The plot of The Burning isn't all that original. Nor are the performances particularly amazing. The direction is mediocre and the sets are unoriginal - while the filmmakers claim they had the idea before Sean Cunningham made Friday The 13th, the film still feels like a rip-off. So why does this little slice and dice opus from 1981 hold such a special place in the hearts of so many genre fans?
The story begins when Cropsy (Lou David), the janitor at a summer camp that oddly resembles Camp Crystal Lake, is severely burned by some of the campers when their prank goes horribly wrong (on a trivial note, those who pay close attention will notice that the stuntman on fire in this scene is noticeably wearing a big helmet). The janitor eventually receives a whole lot of treatment at the hospital and is released back into the general population, but he's scarred for life and just isn't really too normal anymore.
A few years later a new batch of kids showa up at the camp for the summer. The camp counselor's are all randy and promiscuous and most of the kids are dopey and annoying but nobody, save for Todd (soap opera star Brian Matthews), had anything to do with the burning years back. Sadly, the crispy janitor returns and goes on a pretty rampant killing spree which of course, ends up back at the camp that caused him so much distress in the first place. Initially the only one who figures this is really happening is a quirky kid named Alfred (Brian Backer of Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol!) but once the bodies start piling up it doesn't take long before the others realize that Alfred is right. Soon a whole new generation of kids are going to learn the hard way that you shouldn't burn janitors in while they sleep or they'll return and chop off somebody else's fingers with a pair of garden sheers.
As stated, The Burning isn't terribly unique and the script is fairly clichéd but what does make the film work are the gore effects by Tom Savini who really delivers the goods this time out. Campers are chopped up and wasted in all sorts of creative ways and there is no shortage of onscreen carnage to keep the gore-hounds happy (highlighter by a sheers through the throat and into a tree scene that still packs a punch). In the film's most infamous moment, five separate teens on raft are killed in under a minute. The film was subject to quite a few cuts over the years and, thankfully, MGM's previous special edition DVD and now Scream Factory's Blu-ray special edition present the film intact and uncut, just as it should be.
In addition to the gore, the film also marks the acting debuts of Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame, who oddly enough, plays a character that almost resembles a young George Costanza not only in looks but in personality as well. Holly Hunter also makes her debut here, but if you blink you'll miss her as she's only in it briefly. Harvey and Bob Weinstein got their start on this one as well, and as we all know, they would go on to inflict much evil upon the cinematic world and start Miramax. Harvey co-wrote the film as well as co-produced. Rick Wakeman, of Yes fame, provides a typically eighties sounding synth-rock score to complete the package nicely.The Blu-ray:
Scream Factory offers up The Burning in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer in 1.85.1 widescreen and overall the movie looks very good here on Blu-ray. Color reproduction looks dead on and the image is, aside from a few specks here and there, surprisingly crisp and clear. Black levels are good, detail is generally strong and frequently impressive while texture is also considerably improved over past DVD releases as well. There are no obvious compression artifacts nor is there any obvious edge enhancement.Sound:
The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono Master Audio mix with closed captioning provided in English. Audio quality is quite good here for ran older low budget slasher movie. Dialogue is perfectly easy to understand, the score sounds great, and there are no issues with hiss or distortion. Clarity and depth are improved but nothing has been done here to make this sound like something it's not - no weird remixing, just a rock solid 2.0 mix that makes The Burning sound like The Burning should sound.Extras:
Carried over from the previous MGM DVD is a commentary track from director Tony Maylam, who is the first to admit that this film isn't reinventing the wheel. Moderated by author Alan Jones, this is a pretty solid discussion that covers the origins of the film without talking down to the listener or treating the movie like a joke. Maylam covers casting details, who did what as far as the script is concerned, and what it was like shooting on location. New to the disc is a second commentary track, this time featuring stars Shelley Bruce and Bonnie Deroski moderated by Edwin Samueslon. It's a solid track with both actresses giving their share of memories in regards to the shoot and what was expected of them on set. They discuss how they go along with their co-stars, some of the more intense scenes in the film and what it was like working with Savini and the crew. Both tracks are well paced and informative.
Aside from that, we also get a featurette carried over from that same MGM DVD entitled Blood 'N' Fire Memories which is a fun on camera chat with Tom Savini who shares with us his memories of the time he spend on location in North Tonawonda, NY. There's some great behind the scenes footage here showing how many of the effects were realized and Savini has got a few genuinely cool stories to tell this time around and he does so with a nice sense of humor. A new featurette entitled Slash & Cut features editor Jack Sholder, who notes that he wasn't particularly interested in horror movies around the time that this picture came out but that after cutting trailers for New Line, he wound up working on this picture. He also notes, not surprisingly to anyone who has seen the movie, that the infamous raft scene was the toughest part of the movie to put together from an editing standpoint. Also new is Cropsy Speaks!, which is an interview with Lou David ,the man who played the seemingly unstoppable killing machine in the movie. He talks about what he did on camera as opposed to what was done by Savini during the more effects intensive scenes and generally looks back on the movie with some obvious fondness, despite the fact that he notes he wishes his character had more depth and more of a story. Also new to this release is Summer Camp Nightmares, which is an interview with Leah Ayres. She shares fond memories of the cast and crew and notes that she really enjoyed working with Maylem on the picture. The featurettes are slick, well put together and nicely edited.
Some Behind The Scenes Footage is also found here, which is just under eight minutes of footage shot on a camcorder during the production of the film showcasing Savini's effects and related testing work. Rounding out the extras are the original theatrical trailer (which had to be the inspiration for the Don't! trailer that played during Grindhouse!), a Make-Up And Effects Still Gallery, a Poster And Still Gallery, a PDF version of the original screenplay accessible via DVD-Rom, some static menus and chapter stops. As this is a Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack we also get a standard definition version and as seems to be the norm with Scream Factory releases, the discs come packaged in a slick slipcover and the insert has some nice reversible artwork with the newly commissioned cover art on one side and original poster art on the flip side.Final Thoughts:
The Burning won't set the world on fire with its originality or attempts to take the horror movie into new territory but it is an entertaining slasher that delivers exactly what you'd want from a picture of this kind. Scream Factory's brings this grisly little slice of B horror to Blu-ray in grand style with a nice transfer and a solid smattering of extra features. Recommended.