The Burning (1981) Review


For myself and Zombie1 The Burning has always been a special slasher. When we were back in secondary school many, many full moons ago devouring horror films like a Vegan binging on quinoa the 1981 cult killer classic was one of the first none famous horror movies we got our grubby teenage hands on.

Little did we know at the time it was a first for many other people as well including the first feature for Miramax Films and the first film roles for Holly Hunter, Short Circuit star Fisher Stevens and Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander. It was also the first production by the Weinstein Brothers Bob and Harvey who surprisingly both had a hand in the original story and screenplay loosely basing it on the New York urban legend of Cropsey popular in the 60s and ’70s.


Made to cash in on the slasher craze that was all the rage The Burning follows what is now a very familiar story opening in Camp Blackfoot where a bunch of teens set about pranking the grumpy caretaker named Cropsy (Lou David) who they have taken against.5

Wanting to scare the life out of him the joke backfires terribly setting fire to Cropsy’s cabin and burning the man’s flesh so badly he has to be hospitalized for five years. After many failed skin grafts leaving him hideously deformed he is released out into a world that fears his face and driven by rage and revenge he heads to Camp Stonewater next to his old haunt armed with a pair of garden shears to tear some teenagers apart.

Cropsy’s unfortunate fate has now become an urban legend told by the campfire so the kids of Camp Stonewater who spend nearly all their time discussing the opposite sex are blissfully unaware that the real life monster has come to pay them back. Slowly fear spreads as they realise something is wrong but by that point the children are far away from home and help and must fight against the ragging psychopath themselves before he dispatches them all with his deadly oversized scissors.


Many slashers covertly revolve around copulation but in The Burning sex is the only thing on the teen casts minds and nearly ever scene seems to revolve around it. Because of that and the constant peer pressure that hangs around the teens at all times the movie is more realistic in portraying puberty and all its pitfalls than several other horrors of the decade.4

In many ways the story is really all about awkward Alfred (Brian Backer) who spies on the girls showering and gets beaten up by the camp bully for being a weirdo. Painted as an adolescent at a crossroads between becoming a normal functioning member of morally righteous society or a perverted socially shunned outsider like the killer Cropsy it is his soul that needs to be saved in the final fight rather than the all American hero Todd (Brian Matthews) who himself harbors a dark secret.

The Burning adherers to all the wonderful tropes and clichés we have come to love in slasher movies however being that the film came out at the height the genre’s popularity they still feel fresh and interesting and the solid direction and scripting will keep even a modern and far more horror literate audience gripped.

Best of all The Burning contains tons of fake jumps and creepy set ups which build up to some awesome gore courtesy of legendary make-up artist Tom Savini who gives us plenty of the red stuff as well as making the final reveal of Cropsy deeply disturbing.

A superb slasher that should have been as popular as the far more famous examples of the genre it’s great that everyone can now discover this gory gem with Arrow’s fantastic features packed special edition hopefully lighting up a passion for The Burning in a new generation of horror fans.

Movie Rating: ★

★ ★ ★ ☆ 



Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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