Monday, October 31, 2005

I was just flipping around Fark earlier and saw something about the 10 most violent onscreen deaths. It led me to thinking about a friend I made while I was the managing editor of a newspaper in Seguin, Texas.

Robert Burns was the art director for the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I didn't know this when I first met him, though. We crossed paths when I did a story on the reclamation of a small creek that ran behind his house. He was witty and articulate, charming and just a hint of a rogue. I liked him immediately.

We developed a passing friendship, including a couple of lunches and a story on an opry house not far from Seguin where he played the spoons and entertained the locals. I was stunned to find out, however, of his involvement in the original TCM. Robert had many of the props from the movie (and many other movies) in his home, which struck me as really strange. Here was this sensitive, soft-spoken little man in a house full of awful sculptures and images.

He never ceased to amaze me, showing me videos of him performing with two mannequins on sticks, showing off raw footage of various projects. We didn't talk much about TCM -- I hate violent films -- but I did start an interview with him once about his experiences in the industry. He said TCM was an incredibly difficult experience, with long and arduous shoots that were rough on everyone. Robert also told me that despite what people thought, very little fake blood was used (less than a bucket, if I recall). He said that was what really creeped viewers out -- it looked too real, especially when other films used gore by the tanker truck.

Robert and director Tobe Hooper stayed in touch, and apparently both hated the recent remake. I believe they thought they could have done a much better job. In fact, Robert told me he had basically fleshed out a new Massacre movie with what sounded like a great plotline. I don't think I'll share it -- I think it's a piece of Robert I'd like to keep for myself.

He worked as the art director on numerous other films, including "The Hills Have Eyes" and "Re-Animator." Robert was proudest, though, of his starring role in "Confessions of a Serial Killer." Many fans saw his performance as one of the finest recreations of a psychopathic killer ever, although Burns would never admit to more than being adequate.

I was saddened to find out through the Internet Movie Database that Robert took his own life last year after discovering he had terminal cancer. It didn't surprise me, though, as he did things on his own terms. We weren't close friends by any stretch, but still, I just wish I'd known so I could have said goodbye.

Thanks, Robert, for your friendship. We'll miss you.

3 comments:

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