The Burning – An Introduction

Here is the transcript of Darrell Buxton’s introduction to The Burning (part 1 of a double bill) from Friday 13th April.

If you’re waiting for your next fix of Buxton, then check out The Legendary Paracinema Film Quiz taking place at Derby Film Festival and Paracinema from the 4th May. ( www.derbyfilmfestival.co.uk ) Or catch the next Fright Club screening on Friday 25th May which will be Event Horizon.

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Hello and welcome to QUAD for our big Fright Club double bill. It’s Friday the 13th of April, and usually we can’t resist showing a Jason Voorhees slaughter spree or two on dates such as this. But as we’ve been running Fright Club for a good few years now, we’ve already screened most of the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise and so have looked around for an alternative double bill. And we think we’ve come up with a winner. We’re showing THE BURNING from 1981, the terrifying tale of the legend of Cropsy and one of the best of that classic wave of slasher fare from the early 80s; followed by THE FINAL GIRLS, a fantastic slice of meta-fiction from 2015 that will whisk you right back to those same early 80s, whether you were there first time round or not. I’ll be telling you more about that later, but firstly we’ll go properly old school with THE BURNING.

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English progressive rock and horror films might seem a strange combination, though the weird 1978 British shocker starring Derbyshire’s Alan Bates and John Hurt, THE SHOUT, featured soundtrack contributions by Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks of Genesis. And at last year’s Dead & Breakfast event in this very room, one of the films presented was Dario Argento’s classic INFERNO, bolstered by an unforgettable Keith Emerson score. Many other prog rockers have dabbled in horror soundtracks on occasion too. Away from horror, in 1977 a documentary filmmaker named Tony Maylam had two films released to British cinemas, back in the days when you would often get a supporting shorter movie before the main attraction. One of these, WHITE ROCK, was a documentary about the previous year’s Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, and was notable not just for its spectacular images but for its soundtrack by the keyboard wizard from Yes, Rick Wakeman. Maylam’s other offering was a filmed record of live performances by Rutherford, Banks and co – GENESIS IN CONCERT.

As we know, slasher films exploded on to screens everywhere after the success of HALLOWEEN in the late 70s. Surprisingly, though most were American or Canadian productions, quite a few British directors were assigned to helm them. Ken Hughes, just twelve years after bringing the delightful CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG to the screen, brought us TERROR EYES; J. Lee Thompson of GUNS OF NAVARONE and CAPE FEAR fame made HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME and the Charles Bronson slasher 10 TO MIDNIGHT; David Winters shot THE LAST HORROR FILM using the Cannes Film Festival as a backdrop. And for THE BURNING, Tony Maylam was hired. But why Maylam, with his documentary and prog rock background? Well, here’s where a controversial name enters the story…

Through the 70s, a young trio began promoting rock concerts in the US. The unlikely-sounding Corky Burger teamed up with two brothers to attempt to make a bundle from the music scene, and their success – combined with their love of movies – led the guys to set up their own film company. The brothers? You guessed it, Bob & Harvey Weinstein. The company, Miramax. Their first two releases were pick-ups for distribution in the States – the Paul McCartney and Wings live concert film ROCKSHOW, and the science fiction sex comedy SPACED OUT, directed by our old pal Norman J. Warren, a guest here at QUAD last year. Miramax also got the rights to screen THE SECRET POLICEMAN’S BALL, the Amnesty International comedy sketch stage show, in the States. But Harvey had ambitions to make his own movie, and had written a five page outline called ‘The Cropsy Maniac’. This went into development as Miramax’s first actual production, with the title changed to THE BURNING, which in turn caused another filmmaker, Joseph Ellison, to change the name of his grim 1980 psycho movie from THE BURNING to DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE. So yes, this is where the Weinsteins got started. They knew Tony Maylam through the rock scene, and knew he was an accomplished filmmaker, so hired him to direct their BURNING – in turn, Tony’s old pal Rick Wakeman came on board to do the music.

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The Weinsteins weren’t the only major Hollywood players who kicked off their careers here. One notable aspect of the slasher movie craze is that if you watch these films from the late 70s and early 80s, you’ll spot loads of movie and tv superstars in early roles. Tom Hanks somehow managing to survive HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE, for instance, or Kevin Bacon spectacularly failing to survive FRIDAY THE 13TH. Well, THE BURNING’s cast is loaded with nascent stellar talent, though no one knew it at the time. There’s future Oscar winner Holly Hunter, for starters; Fisher Stevens, who hit big with the SHORT CIRCUIT films and then later starred in ‘Early Edition’ and ‘Hackers’ on the small screen, and who also won an Oscar for his documentary THE COVE in 2010; and a young Jason Alexander, later to play George Costanza in ‘Seinfeld’.

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At the time, the major coup for the production was their securing of Tom Savini to handle the special make-up effects. Savini was like a god to horror fans, having wowed everyone with his work on DAWN OF THE DEAD and FRIDAY THE 13TH, and there’s more of the same in THE BURNING. The whole film uses the standard slasher movie formula effectively, with a creepy campfire legend, a bunch of isolated teens in a rural location, and a parade of murders – but what was particularly memorable about this one was ‘The Scene’. I’ll say no more about it, other than there’s this one brief moment in the movie where Savini really gets to exhibit his skills, and that you’ll know which bit I’m talking about as soon as it arrives!

THE BURNING even managed to bypass censorship in the U.K., albeit by accident. The film was slightly trimmed by the BBFC for British consumption, in cinemas and on video – Thorn EMI were handling the video release, and somehow a batch of completely uncut copies slipped out into video rental outlets. Rest assured, we’ll be seeing the whole gory glory of that uncut version tonight.

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So, it’s time to prepare yourselves for an hour and a half of summer camp mayhem on this Friday the 13th of April. It ain’t Jason but it’s the next best thing. You can also indulge in a bit of talent spotting, enjoy the work of Savini and the Wakeman soundtrack, and boo, hiss, or throw stuff when Harvey Weinstein’s name appears in the credits. We’re back with the wonderfully post-modern slasher THE FINAL GIRLS later on, but for now it’s time to get overheated with THE BURNING.

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