legend of terror


J.R. McKechnie (played Fish)

Bonnie 1Q1: How did you get the part in THE BURNING?

Pretty straightforward, really. Like dozens of others, I auditioned in New York City. Was doing mostly television commercials at the time but was up for the occasional TV show and movie. What was a little tricky about this film was that they shot it during a Screen Actors Guild strike, so they had to get a special waiver. Most of us were unknowns at the time and it was a low-budget film, so I believe most of us would have been paid scale except that under the waiver they had to pay us double! Of course, I was in it for the art. ;-)

Q2: Do you remember exactly when you shot the movie?

Believe it was late summer 1980. I had turned 16 that June, and my dad had been giving me grief all summer about getting a “real” job (like delivering pizza) instead of going on auditions. I got this part and in 3 weeks made many times more than I would have made working a “real” job for 8 weeks!

Q3: THE BURNING was different to a film such as FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), where most of the cast were young adults. Many of the cast in THE BURNING (1981) were young enough to truly reflect the real make-up of a summer camp in the early 1980s. The baseball and canoeing scenes sure looked like fun to make. Do you have fond memories of the production?

Perhaps my fondest memory was that everyone was really nice. Fisher (I met him as Steven!) and I became pretty good buddies and stayed friends for a while post-production, although we eventually drifted apart. He was very focused on his acting career (he is so talented, me not so much) and for me the whole thing was more of a lark. I’m confident that he still is the kind soul he was then. I guess I miss him.

Larry was hilarious. We shot up in the Buffalo and I remember him saying (I think on the plane up there) “So Buffalo is known for chicken wings and potato skins?! It’s the only city in the world where scraps are a main course!”

Jason was hilarious too, which I guess is no surprise.


Q4: Cropsey – the horribly scarred killer in the film – is seemingly inspired (in name at least) by the urban legend that has terrorised kids and campers for decades in New York State. Had you heard about the legend? Did anything spooky happen on set?

Not on the set, but I heard (though didn’t see myself) that Fisher in his “dead Woodstock” makeup scared the piss out of some people in the hotel lobby!

Q5: You were one of the unlucky campers to fall afoul of Cropsey aboard the ill-fated raft scene. Can you remember how long it took to film it – and were you pleased to be being offed by the legenday Tom Savini?

That scene took a few hours and was a little hairy to shoot for two reasons. First, and although I don’t recall it being addressed directly, we only had one take. That was my sense anyway (even if they had another set of wardrobe in reserve). Second, they swung a pair of garden shears right in front of me, so a slip could have been a problem.

As for Tom, this was still pretty early and I wasn’t a big horror film buff, so he wasn’t “legendary” to me. He was pretty cool, though, and clearly knew his stuff. My scene was pretty low tech: they cut a slice in my t-shirt, taped a condom filled with dyed corn syrup to my chest with a fishing line attached to and running out the bottom (or maybe my shirt sleeve), and wet the slice a little to adhere it closed. With the killer’s back to me, a swing of the shears a foot in front of read like it hit me, and just as they came across my chest, Tom yanked on the fishing line, exploding the condom rig. The right music and me screaming like a ten-year old girl and VOILA!

Here’s something that puzzles me, though: Fish is in the far back of the raft…how does he get it first? I mean, forget the physics behind standing up suddenly in a canoe….

BURNING raft scene

Q6: THE BURNING was surprisingly controversial on release. Suffering many cuts at the behest at the MPAA (especially the raft scene). Despite getting a cinema release in the UK it was accidentally released uncut on video and was banned as one of the infamous ‘video-nasties’. Were you aware of its enduring infamy?

No, but my family barely made it through a screening of the uncut version in NY prior to the U.S. theatrical release. Frankly, I didn’t realize it’s lasting impact until I searched for it on Youtube a couple of years ago and found references to the “infamous raft scene.” More troubling, a Google search on my name will bring back hits on softcore gay sites featuring vidcaps of naked and brief-covered male butts in Hollywood movies!

Q6: Have you seen the film recently? If so, how do you think it holds up?

Someone gave me a DVD copy and I’ve watched bits and pieces every now and then, mostly with friends who haven’t seen it. I’m still not a big fan of the slasher genre, but I understand that The Burning has a place in the pantheon of horror. I guess I view it as being one of the links between Hitchcockian cinema (suspense without much graphic violence) and Saw-type movies (the violence IS the story).

That being said, the film truly is pretty derivative of Friday the 13th, and some of the story elements are pretty preposterous. For example, when the canoes disappear, the counselors decide that the woods are too thick to walk through and that building a raft and paddles from scratch with basically no materials somehow makes more sense. What, are the tree trunks only 4 inches apart? And by the way, to get that raft moving required an electric trolling motor in the back, artfully hidden, of course.

Still, the movie moves along, has some truly scary scenes, and there are some solid performances from actors who went on to stardom. All in all, not a bad rookie effort on a budget from the team that went on to become Miramax.

Q7: Finally, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions! Is there anything else you can add about the film or your time working on it?

Great experience. Happy memories and funny stories to tell my kids! “Hey girls…who wants to watch dad die?”

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