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MGM Studios DVD presents
The Burning (1981)

"Right now, he's over there—watching...waiting."
- Camp Counselor (John Tripp)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: November 30, 2007

Stars: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayers, Brian Backer
Other Stars: Larry Joshua, Lou David, Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter
Director: Tony Maylam

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: R for (language, violence, extreme gore, disturbing imagery, nudity, sensuality)
Run Time: 01h:31m:22s
Release Date: September 11, 2007
UPC: 027616085535
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BAB+ B+

DVD Review

Fans of slasher horror are always thrilled when another of the legendary "Video Nasties" banned outright by the British courts reach DVD. The Burning, one of the more notorious of them all, doesn't disappoint in the nastiness department either thanks to its wickedly realistic gore effects, and remains banned in its uncut form. But it also has an unusual point of historical interest: this was the picture that launched the Weinstein brothers in the motion picture industry.

The prologue sets up the actual title burning itself, as Cropsy (Lou David), the sadistic caretaker at Camp Blackfoot, is disliked by the campers, who decide to pull a prank. Unfortunately for all concerned, the prank goes badly and Cropsy is horrifically burned, and Camp Blackfoot is destroyed. Five years later, Cropsy is finally released from the hospital, and it's clear that he's out for blood. At Camp Stonewater, not far from the ruins of Camp Blackfoot, counselors Todd (Brian Matthews) and Michelle (Leah Ayers) lead a group of kids on a canoe trip up the river. Alas, Cropsy is waiting for them, with his trusty garden shears and a thirst for revenge upon anyone who makes themselves convenient.

The imitation of Friday the 13th in the camp setting and the punishment of sexually active teens is obvious, right down to borrowing goremeister Tom Savini to do the effects. The common giallo feature of the killer being portrayed by a subjective camera is used here as well, and often serves as code for when the characters are in real danger versus when they're not. The usual sampling of false scares are here too, though they're frontloaded in a way that helps sustain the suspense level pretty well. Where The Burning differs is in some ways unusual for the subgenre: Cropsy isn't after any particularized revenge; anyone convenient will suffice. Although sexual activity is a guaranteed death sentence, Cropsy is more than willing to kill virgins too. And the final confrontation isn't between Cropsy and a woman, but against Todd. Todd has his own issues, however, which are mentioned but there's a rather unsatisfying lack of dealing with the consequences of them. One thing not well established about Cropsy is that we never see him being cruel to the campers before the burning; one could read him as just as much victim as the teens, since we only know about Cropsy's prior behavior through Todd, who may or may not be a reliable narrator. If more had been made of this, one could treat it as true psychological complexity, but given it's a slasher picture thrown together on the cheap that's a jump that probably gives the script far more credit than it deserves.

The real fun comes with seeing Savini's elaborately gory effects, which remain highly effective. He's clearly having fun figuring out ingenious ways to slay teens in the most gruesome ways possible. The highlight is a great setpiece as Cropsy lures a raft of escaping youngsters right into his clutches and then has his bloody way with them, a sequence denounced on the floor of Parliament, so you know it has to be good. The effects hold up very well over 25 years later, even though they're all done practically, though Cropsy's burn makeup (which is seldom seen clearly) isn't entirely convincing.

The leads are appropriately bland, but the cast of campers are more entertaining. Unlike most such body count pictures, one almost starts to like them and feel bad when Cropsy offs them. Amongst the cast is a young Jason Alexander, with a full head of hair but with his persona fully developed already. Holly Hunter also makes her first film appearance, if you're interested in such things, though her role is very small and includes only a couple lines. It's by no means groundbreaking, but there's plenty of entertainment for gorehounds and it lives up well to its reputation.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Burning comes to DVD in gorgeous fashion. The source print is virtually immaculate with hardly a speckle to be seen. Detail and texture are excellent for standard definition, and at times it rivals an HD transfer. Cropsy's subjective view is soft and blurry, an intentional effect that isn't a point of complaint. Particularly nice are the differentiations of greens in the woods around the camp. Black levels are rich and deep, with hardly any artifacting and zero edge enhancement. An excellent transfer on every count.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The audio features the undistinguished 2.0 mono soundtrack. The synth score by Rick Wakeman sounds reasonably good, considering it's mono. There are a few important sound effects that are startlingly real, such as the heartbeat opening and the sound of flies buzzing around corpses in nauseating fashion that emphasizes the charnel house atmosphere superbly. It's not a showpiece but it does the job more than admirably.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Jeepers Creepers, Jeepers Creepers 2, Horror
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Tony Maylam with journalist Alan Jones
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:01m:14s

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
Extras Review: The disc offers a solid selection of extra materials, beginning with a chatty commentary from director Tony Maylam. Though he doesn't have any particular esteem for the movie, he offers plenty of tales, including the difficulties of getting his actresses to actually perform nude scenes that they have agreed to do. Tom Savini also makes an appearance in the documentary Blood 'n' Fire Memories (18m:18s), which is devoted to his effects work (including numerous spoilers), with some interesting behind-the-scenes footage and photos. Savini obviously relishes his efforts here and is quite proud of the effects done on a shoestring despite difficulties (such as the mould for the Cropsy appliances falling apart before the film was finished). There's a gory trailer and a gallery that offers about 30 stills in color and black & white. The one thing lacking is an examination of the movie's reputation over the years and the entire video nasty phenomenon.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

One of the more esteemed slasher movies finally hits DVD in a drop-dead gorgeous transfer. Some solid extras make this worth seeking out for modern horror fans. Watch out for the flying blood!


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