The Burning (1981)


The Burning is yet another paint by numbers, cliched teen slasher that appeared among the many cliched teen slashers during the 1980’s boom period of slasher horror. However, compared to its contemporaries, The Burning is quite an interesting specimen. A lot of the people who worked on this movie were either prestigious, or went on to become very prestigious in the film industry: The Burning was backed by the Miramax Production Company, special effects wizard Tom Savini worked on the film’s gore and make up effects, Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman composed the music, the film stars Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter before they went on to become very famous actors, and the film was written and produced by the now infamous Weinstein brothers.

Unfortunately, The Burning wasn’t popular at all during it’s initial release. It bombed at the box office and went on to enjoy an underwhelming reception on video. There’s a couple of reasons as to why this may be. Firstly, a lot of critics at the time referred to the film as a lazy Friday The 13th rip-off because both The Burning and Friday The 13th share a lot of similarities – both are slasher movies involving kids at a camp being stalked by a disfigured killer – however, contrary to popular belief The Burning was written months before Friday The 13th was, but The Burning took longer to get off the ground. It was only after the success of Friday The 13th that The Burning was picked up and made into a feature film. Secondly, unlike Friday The 13th, The Burning wound up being prosecuted as part of the 1984 Video Recordings Act which destroyed a film’s reputation in the 1980’s. Luckily, however, The Burning has received a cult classic status over the years and it’s finally gaining recognition amongst critics and horror fans, and it was also one of the main inspirations behind my favourite horror video game: Clock Tower.

Nonetheless, there’s no hiding the fact that The Burning is a dumb, immature, paint-by-numbers slasher movie full of cliches, stereotypical characters and bad acting. However, The Burning is a film that isn’t trying to be anything more than that. The Burning isn’t a slasher film that’s trying to be different from the other slasher flicks, it isn’t a film that’s trying to stand out amongst it’s contemporaries, it’s a dumb slasher flick that’s trying to be a dumb slasher flick and nothing more. The Burning is a film that embraces its cliches, it embraces its immaturity, it delights in its stereotypical characters and gratuitous sex and violence. The film doesn’t try to create something new and groundbreaking, instead, it takes what already exists and works on perfecting the formula. The characters in The Burning may be stereotypical teenagers, but they are very entertaining, empathetic characters with identifiable quirks and traits which make them stand out from each other. The Burning may be very cliched, but the film doesn’t try to shy away from it’s cliched nature. In many ways The Burning does manage stand out from it’s contemporaries because it doesn’t try to burden itself with over-complicated plots, over-complicated characters and pointless innovation. It’s a film that takes the simplicities of a slasher film and uses them to create an enjoyable viewing experience.

That being said, however, The Burning does have a lot of good aspects that help it stand out amongst the rest of the films released during the 1980’s slasher boom. One such aspect is the amazing effects by Tom Savini. The death scenes of The Burning are definitely some of Tom Savini’s crowning achievements in film. Scenes of blood and gore featured in The Burning are quite disturbing to witness thanks to Tom Savini’s hard work and distinct focus on realism. Not only are the death scenes in The Burning gratuitously brutal, they’re very impressive to witness and convincingly realistic.

Another very positive aspect is the film’s creative camera angles. The cinematography of The Burning may be quite generic for a 1980’s slasher film, but alongside the cinematography lies some very creative camera angles that provide some very memorable imagery. The particular use of these elements in The Burning create some very iconic sequences, such as the infamous ‘raft’ scene: an outstanding scene of blood and violence, outstanding thanks to both Tom Savini’s effects and Eric Van Haren Noman’s camera skills.

In my personal opinion, The Burning is a decent slasher flick. It wasn’t amazing, it didn’t blow me away, but it was a very entertaining movie. The Burning is definitely one of the better slasher films to come from the 1980’s, and I’m happy that it finally managed to gain a cult following because it deserves the attention over the lackluster slasher movies that make up the majority of the 1980’s slasher boom. The Burning is film that’s much better than Prom Night, Hell Night, April Fools Day, Sleepaway Camp or even The Slumber Party Massacre, all of which gained a lot more popularity at the time than The Burning. In conclusion, I’d recommend giving The Burning a watch, it’s a very pleasant surprise from a very stale genre.

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