The 1980s saw a hurricane of slasher movies from Friday the 13th to Nightmare on Elm Street as well as many many “one hit wonder” slasher films. A common setting for those 1980s slasher films was the summer camp as in the numerous Friday the 13th movies, Sleepaway Camp, and Madman. One summer camp slasher film worthy of the “Hidden Horror” title is never heard of from normal movie goers and rarely talked about in the horror community because dear old Jason Voorhees gets all the summer camp horror love. That little known summer camp slasher film is THE BURNING.
It’s your typical slasher movie plot: A janitor at a summer camp is accidentally burned severely from a prank. Years later, he is released from an institute, and returns to the camp with a pair of hedge clippers to take revenge on a new group of young campers.
Though the plot is something we’ve all seen before, what makes The Burning stand out from the rest of the 80s slasher crop is that where in most slasher films the young victims are pretentious unlikable pricks waiting to be slaughtered, The Burning‘s young camper victims are quite likeable and realistic. Hell even the bully is a likeable and realistic character. The film really takes its time with its characters, making you like them more and more as they get into hijinks, play pranks, and tell dirty jokes with each other. It’s practically a Meatballs movie with a young Jason Alexander (Seinfeld), still with a full head of hair! So because we spend so much time liking these wonderful young victims when the killer, Cropsy, does start killing them it’s quite heaving hitting and you feel bad for them. Cropsy is not a typical horror movie slasher who plays nice…or plays by slasher film rules for that matter. Where as a typical slasher will pick off the kids one by one, usually at night, Cropsy practically throws that rule right out the window in what is known as the infamous “Raft Massacre” sequence to lovers of the film. I am sorry but SPOILERS: In the “Raft Massacre” sequence Cropsy kills five, count em, five teens all at the same time in broad daylight with his garden shears in a mean spirited fashion, Tom Savini gore effects flying. How many horror movie slashers can take that title? Not many.
Another aspect of the film that shows its intentional ignorance of typical slasher cliches is while usually there is a “Final Girl” who survives the killers attack, here there is actually a “Final Boy” that is stalked and survives at the end. So not only does this wonderful film ignore several slasher cliches by actually having likeable characters, a terrific massacre scene in broad daylight, and a final boy, it also sports a good sense of direction from Director Tony Maylem, good gore effects from Tom Savini, a terrific score from Rick Wakeman that screams “synthesize horror” and a noteworthy and gruesome looking villain.
So if you want a summer camp slasher film this Summer but aren’t in the mood for a millionth viewing of Friday the 13th then seek out and give The Burning a watch. It’s hard to not enjoy this well-made slasher film with a terrific rule-breaking villain, gory and mean-spirited death scenes and very likeable characters.
– James J. Coker