The Burning (1981)

I have to be honest here: I don’t really ‘get’ “The Burning.” I mean, I understand its story and narrative of course, but I don’t really get why it’s so heralded in horror circles. Yes, the gore effects are truly stunning: Tom Savini does some of his peak work with makeup effects throughout this effort, and a number of the death scenes are genuinely shocking in their abruptness and brutality. Of course, if you’ve seen this or heard of it you’re probably familiar with the raft massacre, and yes it’s just as effective as it’s reputed, and it’s definitely survived the passing of time. But the rest of the movie itself? Meh, at best. One of the most confusing things about it is that there doesn’t seem to be a lead protagonist? Ultimately I guess you could make the argument that it consists of a trio (made up of Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres and Brian Backer), but none of them is particularly well-developed or even likable, really, so you’re never really sure who you’re supposed to root for. By the end it becomes clear that Backer’s Alfred has become the de-facto protagonist but his character is an unrepentant creep and whiny crybaby, so you’re just not sure if you even want him to make it out alive. So, there are a few things here and there that make the movie at least sitting through; beyond the makeup effects, it’s interesting to see early appearances by Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter and Fisher Stevens, and it’s hard not to notice Harvey Weinstein’s name in the opening credits (apparently this is the first movie produced by the notorious pig, so you can’t help but wonder what kind of atmosphere was prevalent during shooting). For me, “The Burning” is one of those cult horror classics that I’m glad I finally saw, but have no interest in revisiting anytime soon.

Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)

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