With horror movies it’s pretty easy to come up with some bullshit excuse as to why you’re subjecting yourself to what is typically, by almost every conceivable measure, a pretty repugnant piece of shit movie. The Friday the 13th series has an unreasonably fierce puritanical streak, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is about regional tension and the economic repercussions of automating farm labor, and every zombie movie ever is about how we’re the real monsters. 1981’s The Burning is about children getting stabbed to death with garden shears. Oh, and seeing some full frontal 80s girls. That’s it. It doesn’t try to be a sketchily realized allegory for class conflict, or whatever, and it doesn’t try to be a bloody reminder of the importance of abstinence; you could be a prostitute or a 12 year-old girl, it doesn’t matter to the melty-faced bad guy with the garden shears, you are getting sheared either way. The only cautionary lesson the movie has to offer is to never go to summer camp, or maybe never accidentally set people on fire because they might come back and kill you with garden shears.
The Burning is a shameless Friday the 13th knock-off in dire need of a better editor. Scenes drag on endlessly, a splash fight between campers goes on for so long that you start to wonder if the editor nodded off while he was working on it. And then there's the climax, which relies on reused (or maybe just identical) footage of characters peeking around corners over and over and over again. Still, despite being pretty technically retarded, The Burning turns out to be quite a lot of fun, and boasts an oddly deep pedigree. It was one of the first movies from Miramax and its founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein (Bob has a story credit, Harvey produced); it features inspired and incredibly graphic make-up effects from FX legend Tom Savini; and it features a young cast of future famous faces like Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter, and Fisher Stevens all in their first screen roles.
Tomorrow: Will the the 2010 remake of The Crazies be better than the original? Here's hoping.