Released by: MGM Released on: 9/11/2007 Director: Tony Maylam Cast: Brian Matthews, Brian Backer, Lou David, Leah Ayres, Larry Joshua, Jason Alexander Year: 1981 Purchase From Amazon
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 fim 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 show up at the camp for the summer. The camp counsellor’s are all randy and promiscuos 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 hardway 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 gorehounds 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 spiffy new DVD presents the film intact and uncut on this release.
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.
MGM’s DVD looks very nice in 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen. Fine detail looks good in both the foreground and the background of the image and if there’s a fair bit of grain in some scenes, that’s alright as it’s never distracting. Color reproduction looks great and the black levels are nice and strong. No problems with mpeg compression to report, though some very mild shimmering does show up here and there. Regardless, the film looks quite good and fans of the picture will certainly prefer this disc over previous import DVD releases from Vipco in the UK or Dragon in Germany.
The only audio option that is on the disc is the original English Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack, which is fine as it gets the job done. Optional subtitles are provided in English, French and Spanish. The quality of the mix is decent as the dialogue is always clean and clear and there aren’t any problems with hiss or distortion.
The main extra 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.
Aside from that, we also get a featurette entitled Campfire 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.
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 small still gallery, some static menus and chapter stops.
The Final Word:
It’s been a long time coming but the new MGM release of The Burning has been worth it. The film is completely uncut and has never looked better on home video. The extras are interesting and pertinent and overall this is a very nice package.