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“BEAST WISHES” (DVD Review)

Beast Wishes

BEAST WISHES, an utterly charming documentary about Bob and Kathy Burns, is about 60 minutes long, but it’s still going to take you hours to watch the DVD. Barely a scene goes by that won’t have fans grabbing for the remote, freeze-framing the image and gasping, “Is that [iconic prop/model/costume/creature]?”

The answer is yes, it is, and it’s probably the exact one
you saw in your favorite movie. Bob and Kathy are, as John Landis succinctly
describes, “a lovely couple who live in Burbank, California, and share a
passion for monsters and fantasy.” They also just happen to own an utterly
jaw-dropping collection of authentic, screen-used items from decades of genre
cinema—everything from an authentic, posable armature from the original KING
KONG to the full-sized Time Machine from George Pal’s classic to a life-sized,
four-legged lycanthrope from AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON to chestbursters,
facehuggers and xenomorphs from throughout the ALIEN series…and those examples
just scratch the surface.

Not that the Burnses came by such a collection randomly. Bob
Burns has been a fixture of film fandom since the ’50s, a ground-floor
participant in the kind of San Fernando Valley B-filmmaking in which Republic
Pictures and Roger Corman thrived. Bob went on to be a beloved gorilla-suit
performer, most notably as Tracy in the ’70s live-action TV series THE GHOST
BUSTERS. That Bob met his future bride Kathy prior to his success, and that
their relationship survived a first date in which Bob practically caused an
in-theater panic for the sake of a joke about 3D, is portrayed by BEAST WISHES
as the kind of romance movie nerds pray for. Several of the interview subjects
make the point that Kathy “loves this stuff as much as Bob,” if not more. Their
riches of preserved cinematic ephemera came first from a shared desire to save
said items from the studio trash bins.

BEAST WISHES (available for purchase at www.beastwishes.com,
and screening on a double bill with the documentary MEN IN SUITS at Sacramento,
CA’s Crest Theatre this Saturday, January 12) handily convinces us that those
items could find no better home than the Burns household. That conviction is
delivered by directors Frank Dietz and Trish Geiger via a dizzying variety of
energetic on-camera interviews. Good-humored wits such as Landis, Joe Dante and
writer/comedian Dana Gould are joined by a Who’s Who of the best FX artists in
the film business, including Rick Baker, Dennis Muren, Greg Nicotero, Chris
Walas, Steve Wang and ADI’s Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis. Each offers
genuine warmth and wonder at Bob and Kathy’s uncommonly decent nature, and the
expansive breadth of their cinematic treasures. Baker has an especially
personal connection with Bob, a kindred spirit who is credited with mentoring
the makeup wizard as a teenager (“Then Dick Smith found him,” Bob says with a
touch of bittersweet pride).

Writer David J. Schow offers the notion that Bob and Kathy
have the only really functional Hollywood Museum, in spite of their lack of
vested fiscal interest in sustaining it. Gould, a genre historian in his own
right considering some of the thoroughly researched passages of his exceptional
podcast, dubs Bob and Kathy “archivists of an entire generation of practical
effects,” a “cultural heritage” that CGI is in danger of phasing out. Muren
tellingly considers that he would have grown entirely cynical about the film
industry had he not met Bob and Kathy.

Such affection might have become maudlin if the documentary
wasn’t so lively and entertaining. The interview subjects are engaging speakers
without exception, applying genuine wit and insight to love of movies, love
between geeks and the special subculture of film-fandom in Burbank. BEAST
WISHES also contiues to reveal amazing stuff as it continues, providing as
close to a tour of Bob and Kathy’s basement as is possible without physically
being there. The most unexpected treat comes late in the film, with the
coverage of Bob and Kathy’s “Halloween shows,” a series of annual productions
featuring different themes and industry-standard FX. Old footage reveals a
flying saucer that has convincingly crashed into the Burns home, a flawlessly
costumed Gill-Man and Thing from Another World, an EXORCIST-themed show
complete with thrashing Regan and levitating bed, an ALIEN-themed presentation
in which the victim is a uniformed Walter Koenig (!)…each one solely to
entertain the neighbors. The Halloween footage in particular brings forth both
glee and the melancholy frustration that you weren’t there to see it live.

That these shows were orchestrated with the volunteer help
of film professionals and the most prestigious FX artists in the business
speaks to the loyalty and dedication the Burnses effortlessly inspire in their
friends and collaborators. Nicotero bemusedly suggests that if everything ran
with the efficiency of the crews who work for Bob and Kathy’s Halloween
extravaganzas, the world would be a utopia.

Though briskly paced and consistently enjoyable, BEAST
WISHES is possibly guilty of being too cute in places; the filmmakers’ love for
Bob and Kathy is so palpable throughout that the tribute could mystify some
audiences. These theoretical viewers would also have to remain unmoved by all
the monsters, aliens, dinosaurs and gorillas you could imagine, plus a sweet
couple who fashioned a delightful life together from their mutual love of the
movies. BEAST WISHES is essential viewing for genre fans, who will be touched
and inspired by a real-life, idealized version of themselves in Bob and Kathy
Burns.

by: Jack Bennett on: 2013-01-07 17:22:41

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Fangoria Staff
FANGORIA: The First in Fright Since 1979.
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