By John Pearson
It was more than 20 years ago that Bob Burns and his crew of Hollywood FX masters magically transformed his quaint home in Burbank, California, into a haunter’s paradise. This past Halloween, they resurrected the tradition one last time hoping to dazzle guests once again with a final show based on the 1951 film “The Thing.”
Bob began haunting his home 1967. Tired of hearing true horror stories of razor blades in apples and poisoned candy, he and his wife Kathy, decided to dress up the house for the neighborhood kids. Some of those kids soon started hanging out around Bob’s house more. As Bob puts it, “They were excited to find a grown up that was into the same things they were and basically a big kid himself.” Together Bob and the kids worked on props and ideas for bigger shows. Among the kids were people like Dennis Muren, visual effects supervisor for Industrial Light and Magic, and make-up effects wizard Rick Baker.
Each year the shows got bigger and better. As the haunt grew so did the audiences and the event became almost a cult phenomenon. Bob and his crew did shows based on films like the Exorcist, Alien, War of the Worlds and more. In 1982, Bob did his last show The Creature, which was based off of the old film classic, The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Realizing that most of his crew was now taking off on their own careers, Bob decided it was a good time to stop. This was to the disappointment of loyal followers who had been attending shows since the first.
Fast forward 20 years later and we now find Bob back at it again. But getting this show going wasn’t as easy as it had been in 1982. Bob and Kathy discovered they now needed permits to pull off such an event. But with the caliber of talent Bob had at his disposal and the portfolio of past shows, the city of Burbank graciously handed him the permits he needed. And so “The Thing” would have a home for Halloween.
I was fortunate enough to visit Bob during construction of his haunt. I arrived with my wife, Renee and co-worker to Bob’s home only to find a crew of workers scrambling about to construct the walls of the haunt. Most of these people are top Hollywood FX guys and it makes you think to yourself, “How can someone get these top guys to give up their own free time?” The answer is simple, Bob Burns. When you meet Bob for the first time you notice he is like a long lost friend. You instantly feel connected to him. And even though you’re only meeting him for the first time you feel as if you know him. Bob has the ability to bring people together. Think about it, the average person doesn’t just give up his or her weekend for anybody. It takes someone that people care about. Bob is that guy.
Bob took us on a walkthrough of the skeletal structure of the haunt, similar to the way we would on opening night. With each section he explained how things would be played out. You can tell he loves this stuff. You can see his excitement in his body language. It’s like watching a kid at Christmas. Bob showed of the work of his crew like a proud grandpa. It was easy to envision the haunt from his descriptions. After the initial interview, Bob invited us in to his home to check out his amazing collection of movie memorabilia. Bob has acquired most of his pieces through his friends in the industry. He collects things for the joy of it and not for profit. As Bob would tell you he sees himself simply as the curator of his treasures and would like to see them in a museum. You can see some most of these amazing items in Bob’s book, “It Came From Bob’s Basement.” I highly recommend it to learn more about Bob. Before we departed Kathy invited us to share lunch with the crew. We felt a little bad about it since we hadn’t done any work on the haunt, but we broke bread with the crew and enjoyed Kathy’s very tasty ziti.
We returned to the Burns’ home Halloween night. The show was originally scheduled to only run two nights, Halloween night itself and the following day. Realizing the crowds were going to be twice as big as his 1982 show, which had 4000 people attend, Bob extended the show so it would run four evenings. When we arrived to a large crowd of people surrounding the house I wasn’t surprised. The line of waiting guests extended down several houses. In the end we waited two hours to see the show.
The anticipation of seeing “The Thing” show was nothing compared to the haunt itself. The front yard had been completely transformed. This was no longer Bob Burn’s home, but instead a remote arctic base. Icicles hung from the gutters of remote facility, Rusty barrels were stacked along the walls, the windows were frosted with ice, and there was snow surrounding the structure. In front of it all was a large rock with “The Thing” carved into it and the letters had a green eerie glow to them.