The Burning (film)

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The Burning
Film poster
Directed by Tony Maylam
Produced by Harvey Weinstein
Screenplay by Bob Weinstein
Peter Lawrence
Story by Brad Grey
Tony Maylam
Harvey Weinstein
Starring Lou David
Leah Ayres
Brian Backer
Larry Joshua
Brian Matthews
Music by Rick Wakeman
Cinematography Harvey Harrison
Edited by Jack Sholder
Miramax Films[1]
Distributed by Filmways (United States)
Ambassador Film Distributors (Canada)
Release date(s)
  • May 8, 1981 (1981-05-08) (United States)
Running time 91 minutes [2]
Country United States[1]
Language English
Budget $1,500,000 (estimated)
Box office $707,770

The Burning is a 1981 slasher film directed by Tony Maylam, with music by Rick Wakeman. It tells the story of a cruel, alcoholic, sadistic caretaker at a summer camp (nicknamed "Cropsy" and based on the urban legend of Cropsey) who falls victim to a prank that went out of control which leaves him horribly burned and disfigured. Following his release from the 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.[3] Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens and Oscar winner Holly Hunter all made their motion picture debuts in this film.

Originally released theatrically in the United States by Filmways, the rights to The Burning currently belong to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.


In 1976, at Camp Blackfoot, several campers pull a prank on the caretaker, "Cropsy". During the night they sneak into his cabin and set up a wormy skull next to his bed with candles in the eye sockets. When Cropsy is awoken by the campers banging on his window, he is so frightened by the skull that he knocks it onto his bed where it ignites his sheets and clothes. Aflame, Cropsy leaps from his bed and knocks over a gas tank, causing flames to spread through the cabin. The boys watch in shock as Cropsy, engulfed in flames, stumbles out and falls into a river.

Five years later, Cropsy is released from hospital, wearing a coat, sunglasses and hat to hide his deformities. Out of rage, he murders a prostitute by strangling her and repeatedly stabbing her in the chest with a pair scissors. He then sets out to another summer camp, Camp Stonewater. Cropsy arrives and tries to attack a female camper, Tiger, who is searching for a baseball in the woods, but he hesitates to kill her.

The next morning, camper Sally steps out of the shower and is surprised by camper Alfred, who then runs away. Sally's screams bring Karen, Michelle, Todd, and Eddy, who catch Alfred. Michelle demands Alfred leave, but Todd talks to him. Todd learns that Alfred has no friends, and was pulling a prank on Sally. Glazer, Sally's boyfriend, later attacks Alfred, but Todd tells Glazer to cool off, and Alfred apologizes to Sally.

That night, Alfred spots Cropsy outside his window, but no one believes him. At the mess hall, Karen tells Michelle that she and Eddy are going to sleep together. The kids all go on a canoe trip up the river. After supper, Karen and Eddy go to a lake to skinny dip. Just as Eddy and Karen are about to have sex, Karen reconsiders, upsetting Eddy. Upon leaving, Karen discovers her clothes strewn in the woods. As she collects them, Cropsy grabs her and slits her throat.

The next morning, Michelle finds Karen has not returned. She and Todd find Eddy, who tells them she left. They discover the canoes have been cut adrift on the lake that surrounds the camp. Michelle does not believe Karen is the culprit, so some campers including Todd, Michelle, Alfred, Glazer, Dave, Eddy, Sally, Woodstock, Tiger, Barbara, Marnie, Sophie, Diane, Fish, Alan, and Rhoda go and search far away from the camp. They create a raft to collect the canoes, while other campers and counselors gather wood. Eddy, Fish and Woodstock (Fisher Stevens) board the finished raft along with two female campers, Marnie and Barbara . Alfred begins to explore, while Todd reassures Michelle that Karen is fine. Eddy and the campers spot a canoe and paddle toward it. Woodstock reaches for the canoe only to have Cropsy jump out and kill them all with his shears. He stabs Fish in the chest, Marnie in the back, cuts Woodstock's hand and stabs him, stabs Eddy in the neck and Barbara, who is screaming and scrambling, is stabbed in the head.

Michelle starts to worry about Karen. As night falls, Glazer finally has sex with Sally, but suffers premature ejaculation. He later goes to get matches to start a fire and resume their intimacy. Cropsy appears behind Sally and forcibly shoves his shears into her chest, she fights to remove the shears but is killed. Alfred finds the spot where the couple is staying, and watches as Glazer returns. He uncovers Sally but Cropsy is hiding under Sally, Cropsy stabs his shears through Glazer's neck and pins him to a tree. Alfred returns to the others. He wakes Todd and tells him about what he just saw. Todd does not believe him until he finds the bodies. He is then attacked by Cropsy, who knocks him out and chases Alfred.

Alfred is chased, while Todd chases after Cropsy with an felling axe. The campers see a raft moving towards them with no one on board moving. When Michelle approaches the raft, she discovers it is full of dead bodies, Fish's severed arm falls on her head while she pulls him. She screams in horror while the other campers help her. Todd appears on the nearby island and goes to them. He tells them to evacuate as the campers are scared and panicking. On the island, she rows the remaining campers – Dave, Tiger, Barbara, Sophie, Alan and Rhoda towards the campsite. Meanwhile, Cropsy has captured Alfred and drags him towards an abandoned mine shaft. Todd follows nearby, eventually tracking down Alfred in the mine, where Cropsy has pinned him up to the wall with the shears through his arm.

Michelle returns with the campers and calls the police to helicopter the kids and survivors to safety. 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 rolls down, causing him to fall. He falls through a wall and discovers Karen's body hanging from the ceiling. He and Cropsy struggle as Cropsy is trying to kill Todd with a blowtorch, and when Cropsy's disfigurement is shown, Todd remembers he was involved in the original prank. Alfred frees himself and helps Todd by stabbing Cropsy in the back with his own shears, seemingly killing him. The police arrive, while Michelle travels by boat to find Todd and Alfred. While Todd and Alfred are leaving, Cropsy attacks them. Todd hits Cropsy in the face with the axe, then Alfred ignites his clothes with Cropsy's blowtorch. Afterward, Alfred and Todd make their way out to Michelle, who brings them to the helicopter and to the hospital as Cropsy's body continues to burn. The film ends with another group of teenagers telling the story of Cropsy around the campfire.


  • Mansoor Najeeullah as Orderly
  • Willie Reale as Paul
  • John Roach as Snoop
  • K.C. Townsend as Hooker
  • John Tripp as Camp Counselor
  • James Van Verth as Jamie
  • Therese Morreale as Girl playing softball


The film was produced by the then-new company Miramax Films run by Harvey Weinstein and his brother Bob. 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 $1.5 million, 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 did not fare well with the MPAA, which demanded several scenes be cut to receive an R rating; one of these scenes being the infamous raft massacre scene in which Cropsy leaps out of an abandoned canoe and dismembers five campers in rapid succession.

Principal photography occurred in Western New York[4] 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 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 reasons 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.

Release and censorship[edit]

The Burning was given a limited release theatrically in the United States by Filmways Pictures beginning in May 1981.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7] 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 twenty seconds' worth of Savini's gore effects, but by 2001 the censor board was ready to pass the uncut version. The film was made and labelled a Video Nasty

United States

The Burning was released on DVD in North America for the first time ever on 11 September 2007 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.[8] 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.[9] Shout! Factory announced they would be releasing The Burning on Blu-ray Disc/DVD Combo Pack on May 21, 2013 under their sub-label Scream Factory.[10]


Cover of the soundtrack album

A soundtrack album featuring Rick Wakeman's score was released on LP in 1981 in Europe and shortly after in the United States and Japan.[11] 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.[12][13]

On 26 February 2007, the soundtrack was released in the United Kingdom for the first time on CD.[14]

Track list[12]
  1. "Theme from The Burning" – 3:33
  2. "The Chase Continues (Po's Plane)" – 3:53
  3. "Variations on the Fire" – 5:13
  4. "Shear Terror and More" – 4:34
  5. "The Burning (End Title Theme)" – 2:01
  6. "Campfire Story" – 3:09
  7. "The Fire" – 3:25
  8. "Doin' It" – 2:42
  9. "Devil's Creek Breakdown" – 2:21
  10. "The Chase" – 2:02
  11. "Shear Terror" – 2:43


AllMovie gave the film a positive review, writing, "With deliberant pacing and shocking scenes of full-on gore, The Burning delivers on the creep-out levels and would probably be better regarded if not for the boom of familiar flicks that came out after this release."[15]

The film currently holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregate website.


  1. ^ a b "Credits". BFI Film & Television Database. London: British Film Institute. Retrieved May 6, 2014. 
  2. ^ "THE BURNING (X)". HandMade Films. British Board of Film Classification. September 23, 1981. Retrieved July 25, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Miramax Film Corporation History". Retrieved 6 July 2012. 
  4. ^ DVD credits
  5. ^ "Company Credits for The Burning". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 6 July 2012. 
  6. ^ "The Burning (1981) – promotion". Retrieved 6 July 2012. 
  7. ^ "BBFC Cuts: B: Ba". Retrieved 6 July 2012. 
  8. ^ "The Burning". Retrieved 6 July 2012. 
  9. ^ "'Rewind' DVD comparison". 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Burning, The (1981)". Retrieved 6 July 2012. 
  12. ^ a b Stephen Raiteri. "The Burning – Rick Wakeman : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". Allmusic. Retrieved 6 July 2012. 
  13. ^ "BME: Rick Wakeman, Nashville Film Festival". Retrieved 6 July 2012. 
  14. ^ "The Burning". Retrieved 6 July 2012. 
  15. ^ Wheeler, Jeremy. "The Burning – Review – AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved 21 July 2012. 

External links[edit]