Unlike Final Exam released in the same year where the killer’s motivations and purpose were unknown and never made clear just as to why he was doing so, the killer in this slasher film is extremely transparent. The viewer is made privy to his tragedy during the first scenes of the movie and from there, it just becomes a bloodbath. The Burning as directed by Tony Maylam is one of the better slashers to come out of the early 1980s and while it does bear a passing resemblance to Friday the 13th, maybe a bit more than a passing resemblance, it is almost better. Better or not, there is a lot of fun to be had with this movie, especially once the killer really begins his task in earnest.
Like all horror films in this genre, you have to have a bad guy and in this one, the antagonist is a man who was a victim of a prank gone bad. Suffice it to say, said man was burned up pretty badly, so bad that the doctors could do nothing to fix him up. This enrages the killer to the point where he means to take it out on a bunch of kids off at summer camp. There are some young faces in this movie who would go on to better things like Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens, Ned Eisenberg and of course, Jason Alexander, and it is quite enjoyable to see some of them get cut down by this essentially faceless murderer. You do have to have a little empathy for the killer, after all, he never asked to be the way he is and having to live with the way he looks, not to mention the pain that must go with it, is enough to drive anyone insane. Sure, slaughtering teenagers is a bad thing, but you have to wonder just how much of a rational mind is left inside the poor guy.
Surprisingly, there is quite a bit of characterization in this movie as well, so much so that you come to like many of the kids. Most of them are just there to have a little fun and maybe get a little lucky with one of the girls or boys and you eventually start to bond as they joke around and do the things that kids do. Unlike most slasher films where you enjoy seeing everyone get cut down like so much chaff, in this movie you feel a little bad for them and yet at the same time, the special effects by Tom Savini are so good, for the time period that this film was produced, that you cannot wait to see just how it is that they are killed. There is the odd kill that seems to be a little slow in nature, but overall, there is enough blood in this film to satisfy any horror fanatic. Of particular note is the scene that takes place out on the open water on the raft where the killer makes short work of an entire group of kids. It was not only a little chilling, but quite inventive and worth the price of admission alone.
The Burning is definitely one of the best that the genre has ever seen and a movie you can easily watch multiple times. The greatest thing about it and other slashers of the time was the fact that they took the material seriously. There were no nudges or winks to the camera and little to no comedy whatsoever. Sometimes all you want is a straight-up horror film with a totally disfigured killer to wrap yourself around, one that might scare you a little bit and one that will entertain and The Burning does exactly that.
4 out of 5