If nothing else, The Burning (1981) proves my theory that you can’t lose with horror movies; if they’re good, they’re scary, and if they’re bad, they’re funny as hell.
The Burning was released in the wake of the success of the original Friday the 13th, and takes on the similar challenges of making rural locations, bodies of water, and canoes seem terrifying day and night. Granted, it’s much less successful in this endeavor, but as I said half-way through the film – “Yes, this is awful. But you can’t say this isn’t entertainment.”
Here’s the set-up: Teenaged campers at Camp Blackfoot, newly sexually aware, are being stalked and killed by a murderous burn victim. As it seems, the antagonist, whose name is Cropsy and this will go down in the annals of history as the worst name ever given to an undead pyscho killer since Jason, was once the caretaker of the camp, and was burned alive by former campers in an ill-fated prank.
Another comedic high-point: The flick features a young, curly-haired Jason Alexander as the likeable camp jokester. If you’re judging by overall quality-of-film standards, he’s easily the best part of the movie, upstaged only by its unabashed badness overall. It’s also Harvey Weinstein’s (Pulp Fiction, Scream) producing debut, and he wrote the screenplay. Throw in the bit part Holly Hunter plays – blink, you miss it – and The Burning earns a little bit of film-history cache, but in the end, it’s best enjoyed ironically.
Characters who seem to be almost laughing as they’re brutally murdered. The faulty logistics of six campers killed at once, while Cropsy balances in a canoe. The severed arm that comes off in a counselor’s hand as she reaches for a camper she thinks is sleeping. The way the camera casually pans down as a girl washes her hair in the shower, or is being killed with garden shears after a skinny dip, or is brushing her hair in the nude. All of these hilarious moments prove that when it comes to The Burning, the word unapologetic never applied so well.
Bad movies have earned their place as an important part of the horror tradition unlike they have in any other genre – except maybe sci-fi. The unfortunately named villain, the b-acting, the kneesocks … these alone make The Burning a classic. The best approach to this one: Instead of suspending your disbelief, amplify it.
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Rating: 2 1/2 Jax