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The Burning

The Burning

By Jamie Suckley • February 13th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Miramax Films

Original release: May 8th, 1981
Running time: 91 minutes

Director: Tony Maylam
Writers: Brad Grey, Harvey Weinstein, Tony Maylam
Producers: Harvey Weinstein

Cast: Lou David, Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Jason Alexander, Ned Eisenberg, Holly Hunter

The Burning

Having watched horror films from an early age, I’ve learned a lot of life lessons, which I’ve (mostly) followed. Remember the horror movie survival rules. There’s one that should be engraved onto this sacred list, a vital one that’s always led many teens straight onto a cold morgue slab. Practical jokes, when properly carried out, are fun. I know I like to play a few on unsuspecting friends and family members when I get the chance. However, when people go one step too far and the situation escalates out of control it can only mean one thing: revenge. You only have to remember how Carrie (1976) ended to know what I’m saying.

It was during the mid 90’s when Tony Maylam’s1981 film The Burning showed me the aftermath of a prank gone terribly wrong. Opening at “Camp Blackfoot”, a group of boys are planning to carry out a prank on the weird, alcoholic, and sadistic caretaker, Cropsy (Lou David) – his nickname due to the large garden shears he carries – during the middle of the night. They sneak into his cabin and set a rotting skull on fire, which ends in disaster as the cabin and Cropsy are engulfed in flames. In horror the boys watch as he stumbles out of the fire and tumbles into a river, extinguishing the flames.

Five years later, Cropsy’s released from hospital, hiding his deformities with glasses, a hat and large coat. Fuelled by contained rage after being bandaged in a hospital bed and countless unsuccessful skin grafts, he kills a prostitute with a pair of scissors before setting off to another summer camp named “Camp Stonewater” where he gets reacquainted with his trusty gardening shears.

The Burning

The slasher (also known as splatter movies) cycle of the 1980’s has always been my favourite era of horror films. There isn’t anything particularly original about the films that followed the likes of Halloween (1978), however as Worland stated the sub-genre was:

“Largely intended to showcase increasingly gory and spectacular illusions of dismemberment, impalement and decomposing flesh that drew audiences largely for the craft of the makeup artist.” ¹

Each film released tried to carve its name in horror film history and appeal to the ever-growing audiences who would pay to see people brutally murdered. The Burning wasn’t trying to throw the audience off the scent with a ridiculous twist – just mimicking Friday the 13th’s setting and expanding on the carnage.

One of the most memorable scenes that makes the film stand out is the infamous ‘raft massacre’ scene – regarded by many horror fans as one of the most brutal death sequences in a slasher film. Five teens tracking down some missing canoes on a raft approach one they find drifting down the river. Out of nowhere the dark shadow of The BurningCropsy, holding his shears, stands up and massacres each and every person on the raft. Fingers are sliced off, people are stabbed, throats are slit and another victim who just screams whilst everyone is being murdered gets her head cut open with the swinging blade of the sheers.

The scene ends with her arm hanging over the edge of the raft and blood trickling down it into the water. What made this scene so memorable to me was the fact that Cropsy attacked in the day – he wasn’t hiding in the darkness but had lured the victims to a point where they couldn’t escape.

During its release, due to the excessive gore scenes, the film caught the attention of the BBFC who swiftly added it to the notorious Video Nasty list. The two scenes that were heavily censored included the raft massacre and the murder of a prostitute. It took almost 21 years for the full-uncut version to be released in the UK.

Being a fan of the Friday the 13th series and a ten year old who was intrigued by VHS box covers I persuaded my mum to rent the cut version from the local video shop. I’ll not lie. I was actually terrified. The music was unnerving, the murders gruesome and the killer wasn’t masked but cleverly shadowed in the daylight, making his appearance not fully shown until the climax.


  • [1] Worland, Rick (2007) The Horror Film: An Introduction (New Approaches to Film Genre), Blackwell Publishing, Oxford

It played on my mind, mixing the horror stories my mum used to tell me about, with the idea of pranks going wrong. It still baffles me when people in films play practical jokes on the outsiders; you know it’s going to go wrong from the word go and that they’ll pay for it.

Fifteen years later and having seen the full-uncut version I regard The Burning as one of my favourite slasher films. I’ll continue playing pranks but I always make sure it can’t escalate out of control. I’d rather not get stalked by a vengeful killer, thank you very much.

Jamie Suckley

Jamie Suckley

Jamie, editor for Cult Movies at Static Mass, is a 24 year old media studies graduate from Sheffield, who likes nothing better than watching films. If he was to star in a horror film he’d like to be the first one killed (think Drew Barrymore in Scream).

He has a keen interest in horror which started when he was a child. Due to his hyperactive behaviour his cousins made him watch films they thought would calm him down- They were wrong! It was watching Hellraiser and Killer Klowns from Outer Space that his passion for horror began. Over the years this developed into a passion for zombies, madmen, mutated animals and all things gore.

When he’s not working, in his dream world, worrying about zombie epidemics or watching films, he can be found on Twitter sharing his thoughts and bringing his dream world into reality.

You can follow Jamie on Twitter @JamieSuckley.

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