The standalone slasher film is an odd bird. With the possible exception of the current spate of “shared universe” blockbusters (read: Marvel and their still-mostly-hypothetical competitors), few genres are as dependent on other films as the post-Halloween wave of psycho flicks. When someone talks about Friday the 13th, for example, they’re most likely not talking about the 1980 original, nor are they likely thinking of any specific sequel, so much as the overall idea of a summer camp (as seen in Part 1) being terrorized by Jason Voorhees (who showed up in earnest in Part 2) wearing his signature hockey mask (which he didn’t pick up until the end of Part 3). Indeed, in the personality-happy ‘80s, so much of the genre was occupied by your Freddies and your Michaels and your Chuckies that it was easy to forget there was any other type of horror. For better or for worse, sequels almost seemed like an essential part of the genre.
And yet, despite not spawning a single sequel, spinoff, or reboot, 1981’s much loved The Burning is, in many ways, the quintessential slasher film. Drawing inspiration from a series of hoary campfire tales, the film opens on the immolation of summer camp caretaker Cropsy as the result of a cruel and elaborate (yet oddly obtuse) prank. Five years later, Cropsy is released from his burn ward, and makes his way back to the summer camp to… well, you know the rest.
Today, The Burning is widely remembered for its embarrassment of talent: it was the first production from Miramax (whose head honcho, Harvey Weinstein, magnanimously credits himself as the film’s “creator”), with a pulsing synth score by Yes mastermind Rick Wakeman and a cast including Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens, and Jason Alexander (hilariously Costanza-ish in his role as a fast-talking teenager). The real star, however, is Tom Savini, who famously turned down Friday the 13th Part 2 to provide his reliably sticky gore effects. Savini’s work was on-point enough to earn the film its spot on the British government’s infamous “Video Nasty” list, yet there’s an innocence to The Burning befitting its campfire origins. The characters, while obnoxious, are likable enough that their inevitable deaths are actually somewhat upsetting, and the lack of a follow-up gives a greater sense that it’s actually telling a story. While Cropsy never did take his place at the iconic slasher table, I guarantee you will never handle a pair of garden clippers the same way again.
dir. Tony Maylam
Screens 6/26 and 6/27 @ Coolidge – midnight screenings!