Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Review: The Burning

Version I Watched: Much older VHS copy. I think telling you it is in full screen goes without saying.

History: This was actually the first film produced by Bob and Harvey Weinstein who now run The Weinstein Company, as one would figure. The film did cause a bit of controversy when it was first released because of its violence. Depending on which version you get from what region it may or may not be slightly cut. Although if you pick it up in the states you're pretty safe with getting the uncut edition. However in the UK it's a different story because this was a part of the Video Nasty list back in the 80s (Working on a stand alone post for that subject). This was also an early piece of work for the famous makeup artist Tom Savini, as well as early work for the now famous Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter. The film was produced for $1.5 million and is now considered a classic and a bit of a cult hit.

Personal History: This is my first viewing. I have only read about this one before.

Review: This title was actually one of the first ones I intended to review way back when I first started this whole blog thing. Well, the draft has been collecting dust for too long so it's time I get cracking on this! I have been for a while putting aside and trying to watch all the movies I haven't watched since buying them. Whether I've seen the before or not I've been putting together a pile to go through. It makes it pretty clear that I buy more often than I actually have time to watch. Probably should slow down for a little while. Anyway, getting to the movie.

I think kids and teens in the early 80s were going to summer camp a lot. This is one of multiple slasher flicks that takes place at a summer camp along with Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp, both of which were made within a couple years of another. But the number one questions is, what sets this apart from the other summer camp slashers? Honestly not a whole lot. It should come as no surprise that I found this to be very by the numbers. Unsuspecting victim gets accidentally hurt, recovers, is out for revenge on those who did it, finds a group similar to the people who did it, starts taking them out one by one, a lone survivor finds the strength to defeat this evil, everyone goes home, but is it really the end? I basically told you everything that happened in that one sentence. But these types of movies usually aren't made to stand out. They're cheap thrills are a fun way to spend 90 minutes. It's the same reason sports fans buy the new version of Madden every year. It's essentially the same game only slightly changed, but it still provides hours of fun because sometimes more of the same is just fine.

I will say that one of the best parts of the movie was used up within the opening scene. What opens the story is a group of young guys in the middle of the night go off to play a prank on a man who they seem to hate. It's never made 100% clear to why they have a beef against him outside of that he appears to be a bit of a dweeb, but you can tell they are annoyed enough by him to play a prank on him for their own sick pleasure. Basically they go to his one person cabin, sneak into place and places right next to his bed a decaying skull with flames lit in the eye holes. The man freaks out naturally but then it lights the entire cabin on fire, including the man inside. He then bursts out completely engulfed in flames and then falls down a hill. It's a pretty brutal what appears to be death but the next scene takes place in the hospital. How he lived through that I don't know but you really need to set logic aside in movies like these. Now what made this one of the best parts is because the effect was amazing. Since this was the early 80s computer effects were far from the norm. So when the man bursts out of the cabin engulfed in flames you know it's real. Well, real in the sense that a man put on a special suit, lit himself on fire for real, and then acted out the damage. It looks incredible and is a perfect example of why organic effects look way better than computer. I love it so much I want to show you myself so here's a clip! (The part I'm talking about starts at 4:30).

Unlike some of the other slashers out there this one doesn't rely on the supernatural, just the unlikely. The intensity of this man's injury did put him in the hospital for five years. Yet as soon as he gets out he's pretty agile and can be a serial killer with no problem at all. As a matter of fact he lets out his killer rage on what appears to be his first night out of the hospital. Our burnt boy picks himself up a hooker only to viciously kill her when he gets her alone. That, and then the set up and quick scenes at the hospital all happened over the course of ten minutes, maybe fifteen at best. What comes next is my biggest beef with slashers of this era. There isn't a single kill or sign of the killer for approx the next thirty to forty minutes. I just get so deathly bored by so many of these movies because there's way too much time spent on a group of teenagers we just wanna see killed anyway. I realize if they didn't do this then these movies would be half the length, and that's a bit underwhelming. So I guess I shouldn't complain since it does make me more grateful for the kills when they do happen.
One thing they did have that some of the other summer camp slashers didn't have, and this was a surprise to me, was kids. There were actually kids there and the camp was actually in session. Usually it's about the counselors getting the camp ready while they screw and drink the entire time. This time there's actually kids. Not that it makes much of a difference in the end anyway. Things still play out as you would expect them to.

One thing I'm always interested in is the weapon of choice for the killer. I like it when they're more creative with their kills instead of the traditional knife. Freddy's got that glove with the blades on the fingers, Leatherface uses a chainsaw, the puppets in Puppet Master have a whole arsenal of stuff, all adding creativity to different slashers. In The Burning the weapon of choice was certainly a unique one. He used a hedge trimmer. I actually kinda dug this. The variety of what can be done with it is a bit limited, but has enough creativity to make you wonder. For example it could just be a simple stab with the blade open or closed. Or as you may be looking for is body parts to be chopped off. One scene in particular was pretty vicious a little bit past the halfway point was when he massacred an entire group of kids on a small boat. He didn't just stab them all, though. He was cutting off fingers, blood was flying everywhere, it was pretty hardcore. It also is one of the reasons this was on the video nasty list in the UK. I don't know if what I watched was the uncut version. Since it's such an obscure VHS copy it's hard to say. Probably was uncut since it appears to be an American copy.
Otherwise the kills weren't too out of the ordinary. This was before Friday the 13th had it's seventh sequel when things were going really crazy. Back then the slashers still had a typical route to take so everything that happened I basically expected.

One thing I did like was that there was more of a sense of closure to this one than other slashers. At least I felt that way. How it all ends was ironic for the killer. Initially he is literally stabbed in the back and appears to be dead. But this is an 80s slasher so that's not going to be the end. As the two remaining survivors are leaving they are suddenly attacked by the killer for the obligatory one last scare tactic in these movies. The survivors retaliate immediately by first slamming an axe directly into his face and then they light him on fire. He is killed by the same way he was initially damaged. Some may see it as lazy or uncreative, I at least saw it as ironic.
But what felt so close ended on it was the fact that you don't see him twitch or move or anything after that. He seemed to be very mortal a man. There wasn't even a dream-like event where he comes back to life and attack ala the pull into the water at the end of Friday the 13th. It all ends with a campfire story of the legend of the killer. No real suggestion of a potential return. Just simply a story of how he still lurks in the woods. But it sounds more like he just went down in legend than anything. There was never a sequel so I like to think he was killed for good at the end for the sake of closure. We don't need to have all of our slasher killers live forever.

There's really not much else to say about this movie. A very typical, not very stand out horror from the early 80s. Not like a lot of the other ones are as notable. If it weren't for all the sequels I'm sure Friday the 13th would have easily fallen into obscurity. One thing that is fun about this title is that it was a first for a couple of now more popular actors. This was the first movie for both Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter. So that's fun. Otherwise it's hard for me to recommend this. It was fun for what it was, but I didn't feel it stood out in any major respect. Maybe it warrants a second viewing? I don't know. I just didn't find it to be anything too special. Pretty passable in the grand scheme of things. But still that opening with him being lit on fire does look incredible.

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