A while ago, a prank was pulled on the caretaker of this summer camp in New York State, but it went horribly wrong. What was supposed to happen was that Cropsy, as he was nicknamed due to his love of garden shears, would wake up in his cabin and see a mouldering skull with candles in the eye sockets, placed there by four of the kids who were attending the camp because they held a grudge against him and wanted to shake him up a bit. Tragically, Cropsy knocked over the skull in his shock and set his cabin and himself on fire, ending up unrecognisably disfigured. Something like that can twist a man's mind...
The Burning is better known for the people involved with it and how many went on to bigger things than it is for being part of the early eighties slasher cycle. For a start, it was the first film produced by the Weinstein brothers, who formed Miramax to make it, and became major players in the American cinematic landscape, particularly in the nineties. They both contributed to the (rather basic) script, following the template set in stone by the likes of Halloween and Friday the 13th, the latter of which this most resembles although it is claimed that the brothers wrote their script before Jason Vorhees broke into movies.
The whole thing is meant to be based on an urban legend told by campers, so it could have been the Weinsteins were bringing a tale from their childhood to grisly life. Along for the ride were a few soon to be better known cast members, some more successful than others, but considering a lot of these pictures featured people you've never heard of and never will again, it wasn't half bad that the likes of Jason Alexander (wisecracking and with hair), Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter were onboard. It could have been that the Weinsteins were talent spotters, or maybe they were lucky, but the bigger names attached to this project have lent it more longevity than some of the rip-offs of this genre.
Behind the scenes were two men who had already made their names, firstly Rick Wakeman, prog rock keyboard wizard and denizen of Countdown's Dictionary Corner extraordinaire, taking care of the music, which might not have been his best work but at least sounds professional in the creepy synthesiser fashion of the day. Secondly, our man with the special effects was the legendary Tom Savini, who had taken care of the same tasks on the original Friday the 13th, although here you faced a long wait to see much of his work as most of The Burning was not about being chased by a maniac at all, but about a bunch of kids and the hijinks they got up to at summer camp - they were not even the same kids who had caused the tragedy at the beginning.
Poor old Cropsy gets unceremoniously chucked out of hospital with the doctors' apologies ringing in his ears, goes out to get laid but so disgusts his prostitute of choice that he murders her out of shame. Slight overreaction, and not one which is going to win him any friends, but it does set him up as homicidal. Thereafter we follow the kids at a camp neighbouring the one he was caretaker for, and discover he is now an urban legend, a story to tell the teens to keep them awake around the campfire. Fair enough, as there is an modern folktale feeling to a lot of slasher movies, but when we find out the one doing the telling has a more vested interest in what happened to Cropsy that fateful night, without whom none of this unpleasantness would have occured, we can't help but question his hero status. Otherwise, the mayhem is worth waiting for if you're a fan of such efforts, but it does come across as uninspired, and from this distance almost a parody of its type. You won't forget the canoe scene in a hurry, though.