Directed by Tony Maylam
Starring Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer
Cinematography by Harvey Harrison Film Editing by Jack Sholder
1h 31min | Horror | 8 May 1981 (USA)
The movie starts out with a group of campers bent on somewhat playful revenge toward asshole caretaker Cropsy, who has apparently been terrorizing campgoers for years. They are intent on “scaring the shit out of him”. It’s a noble goal and you would think it would be easily achieved, and that perhaps afterward, everyone would have a good laugh, Cropsy would stop drinking and start being nicer to campers, and everything would be peachy keen at Camp Blackfoot.
You would think that, but it would be really naive of you.
The campers sneak into Cropsy’s cabin and plant a rotting human skull of dubious origin with tealight candle eyes by the man’s bedside. They howl outside of his window and when he wakes up, he’s predictably frightened. In his panic, Cropsy knocks the skull over onto his leg and the fire spreads outrageously. There’s a gas can in his cabin and not in a storage shed somewhere. You can guess what happens next — it isn’t pretty. Cropsy runs out of the cabin and goes rolling down a ravine into the river, while the horrified campers decide just to run away.
The next scene shows a doctor and an orderly walking down a hospital corridor making idle chit chat. The orderly informs the doctor that he’s seen some shit and has something really special to show him. The orderly peels back about fifteen curtains to get to a mysterious burn victim, urging the doctor to come and take a look. The burn victim’s grotesque looking arm is revealed when he reaches out to grab the orderly. The doctor promptly runs out of the room, leaving the orderly to pry himself out of the man’s grasp.
The title credits roll and after them, we see that it is now five years later. There are voice overs of people telling Cropsy that he needs to leave now, the skin grafts haven’t taken, that he shouldn’t be bitter to the little shits who ruined his life, and that he’s lucky to be alive, as he’s wheeled to the hospital doors. His first point of order is naturally to kill an overly chatty and whiny-voiced sex worker who doesn’t much care for what she sees when she gets a glimpse of the extensive burns the man has. He stabs her repeatedly in the stomach with her own sewing scissors and then pushes her out the window.
The film flashes to a view of a scenic lake. Camp Blackfoot is now called Camp Stonewater — because hey, no one will ever know about gruesome accidents as long as you change the name, right? There are campers participating in various activities, but the real highlight is Eddy (Ned Eisenberg, Law and Order) telling Dave (George Constan– err, Jason Alexander, in his film debut) about how much he’d like to get with camp shy-hottie Karen. During a baseball game, a female camper has to chase the ball into the woods and Cropsy lurks behind her, ready to strike. Just as he’s about to make his move, she skips back to daylight and sunshine without apparently noticing that there’s a huge burn victim ready to kill her.
For the next twenty or so we’re treated to a more personal glimpse of the campers lives. It gives us enough time to know exactly who want to see killed first without being so obnoxious that it derails the tone of the film. Camp weird guy Alfred (Brian Backer, later from Fast Times at Ridgemont High) sees Cropsy appear outside his window and no one believes him, because he’s the camp outcast. Their mistake. There are a few more near scares before the campers embark on a doomy sounding canoe trip. The campers are treated to Camp Blackfoot/Cropsy’s origin story, via campfire ghost story. Of course there’s a camper waiting to jump out of the bushes just at the good part in the story and everyone regards the tale as nothing more than campfire fluff.
The film picks up at a reasonable pace after that. The atmosphere is nicely maintained throughout the movie, with help from the decent score by Rick Wakeman. Worth noting is that the special effects were some of Tom Savini’s earliest works and he’s said that he was only given three days to come up with Cropsy’s makeup. That being said, he did a good job with what he was afforded and the effects certainly aren’t terrible, especially for a film that was made in 1981.
The Burning – Raft Massacre Scene
It’s worth noting that this isn’t just the film debut of Jason Alexander, but also Fisher Stevens (Short Circuit, Hackers) and Oscar award winner Holly Hunter (The Piano).
For me, this film embodies one of the earliest examples of a true slasher flick. There are no real twists and turns, no guessing games of ‘who’s the killer’ from the audience, and there’s not a lot of looking into Cropsy’s psyche or trying to understand what he’s done. It’s just a solid attempt from the Weinstein Brothers to capitalize upon the early slasher genre. And for this reviewer, it was a successful one. The acting is as good as it needs to be in a slasher film and the directing from Tony Maylam does it’s job. It’s a no-brainer movie that stands out for this reviewer as a cult classic that has gotten the attention it’s deserved over the years and remains little known for no good reason.
It’s definitely worth a view for connoisseurs of slasher movies or people into older horror flicks, or any of you who want to see something different from today’s modern horror film offerings.