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Harvey Weinstein (yes, that scumbag), Bob Weinstein and Corky Burger had been working as rock concert producers in the 1970s and were keen to break into the movie industry.

Harvey brought the idea of basing a movie on a well known urban legend to producer Michael Cohl and wrote a short treatment called ‘The Cropsy Maniac’.  Bob Weinstein and Peter Lawrence ended up writing the screenplay once the name change was put into place.

Soon enough, British director Tony Maylam was hired to helm the picture due to his association with Weinstein and Burger from his time directing rock documentaries.

Maylam and Harvey Weinstein then flew to Pittsburgh to secure the services of special FX artist, Tom Savini. Savini liked the script and was impressed with their desire to acquire his talents. The parents of the Weinstein’s, Miriam and Max, helped fund the picture and a merge of their names formed the now (in)famous production company, Miramax.

The budget was believed to have been around $1.5 million – a big overspend for the newbies, who planned on a much tighter outlay – and the film started shooting in late 1980 around Buffalo and North Tonawanda, New York.

Test screenings for The Burning were very positive and the film was picked up for distribution by Filmways Pictures  in February 1981.


I first spotted The Burning on the bottom shelf of my local video shop, Backstage Video, when I was around 11 (early 1990s). It stood out partially because it had Vipco written on it (I had never heard of them) and was advertising itself as ‘previously banned’. I’d heard of the term ‘video nasty’ but wasn’t quite sure what it meant.

I knew that meant it must be badass but at the same time, even though there was this awesome warning sticker, it explained that the film was still cut.

The back also featured zero screenshots. This is something I hated as a kid as it didn’t give me a taste to feed my imagination. The cover was ok but I needed more.

Needless to say, I never bothered asking my Dad to rent it for me. I’d always find something I wanted more and assumed that one day I’d get around to it anyway. I had no idea at the time of how big a deal The Burning was.

Fast forward to my college years, my abuse of the internet (1997-1999) and an introduction to the message boards of Arrow in the Head and all that changed.

The Burning was clearly highly regarded amongst slasher fans and by the time it hit DVD UNCUT in 2002, this 21 year old was desperate to get hold of what became a must have title.

When I saw it beaming from the shelves in Andy’s Records, I swiftly snapped it up and raced home for a festival of carnage. It more than lived up to its online reputation. I was genuinely shocked and unnerved at what unfolded before my eyes. It felt like a true ‘video nasty’….


‘When an ill-advised prank misfires, summer camp caretaker Cropsy is committed to hospital with hideous burns.

Released after five years, hospital officials warn him not to blame the young campers who caused his disfigurement. But no sooner is Cropsy back on the streets than he’s headed back to camp with a rusty pair of shears in hand, determined to exact his bloody revenge.’


Tony Maylam hits all the right notes at all the right moments.  From the opening accident at Camp Blackfoot to the final showdown, he ensures that The Burning offers up the key ingredients to a healthy slasher diet.

The pre-credits tragedy – one of the classic tropes of the sub-genre –  is brilliantly staged and offers up more substance than your average slasher.  Usually, a prank gone horribly wrong providing the catalyst for a psychopath’s bid for vengeance is enough to satisfy an audience. Here, Maylam shows the truly frightening (and briefly funny) aftermath of Cropsy recovering from his burns in hospital – for a long 5 years.

An orderly grabs a newbie doctor (who looks about 40) and delivers a disturbing monologue about how Cropsy’s burns are the worst thing he’s seen in 10 years. It’s serves as a warning, building Cropsy up to be something no longer of this world – a monster. Yes, this is where you hear the classic ‘Big Mac’ line and its hilarious, but I was still deeply troubled by the prospect of a dude all burnt up, lusting for revenge.

Maylam understands that building up the danger element in your slasher villain is important. The post opening credits is one of the most subtle but effective scenes in slasher history. We track a nurse pushing Cropsy in a wheelchair, down a long corridor, towards the door. Wakeman’s spine tingling score accompanies a montage of numerous doctor’s voices, explaining how severe his injuries were and that he’s lucky to be alive.

“I know you still resent those kids but try not to blame anyone for what happened. It was an accident. Purely, an accident…”

As Cropsy emerges from the wheelchair and walks out of the exit, you know it’s the beginning of something terrible.

The ominous scene feels like it takes cues from a giallo film and what follows throws up grimy grindhouse vibes as Cropsy wanders through the sleazy sex-filled city streets, looking for a prostitute (undoubtedly to see if his crispy junk still works).

The odd detractor of The Burning question the tone of this scene, feeling it’s out of place for a camp slasher and is more suited to a giallo or urban exploitation picture. But I love it. The prostitute regrets asking to see Cropsy’s face and checks out on the wrong end of a pair of scissors, smashing through a window in the process. Shades of Argento? Sure. That’s what makes it so great. It also let’s me know that Cropsy ain’t fucking around (nor Tom Savini, for that matter).

As he finally gets to camp, Maylam largely keeps Cropsy in the shadows and begins to flesh out the characters. This is another wise choice as so often do cardboard cut outs stand in for ‘real people’ in slashers. There’s plenty going on with loads of humorous camp shenanigans to keep you entertained.

Some critics feel that there’s too much padding during these scenes and that it takes a while for the real meat on the bones slasher stuff to kick in but I disagree. I built a bond with the characters and actually cared for them.

When killing season finally begins, it’s more shocking to see them dispatched in ruthless, graphic fashion.

Besides, there’s plenty of Cropsy stalking to enjoy in the mean time. The narrative may shift away from him but he’s still lurking. Maylam sets up a couple of cool false scares with the classic killer POV. He even smeared vaseline on the camera lens to give it that lurid, scuzzy feel.

The atmosphere of The Burning is also on point. I’m always on edge with a nervous, hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach.  The soundtrack combines perfectly with the camerawork to create a sense of foreboding. You just feel like this one isn’t going to end well.

Moving on to the expertly staged and fantastically crafted murder sequences; Maylam wanted as close to perfection as possible, even resorting to playing Cropsy himself. The garden shears as a weapon of choice were his idea and to get exactly what he wanted in the shot, donned the Cropsy attire. If you want something done right, do it yourself, I guess.

Even though the main talking point of The Burning is the infamous raft scene, don’t think that this is all you get on the gore front. Tom Savini wasn’t brought in for a holiday. There are several brutal, shocking, grisly deaths. Very impressive stuff. Some of the best and most memorable in the sub-genre.

The finale does suffer from slight pacing issues but I’ll blame that on editor, Jack Sholder (who went on to helm 1982 slasher, Alone in the Dark, as well as Freddy’s 2nd outing in 1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge). Funnily enough, Sholder didn’t think much of the film (it’s far better than Alone in the Dark) but I guess he was in love with showing countless shots of sweaty, pit stained Final Boy, Alfred, running around the forest for what felt like 30 minutes.


The Burning is one of many slashers to provide its cast with a jumping off point for successful careers.

Jason Alexander (Seinfeld’s very own George Costanza) plays Dave, a likeable camper with most of his hair in place.
The Pianist’s Oscar winning actress Holly Hunter has a very minor role (a role so minor I still forget when she appears, even though I’ve seen the several times).
Fisher Stevens (Short CircuitFriendsHackers) is Woodstock, a practical joker who hangs out with the main group of boys.

Brian Backer plays Final Boy and resident pervert/loner/bully victim, Alfred. Sure, this kid is a clear virgin but I’m not sure he’s Final Boy material.  Backer also stars in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol.

Head camp councillors Todd and Michelle are played by Brian Matthews and Leah Ayres. Todd is one of the original kids who played the prank on Cropsy 5 years earlier but doesn’t seem to draw much attention to himself. You get the feeling Cropsy doesn’t care that much about revenge towards Todd. It’s more of a free for all (or maybe the fire decimated his memory, the poor sod).

My favourite characters are Glazer and Eddy (Larry Joshua and Ned Eisdenberg). Glazer is your typical camp bully, who is big enough and mean enough to frighten anyone but somehow has a slight soft spot for the girl he’s desperately trying to nail.

He often bullies Alfred and looks 3 years older than the staff but is given hilarious one liners and somehow comes across as likeable (probably because Alfred IS a bit creepy). His hair also rocks.

Eddy actually deserves more attention than Alfred and Glazer combined as this guy is a nasty bastard. Sexually aggressive and hostile, he strikes me as somebody who is on his way to a life in and out of prison. The anger he displays when a girl spurns his advances is a little worrying!

Sally (Carrick Glenn) is the object of Glazer’s affections and victim of Alfred’s creepy peepers. Glenn went on to star in under appreciated 1982 slasher, Girls Nite Out, before disappearing from screens forever.

On the whole, the acting is of a decent standard. The great performers went on to have the careers they deserved and the slightly more wooden (including a silly billy who looks directly at the camera during an emotional scene) probably never starred in anything again.


Cropsy wears black boots, a thick, black overcoat and dons a fedora when the mood strikes him. His face is a horribly burnt, disfigured mess and his weapon of choice is a pair of garden shears.


A very healthy 10. Cropsy racks up some seriously admirable numbers. It’s not the highest body count you’ll see in a slasher film but The Burning achieves a beautiful balance of quantity AND quality. This crispy bastard was not a happy camper!


Tom Savini knocks it out of the park. This man is responsible for some of the greatest gore gags in the genre’s history. After working wonders on the original Friday the 13th the year before, Savini famously passed on returning for the sequel (and birth of Jason Voorhees as iconic slasher villian) in favour of The Burning.

Although he wasn’t happy with the look of Cropsy (due to time restraints), Savini’s make up for the death scenes is so good, I’d be hard pushed to name any slasher which does it better.

We get scissors to the guts, garden shears through the throat, an axe rammed through a head and more. The pièce de résistance is the infamous raft sequence, which is the greatest mass kill sequence in the sub-genre’s history. A close up of a teen’s fingers getting chopped off has become an iconic moment for fans.

Sally soaps up her tits in the shower while the dirty pervert, Alfred, spies on. *You may be a virginal Final Boy, Alfie, but you’ve got a keen eye for shit that usually gets you killed!*

Karen showcases her knockers, full on bush and ass in a full frontal butt job. It’s 1981 so there’s no Brazilian or landing strips here, I’m afraid.

Glazer (aka ‘Gayzer’ because I’m sure he’s over compensating with his sweaty, testosterone fueled macho act) gets his meaty ass out after pounding Sally and we also get to see a gang of mooning asses involving Dave and Woodstock (who accidentally shows his bollocks as well). Yes, you witness George Costanza’s buttocks as well as the guy from Short Circuit’s scrotum! A treat for the whole family!


Legendary progressive rock icon, Rick Wakeman, was hired to compose the film’s score and totally nailed it. Critics argued that his soundtrack was too much of a style shift to suit your bog standard slasher movie but I love the way the synth and piano compliment each other. It’s partially a dreamy, hypnotic concoction which hints at danger but knows how to pump out those troublesome cues when you know Cropsy is out to do damage!

Wakeman famously stated that he turned down a percentage of the profits in exchange for a flat fee as he was sure the film would come and go quickly. It turned out to be a sizeable hit in Japan and he missed out on a pretty penny!

Now widely regarded as one of the greatest horror soundtracks ever, the score for The Burning is easily one of the slasher sub-genre’s best.  It’s available on vinyl, cassette and CD.


The Burning’s journey to slasher superstardom was long and arduous. In the US the film was heavily censored by the MPAA to achieve an R-rating after panic and hysteria over John Lennon’s death caused much concern about the effects of violence in movies.

It was released on a regional rollout (such was the norm back then) and performed well in some areas but struggled when it came up against other better known slashers which were in play at the time (ironically, Friday the 13th Part 2 – the sequel to the film which The Burning was accused of ripping off – being one of them).

It faded quickly but that didn’t stop it from coming back for another go, 18 months later under different distribution. It sold well in New York again, but seemed to disappear quickly. The Burning’s greatest achievement was slaying the box office in Japan.

The UK release shared a similar lukewarm impact to the US. It came and went in cinemas with a cut X-certificate by the BBFC and only started to gain notoriety when it was released on video in 1982.

After adopting the same moral stance as the US, the UK was caught up in the scandal of the ‘video nasty’  – a term used to describe home videos which featured explicit violence.  In the early 1980’s it wasn’t illegal for videotapes to go on sale without being reviewed by the BBFC, resulting in many horror films being distributed in their pure uncut forms. Needless to say, this upset moral crusaders (I’m looking at you, Mary Shitehouse) and many campaigned to get these films banned.

Eventually, a law was exposed and any video tape determined to violate the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 was liable for prosecution. A list of 72 films was compiled by the Director of Public Prosecutions and so local authorities went about trying to identify these ‘video nasties’ in order to prevent children from watching them and growing up to become serial killers!

As it happens, Thorn EMI accidentally released The Burning completely uncut and eventually tried to appease the prosecutors by rectifying their mistake and releasing a cut version. They landed themselves in hot water and the uncut tape became an instant hit with collectors, many not sure whether they had secured the film in all its gory glory until they got it home and played the tape!

In its uncut form, The Burning gained new fans and grew a cult following. The legendary ‘raft scene’ is regarded by many as the best mass kill orgy full stop. It wasn’t released uncut on DVD until 2002 in the UK (and 2007 in the US) but these days The Burning is considered to be one of the best slasher films ever made.


The Burning is available on all of the major formats. Over the years it has seen several releases on video (cut and oopsy – uncut), DVD and I think even laserdisc.

There’s no point in discussing those tired ass formats as all you need to know is that The Burning is available on Blu-ray from Arrow Video in the UK and Scream Factory in the US. I personally have the Arrow Video edition but both come with fantastic new cover art (as well as the original) and a whole host of extras including an interview with Tom Savini and cast and crew commentaries.  Hell, Arrow even dropped a limited edition steelbook.

Which version is the best? In an ideal world, you’d own both but the Arrow version should edge it for including an audio commentary with the brilliant boys from The Hysteria Continues – the unrivalled kings of slasher cinema.


The Burning is the greatest post-Halloween non-franchise slasher movie ever made. Yeah, you heard. That’s a lot of qualifiers, right? It’s much easier if I ignore the HalloweensFriday the 13ths and Nightmare on Elm Streets and show some love to the stand alone slashers which didn’t get to benefit from mass appeal and audience recognition by having a slew of sequels.

And The Burning is the best of the rest.

It manages to successfully incorporate all the classic slasher tropes we know and love – from the nudity down to the graphic kills – but also achieves so much more.

The teenagers, with the exception of the brilliant Glazer, actually LOOK like teenagers, which is somewhat of a rarity in this sub-genre. This works to our advantage as it feels so much more horrifying to see the youngsters subjected to the most gruesome deaths. You genuinely fear for their safety.

They’re funny, too. A lot of the banter between the boys was improvised by Jason Alexander and Fisher Stevens and their natural talent for comedy shines through. This only endears them to you more.

Cropsy is a perect, mute villain. He looks creepy (especially when you finally get to see his burnt, disfigured face) and he has no qualms about wiping his victims out in timely, disgusting fashion. When you see him rise up out of that canoe for the raft attack, garden shears held high, you’ll know you’re witnessing an iconic moment.

I know, I know. There’s always the issue with Alfred. What can I say about the poor pit stained geek? Nobody likes Alfred. Everybody wanted him dead and couldn’t understand why he was put forward as a ‘groundbreaking’ Final Boy. We’d seen all time favourite Final Girls, Jamie-Lee Curtis and Adrienne King play such wonderful, likeable girl next door types in Halloween and Friday the 13th and yet here we have a lurking, peeping tom. A pervert with whom we’re supposed to sympathise.

He does get bullied a bit by Glazer so let’s cut him some slack.  He also looks like a total plank when he runs. And he’s a virgin. We were all there once, right?

There were initial talks of a sequel but the poor box office put that to bed. I would’ve loved to see Cropsy return. If there’s only one stand alone slasher which deserved a follow up, it’s The Burning.

You may give me shit for a 5 star rating but you can jog on. As far as I’m concerned, The Burning is as close to perfection as a golden era slasher can get. It’s a grisly, scuzzy, nefarious son of a bitch. It’s a clear rip off of Friday the 13th (even though the story was apparently conceived first) but it does exactly what it says on the tin. When measured up against every slasher that followed Halloween – it’s the Daddy.

*Yes, it’s even better than the original Friday the 13th. Don’t fight me – I’ll bring Cropsy along for a raft party.*