Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Burning - Scream Factory Blu-ray/DVD Combo Review

Director: Tony Maylam
Writers: Peter Lawrence, Bob Weinstein
Stars: Jason "I'm An Eggplant!" Alexander, Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens
Music: Rick Wakeman
Studio: Scream Factory
Region: A
Buy it on Amazon

Tony Maylam's The Burning was first released by Miramax on May 8th, 1981. This was a great month for slasher fans, not only did they get The Burning, a week earlier saw the release of Friday the 13th Part 2 and Graduation Day, and the week after they got Happy Birthday to Me. Three solid slashers, and one fun piece of crap, I would've lived at the theater for that whole month, had I been born. Right year, just a few months late.

The Burning's plot couldn't be simpler. Several boys at Camp Blackfoot decide to pull a prank on abusive, alcoholic campground caretaker Cropsy (Lou David). Now, this isn't a good spirited prank like the classic gag where you put Saran Wrap on the toilet bowl so the person you're pranking shits on his balls.  This is a particularly dangerous prank involving a maggot covered human skull with a lit candle stuffed in it's mouth being placed two feet away from the bed of a sleeping man. As with all slasher movie pranks, it quickly goes horribly, horribly wrong. Cropsy wakes up, and due to a combination of being half asleep and being half shit-blitzed on cheap whiskey he makes the questionable decision to swat at the flaming skull, knocking it onto himself. He's completely engulfed, almost immediately toasted like a marshmallow. Fortunately for Cropsy he isn't killed in the fire. Unfortunately for Cropsy he's amazingly, spectacularly charred and disfigured, barbequed beyond belief.

So, five years and many failed skin graft attempts later the doctors, sick of barfing everytime they have to visit his room, decide Cropsy is finally strong enough to leave the hospital. With no chance of being accepted by society due to his deformed face (eyes nearly melted shut, a pig-like nose and a mouth that looks kind of like a warped vagina made out of scorched bubble gum) there is only one thought on his mind. "Kill. Everything."

His first move, savagely murdering a manly hooker with a big ass pair of scissors. This is a fairly grim scene, there's a quick shot of the scissors penetrating her flesh, but the death is mostly comprised of a closeup of the woman's face with blood pouring out her mouth and down her chin. Her screams are quite realistic and very unsettling. There were hints of Argento in this death, shot very Giallo-like, complete with Cropsy finishing by smashing the woman's head through a window, very reminiscent of Deep Red, or Tenebre.

After this he immediately heads to a camp called Stonewater. He probably hit Blackfoot first, but was stunned to find out that Blackfoot burned down after his unintentional incineration. Kinda throws a wrench in the revenge plan. But Stonewater was the nearest camp to Blackfoot, and nevermind the fact that none of the kids who burned him are at Stonewater, campers are campers, and campers must die. So he grabs his trusty hedge clippers and sets his sights on a large group of Stonewater kids who have gone canoeing in the woods. As you can imagine, things do not end well for anyone.

The Burning is very good, though not quite a great slasher. Now, the actual horror scenes are very effective and brilliantly staged. Try not to shit a little when Cropsy jumps up out of the canoe. Goddammit, I know it's coming and it gets me every time. This two second shot of a dark figure wielding a pair of hedge trimmers lifted over his head is one of the most iconic images in all of slasherdom, it's terrifying really. Many of the scenes of terror are fantastically executed, what prevents The Burning from being totally great is that it's actually a bit slow for a good 40 minute stretch in the middle. After the opening mayhem, things slow down considerably. It all gets a bit Meatballs for a while, feeling too much like a summer camp comedy. It's like Gorp, minus the Jewish kids, but with more of George Costanza's buttcheeks. These parts are by no means bad, the kids have good chemistry and everyone truly seems to be having fun (minus the Woody Allen-ish Alfred), this portion is just very uneventful. Dropping like 10 minutes of this stuff out might've screwed character development a bit, but I think the movie would've been a lot tighter and more efficient.

Approximately 4 boobs, 2 in an outdoor shower, 2 in an outdoor skinny dip/attempted date rape. For the ladies (those of you with lower standards) the bare asses of Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens, and a kid who looks like a big headed Jason Lively.

The kills actually aren't as gory as the film's reputation would lead you to believe. Cropsy mostly jams his hedge trimmers through people's necks so the kills are mainly a lot of quick stabbings with a lot of blood pouring from wounds and mouths. However the murders are aggressive and rather mean-spirited, Cropsy kills with pure hatred and you really feel the impact of the kills.

The effects are mostly very well done, though I've never quite liked how the hand with the severed fingers looks, kinda like Tom stole a mannequin hand from the Tourist Trap set for that effect. On the other hand (zing!), there's an amazing axe-in-the-cranium effect late in the film that totally rules, so the mannequin fingers are forgiven.They didn't have as much time as they'd have liked for the Cropsy character design, so he looks more like the Incredible Melting Man than he does a burn victim, but it's still a great looking makeup design.

Things to watch for:

Brad Douriff is Cropsy
Wait, where the hell six teenage boys find a maggoty human skull?
Scissor murder committed by a dark figure in a fedora - what is this, Schizoid?
George Costanza's first foray into latex sales
Missing canoes. So many movie canoes go missing, if I ever go camping in a movie, I'm sleeping in the canoe.

Bonus Features:

  • Audio Commentary with Director Tony Maylam and International Film Journalist Alan Jones
  • Audio Commentary with stars Shelley Bruce and Bonnie Deroski
  • Blood ‘n’ Fire Memories – A detailed look at the creation of the film’s make-up effects with Special Effects Artist Tom Savini
  • Slash & Cut – An interview with editor Jack Sholder
  • Cropsy Speaks – An interview with actor Lou David
  • Summer Camp Nightmare – An interview with actress Leah Ayres
  • Behind-the-Scenes Footage
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Make-Up Effects Still Gallery
  • Poster & Still Gallery

  • Blu-ray is Region A Locked

    Scream Factory has ported over a couple of extras from the old MGM DVD; the audio commentary with Tony Maylam and Alan Jones, and the Blood 'n' Fire Memories featurette. They've also supplied several new extras. New interviews with Jack Sholder, Lou David and Leah Ayres, and second commentary track with stars Shelley Bruce and Bonnie Deroski who played campers Tiger and Marnie, respectively.

    Blood 'n' Fire Memories is my favorite of the extras, with Savini talking The Burning while showing some behind the scenes gore footage from his personal archive. This extra actually starts off a bit weird with Tom Savini stating that, and keep in mind, this is an actual direct quote "anyone watching a Friday the 13th movie past part one is stupid, because Jason doesn't exist". I don't want to harp it on too much, but I found it weird to to say something like this as many people watching extras for The Burning probably also like the Friday films. I do. I found it a bit weird to insult fans of a popular slasher series on a Blu-ray of another popular slasher.

    So that's weird. But he does lighten up after that, the rest of the feature is very cool and pretty informative. We learn that the legs the flaming candle is knocked onto belong to Savini and the flaming Cropsy who runs out of the cabin was played by stuntman Reid Rondell who was 17 at the time, he actually died in a helicopter crash on the set of Airwolf a few years later. The picture quality on the behind the scenes footage is obviously rough, but it is a 32 year old VHS tape, so it's fine for what it is.

    Sadly they couldn't get Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens or Holly Hunter to participate in the extras. Holly is understandable, she's barely in the movie, but Jason and Fisher are both important characters, so it would've been nice to hear from them. I hate that some actors are apparently ashamed of their early horror work. I can understand Sylvester Stallone not wanting to talk about The Party at Kitty and Stud's since it was porn, but being in a slasher shouldn't be embarrassing. It was your first movie, you sit in a room and talk about the movie for a few minutes. Can't be that much of a hassle. Oh well, no huge deal. But, if you really want to hear Jason Alexander talk about something called The Burning, check out Seinfeld Season 9, Disc 3. Jason joins Julia Louis Dreyfus and Partrick Warburton on a gonorrhea themed episode titled The Burning.

    In closing Scream Factory has really done the slasher semi-classic justice. The 1080p 1.85:1 Anamorphic transfer is a beauty and the English Mono DTS-HD audio sounds great, Rick Wakeman's excellent haunting score comes through loud and clear. For fans of The Burning, this release is a no-brainer, buy it at all costs. Slasher fans who still haven't seen The Burning, this release is the best possible way to experience it for the first time.

    Click the link below to preorder your copy from Scream Factory, the first 200 customers get a free poster of the new artwork:
    The Burning [Collector#39;s Edition] with Exclusive Poster!

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