a Primal Root written review
Summer Camp is a staple of the American experience. Every kid has either attended summer camp or are at least aware of it’s traditions. Kids corralled into mildewed cabins, dinners in the mess hall, swimming, canoeing, hiking sticky fingers, awkward hand jobs and of course, huddling around the camp fire to roast marshmallows and tell ghost stories. Among these tales there are few more prolific than that of Cropsy, the maniac that haunts just about every east coast summer camp from Key West, Florida to Bangor, Maine. Seems every camp is stalked by a groundskeeper who was kind of a grumpy bastard before some asshole camp counselors tried to pull a deeply mean spirited prank and ended burning the poor fellow alive and transforming him into something much worse. A blood thirsty, disfigured, vengeance seeking maniac now happy to hack to pieces any camper he happens to lay eyes on. Sure, it was probably just a story to keep kids from sneaking out of the cabin at night to go one panty raids and smoke reefer, but the urban legend still had that kernel of believability that made you think twice before traipsing off into the woods with your buddies.
I know what you’re thinking, ” ‘The Burning’, huh, sounds like a horror films based around the debilitating pain of a urinary tract infection.” An educated guess, to be sure, but in fact it is a cash in on the timeless Cropsy camp fire tale brought to life as a gore drenched, nudity filled, slasher film that came out right on the heels of ‘Friday the 13th’ which had been released the previous year, thus establishing the American Summer Camp as the premiere location for teenage debauchery met with eventual brutal dismemberment.
The inciting incident remains the same, jerk kids, bad prank, immolated groundskeeper, but ‘The Burning’ takes the bold step of giving us the straight story. Just what happened next after Cropsey was incinerated and ran blazing like the Human Torch into Camp Blackfoot’s adjoining river? Well, instead of vanishing into the woods, screaming threats of how he will have his revenge, he is sent to a burn unit at the local hospital where the orderleys, nurses and doctors apparently dare one another to go look at the hideously burned Cropsey lying down helpless within his oxygen tent in the intensive care ward. But one day, Cropsy has found he’s had enough of this stupid shit, (seriously, is this a hospital or a frat house?) and scares the ever loving shit out of a nurse by grabbing the the guy’s arm and squeezing the ever loving shit out of it. This proves three things: 1) Burn victim’s skin often resemble a well worn gob of Hubba-Bubba Bubble Gum that’s been stuck to the sole of your sneaker for a day or two and 2) Cropsy is one strong and determined mother fucking mother fucker. and 3) The producers must have realized they made a movie with more crackers in it than Nabisco so they may as well film a scene featuring a black actor.
Five years later Cropsy’s is told the skin grafts just aren’t taking and that he needs to hit the streets and find some work ’cause there’s nothing else the hospital can do for him. First things first, Crops goes out, gets himself a prostitute who looks suspiciously like a haggard middle school English teacher, and promptly stabs her to death with a pair of scissors while pushing her out of her bedroom window. However, Cropsy doesn’t allow the woman’s savagely penetrated, still warm corpse go sailing out the window, he actually pulls her back into her newly vacant apartment because, after all, Cropsy is a gentleman.
But before you can say ‘What the fuck did that murder have to do with anything?” we are whisked away to Camp Stonewater for a braless/pants optional all female softball game, and let me tell you, it is spectacular! We are treated to Sally (Carrick Glenn) running in slow motion, braless in a tight yellow shirt with pronounced erect nipples and then we join teenage dirt bag Eddy (Ned Eisenberg) and the shockingly studly goofball, Dave (played by Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame, and his full head of hair!) as they stare at a scantly clad female butt covering one of the bases. What? This ass has a human face? *please, please, please, sense the sarcasm* Yes it does! It belongs to Karen (Carolyn Houlihan). the rail thin, dark haired camp counselor with a chin to rival Bruce Campbell’s. So, these four are established. The ladies have ample female anatomy intact and have all motor functions at their disposal and the fellas are sex crazed drool cups. Feel dirty yet? Eh, you probably shouldn’t. These “kids” are all in their twenties.
And guess who is just chilling out in the forest surrounding the non existent softball field? WHY IT’S OUR CROPSY! Just hanging out with a giant pair of gardening sheers and stalking blossoming young campers who happen to wonder off looking for foul balls. Speaking of foul balls, we are soon introduced to the film’s central loser, Alfred (Brian Packer), a man who sweats constantly, runs like an orangutang and is introduced to us by way of peeping on the lovely young Sally as she takes a shower framed from a low medium angle to be sure and capture he boobs in the shot. Oh yes, this is trash cinema at it’s finest, folks!
Anyhoo, Albert complains about…well, pretty much everything and proves to be one of the most unlikable and annoying characters in slasher cinema history. Hell, or in ALL of cinema history, for that matter. And this kid ends up being our final guy! We are asked to root for this mouth breathing, sweat caked, whiner after many of his infinitely more likable peers have been hacked, chopped, snipped and stabbed into B-movie oblivion! sometimes the movie life’s just not fair.
Also in the victim pool is the muscle heavy, light on brains Cro-Magnun, Glazier who talks like one of Tony’s boys from The Sopranos, and is constantly stalking Sally in the hopes of blowing his dick snot cannon into her love canyon. Watching them interact is painfully awkward and somewhat honest. We’ve all known guys like this, we’ve seen them try to operate on girls like Sally who are starved for attention but just not ready to be pawed and groped by a a sweaty, brain dead muscle headed guy in a sleeveless sweater and nothing to lose.
Then there are our two stoic and heroic camp counselors, Todd (Brian Mathews) and Michelle (Leah Ayers) who lead a pack of older campers on a camping trip to Devil’s Island and to their deaths. Todd and Michelle and impossibly attractive people who look every bit like a live action version of Backwoods Survival Barbie and Ken as they run to and fro, getting covered in dirt and blood (some theirs, some others) and never looking any worse for wear. Even at the grimiest, I still wouldn’t mind seeing them naked. Seriously, these are some good looking people. Hell, Todd was on The Young and the Restless for, what two years? He’s basically a living, breathing, mannequin.
At the half way point of the film, ‘The Burning’ brings out it’s big guns in the sequence the film is best known for,. That’s right, we’re talking raft red stuff redecoration. As a small group of campers try to make their way back to the main camp from Devil’s Island on a make shift raft, they spot one of their lost chaos and paddle over to reclaim. However, once they get over to the vessel, Cropsy stands straight up in the canoe, shears held high over his head and proceeds to kill every single person on the raft, cutting off limbs, impaling folks, and splitting skulls open. It;s quick scene, but pretty damn memorable. If not just for the carnage, certainly for Cropsy’s display of supernatural balance. I defy anyone to stand straight up in a canoe with your hands above your head while clutching giant garden shears, kill a half dozen children, and NOT fall out of that damn canoe. It just strikes me as highly unlikely. Let’s just say, I can’t see Jason Voorhees pulling off the same feat.
At first glance ‘TheBurning’ looks to be a typical slasher movie carbon copy, but upon closer inspection and when given half a chance, ‘The Burning’ features several aspects that set it apart from it’s contemporary. For one, the cast of actors in this thing are actually pretty damn good at their jobs portraying young, goofy teenagers with good times and sex on their brains. Many of these actors went on to have pretty impressive careers in the entertainment industry, while others, vanished into B-movie oblivion. Not only is everyone pretty damn convincing in their roles, many of the characters are actually *gasp* likeable! Many of these kids come off as cool, funny, reasonable folks. Sure, there are some jerks in the bunch, but that’s to be expected. There’s a pretty big batch of normal, everyday geeky kids that endear themselves to audience to the point you feel almost bad watching them get their faces scissored open and their fingers sheered off.
Also, the portrayal of sex and romantic relationships are portrayed unlike your usual slasher film. you watch any Friday the 13th film and usual sex scene shows teenagers fucking and it’s the greatest thing ever. The guy and gal bump them uglies together and it’s ecstasy! Wailing and riding and running their hands through their hair and cumming simultaneously and both get chopped into coleslaw by a masked maniac completely satisfied. ‘The Burning’ takes this trope and gives it a fresh, nasty does of typical teenage sex session reality. One couples skinny dip ends with the fella telling her to “get the fuck out of his face” when she refuses to let his tadpole ride her river rapids and yet another couple actually go sleeping bag poking and it’s among the most awkward sex scenes I’ve ever sat through. The fella is on top, groaning and lurching with frustration as the young woman stares upwards with pain and discomfort in her eyes before the guy cums super quickly and goes limp. The cherry on the top of this disappointment sundae? She asks, “Is that it?” Yeah, not the most glorious sex scene ever films. However, we do get to witness our senior camp counselors, Todd and Michelle as they court one another, stroll through the woods, talk, embrace, and simply enjoy one another’s company which looks to be far more rewarding than either of the other full representations of sex featured in ‘The Burning’. After years of having my mind shaped by the stereotypical glamorous cinematic sex scene, watching it portrayed this way was probably the most shocking and disturbing aspect of the entire damn movie.
But i do have one major gripe. For me, the film is basically botched by a fucking horrendously hacked together ending that has to be scene to be believed. It looks like the filmmakers just didn’t have enough coverage for the ending so they tried in vain the cut something together that looked right. Unfortunately, it’s a fiasco. Probably the most painful moment is when Todd is supposed to stumble upon the corpse of one of his friends and fellow campers. The body is actually a still frame from earlier in the film and is cropped out and apparently floating in space when he finds her and gasps. She is supposed to be in a closet but you can actually make out tree branches and leaves around her from the still frame shot that they couldn’t crop out. and this is just the tip of the hack job iceberg. It’s got to be seen to be believed. This ending makes the filmmakers look totally inept and it’s a little disheartening. It’s kind of sad too, because otherwise it’s a pretty solid little summer slasher flick.
‘The Burning’ is a damn good entry in the summer camp slasher sweepstakes and one that deserves a bit more notoriety than it gets. coming out so soon after ‘Friday the 13th’ got the poor flick labeled as a cash-in on that film’s success even as the Weinstein Brothers insist that they wrote ‘The Burning’ a couple years before ‘Friday the 13th’ was released. But now, what does it matter. ‘The Burning’ delivers the goods when it comes to the Blood, Breasts and Beasts and is a highly entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience if you’re into trashy slasher flicks. Despite it’s flaws, ‘The Burning’ is well worth checking out.
Three and a Half out of Five Dumpster Nuggets.