“I got a bad desire, I’m on fire.”-Bruce Springsteen
One of the worst things in the world, is that dreaded “C” word. Get your mind out of the gutters boys and girls, I am talking about censorship. Such a horrific act of suppressing speech, thought, and expression of art, is such a toxin within our societies that still lives in some form or another. In some countries, including the one I lived in for the past 6.5 years, completely control what media content comes in or goes out to the masses. The decisions are made by elected or self-appointed “experts” on what to censor as they feel it would be detrimental to citizens, and immorally scorch our minds and spirits. Censorship is a form of power utilized by every government around the world, including the U.S. at one time or another in our short history. Censorship is a cruel trick on an individual’s intellect, free will, and accountability. As cruel as censorship may feel, it will never beat the heat of the cruel trick played in today’s feature, The Burning (1981).
One dark night deep in sleepy woods of Camp Blackfoot in upstate New York, several teenage campers decide to pull a sadistic prank on the odd caretaker, Cropsy, Lou David of The Last Dragon (1985). The teens sneak into Cropsy’s cabin (much cozier than Carl Spackler’s from Caddyshack), and place a creepy worm infested skull, with candles in the hollow eye sockets, next to his bed while he is sleeping. Cropsy awakes after hearing banging on his window, and freaks out seeing the lit skull accidentally knocking it over in haste, igniting his sheets and clothes. The flames grow quickly as Cropsy kicks over a gas can container near the bed (SAFETY WARNING: GAS CONTAINERS & BEDROOMS DON’T MIX), resulting with the flames engulfing the cabin. Cropsy pulls himself from the cabin, lit up like Ghost Rider minus the motorcycle, and plunges into the nearby lake to extinguish the flames. All of this high temperature horror is witnessed by the terrible voyeuristic teens (they could have at least tried to help him since it was their fault anyway, punks).
Five years pass and Cropsy is released from hospital wearing an outfit to cover his deformities that is reminiscent of Liam Neeson’s in Darkman (1990). Five years is a long time to bid one’s time and Cropsy is a poster child for the saying, “revenge is a dish best served cold.” Before you know it, Cropsy kills a hooker before venturing to Camp Stonewater where he goes on a rampage providing a community service of the local community by killing off annoying teenagers. The teenagers are not as likeable as some characters from Camp Crystal Lake, but there are some similarities. These teens are preoccupied with skinny dipping, bullying, not wearing bras, and hormones are raging like a river rapid ride of the loins at Camp Stonewater. Camp Counselor Todd, Brian Matthews of Santa Barbara (1986), was actually one the teens that pranked Cropsy… his judgment day has now come. At least we have Cropsy to play morality police and hand out inventive death sentences to the campers and counselors. Good investigative work indeed by Cropsy on tracking down Todd, as this was years before Google.
The Burning is a horror flick directed by Tony Maylam of Split Second (1992), with a screenplay by Peter Lawrence of Thundercats (1985), and Bob Weinstein, executive producer of The Hateful Eight (2015). The Burning was the first cinematic release by the virgin, Miramax Films, helmed by a young Bob and Harvey Weinstein. The brothers would strike it rich, and find fame as two are now among the most successful producers in the past 30 years. The Weinsteins and company, loosely based The Burning off of the legend of a killer, Cropsy, which haunted youth in New York, local lore dating back to the 1960’s. The Burning was produced for $1.5 million (landed a score by Rick Wakeman from legendary progrock band, Yes), and was a box office dud (except Japan and Buffalo, they ate it up), as the slasher subgenre had grown saturated by this time after the successes of Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980), and Maniac (1980). Luckily, The Burning has become a huge cult fan favorite over the years with distributors releasing decent uncut DVD and Blu-ray editions for its hungry fan base.
The Burning is another special effects showcase for the wizard of gore, Tom Savini of Dawn of the Dead (1978). All gore hounds will enjoy Savini’s effects and makeup artistry in The Burning, as the body count is 10, Cropsy burn makeup is creepy, and Cropsy’s weapon of choice is a large, a pair of garden shears that shine in the infamous, brutal raft scene. This scene alone resulted with The Burning being attacked with negative press, landed it an X rating in some parts of the world, the film being severely cut, and being blackballed to the British “Video Nasties” list. The Burning also shares with the audience the screen debuts of Jason Alexander of Seinfeld (1989), Fisher Stevens of Short Circuit (1986), and Holly Hunter of Raising Arizona (1987).
Overall, The Burning is a good horror film that is a quick kill this Friday night as the runtime is only 91 minutes. The Burning is one of the better 80s slasher films standing out from its peers, but is predictable for the most part if you are a student to this genre. There are a couple scenes that are a bit slow with the pacing a bit off, but the viewer is rewarded with a solid payoff of visceral carnage by the fired up grue. The kills are a bit gruesome, but that’s why you watch these films. It’s not Shakespeare, so just take it for what it is, a bloody fun film.
So, as you go about your day, don’t listen to the pundits (these are the same people that used to burn books). You know what you like and what your psyche can handle, you are an expert on you! Don’t let others dissuade you from watching a movie that you really want to see with the threatening argument that screen violence creates real everyday life violence. That’s just poppycock! Art imitates life, censorship births societal strife. Remember what Supreme Court Judge Potter Stewart enlightened us with, “Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself.” Indeed.
- Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker, film/music historian, and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rick.baldwin.568
- Twitter Rick Baldwin@rickbaldwin79 and firstname.lastname@example.org