The Burning (1980)

The Burning is a 1980 slasher movie, recently restored and released by Arrow Video.  To be honest, although I enjoy cult horror films the reviews for this one didn’t seem too promising. Nevertheless, I was lucky enough to win a bundle of Arrow stuff recently and this blu-ray was in the batch. It’s got some loyal fans, so I thought I’d give it a spin.

The Burninggroup of teenagers are spending a few days in summer camp in the woods, remote from civilisation or assistance.  One of the camp leaders, a young man in his twenties played by Brian Matthews, had attended the same camp when he himself was a teenager.  Then, he had been partly responsible for a joke that went tragically wrong, that resulted in a cruel, kid-hating caretaker nicknamed Cropsy being burned alive.

Life at the camp is its usual state of heightened hormones: teenage bullying and sex, so there’s plenty of nudity.  Actually, the melodramatics aren’t too bad, the frustrations and obsessions are fairly well depicted, not least the struggles for power and affection as these teens are becoming young adults.  It helps that the kids at the camp are of a wide age range, teens of different stages of maturity.  And the two leaders are themselves barely adults themselves.

A group paddle up-river for a few days and set up camp in the woods, and this is when things go badly wrong for them.  It turns out that Cropsy isn’t dead, and he’s back with a large sharp pair of gardening shears to exact his bloody revenge on these pesky kids.  After he hides their boats, Cropsy picks them off in ones and twos.  Although this dates from 1980, the special effects hold up reasonably well, with lots of blades puncturing teenage flesh, gallons of blood, slashed throats and severed fingers.

The film has a good build-up only to be spoiled by the ending, which is confused and a bit of an anti-climax. It’s as if they ran out of budget and hastily edited together what footage they had, bulked out with flashbacks. A pity.

It was the gore that got this film on the infamous ‘video nasties’ list in the UK from the early eighties.  Back then, films released on video didn’t need to be classified by the BBFC until a moral panic changed the system and so these films were banned.  The Burning was only passed uncut by the BBFC in 2002.

Some ‘video nasties’ have grown in stature and are genuine classics: Profundo Rosso, Possession, The Evil Dead, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  The Burning falls far short of these, but it’s an entertaining watch even if the tense bits are more funny than scary when viewed from today’s vantage point.

Fun fact: this was actress Holly Hunter’s debut film.

Five Came Back (2017)

I’ve just finished watching Netflix’s new three-part documentary. It’s a fascinating account of how five top Hollywood directors – John Huston, John Ford, Frank Capra, George Stevens and William Wyler – went with US troops to cover the second world war.

It tells the story chronologically, with amazing footage including Capra’s propaganda films about ‘why we fight’, aerial battles, Ford’s amazing footage of the corpse-strewn beaches of D-Day landings, Stevens’s harrowing depiction of what they found at Dachau concentration camp, and Huston’s compassionate documentary of the post-traumatic stress disorders that affected many of the soldiers on their return.

With commentary from Stephen Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Greengrass, Guillermo del Toro, Lawrence Kasdan and Meryl Streep, this is a captivating film. It has its flaws: the music is excessive, some of the analysis of the war’s impact of these men’s subsequent careers a little too pat, but i was happy to forgive these small missteps. Their films on the whole don’t approach the chilling greatness of Leni Riefenstahl’s nazi propaganda, or the absolutely harrowing German Concentration Camps Factual Survey film that was finally completed and released in 2014, but they are still important and the story behind them fascinating.

This is a fresh take on both the story of WW2 and on an important chapter on these key Hollywood legends.