Shear Excellence – The Burning (Blu-Ray Review)


I recently read an article which stated “Only film hipsters think The Burning is better than Friday the 13th” What an odd statement to make. The idea that having an opinion against the grain somehow makes you a “film hipster”. Well, now you can find out for yourself where your Hipster-level stands as, after years of fighting to bag the rights, Arrow Video have released this notorious 1981 summer-camp slasher on Blu-Ray.

The Burning, directed by relative unknown Tony Maylam, has a sordid history with the UK. The movie landed on the governments hysterical “Video Nasty” list in the 1980s, before ultimately being released on video, and later DVD, in a form as butchered as one of the film’s hapless victims. The Burning is the grim and gory tale of Cropsy (Lou David) a summer camp caretaker who is disfigured beyond all recognition by a (frankly lame) prank gone wrong. After suffering years of unsuccessful physical and psychological therapy, Cropsy leaves the hospital and heads back to camp, garden shears in hand and vengeance in mind.

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From there, The Burning could very easily transition into one of the hundreds of terrible, abysmal teen-slasher movies that poured onto the home video market across  the 80’s. However, despite having the exact same setup, style and narrative of many of its contemporaries, The Burning steps up into being a genuinely great film. This is essentially down to three key factors, so often ignored by many other slashers of its kind.

Firstly, the film is aesthetically great. It is beautifully shot, with expansive scope of its woodland exteriors, meticulous attention paid to Camp interiors, and a constant juxtaposition of light and dark. The score, by synth-king Rick Wakeman, is well threaded within the film, being both irrepressibly creepy but oddly melancholic. Secondly, the killings themselves are brilliantly executed (pun fully intended) thanks to the great special effects work of gore-master Tom Savini, who does some fantastic, grisly work in allowing Cropsy to perform his shear-assisted life-ectomies, especially during the film’s notorious and meticulously edited “raft scene.”

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But, where The Burning stands above all is in its brilliant cast of kids. Whereas foolish horror-auteurs harp on that the victims provided are merely “cannon fodder” and a slasher film’s structure is actually “about the killer” The Burning features an immensely likeable gang of happy-go-lucky and emotionally conflicted teens. For once, the audience is given a selection of cool, funny and cute kids to actually care about. Not only does this provide emotional context for their sad fates, but it also helps the pacing of the film immeasurably, as The Burning is one of the few slasher flicks where the scenes in-between the murders are genuinely magnetic and enjoyable. Cast with unknown actors (including a debuting Holly Hunter) the kids in The Burning are having a whale of a time and, as such, provide the one thing missing from so many slasher films: Character.

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It’s not a perfect movie by any means. Trapped within its own genre constraints things inexplicably fall apart in the finale, technically and narratively, with some choppy editing, repetitious shots, and odd action direction which reeks of post-wrap drama. The Burning is an early venture for the Weinsteins and their fledgling company Miramax, so it is possible they got the print and switched things around, as they have proven apt to do. But, despite this messy conclusion, the film as a whole is great. It’s fun, well-paced and suitably creepy with a couple of seat-leaping jump-scares. It’s an essential watch for horror fans the world over.

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Having finally gotten their hands on a film they’ve chased for years, Arrow Video have furnished The Burning with a beautiful steelbook featuring great new artwork. The print is crisp and bright and the synth score sounds great. Accompanying the main feature are a handful of features, interviews with selected members of cast and crew, a great trailer, as well as some vintage footage of Savini working his magic on-set. Wonderfully, the film has three commentary tracks, including one featuring its stars and one with director Tony Maylam. It is a great and worthy package for such an iconic film.

It has been a long wait for The Burning Blu-Ray to canoe its way over to these shores, and I’m happy to report it has been well worth it. The impressive steelbook art, extras package and gorgeous print have made this the definitive edition of the film to own. Arrow Video have delivered what is arguably the best horror blu-ray of the year. The Burning is, without a doubt, one of the best slasher films ever made, and this package is a must-have for anyone with even the slightest interest in the genre.

Oh, and it’s better than Friday the 13th.

Film: 4/5 Release: 5/5

Dir: Tony Maylam

Pdr: Harvey Weinstein

Str: Lou David, Leah Ayers, Brian Matthews, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua

Music: Rick Wakeman

DOP: Harvey Harrison

Year: 1981

Country: USA

Runtime: 91 mins

The Burning is available now on Blu-Ray from Arrow Video