A prank misfires at an upstate New York summer camp, and caretaker Cropsy is horribly burned. He lurks in the woods and murders the next generation of camp counsellors.
Though an obvious imitation of Friday the 13th, this is actually based on the tale of ‘Cropsy’, one of the more persistent American campfire legends (as was a competing, even more ordinary slasher, Madman).
Directed by Brit Tony Maylam, following his sleeper success with Riddle of the Sands and en route to not much else, The Burning often pops up on lists of ‘early, embarrassing credits’ thanks to Holly Hunter in a one-line bit (‘Hey Todd, over here!’), Jason Alexander (Seinfeld) as the flamboyant fat slob and Fisher Stevens (Short Circuit) as ‘Woodstock’. In addition, the story was co-written by future Miramax supremo and Oscar magnet Harvey Weinstein.
It was briefly notorious in the 1980s when it landed on the Department of Public Prosecution’s ‘video nasties’ list, because a mix-up at the distributors meant that the version available on video was sixteen seconds or so bloodier than the BBFC-approved theatrical cut. It may be the tamest of all the video nasties, despite some finger-scissoring and shears-slashing from special effects make-up superstar Tom Savini.
The only real deviation from the Friday the 13th template is that the put-upon virgin who gets persecuted throughout but becomes almost the sole survivor of the massacre is a nerdy guy (Brian Backer) rather than the usual Jamie Lee Curtis-type ‘final girl’.
Quite apart from all the Friday the 13th sequels and Don’t Go in the House (which was also called The Burning for a while), this tends to blur in the memory, getting mixed up with slashalikes The Campsite Massacre, Body Count, Terror Train, Pledge Night, Slaughter High, Don’t Go in the Woods, etc.
The best thing about this is Tom Savini's superb, uncensored special effects.