It’s nearing the end of summer and one can’t help but feel a sense of whimsical and wonder as the days grow shorter and it starts to get a little colder. This is the time I like to visit the campgrounds… by watching a camp slasher film, of course. Sure the obvious picks are any number of the Friday the 13th films (minus Jason Goes to Hell, Jason X and Freddy Vs. Jason), but how about some other camp films? Something based from an old campfire tale told in parts of upstate New York in the 80’s… where I’m from and where I went to camp!
Now let me quickly tell you that story: You see, a maniac named Cropsey would stalk and kill people, much like the archetype boogeyman. It’s really that simple. Even more interesting, this tale has been popular since the 30’s, so upon researching it, I found that there isn’t even a Wiki page! Coincidence? Most likely. Of course this story will vary depending on which fable you read, but one thing remains constant: The revenge of Cropsey!
Which brings us to The Burning. The Burning was, strangely enough, being filmed around the same time another movie was being made about the Cropsey Maniac tale. Since The Burning came out first, that other film changed it’s story a bit and renamed its title to Madman. Anyway, it’s your classic camp tale about a maniac seeking revenge on anyone who comes back to the camp where he was nearly burned alive. Sounds pretty cut and paste, right? Well, yes actually, it kinda is. However as simple as the plot may seem, the movie shines through with excellent character development, fantastic gore and makeup, plus a soundtrack by Rick Wakemen! The Rick Wakemen of Yes. Not to mention the film is kinda creepy. So there’s that.
The movie opens up as several boys from Camp Blackfoot are plotting to scare the crap out of the caretaker Cropsey, because he’s kind of a douche. This prank, for whatever reason, involves a skull with worms and candles and wouldn’t you know it, it goes south and poor Cropsey burns. He’s burnt to a crisp. He’s burnt so bad, he scares an orderly at the hospital that everyone mistakes to be Lawrence Fishburne in an early roll (it’s not), much like that scene from Mad Max where his partner grabs his arm… yeah you know the bit. Anyway, five years go by and Cropsey is released from the hospital and what’s the first thing he does? Kill a hooker. You gotta keep that pimp arm strong as they say, I guess.
Meanwhile at camp, all the kids are playing ball, ogling over girls, you know kid stuff. Some of these kids include the very first acting rolls of Holly Hunter (in a very small role), Fisher Stevens (that “Indian” guy from the Short Circuit movies) and most bizzarely, Jason Alexander, with a somewhat fit body and full head of hair… I repeat, George from Seinfeld with A FULL HEAD OF HAIR. There is also the camp dweeb Alfred who is being bullied by the self appointed camp jock from Jersey, Glazer. Luckily, Alfred has Todd, the camp counselor, looking out for him. All is fun and games for the moment, but it doesn’t take Cropsey long to show up and start the body count.
The older kids go off on a canoe adventure of some kind and it doesn’t take long for camp stud Eddy to take his girl Karen out for a little swim. But since she won’t put out, Eddy sends her off crying and she runs into Cropsey. Unfortunately for her, Cropsey isn’t very good at consoling sad girls and mistakes wiping her tears with cutting her throat.
The next morning, they discover the canoes are missing and resort to building a raft, which responsibly, the camp counselors Todd and Michelle send a handful of kids off to find the canoes. Nothing bad could happen here. Now, what follows is such an intense and graphic scene, it originally had been butchered by the MPAA and earned this film one of the first spots on the UK’s Video Nasties list. So, you know it has to be good. Well, they find the canoes alright. And Cropsey is waiting inside and hacks and slashes them to pieces! Talking about this scene cannot do it justice. It is something that has to be witnessed.
Shortly, the raft drifts back to camp with the remains of the kids (so that’s what they put in the camp stew!), while Todd is searching for Alfred, who just witnessed Glazer and his girlfriend get butchered. Michelle heads back to camp on the makeshift raft for help. Todd faces his past (oh forgot to mention, he was one of the kids that accidentally burned Cropsey) and must defeat the maniac if he wants to save Alfred.
I can see why the censors had such a field day with this movie. These were actual kids being murdered and mutilated and it was shocking to see for the first time, especially with outrageous and amazing special effects by Tom Savini (who passed up Friday the 13th Part 2 in order to do this film). And I do have to add, these effects look spectacular on the Scream! Factory Blu-ray release! In fact, that whole transfer is one of the best I have seen. At one point when Cropsey is killing the hooker, you can see actor Lou David’s face shrouded with a black mask and sunglasses (hell, you can even see the reflection of the hooker in the glasses!). Now this begs the question; was Cropsey hiding his hideously burned face or were the filmmakers hiding the actors face to make it look shadowed? Hmm…
What else can you say? It’s a great summer time movie, with lots of blood, great special effects and a cool killer with some righteous music. So what are you waiting for? Summer isn’t over just yet. So pack your sleeping bag, an extra pair of undies and a copy of The Burning. And some Off. Mosquitoes are annoying.
Watch the infamous “raft scene!”