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Film / The Burning

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Don't look, he'll see you.
Don't breathe, he'll hear you.
Don't move... you're dead!
The trailer

The Burning is an American Slasher Movie from 1981, conceived and produced by an early-career Harvey Weinstein (yes, the same person you're thinking of), written by Bob Weinstein and Peter Lawrence, and directed by Tony Maylam, with special effects by Tom Savini and a music score composed by keyboardist Rick Wakeman. The cast includes Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens, and Holly Hunter in their film debuts.

Five years after a group of kids accidentally set Camp Blackfoot's cruel caretaker, Cropsy (Lou David), on fire—the result of a prank involving a wormy skull with candles for eyes—he gets released from the hospital. After stabbing a prostitute, Cropsy heads back to the camp with a pair of garden shears and begins offing campers left and right.

A former Video Nasty due to some rather bloody death scenes (most notably the infamous raft sequence, which ended up being heavily censored in order to get an R-Rating), the film is mainly known for its lack of availability for many years; the VHS release quickly fell out of print, causing the film to gain cult status amongst horror fans who were lucky enough to see the film. After years of being in limbo due to rights issues, it finally saw an uncut DVD release in 2007.

This film provides examples of:

  • '80s Hair: As it takes place in the early '80s, this is pretty much a given.
  • Abandoned Mine: The climax takes place in the ruins of an abandoned copper mine.
  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: The blades of Cropsy's shears are sharp enough to cut through one's skull with one swipe.
  • The Alcoholic: According to Todd, Cropsy drank two bottles of whiskey in a day when he was still the caretaker at Camp Blackfoot.
  • All Men Are Perverts: The male characters are all quite the horndogs.
  • All Women Are Lustful: The girls are horny too. Hey, they're all hormonal teenagers. The girls even express interest in the muscular Glazer, though to their credit most snub him when he's mean to Alfred in front of them.
  • An Arm and a Leg: When Michelle reaches the adrift raft, a severed arm falls off it.
  • And Starring: "And Lou David as Cropsy".
  • Between My Legs: When Cropsy confronts Sally, she is initially shown between his legs before he goes for the killing strike.
  • Big Bad: Cropsy, who is out to kill some kids for the pain he had to endure.
  • Blood Is Squicker in Water: The raft massacre ends with blood dripping off the murdered campers into the river.
  • The Bully: Glazer, but only to Alfred. Other campers are certainly not scared of poking fun at him.
  • Camera Abuse: The camera lens gets wet during the splash fight when the older kids embark on their canoe trip.
  • Cassandra Truth: Alfred mentions seeing something (who turns out to be Cropsy) by the window of the cabin he and the other guy share, but nobody believes him. Later on, Todd doesn't really believe him either when Alfred tell him he saw Glazer be killed, but Todd does have the sense to at least check it out.
  • Cat Scare: A bird flying out of an outhouse scares Todd who was checking why the light were on inside.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: The police is alerted to the murders in the woods, but their helicopter arrives only when Tood and Alfred have dealt with Cropsy by themselves.
  • Chase Scene: Cropsy spends a prolonged period chasing Alfred through the woods.
  • Child Hater: The kids in the flashback pranked Cropsy for mistreating them. According to them, he has been beating kids and gotten away with it for years. Receiving third-degree burns all over his body only makes this trait worse.
  • Crusty Caretaker: Cropsy. Before the deadly prank that left him horribly disfigured, he was the cruel, alcoholic caretaker of Camp Blackfoot, who used to secretly beat the kids at the camp.
  • Daylight Horror: The raft massacre and everything following it takes place in broad daylight.
  • Deadly Prank: Provides the motivation for the killer. It tells the story of a cruel, alcoholic caretaker at a summer camp (nicknamed Cropsy, after the huge garden shears he carries) who falls victim to a prank that went out of control and leaves him horribly burned and disfigured. Following his release from the hospital, he returns to his old stomping ground and begins a murder spree. Naturally.
  • Evil Plan: Cropsy seeks to avenge the prank that caused him to be horribly burned, and is willing to kill innocents to do it.
  • The Faceless: Cropy, until the finale.
  • Facial Horror: Cropsy is finished off with an axe to the face.
  • Fade to Black: Except when they decide to do red on scenes of bloody murder.
  • Fanservice: Multiple of the female campers are shown topless.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Explaining Cropsy's condition to a new doctor, the nurse tells him that "It's a miracle he's still alive. Was me, I'd prefer to be dead. No way I'd want to be like this freak. He's a monster, man."
  • Fedora of Asskicking: Cropsy wears one not unlike the one Freddy Krueger would later wear in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
  • Feet-First Introduction: The prostitute is shown from Cropsy's POV as he stares at her legs as she stands in a doorway.The camera then follows her feet as she leads him back to her apartment, with her face not being seen till she starts to ascend the stairs.
  • Fingore: Woodstock gets his fingers cut off by Cropsy during the raft massacre.
  • Fire-Breathing Weapon: Cropsy whips out a makeshift flamethrower when he confronts Todd in his hideout.
  • Gainax Ending: A mild example compared to others. Did the events really happen or was it all just a campfire story? It's also possible that time has passed in the final scene, so it's also possible that it did happen and has become so legendary that the story is swapped around the fire by other camps.
  • Ghost Story: Around a campfire, Todd tells the story of Camp Blackfoot's caretaker Cropsy, and how he got burned. Eddy uses the moment to scare the listening canoe trippers by dressing up in a scary costume.
  • Girly Run: Demonstrated by Alfred as he runs from Cropsy, who just knocked out Todd.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: Karen returns from her skinny dip to find her clothes stolen. She follows a path made from them right into Cropsy's arms, and he cuts her throat.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Todd and Michelle, respectively. Todd is the friendly counselor who tries to relate to the kids, while Michelle is the stricter disciplinarian.
  • Hand of Death: During Cropsy's murders, often the only part of him shown are his hands holding the shears.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: Often accompanying the Murderer P.O.V.
  • High-School Hustler: Dave, who manages to get his hands on stuff like adult magazines and condoms to bring back to the cabin he shares with the other older male campers.
  • Hollywood Darkness: Almost all the night scenes are done by using a slightly dark filter on scenes actually shot in daylight.
  • Hope Spot: The raft crew heading back to Camp Stonewater spot one of their missing canoes drifting in the river, and make way to it. They find Cropsy hiding in it, and he kills them all.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: The canoe trip that the older kids are taking goes to a place called Devil's Creek.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Luckily for the younger campers, Cropsy only wants the older ones and the counselors.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Glazer, through the throat, against a tree.
  • Impromptu Tracheotomy:
    • Eddy gets his throat pierced with a garden shear blade.
    • Cropsy pierces Glazer's throat so hard with his shears that he is lifted from the ground.
  • Improvised Weapon: Cropsy uses a pair of scissors to stab the prostitute.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Unlike other fictional bullies, who are usually a serious problem for the protagonists due to physical power, popularity, wealth, family influence, or some combination of the above, Glazer is really just pitiful. The only person he successfully bullies at all is Alfred (who, let's face it, is creeping on his girlfriend), whom Todd and Dave immediately step in to protect. He spends the rest of the movie - until he's killed, at least - making empty threats as the other campers retaliate against him for his bullying, and sexually disappointing his girlfriend.
  • I've Never Seen Anything Like This Before: On Cropsy's burns, the nurse at the hospital explains to the new doctor that "I've been working here ten years, and I'm telling you, I ain't never seen anything like this."
  • Kill It with Fire: Cropsy is killed with his shears, an axe, and his flamethrower.
  • Leg Cling: After the raft is found and the remaining campers freak out, one of them is shown desperately clinging to another's leg.
  • Lodged-Blade Recycling: Alfred stabs Cropsy in the back with the same shears Cropsy had earlier used to pin him to the wall of the mine.
  • Male Gaze: As the girls of Camp Stonewater play baseball, Eddy and Dave (as well as the camera) take a good look at the behind of Karen.
  • Man on Fire: Cropsy both at the start and at the end.
  • Mooning: Dave, Fish, and Woodstock moon at Glazer as he angrily yells at them for shooting him in the ass with an air pistol.
  • Murderer P.O.V.: We often see things from Cropsy's point of view.
  • Neck Lift: Glazer, via shears through the throat.
  • Never Found the Body: Cropsy, in Todd and the ending counselor's campfire story.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Cropsy, and a few of the campers (like "Fish").
  • Orderlies are Creeps: One treats Cropsy like a sideshow attraction, trying to scare an intern by showing him off. He instead gets the shit scared out of him when Cropsy grabs his arm.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: When what's left of the raft is discovered, and when Todd stumbles onto Karen's body in the mine.
  • The Peeping Tom: Alfred, who almost gets kicked out of camp for peeking on Sally in the shower, and later on spies on her and Glazer getting cozy and making out.
  • Pinned to the Wall: Cropsy uses his shears to nail Alfred to the wall of the old mine.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Dave, Woodstock and Fish spend most of the movie goofing around and cracking jokes.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: In his book Grande Illusions Tom Savini deflects claims of Cropsy's face being unrealistic by stating have sculpted it by "remembering the pictures I'd seen at the burn unit at Pittsburgh's Mercy Hospital and a beggar I'd seen on the streets of downtown Pittsburgh when I was a kid, and the book Nursing the Burn Patient by Feller." It is possible, though, that Cropsy's features are an amalgamation of several worst-case scenarios and therefore unlikely in real life.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The climax was originally scripted to take place in a cave. However, the first gave the production attempted to use proved to be full of bats, and the second collapsed before shooting could start. So the setting was changed to use the ruins of an old copper mine the crew had discovered while filming.
  • Really Gets Around: Eddy brags about the number of women he has been with, which puts Karen off.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Todd, who does his best to relate to campers and give them the benefit of the doubt, such as not reporting Alfred when he is caught spying on Sally in the shower.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: Cropsy, due to the combination of his disfigured red skin, and black wardrobe.
  • The Reveal: Upon confronting Cropsy, flashbacks reveal that Todd was one of the campers responsible for the prank that disfigured him.
  • Revised Ending: A televised version of the film reveals it was all just a campfire story being told by Todd.
  • River of Insanity: An overnight canoe trip to Devil's Creek turns into a bloody massacre after the campers are stranded when Cropsy steals the canoes.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Cropsy is out for revenge on the kids who caused his hideous burns. But he instead vents his anger on a random group of campers.
  • Ruins for Ruins' Sake: The finale takes place amid the ruins of an old copper mine that has not previously been mentioned in the film.note 
  • Rule of Pool: As other guys dive in the lake, Alfred isn't that excited to follow, as he cannot swim. Glazer then rushes to him and pushes him into the water. Moments later, after Woodstock shoots Glazer in the ass with his air pistol while he tries showing off to the girls, camper Rhoda does the same to Glazer while his back is turned.
  • Sex Signals Death: Sally and Glazer are killed shortly after they had sex. Karen and Eddy avert this trope when Karen refuses to have sex with Eddy, but both end up killed anyway.
  • Shear Menace: Cropsy enters the Camp Stonewater grounds with a pair of new gardening shears at hand.
  • Shot in the Ass: To get back at Glazer for pushing Alfred into the water, Dave has Woodstock shoot him in the ass with his air pistol to ruin Glazer's chance at impressing girls.
  • Shower Scene: Sally takes a shower early in the morning, and Alfred spies on her. He is soon found out, and her scream provides a false scare for the others.
  • Silent Antagonist: Cropsy never utters a word, he just screams when he is in pain.
  • Sinister Silhouettes: The raft massacre features Cropsy as a black silhouette against the sky as he lays waste on his victims with his shears. The original poster and the DVD/VHS release feature it prominently on the forefront.
  • Skinny Dipping: In the middle of the night, Eddy convinces Karen to take a naked swim in the river. Cropsy spies on them, looking for an easy kill.
  • Slashed Throat: Karen's body is found with a slit throat.
  • Speed Sex: When Glazer finally manages to convince Sally to have sex with him, the resulting tryst takes about thirty seconds before he is finished. Sally isn't all that impressed ("That's all?"), but she is willing to let him try again later. Too bad for them, since they are killed by Cropsy soon afterwards.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Alfred is a rare non-villainous example.
  • Stout Strength: The plump female camper is shown hauling logs.
    • Dave is played by Jason Alexander, who even at this age is far from skinny. He's also the one who protects most of the smaller campers from Glazer. He mostly uses humor and the threat of cutting off Glazer's contraband connection to do so, but both are made possible by the fact that Glazer can't threaten him physically.
  • Summer Campy: While a summer camp is the initial setting most of the stalking and murdering takes place on a canoe trip that the older kids take part in.
  • The Titling
  • Title In: There are five of them in the first fifteen minutes:
    • "Camp Blackfoot" for the scene of Cropsy's prank.
    • "St. Catherine's Hospital - one week later" for the aftermath of the prank.
    • "Five Years Later" for Cropsy's release from the hospital.
    • "Camp Stonewater" for the setting which introduces the main characters properly.
  • Urban Legends: Which inspired the Documentary Cropsy.
  • Video Nasties: It was one of the 39 prosecuted films.
  • Wall Slump: Glazer slumps against the tree that Cropsy impales him on.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Averted. One of the authorities expresses some brief incredulity, but it's just shock and difficulty accepting that such a horrible and unlikely thing has happened. A second look at the traumatized survivors is all it takes to convince them that it's no joke.
  • Your Mom: Given when the guys are looking for material to build a raft in the riverbed.
    Fish: Man, what the Hell are we supposed to be looking for anyway?
    Woodstock and Dave: Your mother.