How long do you think cinematic trends last? Or better yet, how long should they last? I have this odd fascination with movie trends. There’s something intriguing with how society grabs hold of a trend and Hollywood runs with. Right now the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been going strong since 2008. That’s twelve years of superhero movies! Twelve years of the same cliche story told over and over again with just subtle differences. Sure movies like Guardians of the Galaxy came in and gave us a breath of fresh air but damn, twelve years of these movies is a long time. Disney is the master of trends. They’ve made a shit load of pirate movies and are pushing Star Wars on us like no tomorrow. They will bleed every penny out of our dicks before they let Chewbacca bite the bowcaster bullet.
Horror is one genre that isn’t shy on following trends. In fact, the entire premise and success of horror is following the marketplace trends. One trend that I wish I had experienced is the bronze age slasher mold. Slasher films have definitely fallen into the shadows since the 90’s. Maybe small underground movies like Hatchet have made their way but it isn’t the same. I just want to go back in time and experience the slew of slasher movies in a drive-in theater.
The slasher genre is one that started in the early 70’s with movies like Bay of Blood in 1971 and a huge impact with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974. Movies like Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Halloween remained the masters of the kingdom while everyone else just squabbled for the scraps. But the market was there and the movies were actually cheaper to produce than many films. All you needed was a simple location like a campground or warehouse. A few kids know one knows so you can pay them less. You don’t need a good script, just some good death scenes and there is your slasher film. But this simple formula has a price.
The genre ended up overdoing it and made a stop by the late 80’s. The market was saturated with the same cliche films and people were losing interest. Even the kings like Elm Street and Friday the 13th hurt themselves with repetitive sequels. Scream would revitalize the genre in the late 90’s but even that too would become overdone. It doesn’t mean slasher movies were all bad. Candyman and Dr. Giggles are rare specimens that got a bad rap because of the association with the genre. But they’re great movies none the less. But looking back, I have grown more loving of the slasher genre and appreciate the cliche stories. One of my favorites is 1981’s The Burning.
The Burning is a 1981 film directed by Tony Maylam and stars Leah Ayres (Bloodsport), Brian Matthews, Holly Hunter (The Incredibles), Jason Alexander… wait Jason Alexander? You mean the guy that was George Costanza in the show Seinfeld? Holy shit balls, this is his first movie. You know what, it is true. Every actor starts their career in horror. Anyways, the killer of the movie is played by Lou David as Cropsy with master special effects artist Tom Savini at the helm.
The Burning begins at Camp Blackfoot when several campers pull a prank on the resident caretaker named Cropsy. After the prank sets fire to Cropsy’s cabin it sets him on fire and running wildly into the river. Years pass and Cropsy is horribly burned beyond recognition. He leaves the hospital and seeks out murderous revenge on the campers of Camp Blackfoot. As the older campers head out for a camping trip down the river they have no idea of a bloody terror facing them!
Wait… This is…
Remember when I was saying horror is never one to shy away from cinematic trends? Well The Burning is a perfect demonstration of that. This is pretty much an exact rip-off of 1980’s Friday The 13th! Sure it might not be the kids mom seeking revenge on campers but damn it’s the same slasher vehicle. From what I know of this movie, it was a young Harvey Weinsteins attempt to brake into the Hollywood scene. He needed a quick and easy film and of course slasher films were his ticket. So thanks a lot slasher movies! You gave the world Harvey Weinstein the rapist!
Apparently the film pulled the idea of Cropsy from an actual killer named Andre ‘The Cropsey Killer’ Rand who was a custodian at a school for disabled children. Rand terrorized Staten Island for a time and was known for brutally killing children. The sick bastard is still in prison and it would have been better if we just killed him years ago.
So Weinstein and fellow producers used this idea (as many creators do for these kinds of movies) and came up with a story about a camp janitor going on a killing spree with kids. Well, maybe not kids because the “kids” in this movie are actually teenagers. Which is kind of odd because I don’t really see summer camp as a high schooler kind of place. Friday the 13th always made more sense because the teenagers are all camp councilors and not campers. In The Burning the victims are all campers. Maybe there was a dilemma in a movie killing campers and the campers being young kids. So making them teenagers makes it more appropriate?
Rip-Off? Yes. Bad? No!
To be perfectly honest, I actually like The Burning more than Friday the 13th and another popular camp slasher film called Sleepaway Camp. While Friday the 13th is a staple in American horror, I always felt like The Burning is the more entertaining movie with better pacing and a more intriguing story. Now, this is a stretch but the characters also seem better written. I like the idea that the character Alfred is the misdirection for the group. They all see him as the freak and killer, yet the entire time you know who it is. It’s a little lame but its simple and I like it. But then the movie takes a turn that actually connects back to the beginning. A full circle if you will. It all leads to what I believe is an actual well made ending.
It turns out that one of the camp directors named Todd is actually one of the campers responsible for Cropsy being burned. So this creates a better dynamic between the killers motivation and the characters. Sure they’re innocent bystanders (like all slasher characters) but they’re connected to the character Todd, which leaves them to be open prey.
That was always my gripe with Friday the 13th. Mrs. Voorhees had no connection to the camp councilors she was killing. She may ave had a motivation but it wasn’t centered around a person. She seemed to be killing for no apparent reason other than… her dead son in her head telling her to do it. It was just all camp councilors. Which is a little prejudice if you ask me! It’s not a big gripe. Slasher films are slasher films and the logic behind it all certainly doesn’t have to make sense. But The Burning is kind of cool how it is revealed that Todd was the one that caused Crospys suffering. His actions and inability to make peace with those actions are the reason behind the terror. Yes see, it’s these small factors in slasher films that make them stand apart. You can enjoy the bloodshed but also get a little glimmer of understanding behind the madness and if we stop and enjoy the little thing, it helps us appreciate the butchery!
The effects in this movie completely kickass because Tom Savini is the man. The river raft massacre is one of the most prolific scenes in horror movie history. I actually think this is the scene that actually makes it the better slasher movie of all. While The Burning does have that trope of the killer picking each kid off one-by-one and leaving them for later discovery. The Burning does this epic scene where Crospy kills four kids in one setting! Who the hell does that!? Not even Freddy, Jason or Michael Myers kill multiple people in one sitting! Crospy puts everyone to shame with his hedge clippers of doom! Also it’s all in the sunlight because Crospy isn’t a bitch that needs darkness to hide. He’s out there chilling on a boat, all burned up and pissed off about being a poor janitor with no woman. His dick is shriveled up like a burned hot dog, man his face is ugly and he hasn’t caught any fish! He’s done with this stalking garbage. If they’re all gonna die then they better all die! So he goes for the four in one deal… just like the Wendy’s menu deal!
That’s what The Burning is. It’s the Wendy’s of the slasher genre! While others may reign supreme in sales and marketing, The Burning is sitting there being the best with their awesome dollar menu. The raft scene is the baconator of all movies with it’s amazing greasy goodness of bacon and beef. Oh man I’m hungry. So let’s make this day for Horror Movie Marathon 2020 be a day of eating Wendy’s and watching 1981’s The Burning!