Tony Maylam's The Burning may look like a standard slasher film, but it's quite remarkable as an exemplary early slasher and also notable for being the film which launched the careers of now notorious producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, it being their first foray into movies. Make-up effects icon Tom Savini, supposedly liked the script for The Burning so much that he turned down Friday the 13th Part 2 to do it. It's also the very first film for Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter and Brian Backer, all of whom are now much more notable for their work elsewhere. But it's also a testament to the talent behind and in The Burning.
There's a great set-up; a group of young campers, fed-up with a bullying janitor, play a prank on him while he's asleep. The prank, naturally, goes horribly wrong and the janitor's body is engulfed in flames, wailing and riving for his life. Cut to five! years later, as his burned body has now healed enough to allow him to leave the hospital. One helpless prostitute later and old Cropsy (the janitor) is ready to seek his revenge on the camp that wronged him.
The Burning is clearly influenced by Friday the 13th, but it's still a fairly early slasher in the original period. In fact, it was released but a week after Friday the 13th Part 2, and I suppose it does have more in common with the Friday films than, say, Sleepaway Camp, which is more of a 'whodunit' slasher with ample gender commentary. Yet The Burning has a distinct feeling unto itself. Of course, it's fun to see some now familiar faces in their first roles, but it's also a very finely crafted picture. The cinematography looks sharp and advances the narrative quite well. The character archetypes are certainly in place and it is, essentially, the fun of these movies. The Burning has fun with these early archetypes and is notable too for some excellently staged death scenes, particularly one involving a canoe. The Burning has been neglected in the past in favor of better known slashers, but it deserves to take its place on the midnight slate as quite a fun and well-made example of the genre.