Released almost a year to the day of "Friday the 13th," the camp counselor slasher film The Burning carried a heavy burden.
It looked like a knockoff.
The reality, as revealed during a first-ever cast reunion panel at Bay of Blood: Tampa's Horror Weekend, is that The Burning was actually filmed before "Friday the 13th," and if released sooner, might have staked its flag as the original campfire slasher.
For its inaugural outing, Bay of Blood organizers Brian and Chandra Singleton had a specific plan. They wanted to celebrate classic genre cinema by spotlighting their two personal favorite horror films, The Burning and My Bloody Valentine, both of which were released in 1981.
The Singleton's wanted to keep the event small and intimate. They booked nearly two dozen cast members from the two films, as well as "Friday the 13th Part 2," but kept the number of vendors small and local to Florida, for the most part, including Coffee Shop of Horrors from Montverde, Freakshow Designs from Orlando and Tampa's own Grindhouse Video.
Bay of Blood was about the films themselves, and Chandra Singleton said it will continue to be that, should the convention become an annual event.
The Burning, which features the bloody rampage against a group of young counselors by a severely burned menace known as Cropsy, isn't the first film that likely leaps to mind when considering the venerable slasher genre.
But it has its fans, and they are rabidly devoted.
For his part, Brian Singleton brought to Tampa the largest gathering of cast members ever assembled from the film to celebrate its 35th anniversary, including Lou David (Cropsy), Brian Matthews (Todd), Leah Ayers (Michelle), Larry Joshua (Glazer), Shelley Bruce (Tiger) and Bonnie Deroski (Marnie).
Singleton tried to secure other cast and crew to join the celebration. Director Tony Maylam was in Australia working on a new film. Actor Brian Backer, best known for "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," couldn't be reached. And some talent, like Jason Alexander of "Seinfeld," Fisher Stevens and Oscar-winner Holly Hunter, are just too well-known to consider attending a small, first-time convention about a film that was among the first entries on their IMDb profiles.
But Singleton wasn't deterred. While moderating the reunion panel, his appreciation and love for the film and the cast members who agreed to participate shone through.
"You have never all had a chance to be in the same room together," he marveled.
The audience may have been sparse by comparison to larger conventions -- about 20 people attended the hour-long talk -- but for those who were there, it was a dream come true.
The day Bay of Blood announced its lineup online, Travis Ruvo knew he had to get to Tampa.
For the past four years, Ruvo, who lives in Portland, OR, and his friends Kevin Reece and Aaron Whitsell have recorded and performed as Cropsy Maniac, a death metal/grindcore band inspired by The Burning.
"The whole concept of our band -- name, artwork and imagery -- is all surrounded by The Burning," Ruvo said by phone, after returning to the northwest from the convention. "Our songs are about all types of movies, but we always have at least one song related to (The Burning)."
Ruvo and his band mates (bassist Patrick Bruss did not make the trip) couldn't believe their luck when they arrived a day early at the Holiday Inn Westshore. Whitsell was at the hotel bar and messaged Ruvo to say he was having a drink with Larry Joshua, whose character "Glazer" is a fan favorite. Ruvo and Reece immediately went down.
"We told him what we did and how big of a fan we were," Ruvo said. "He instantly was humbled and almost stepped back, shocked he was that important to us."
When the convention began, the band took copies of their CDs down to the vendor area and immediately began meeting the cast. Lou David put on one of their band T-shirts. Ruvo said the smaller venue and more intimate atmosphere allowed him and his band members the chance to actually speak at length with each actor. The reception they received was overwhelming.
"We didn't want to go there and use our band to exploit ourselves. The whole intention was maybe someone will want a CD that's about your movie," he said. "I had Larry, Bonnie and Shelley asking and texting me, 'Where can I direct Burning fans to your band?' Shelley Bruce wants to have fans order some of our T-shirts. It was just a humbling experience to have them say, 'Oh that's cool, we appreciate that!'"
"It's been really wonderful to revisit"
By the time Sunday, September 25 arrived, and the cast of The Burning entered a hotel ballroom to sit and discuss their work, it was clear they too were humbled.
They shared anecdotes from the set.
Bruce recalled that as the youngest cast member, and still a minor, her mother had to be with her throughout filming. She wore her own clothes to save on budget costs.
Most of the cast never even met David, who typically was only on set in full Cropsy makeup.
Special effects icon Tom Savini, who also worked on "Friday the 13th," poured over medical books depicting actual burn victims in order to have his makeup look as realistic as possible.
Joshua, whose character "Glazer" endures one of the most grisly deaths in the film, described in detail how Savini and the crew achieved the effect. "I must have died like 10, 15 times," he said, laughing.
Matthews, who portrayed lead counselor Todd, who sets the tone early in the film by telling Cropsy's story over a campfire to spook his crew, said even though his children have never seen The Burning, they knew about the film and always asked him to tell the story on family camping trips.
While many of the cast went on to continue acting in both film and television projects, they discussed the idea that for die-hard fans they will always be known for The Burning, forever immortalized as a teenage counselor trying to survive.
Several of them even attended a special screening of the film, which helped launch the opening day Bay of Blood festivities.
"It's been really wonderful to revisit," Ayers said. "Watching it the other night after not seeing it for 30 years, I was like, 'OK, I understand.'"
If you love all things related to The Burning, you definitely need to visit Cropsy Maniac's Facebook page, which has links to the band's music and merchandise. Check it out at https://www.facebook.com/cropsymaniacgrind/.