Most horror and slasher fans have a place in their hearts reserved for special make-up effect artists like DICK SMITH (THE EXORCIST), TOM SAVINI (FRIDAY THE 13th, DAWN OF THE DEAD) and ROB BOTTIN (THE THING). This is understandable; their contributions to some of our favorite motion pictures can never be adequately measured. One legend whose name is not mentioned quite often enough in my opinion is TOM BURMAN, whose body of work is like a map of nearly every important horror phase of the last 30 years. The truth is, among his peers, BURMAN may arguably be the most flexible. He’s tackled old age decrepitude and rotted corpses like SMITH, grotesque novelty kills like SAVINI and stretched our imaginations with reality bending monstrosities like BOTTIN. His work is consistently up to par with the names mentioned, and yet he never seems to garner the same level of fan boy adoration. Admittedly, through bad luck or wonky timing, many of the films his creations inhabit were not blockbusters upon their release, but most have become worshiped cult classics in the following decades. Woefully, in more than one case, BURMAN‘s visions never even made it to the screen and we have only photographic evidence to speak for its quality. In conjuncture with Jeff Allard‘s DINNER WITH MAX JENKE, we here at Kindertrauma would like to take a moment to spotlight this incredible artist. As you’ll see below, you may be unfamiliar with his name, but you’re certainly not unfamiliar with his work…
The late seventies saw BURMAN‘s output representing the popular horror themes of that time: nature run amuck movies like FOOD OF THE GODS and THE PROPHECY; possession flicks like THE MANITOU; and sci-fi horror hybrids like THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (’77) and THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (’78), the latter two of which allowed animal/human hybrids the likes of which had never been seen to invade theaters.
The slash happy early eighties had BURMAN contributing to two of my favorite all time hack-a-thons. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME had him creating a room full of dead victims each of whose injuries was more outlandish then the last. (Much of it is cloaked in darkness but its jolting depravity impresses nonetheless). Famously, the lion’s share of BURMAN‘s artistry wound up on the cutting room floor in the case of MY BLOODY VALENTINE. Early leaked images of M.B.V.‘s gory brilliance, in both FANGORIA and FAMOUS MONSTERS, had fans preparing to be stunned but at least nine minutes of mayhem was excised by PARAMOUNT studios before release. Most agree that the forced edits in some areas of the film are so drastic that it’s hard to even decipher what’s being shown and this most likely hindered the movie’s performance and reception. PARAMOUNT‘s yielding to the then burgeoning slasher backlash not only hobbled the movie’s financial prospects, but further kept BURMAN from receiving the accolades he deserved from those who would have appreciated his efforts.
Moving onward, BURMAN‘s mid-eighties output continued to expand and again his work reflects then current horror tropes: grandiose body transformations in THE BEAST WITHIN and CAT PEOPLE (where much of his transformation work was edited out); grotesque imaginings of rotting corpses in ONE DARK NIGHT; and presentations of severe, nearly surreal bodily damage as in HALLOWEEN 3: SEASON OF THE WITCH‘s show stopping blasted face sequence or to bring up CAT PEOPLE once more, ED BEGLEY JR.’s excruciatingly convincing arm severing scene.
As the eighties horror boom waned BURMAN added his magic to the guilty pleasure 3-D sci-fi auctioneer SPACE HUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE (Once seen, who can forget those disgusting blob monsters or MICHAEL IRONSIDE‘s cyber villain “Overdog“?) and he even designed the much-beloved, iconic character of “Sloth” for THE GOONIES! Tom’s resume in the latter half of the decade includes such diverse titles as TEEN WOLF, super bomb HOWARD THE DUCK and SCROOGED. His last proper horror credit was 1993’s BODY SNATCHERS.
These days BURMAN works mostly for television both on GREY’S ANATOMY and NIP/TUCK, but happily his son BARNEY BURMAN‘s name can be found on the credits of more recent horror hits like 2004’s DAWN OF THE DEAD. Looking over the complete body of BURMAN‘s work, I can’t begin to fathom how much his art has effected me as a horror fan. Truly, his creations are center stage in some of my favorite movies of all time. Although I’m sure many other uncredited assistants aided in these fantastic cinematic creations, seeing TOM BURMAN‘s name in the credits usually signifies that a viewer is in for an eye-popping good time.
For more on TOM BURMAN, make sure you check out Jeff Allard‘s DINNER WITH MAX JENKE!