The Burning

Starring: Brian BackerBrian Matthews Directed by: Tony Maylam

Many times when there are two films out with similar plots people will take it upon themselves to tout the lesser known film as the better film, sometimes simply because it is lesser known.  This will happen a lot with remakes, in particular remakes of foreign films.  The perfect example of this is The Ring and its Japanese counterpart, Ringu.

I, like most people in the United States, saw The Ring first.  I loved it.  I felt it had great direction, I loved the feel of the film and, even though I thought it dragged on a bit long interjecting too many false endings, it was a horror film I felt valued suspense and mood over blood and gore.

Individuals on the internet -- sometimes reflected through reviews on IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes, sometimes on horror movie-centric message boards -- seemed to hold the original in higher regard.  So I rented it (yes, I rented it from Hollywood Video…..not only during a time when video stores were still prevalent, but also in a time when dial-up modems were as well).  I was totally underwhelmed.

It has probably been about a decade since I saw Ringu, so my recollection of why I disliked it has been muddied by the sands of time, but I didn’t think it was as captivating as the American version.  I remember thinking it seemed more like the people hyping it wanted to be in some sort of exclusive club.  “Yeah, you may have seen The Ring, but have you seen Ringu?  Oh, you didn’t even now it was a remake?  Just like the ignorant movie going public, to seek out the inferior American product.  Can’t hold a match to the original.”

Ringu wasn’t terrible, it just seemed the gap between the two was small enough that decrying the American version as inferior seemed contemptuous for the sake of it.  This is a reoccurring pattern and seems especially true with lesser known films, causing others who don’t like the smaller film to throw out terms like “elitist” and “pretentious.”  Maybe that’s true…the feeling of having found something everybody else has overlooked and then trying to introduce it to the public can be exhilarating, despite how truly superior the film may or may not be.  How do you quantify a “better” film anyway?  Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.

I’m getting really long-winded trying to make a simple point about the b-movie slasher, The Burning:  It blows.  Bad.

Most of the time when people gripe about two films with similar plots it is because they were released during a short time period.  Some group will then, inevitably, take it upon themselves to tout the one that came out marginally earlier and, usually, the less popular one, as being the better film.  Maybe even touting it as a “trendsetter” (see The Blair Witch Project and The Last Broadcast), in particular if it also has a smaller budget.  As mentioned before, folks will also go on about how much better an original is than a remake, especially if the original is not well known.

The weird thing about The Burning is it came well after Friday the 13th, cost THREE TIMES as much, and is trying so hard to capitalize on the popularity of the former that it should be an embarrassment for all involved.  The antagonist is a slasher with a knife (well, actually, a giant pair of shears), it’s set near a lake, it’s a revenge story, it’s filled with horny teenagers, it takes place at a camp.

Yet it is SO DULL.  The first murder occurs FIFTY MINUTES in to the ninety-minute long film, and it is a truly generic shot of a slashed neck.  About ten minutes later our villain pops out of a boat to ambush some campers on a raft, and dispatches a large group.  There’s some “so bad they’re good” SFX here, but nothing especially interesting.  Since our baddie uses a large pair of gardening sheers, most die by a stab in the gut or a slit to the neck, although one fellow does get his fingers lopped off in a particularly humorous manner.

The antagonist in our film is a janitor who was severely burned by a group of campers five years prior.  This makes him angry with “campers.”  So he’s gonna go kill some.  Mmm. Now I’m PRAYING for the half-assed expositional tripe I usually receive from a John Carpenter film.

Neither Friday or The Burning are particularly well made films, but there is no way anybody in the world is claiming the technical aspects of The Burning are what make it better.  By and large it is totally devoid of suspense, its script is pretty much completely stolen, I don’t even remember what the soundtrack was like.  Not to mention the kills come way too late in the film, are all completely forgettable and, infeasible though it may seem, the characters are even more two-dimensional.

The climax of the film is utterly tedious as well.  We have two “heroes.”  Alfred, a whiny peeping tom who we are cheering to get killed in the final scene, and Todd, a camp counselor who turns out to be one of the original campers who burned the janitor five years earlier.  I was cheering for him to get killed as well so maybe the film could have some spark of originality.  Alas, despite my hopes and dreams the dynamic duo clumsily dispatches our antagonist, despite the fact he owns not only the element of surprise but also a flamethrower.

I guess, what I’m trying to say here, is sometimes the lesser known film isn’t necessarily a diamond in the rough.  It’s hard to say Friday the 13th, from a quality standpoint, is heads and tails better than The Burning, but at least it has the good grace to not to be unrelentingly boring.  Perhaps the barometer of how truly terrible this film is can be illustrated by the one recognizable actor in the cast.   Halloween = Jamie Lee Curtis , Nightmare on Elm Street = Johnny Depp , Friday the 13th = Kevin Bacon, The Burning = Jason Alexander.

Make of it what you will.

Written by Ryan Venson

So finishes my triumvirate of early 80s slasher reviews.  If you missed one, you can start here with my take on Friday the 13th, and here for my take on the original Halloween.   I know, not very timely....