?!? Why have a film that involves a camp employee, seeking revenge, close out in a mine? Even if I suspended my sense of logic, reason or cohesion, the transition to the finale is poorly staged & handled. There's no sense of tension or unease, despite the fact that it takes place in a setting that lends itself to that. As if that wasn't enough, the ending lacks grandeur. It feels flat and anti-climatic, despite some striking cinematography, effects galore, a helicopter zooming about and even flamethrowers!!!
Despite a climax that fails to deliver, The Burning is a solid addition to the slasher genre - nothing more, nothing less. [R] 91 minutes.
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