The Burning (1980)

The Burning is a 1980 slasher movie, recently restored and released by Arrow Video.  To be honest, although I enjoy cult horror films the reviews for this one didn’t seem too promising. Nevertheless, I was lucky enough to win a bundle of Arrow stuff recently and this blu-ray was in the batch. It’s got some loyal fans, so I thought I’d give it a spin.

The Burninggroup of teenagers are spending a few days in summer camp in the woods, remote from civilisation or assistance.  One of the camp leaders, a young man in his twenties played by Brian Matthews, had attended the same camp when he himself was a teenager.  Then, he had been partly responsible for a joke that went tragically wrong, that resulted in a cruel, kid-hating caretaker nicknamed Cropsy being burned alive.

Life at the camp is its usual state of heightened hormones: teenage bullying and sex, so there’s plenty of nudity.  Actually, the melodramatics aren’t too bad, the frustrations and obsessions are fairly well depicted, not least the struggles for power and affection as these teens are becoming young adults.  It helps that the kids at the camp are of a wide age range, teens of different stages of maturity.  And the two leaders are themselves barely adults themselves.

A group paddle up-river for a few days and set up camp in the woods, and this is when things go badly wrong for them.  It turns out that Cropsy isn’t dead, and he’s back with a large sharp pair of gardening shears to exact his bloody revenge on these pesky kids.  After he hides their boats, Cropsy picks them off in ones and twos.  Although this dates from 1980, the special effects hold up reasonably well, with lots of blades puncturing teenage flesh, gallons of blood, slashed throats and severed fingers.

The film has a good build-up only to be spoiled by the ending, which is confused and a bit of an anti-climax. It’s as if they ran out of budget and hastily edited together what footage they had, bulked out with flashbacks. A pity.

It was the gore that got this film on the infamous ‘video nasties’ list in the UK from the early eighties.  Back then, films released on video didn’t need to be classified by the BBFC until a moral panic changed the system and so these films were banned.  The Burning was only passed uncut by the BBFC in 2002.

Some ‘video nasties’ have grown in stature and are genuine classics: Profundo Rosso, Possession, The Evil Dead, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  The Burning falls far short of these, but it’s an entertaining watch even if the tense bits are more funny than scary when viewed from today’s vantage point.

Fun fact: this was actress Holly Hunter’s debut film.

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