The Burning (film)
Directed by Tony Maylam
Produced by Harvey Weinstein
Written by Peter LawrenceBob Weinstein Tony MaylamBrad Grey
Starring Brian MatthewsLeah AyresBrian Backer
Music by Rick Wakeman
Cinematography Harvey Harrison
Editing by Jack Sholder
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release date(s) 8 May 1981
Running time 91 min.
Country  United States
Language English
Budget $1,500,000


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The Burning (film)

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The Burning is a 1981 slasher film directed by Tony Maylam, with music by Rick Wakeman. It tells the story of a cruel, alcoholic caretaker at a summer camp (nicknamed Cropsy, after the huge garden shears he carries) who falls victim to a prank that went out of control and leaves him horribly burned and disfigured. Following his release from hospital, he returns to his old stomping ground and begins a murder spree.The film was one of the first from Miramax Films: Harvey Weinstein produced the film and Bob Weinstein was a co-writer.


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In a summer camp named "Camp Blackfoot", a group of boys are planning to pull a prank on the weird, alcoholic, serial killer (and implied pedophile) caretaker, Cropsy, during the middle of the night. They sneak into his cabin and set a rotting skull on fire, only to have Cropsy wake up and accidentally knock the skull onto his gas tank, causing flames to spread all over the cabin. The horrified boys then watch as Cropsy, engulfed in flames, stumbles out and falls down a ravine into a river, putting out the flames. Five years later, Cropsy is released from hospital, wearing a heavy coat, sunglasses and hat to hide his deformities. Out of rage, he murders a female prostitute. He then sets out back to the camp where he was burned.

The camp is populated with many characters, who are each going through their own situations: Eddy wants to get it on with the shy hottie Karen, Todd struggles as head counselor and seeks to find time to be with his girlfriend Michelle, eccentric and shy Alfred is trying to make friends with Dave, Woodstock and Fish, who are all trying to get back at cocky, cruel Glazer, who lusts for cutie Sally.

Cropsy makes it to the camp as everyone is playing baseball, and almost kills a female camper, but hesitates too long. The next morning, Sally goes to take a shower, senses that someone is inside the showers, and pulls back the curtain, exposing a shocked Alfred, who runs out of the shower. Sally's screams bring Karen, Michelle, Todd and Eddy, who catch Alfred, who Michelle insists should be thrown out, but Todd takes him to have a stern talking-to instead. During this conversation, Todd learns that Alfred does not have any friends, and was just trying to pull a prank on Sally to make her laugh. After the discussion, Glazer attacks Alfred and warns him to stay away from Sally, but Todd breaks them up, telling Glazer to cool off, and lets Alfred go and apologize to Sally.

Night rolls around, and Alfred spots Cropsy outside his window, but no one believes him, so he, Dave, Fish, and Woodstock go to the mess hall with everyone else. While everyone is eating, Karen tells Michelle that she and Eddy are going to spend the night together, and that she should be back before morning. After supper, everyone then goes to sleep, except for Karen and Eddy who sneak off into the woods by another lake, to skinny-dip. They begin to fool around in the lake, while someone takes Karen's clothes. Just as Eddy and Karen are about to have sex, Karen decides she's not ready, upsetting Eddy who tries to force himself inside her, making her slap him. Eddy is outraged and orders her to leave him, which she does, only to discover that her clothes have been strewn all over the woods. She begins to collect them all, until she reaches her last article of clothing on a tree, where she is grabbed by Cropsy and has her throat viciously slashed.

The next morning, Michelle finds that Karen has not returned, and she and Todd go out and find Eddy, who tells them she left. They take him and go back to camp, only to discover that the canoes have been cut loose and are floating adrift in the lake that surrounds the island the summer camp is located on. Michelle does not believe Karen would do this, so she has all the campers fix up a raft for them to go on and collect the canoes, while other campers and counselors go out to find wood. Eddy, Fish and Woodstock finish the raft and board it, along with two female campers, who then set off to find the canoes. Alfred feels that something is wrong, and begins to explore, while Todd reassures Michelle, that Karen is okay. Eddy and the campers spot a canoe and begin to paddle towards it, only to have Cropsy pop up with his shears and kill them all.

Michelle begins to worry when the raft does not return, but keeps the kids busy, while Todd takes Dave, Alfred, and a few other campers out on a camp out. Night falls, and Glazer finally has sex with Sally, pre-ejaculating inside her, so he decides to make it up to her, and goes to get matches to start them a fire, and spark things back up. While he's gone, Cropsy appears behind Sally, and begins to shove the shears into Sally's chest, as she begs for him to stop. Alfred finds the spot where Glazer and Sally were, and watches as Glazer returns, thinking the now deceased Sally is asleep, and uncovering Cropsy, who pops up from the sleeping bag, and rams the shears through Glazer's neck, pinning him to a tree. Alfred sees this and tries to make his way back to Todd and the others, finding them at sunrise the next morning. He awakens Todd, and tells him to go over to the site, and Todd manages to get there, not believing Alfred until he finds the dead bodies. He is then attacked by Cropsy, who hits him in the face with the shears, knocking him out, and begins to chase Alfred.

Alfred is chased all through the woods, becoming extremely dirty, and cut up, while Todd regains himself and chases after Cropsy, finding an ax before following Alfred and Cropsy's footsteps. Everyone else has awakened, and are waiting for the raft to return, and after a while spot it floating towards them, but no one is moving. Dave thinks it's a joke and tries to swim in towards it, only to have a worried Michelle do it instead, who, upon reaching the raft is bombarded with blood and the dead bodies, sending her screaming and swimming back. Once back on the island, she has the kids Todd took out camping grab a canoe that is floating nearby, and begins to row them back towards the campsite. Meanwhile, Cropsy has captured Alfred, in a rocky hill, by forcefully dragging him by the throat towards an abandoned mineshaft. Todd follows nearby, and hears Alfred's screams, finally tracking him down to the mineshaft, where Alfred has the garden shears embedded into his arm, pinning him to the wall.

Michelle makes it back to land with the campers, and calls the police to come by helicopter to save the kids, and anyone else still alive. Todd looks through the mine opening for Cropsy and Alfred. When he steps across a piece of track, a mine car up on a raft suddenly rolls down towards him, causing him to fall back. He runs into a wall and falls through it, where he discovers Karen's body, hanging from the ceiling. Then he and Cropsy struggle, and Cropsy's disfigured face is shown, making Todd remember back to when he and his friends set Cropsy on fire by accident. Alfred is able to take the shears out, and finds Cropsy and Todd, stabbing the shears into Cropsy's back, while Todd makes him fall onto them. The police arrive by helicopter, while Michelle travels by boat to find Todd and Alfred. While Todd and Alfred are walking away, Cropsy pops back up, and attacks them, resulting in a struggle, which ends with Alfred igniting Cropsy's clothes, and Todd hitting him in the head with the ax. Afterward, Alfred and Todd make their way out to Michelle, who brings them to the helicopter and to the hospital.

One televised version has a crossfade at this point which brings the storyline back to Todd, sitting at a campfire with all his friends and the camp kids, concluding the tale of Cropsy as if the entire movie had been a campfire ghost story.


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  • Brian Matthews as Todd
  • Leah Ayres as Michelle
  • Brian Backer as Alfred
  • Larry Joshua as Glazer
  • Jason Alexander as Dave
  • Ned Eisenberg as Eddy
  • Carrick Glenn as Sally
  • Carolyn Houlihan as Karen
  • Fisher Stevens as Woodstock
  • Lou David as Cropsy

Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens and Oscar winner Holly Hunter all made their motion picture debuts in this film.


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The movie was produced by the then new company Miramax Films run by Harvey Weinstein and his brother Bob Weinstein. Harvey wrote and produced while Bob co-wrote the screenplay. Brad Grey, who later became Chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures, was another of the film's writers.

With a budget of $1,500,000, they set out to capitalize on the booming slasher film craze that was soon to fizzle out. They also hired makeup effects maestro Tom Savini who turned down a job for Friday the 13th Part 2 to do The Burning. Savini has stated that he was only given three days to design Cropsy's makeup, which is why the murderer doesn't look like a burn victim, but rather it appears that his features have "melted". The movie didn't fare well with the MPAA, which demanded several scenes cut to receive an R rating; one of these scenes being the notorious "Raft Massacre" scene in which Cropsy leaps out of an abandoned canoe and dismembers five children in rapid succession.

Principal photography occurred in Western New York during the summer of 1980. However, extras casting agent and location scout Mary Casilio Powell reports[citation needed] that the camp and river scenes in the movie were shot at various camps in Olean and Franklinville, New York while the infamous concrete ruins scene was shot in Model City, a small town near Lewiston, New York and the scene with the prostitute was shot in downtown Buffalo. The film's climax was originally set in a cave system, but this idea was ultimately scrapped.[citation needed] Maylam and Savini give differing reason for this; Savini stated that there was a cave-in shortly before filming was to commence, while Maylam states that the cave was found to be heavily infested with bats. Whatever the reason, the filmmakers instead shot the climax in an abandoned copper mine.


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A soundtrack album featuring Rick Wakeman's score was released on LP in 1981 in Germany and shortly after in the United States and Japan. It includes music from the film and rock band arrangements by Wakeman, known as The Wakeman Variations, as well as selections from the score written by Alan Brewer and Anna Pepper. Alan Brewer was Musical Director for the film and Co-producer of the score and soundtrack album with Rick Wakeman.

On February 26, 2007, the soundtrack was released in the United Kingdom, for the first time on CD.

Release and censorship

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The Burning was given a limited release theatrically in the United States by Filmways Pictures beginning in May 1981. Various re-releases over the next year and a half under different titles including Cropsey led to little success as the film grossed $707,770 total at the box office.

United Kingdom
The Burning found itself at the center of some controversy in the early 1980s, when the uncut version of the film was released on videotape by the British video label Thorn-EMI; the company was supposed to release the slightly trimmed version passed by the British Board of Film Classification. The tapes were impounded under the Obscene Publications Act, and The Burning was added to the video nasties list. The two major scenes of contention were Cropsy's frantic mass-murder spree in the "raft massacre" sequence, and the sight of a pair of scissors piercing a woman's flesh in the post-title sequence.

Vipco released a truncated version in the early 1990s, missing about thirty seconds' worth of Savini's gore effects, but by 2001 the censor board was ready to pass the uncut version.

United States accidentally released an uncut version on VHS.[citation needed] It was released on DVD in North America for the first time ever on September 11, 2007 by MGM. The DVD contains several extras, including a commentary by director Tony Maylam, a featurette covering Savini's make-up effects, a stills gallery and the theatrical trailer. Despite the DVD cover displaying the 'R' rating, the print used is the full uncut version.[citation needed]

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