A summer camp prank hospitalizes a drunken caretaker with severe burns. Five years later, after a series of failed skin grafts, the caretaker leaves the hospital and begins a murderous rampage at another summer camp.
One could summarize The Burning as a standard summer camp slasher buoyed by strong practical effects courtesy of Tom Savini and featuring an early performance from Jason Alexander, but that would neglect the film’s finer points—both good and bad.
First the bad. Are the assorted twenty-something actors meant to portray counselors or campers? The film acknowledges the oldest guy and girl as counselors, but the rest goof-off like regular campers. If we assume they’re high school seniors (at the youngest), what are they doing at a camp with little kids? Creepy.
Speaking of creepy, now the good. A meta-contextual element pervades the story. An early scene sees a female maybe-counselor showering. The camera lingers on her naked breasts as she washes. Then she realizes a male camper is spying on her and screams. The counselors chastise the boy for peeping, calling him a pervert and creep for ogling her. Yet, weren’t we—the audience—doing just that?
Later, this same boy witnesses a gruesome murder. Rather than run, he’s frozen to the spot, his face a mask of fear, revulsion, and yes, anticipation. Again reflecting us, the audience.
It’s easy to miss these moments amid the pervasive toxic male personalities. But even these ugly elements prove surprising. The suave seducer character reveals himself as an entitled sexual predator in one horrific scene, but a short time later the brutish thug character reveals a sensitive side after suffering premature ejaculation and opting to cuddle.
I’m uncertain how much of this subversion was intentional, but the result resonates. The Burning is not a good movie—its original moments prove too sporadic—but worth watching for genre fans.
- Shout Factory, 2013↩