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May 22, 2013

Movie Review: The Burning (1981, Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack)

Review By: Rob Sibley

1981 was a monumental year for horror films and in my opinion. 81 saw the release of some of the best of the genre. Evil Dead was finally hitting theaters, American Werewolf in London was turning heads with it's ground breaking special FX and hybrid of horror and comedy. Jason Vorhees was rising up from the grave... well water for Friday the 13th part II and Barbara Hershey was dealing with one rapey ghost in The Entity. Horror fans had a lot of films and it's various sub-genres to sink their teeth into in 81. But the biggest of all the sub-genres had to be the slasher film, some say Carpenter's Halloween started it, others say Black Christmas or Friday the 13th. I'm not going to involve myself in that discussion. But I will say without a doubt in my mind, Mario Bava's 1971 Italian classic “A Bay of Blood” got the ball rolling. Boy o boy that ball sure rolling in the 80's, it seems like every week a new slasher picture was hitting the multiplexes. Dousing the screen with enough blood & T&A to keep any warm blooded young man happy.

So many slasher films were produced back then that we still are discovering some of them to this day. Let me go back to 1981 for a minute, for the slasher film the year saw two huge sequels. Halloween II & Friday the 13th part II. It also saw the release of such gems as Jeff Leibermans Just Before Dawn, Joe Zito's The Prowler, Tobe Hooper's The Fun House, My Bloody Valentine and many many more. Of coarse with such a large amount of films of the same ilk being released some of those are bound to sadly go a tad unnoticed. One of those films was the slasher classic “The Burning”. Featuring FX work by Tom Savini (Who famously turned down Friday 2 to work on this one) and stylish direction by Tony Maylam makes this one a cut above the rest.

So what happens when a perverted, slightly mentally “off” camp caretaker is accidentally caught on fire during a prank gone wrong? Well after a long hospital stay, this camp caretaker known only as Cropsy get's out out the hospital and grabs a pair of garden shears and heads back to the cozy little NY summer camp to get his revenge. He wastes no time either, as he snuffs out a hooker within the first 10 minutes of the film before heading to the camp. Why waste someone who has nothing to with the camp ? Because this was the 80's and something had to happen every 10 minutes that's why.

Man oh man this film truly captures everything that I love about slasher films. You have the group of young teens sitting around a camp fire telling spooky story's. You have a gratuitous shower scene for no good reason besides to add the necessary T&A to the flick. The true star of the show is Tom Savini's make up FX. These were the days were everything was done in camera.

No CGI bullshit, just classic blood pumps, blood bags, liquid latex and fake torsos. Next to The Prowler this is some of Tom Savini's best work. Admittedly the burn make up for Cropsy looks more like the incredible melting man then it does a burn victim. But that's just part of the charm to the flick. Also, how many films feature the killer suiting up with a flame thrower to serve up some extra crispy campers?

Also it should be noted this was the first film that the infamous Bob & Harvey Weinstein ever produced. So this is the film that really put Miramax on the map. Worth noting are appearances by two big name actors back in the days when they were nobody's. Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame has an effective role as the comic relief. Showing off his comedic chops, his talent was evident even at an early age. Second big star would be a very young Holly Hunter! Don't get to excited though, she's got a blink and you'll miss it sized role and maybe has about one line of dialog.

 The film gathered some controversy in the 80's, for making it onto Britain’s ridiculous video nasties list, which surely made more people seek the film out. It made it onto the list mainly to one of the best sequences of slasher movie mayhem where Cropsy rises from a canoe and dispatches 5 unfortunate teenagers one after the other. It's a beautiful orchestration of slasher mayhem that any horror fan can appreciate.

The great folks at Scream Factory give this film the royal treatment in this Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The case comes tucked inside a very attractive slip cover featuring brand new commissioned art work. You also get reversible cover art featuring the films original poster.

Holy crap does this film look amazing on Blu-ray. The 1.85:1/1080p  transfer is just freaking outstanding on all fronts. I thought the film looked good on DVD back when it was first released in 2007. This Blu-ray transfer blows any previous transfer outta the water. The color saturation is spot on, detail is very high. The black levels are nice and inky as they should be. You get a nice bit of film grain & no nasty DNR was used for this transfer. This is the best the film has ever looked in my books.

The DTS HD 2.0 mono track is equally impressive. All the dialog is crisp and clear. The music should be mentioned, unlike many 80's slasher films the score to this film is much more electronic. Thanks to former YES keyboardist Rick Wakeman. The score is more reminiscent of a Goblin score for an Argento film then your typical “stinging” Friday score.

For the extras Scream Factory has ported over a majority of the extras from the 2007 MGM release and has also included a nice heaping of new content.

First up is a commentary with Tony Maylam (Director) and Horror Journalist Alan Jones (Author of Profondo Argento). This has always been one of my favorite commentary tracks ever since I heard it back in 07. Maylam is a humerus fellow who never takes the film too seriously and has a fantastic memory of how filming went down. The track is just chock full of great information, all told with a great sense of humor. An interesting fact is how Maylam got the directing gig. Having done “White Rock” the official film of the 1976 winter Olympics and one of the first concert movies “Genesis: in Concert”. Harvey Weinstein was actually a rock promoter at the time based out of Buffalo NY. After seeing the films and getting the distribution rights to the two pictures and he gave Maylam the gig for The Burning. This commentary was ported over from the MGM release.

New to this release is the second commentary track, that features actresses Shelly Bruce & Bonnie Deroski. This is a pretty good track and both gals have a pretty good memory of the shooting but the track is a bit dull. If you had to pick only one track to listen to I'd go with the directors track.

Next up and also ported over from the MGM DVD is “Blood 'N' Fire Memories”. A fun 18 minute interview with Tom Savini where he pretty much breaks down all the big special effects from the film. It's clear Savini is proud (rightfully so) of the film.

Brand new is “Slash & Cut: An Interview with Editor Jack Shoulder”. Yep that Jack Shoulder, future director of such solid flicks like Alone in the dark and the sci-fi/action gem “The Hidden”. Jack is pretty much his usual direct self. He talks about how he never really was that big into horror and how he wanted to be a poet? He talks about how he met up with Bob Shaye (Newline head honcho) and how he ended up cutting a trailer thus launching his career. 

“If I can't play the fool, then I'll play the ghoul... one or the other”. Thus begins “Cropsy Speaks: An Interview with Actor Lou David”. Lou is an interesting kat (both in looks and personality).

“Summer Camp Nightmare: An Interview with Actress Leah Ayres” is a solid little bit. Ayres looks still looks rather stunning and talks about how she went from a ballroom dancer to actress. Well worth a watch.

Last up as far as video extras is about seven minutes of behind the scenes footage. Filmed on a camcorder, it mostly focuses on Savini's FX work. Gotta love that guy, seems like every time he was at work on set he had someone filming his amazing work and we thank him for that!

Lastly you get two different stills gallery and the films fantastic theatrical trailer.

It's simple if your a horror fan or a slasher film fan then you have to own this. This Blu-ray from Scream Factory is on my list of best releases of 2013. This is a MUST BUY, MUST OWN sorta release.

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