Thursday 2 October 2008

The Burning (1981)

Generally early eighties teen horror films set in summer camp are completely forgettable. I don't think there's a single one with decent acting or a decent story (unless you count the template, A Bay of Blood), but they can be memorable for a couple of reasons: when they have such over the top effects that they become video nasties and when they're great opportunities to see future stars early in their careers. This early example of the genre is lucky to have both. The effects come courtesy of maestro Tom Savini and the future stars are numerous, both on and off the screen.

At Camp Blackfoot a bunch of dumb kids play a prank on Cropsy the caretaker and with a title like The Burning, you won't be too surprised to find out what the prank turns into. They place a worm laden skull in his hut with candles in the eye sockets, then wake him up by howling and rattling on the window. He knocks the burning skull onto his bedclothes and finds his way out of the hut to tumble down a ravine, a raging ball of flame. He's finally released from the burns unit five years later, after every attempt at skin grafting has failed, and needless to say he's bent on gory revenge with his pair of garden shears.

Camp Blackfoot isn't used any more but on the other side of the lake is Camp Stonewater, with a new crop of young sex-mad teens ripe for the killing. As you'd expect they're all a bunch of morons, with stellar examples of all the expected stereotypes: the doofus that everyone picks on, the dumb muscled jock that thinks he's God's gift to everyone, the bright girl who survives longer than anyone else, you know them all. They get up to all the usual hijinx too: there are the expected flickering lights, the scary face at the window, the gratuitous shower scene. And of course to separate the teens from the younger kids, we get a three day canoeing trip down Devil's Creek.

And yes, you'll know half the actors, quite a few appearing in their debut movie: Jovial Dave is Jason Alexander from Seinfeld; Woodstock the prankster is Fisher Stevens, probably best known for the TV show Early Edition but I know him instead as the lead in another TV show called Key West; Sophie is no less a name than Holly Hunter. Alfred the wimp is Brian Backer from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, who at least had one previous credit to his name: Meatballs. The biggest name debuting here though isn't on screen: the producer (and co-writer) of the film is Harvey Weinstein, founder and head of Miramax studios, which had made quite a name for itself distributing arthouse films but now found its way into direct production. This was his first production credit in a filmography currently numbering 218, counting films currently in production.

I don't think there's any doubt that Weinstein and Miramax put out better films than this over their long and ilustrious careers, but this must still hold a special place in his heart. It's also surprisingly solid as a slasher film, though it offers precisely nothing new and doesn't live up to its video nasty reputation. The gore effects, courtesy of Tom Savini, are decent and theres even a surprising keyboard soundtrack from Rick Wakeman that is obviously inspired by the Italian originals. The one thing it has over all its competitors though is the fact that it has no sequel.

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