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DVD/Blu-ray: The Burning/Hell Comes to Frogtown | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: The Burning/Hell Comes to Frogtown

DVD/Blu-ray: The Burning/Hell Comes to Frogtown

Pair of rickety cult items fail to enthral

Watch out, in 'The Burning', the caretaker's about

The reasons for enduring cult status can sometimes be hard to fathom for those not embedded in the minutiae of genre cinema. Take The Burning and Hell Comes to Frogtown, both of which are being given top-notch home cinema releases. The Burning is a dual format package with a booklet and masses of extras including an over-the-top three commentaries. Hell Comes to Frogtown is Blu-ray only, has no booklet or commentaries but is replete with extras.

Both film looks great: the image quality for each is unlikely to have ever looked better. Even so, watching both induces a very thorough head-scratch as to why all this effort was taken. Neither is that good and – crucially – neither is particularly entertaining.

The Burning (1980, ★★) is historically significant as it was the first film released by the Weinstein brothers' Miramax production company. It’s also the cinema debut of Jason Alexander (Seinfeld’s George Costanza). Holly Hunter and Fisher Stevens are in it, too. Its music was by Rick Wakeman and special effects are by Tom Savani. It was also, unwittingly, a British video nasty: the British censor had passed it for release in cinemas in a cut form, but the first VHS release was (by mistake) the uncut version and copies were seized as it was declared obscene. It comes uncut here. These distinguishing features apart, it’s a standard stalk-the-teens-and-slash-them film. The slasher – who has a pair of garden sheers to do the job – is a summer camp’s former caretaker. He’s out of hospital (after being set alight by a previous year’s camp visitors), is heavily scarred and on the rampage. The story draws from the urban myth of Cropsey, a caretaker who was reputed to have done such.

Hell Comes to Frogtown Roddy Piper Sandahl BergmanMuch is made in the booklet and extras of the fact that The Burning was conceived before Friday the 13th. That’s a whatever, as it comes off as a Friday the 13th knock-off. All this would be fine if it weren't for the fact that the after setting the scene, the first 40 minutes comes across as a lame and yawnsome Porkys makeover. It takes forever to get going and, when it does, is dull and fails to shock. Naturally, a fair amount of the skewered young women are naked when the deed is done.

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988, ★★) is more bizarre but no less unsatisfying. A vehicle for can’t-act wrestler Roddy Piper (his third film), it’s a 99p store Mad Max which is supposed to be funny but isn’t.

Nuclear war has left most men and women sterile, and pockets of territory in the hands of mutant, human-sized frog people. Piper’s character, Sam Hell (as in “what the..”) is a criminal but found to be fertile. A women-run organisation called MedTech is in charge and wishes to increases the population. Unfortunately, a group of fecund women have been kidnapped by the top frog for his harem, so MedTech engages Hell to come with them to rescue the women. He is then meant to make them pregnant.

The availability of both films will be welcomed by genre fans

Illogically, they doubly endanger their prime asset (Hell’s sperm) by sending him on the mission and keeping him straight by fitting him with an exploding codpiece, but little in this mess makes sense. In charge of the mission is Sandahl Bergman’s Spangle. She (pictured above right with Piper) had been in Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja so was used to this territory, but the charisma-free Piper is out of his depth. In many ways, Hell Comes to Frogtown – which inexplicably spawned a sequel – resembles a laugh-free, pretty dull and, of course, sexist Carry On take on the Mad Max template. Most mind-bogglingly, a climactic fight scene is a direct steal from the 1967 Star Trek episode Arena.

The availability of both films will be welcomed by genre fans but it’s hard to see either having any widespread appeal. If you must, go for Hell Comes to Frogtown as it has the edge by being the more ridiculous of the two.

'Hell Comes to Frogtown' is a 99p Store 'Mad Max' which is supposed to be funny but isn’t

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