The Burning ★★★

Quite an interesting early slasher, chasing the coattails of Friday the 13th (1980), by utilising the Staten Island urban legend of Cropsy--a murdered summer camp caretaker who takes his revenge. It's very low-budget, but fairly effective in places--although there are some howlers that really show up the production (like a shot of a murdered girl that's just a still image taken from much earlier in the movie).

What stood out about The Burning, for me, is that we spend a very long time getting to know the characters at the summer camp before any of the murders start to happen. I thought I'd be bored by this, and it perhaps spins its wheels a little too long, but spending so much time just seeing the kids interact makes them feel three-dimensional.

Don't get me wrong: I can't remember anyone's name, but everyone felt genuine and relaxed on camera (perhaps lots of improv?), and it's noticeable how "normal" everyone looks. If a movie like this gets made to today, the guys all look like Zac Efron and the women could be Victoria's Secret models. Here, there's a healthier mix of shapes and sizes, that reflects the average adolescent, so it's easier to identify with everyone.

It's just a shame this verisimilitude is often broken by weak acting and make-up effects (by Tom Savini) that haven't stood the test of time. And the motivation behind Cropsy's a little sketchy, because while it's understandable he'd be upset after being burned alive after a prank goes wrong, to consequently go about murdering (mostly) uninvolved teenagers some 5 years later? That's insane. So... was he crazy pre-burning?

And it ends on a bit of a letdown with the climax against disfigured Cropsy, all things considered. You want bigger climaxes with movies like this, but I suppose slasher movies were still undergoing refinement. This was released the same year as Friday the 13th: Part 2, so was overshadowed at the time, but also has the distinction of being the first Miramax film (Bob Weinstein even co-wrote it), and has early appearances from the likes of Holly Hunter, Jason Alexander, and Fisher Stevens.