The Man Behind the Alien-Themed Haunted House That Terrorized 1970s Burbank

Bob Burns
Bob Burns
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Judging by the thousands of people lined up around the block, what Bob Burns had planned for Halloween 1979 promised to be even better than the giant eyeball he had once placed on his roof. Better than the time he constructed an elaborate homage to The Exorcist by having his wife, Kathy, “levitating” over a bed on a cantilever as though she had been overtaken by a demon. Better than the time he constructed a spaceship to make it appear as though it had crashed into his home, complete with malevolent Martians that had to be dispatched by actors with ray guns.

A film editor by trade, Burns was an unabashed fan of Halloween and all its trappings. From 1967 to 1979, he used his modest bungalow residence in Burbank, California, to stage a series of increasingly elaborate haunted house displays—presentations that would bleed into both his front and back yards, pre-dating today's high-tech attractions and stirring up so much anticipation among the community that the candy he handed out became an afterthought.

In his memoir, Monster Kid Memories, co-written with Tom Weaver, Burns would recall that the attraction he pulled off for one of his final shows wound up being his favorite. It involved an eerie spaceship corridor, a lost cat, and an abrupt appearance by the drooling, acid-blooded Xenomorph that had terrified moviegoers that summer.

Before long, word would travel down the long line: The haunted yard of Bob Burns just made a woman faint.

The custom-made Nostromo corridor for a 1979 Halloween display
The corridor of the spaceship 'Nostromo,' built by Bob Burns and friends for his 1979 backyard Halloween attraction.
Courtesy of Bob Burns

Burns may not have invented the concept of a residential haunted attraction, but he certainly helped perfect it. During the Great Depression, properties decorated for the express purpose of unsettling visitors’ nerves were designed to distract wayward kids from vandalizing the homes of neighbors. Some families would convert their basements into spooky space, hanging raw liver or wet sponges from ceilings and urging kids to paw around in the dark. The opening of Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction in 1969 commercialized the idea, making use of considerably more sophisticated effects than rotting meat. Today, haunted attractions are a big business, with more than 4000 locations bringing in $300 million annually.

Making money wasn’t part of Burns’s Halloween agenda: No admission was ever charged. A self-professed “monster kid” who grew up fascinated by creature features and monster makeup, Burns eyed a career in the film industry, eventually winding up as a film editor at Los Angeles CBS affiliate television station KNXT. In his free time, he grew friendly with a variety of effects artists, some of whom shared his passion for prop-collecting. In his home museum sat one of the original skeletal models for 1933’s King Kong; several aliens from the Cantina scene in Star Wars lined his shelves. Sometimes, the props would be acquired through collectors or studios; other times, they’d be given to him by people who knew he’d give them a proper home.

“He built a museum in his house to display all the stuff he collected, which was extraordinary,” actor Walter Koenig (Star Trek), a  friend of Burns’s, tells Mental Floss. “We had a mutual interest in collecting comic character memorabilia, which is how we met. He’s an extremely congenial man and just a lot of fun to be around.”

That charm and sincerity went a long way when Burns began plotting to do something other than simply dispense candy on Halloween. In 1967, he constructed a mad scientist table in his living room complete with a neon transformer that crackled with energy above a dummy made to resemble Frankenstein’s monster. (The transformer actually interfered with his neighbors’ television reception.) In 1970, he enlisted some friends to build "Goombah," a giant eyeball with tentacles that loomed so large on his roof people could see it from down the block. Inside, trick-or-treaters witnessed an actor grappling with one of its tentacles while screaming, “It’s eating my brain!”

If some displays were silly, others were downright terrifying. In 1974, Burns arranged a motif he titled “The Thing in the Attic,” a convincing portrait of demonic possession. Special effects legend Rick Baker, who would go on to become an Academy Award-winning talent for his contributions to films like An American Werewolf in London, contributed to a display that had Burns’s wife, Kathy, being lifted 4 feet in the air and sporting glowing red bulbs operating on battery power over her eyes. Burns would then shut off the lights before running into the crowd as a masked demon, repurposing one of the Cantina props. Neighbors heard the screaming for hours.

After several years, Burns had developed a reputation. Local newscasts covered his gatherings, and he began fielding nearly 3000 attendees every show. In 1978, sci-fi magazine Starlog profiled Burns in a lengthy story about his love of Halloween and the elaborate attractions he constructed. The article was something of an endorsement, one that Burns passed along to publicists at 20th Century Fox when they visited a nearby television station, KCBS, in the summer of 1979 to promote their new horror film, Alien.

Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, lone survivor of a spaceship crew systematically mauled by a stowaway alien, Burns thought it would be the perfect scenario to cap 12 years of Halloween spectacles. To his surprise, Fox gave him permission to depict the Nostromo ship from the film as well as the distinctive creature designs by H.R. Giger. In a testament to Burns’s affability, they even let him borrow several props from the film, including the mechanical “face hugger” monstrosity that clung to victims’ faces and allowed the alien spawn to incubate in their stomachs.

Armed with Fox's blessing, Burns and his friends—including Dorothy Fontana, a former writer on the original Star Trek series—spent several weeks laboring as carpenters, building out a long corridor over his driveway and into his backyard with pipes and valves reminiscent of the film’s claustrophobic set. To play the doomed occupant of the ship, he enlisted Koenig, who was just about to return to his role of Pavel Chekov in the first Trek feature film that December. Though Burns feared he would insult Koenig by asking him to do a job for free, he was surprised when the actor accepted.

“He asked me to play the captain, and I’ve always wanted to play the captain of something, so I said sure,” Koenig says. “Although I didn’t know it would be so strenuous until afterward.”

For the big payoff, Burns was loaned the actual head from the cumbersome alien costume that appears in the film. (He had to fabricate the rest of its body.) A neighbor, Tom De Veronica, agreed to wear the outfit to give the backyard audience a jolt.

By October 31, word had gotten out that Burns may have topped himself, and fans of the show from years past began camping out on the block to guarantee they’d be able to see the attraction. Several executives from Fox showed up, wondering what Burns and his homegrown approach would do with their increasingly valuable property.

A portrait of the crew that worked on the 1979 Bob Burns Halloween display
The crew that worked on the Bob Burns 1979 'Alien' attraction. Burns is in the middle row, third from the right.
Courtesy of Bob Burns

By Koenig’s estimate, the entire scene was just two to three minutes long. As the captain of the Nostromo, the actor slowly walked down the corridor, audience in tow, while announcing that his handheld motion detector was picking up some unusual movement down the way. Saying it might be the ship’s resident cat, Koenig ascended a ladder and disappeared from view—only to jump back down, grappling with the face hugger that had suddenly enveloped his head.

While the audience recovered from that scare, De Veronica came bursting into view from behind a concealed panel, disarming anyone who expected the creature to materialize in front of them. Attendees jumped; at least one woman fainted. (“I guess today we would have been sued,” Burns later wrote.) For a haunted attraction, there could be no better endorsement.

“We did it at least 50 or 60 times,” Koenig says. “I actually brought in an [acting] student of mine to do it with me so I didn’t have to do it all night. People screamed. They were waiting around the block all night long.”

The Fox executives who saw the show were so impressed by Burns that when he approached the studio about returning the props, he was told to keep them—not only the ones he had borrowed, but others from the movie. Within a few days, a hauling truck was in front of his house and unloading a 12-foot model of the Nostromo used in the film.

“Bob didn’t do amateur productions,” Koenig says. “The people involved were professionals who worked in the industry.”

A photo of the Alien costume from a 1979 Burbank Halloween attraction
The Alien costume from the 1979 Halloween extravaganza
Bob Burns

That professional touch would ultimately prove to be the end of the Burns Halloween legacy. With friends like Baker and special effects artist Dennis Muren—who would make his name working on the Star Wars films—moving on to time-consuming careers in the business, it became harder for Burns to enlist his regular crew for his elaborate displays. He’s done just two since 1979: a 1982 take-off on Creature from the Black Lagoon and a 2002 show inspired by The Thing. Directors Guillermo del Toro, Frank Darabont, and Rob Zombie were among those who showed up for what might have been his final presentation.

Although he didn't respond to interview requests, Burns, 82, still resides in Burbank, continuing to care for and curate his significant memorabilia collection. While haunted houses have become big business with big budgets, it’s hard to conceive of many made with as much affection as the ones that turned his residential street into a Halloween destination for more than a decade.

“I think the Alien show really solidified the legend of Bob Burns,” Koenig says. “So many of his friends did a lot of manual work just for the fun of doing it.” While the actor wasn’t one of the people who helped build the Nostromo corridor with hammer and nails, Burns “probably could have convinced me to if he wanted.”

Additional Sources: Monster Kid Memories

All 73 Game of Thrones Episodes Ranked, According to IMDb Users

Kit Harington in "The Battle of the Bastards" episode of Game of Thrones
Kit Harington in "The Battle of the Bastards" episode of Game of Thrones
HBO

Next time you're in the middle of a large gathering of Game of Thrones fans, try this little experiment: Ask them to rattle of their five favorite episodes of the series, in order of preference. While you'll likely hear some of the same titles—"The Rains of Castamere" and "Battle of the Bastards" are practically givens—the order in which each person's favorite episodes rank will surely vary, as entertainment is a subjective thing.

Though it may be impossible to create a definitive ranking of the best Game of Thrones episodes, you can find a general consensus—just like IMDb has. And according to the online movie database's users, "The Rains of Castamere" (a.k.a. The Red Wedding episode), "Hardhome," "Battle of the Bastards," and "The Winds of Winter" each score a near-perfect 9.9 out of 10.

At the bottom of the list for these same users? "The Iron Throne," the series finale that has audiences divided and only managed to score a 4.6 rating on the site so far (though that's according to more than 100,000 people—and growing).

Where does your favorite episode rank? Check out IMDb's ranking of all 73 episodes of the series below to find out.

  1. “The Rains of Castamere,” Season 3, Episode 9 // 9.9
  2. “Hardhome,” Season 5, Episode 8 // 9.9
  3. “Battle of the Bastards,” Season 6, Episode 9 // 9.9
  4. “The Winds of Winter,” Season 6, Episode 10 // 9.9
  5. “The Spoils of War,” Season 7, Episode 4 // 9.8
  6. “Blackwater,” Season 2, Episode 9 // 9.7
  7. “The Children,” Season 4, Episode 10 // 9.7
  8. “The Laws of Gods and Men,” Season 4, Episode 6 // 9.7
  9. “The Mountain and the Viper,” Season 4, Episode 8 // 9.7
  10. “The Lion and the Rose,” Season 5, Episode 2 // 9.7
  11. “The Door,” Season 6, Episode 5 // 9.7
  12. “Baelor,” Season 1, Episode 9 // 9.6
  13. “And Now His Watch Is Ended,” Season 3, Episode 4 // 9.6
  14. “The Watchers on the Wall,” Season 4, Episode 9 // 9.6
  15. “Fire and Blood,” Season 1, Episode 10 // 9.5
  16. “The Dance of Dragons,” Season 5, Episode 9 // 9.5
  17. “The Dragon and the Wolf,” Season 7, Episode 7 // 9.5
  18. “Valar Morghulis,” Season 2, Episode 10 // 9.4
  19. “Home,” Season 6, Episode 2 // 9.4
  20. “You Win or You Die,” Season 1, Episode 8 // 9.3
  21. “The Queen’s Justice,” Season 7, Episode 3 // 9.3
  22. “A Golden Crown,” Season 1, Episode 6 // 9.2
  23. “Mhysa,” Season 3, Episode 10 // 9.2
  24. “Mockingbird,” Season 4, Episode 7 // 9.2
  25. “Book of the Stranger,” Season 6, Episode 4 // 9.2
  26. “Winter is Coming,” Season 1, Episode 1 // 9.1
  27. “The Wolf and the Lion,” Season 1, Episode 5 // 9.1
  28. “The Pointy End,” Season 1, Episode 8 // 9.1
  29. “The Old Gods and the New,” Season 2, Episode 6 // 9.1
  30. “Kissed by Fire,” Season 3, Episode 5 // 9.1
  31. “Second Songs,” Season 3, Episode 8 // 9.1
  32. “Two Swords,” Season 4, Episode 1 // 9.1
  33. “The Gift,” Season 5, Episode 7 // 9.1
  34. “Mother’s Mercy,” Season 5, Episode 10 // 9.1
  35. “Beyond the Wall,” Season 7, Episode 6 // 9.1
  36. “A Man Without Honor,” Season 2, Episode 7 // 9.0
  37. “Stormborn,” Season 7, Episode 2 // 9.0
  38. “The North Remembers,” Season 2, Episode 1 // 8.9
  39. “What Is Dead May Never Die,” Season 2, Episode 3 // 8.9
  40. “Garden of Bones,” Season 2, Episode 4 // 8.9
  41. “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” Season 2, Episode 5 // 8.9
  42. “The Prince of Winterfell,” Season 2, Episode 8 // 8.9
  43. “The Climb,” Season 3, Episode 6 // 8.9
  44. “Valar Dohaeris,” Season 3, Episode 1 // 8.9
  45. “Walk of Punishment,” Season 3, Episode 3 // 8.9
  46. “Breaker of Chains,” Season 4, Episode 3 // 8.9
  47. “Oathkeeper,” Season 4, Episode 4 // 8.9
  48. “Eastwatch,” Season 7, Episode 5 // 8.9
  49. “The Kingsroad,” Season 1, Episode 2 // 8.8
  50. “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things,” Season 1, Episode 4 // 8.8
  51. “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” Season 3, Episode 7 // 8.8
  52. “First of His Name,” Season 5, Episode 5 // 8.8
  53. “Sons of the Harpy,” Season 5, Episode 4 // 8.8
  54. “Oathbreaker,” Season 6, Episode 3 // 8.8
  55. “Lord Snow,” Season 1, Episode 3 // 8.7
  56. “Dark Wings, Dark Words,” Season 5, Episode 2 // 8.7
  57. “Kill the Boy,” Season 5, Episode 5 // 8.7
  58. “The Broken Man,” Season 6, Episode 7 // 8.7
  59. “Dragonstone,” Season 7, Episode 1 // 8.7
  60. “The Night Lands,” Season 2, Episode 2 // 8.6
  61. “The Wars to Come,” Season 5, Episode 1 // 8.6
  62. “The House of Black and White,” Season 5, Episode 2 // 8.6
  63. “High Sparrow,” Season 5, Episode 3 // 8.6
  64. “The Red Woman,” Season 6, Episode 1 // 8.6
  65. “Blood of My Blood,” Season 6, Episode 6 // 8.5
  66. “No One,” Season 6, Episode 8 // 8.5
  67. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” Season 8, Episode 2 // 8.2
  68. “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” Season 5, Episode 6 // 8.1
  69. “Winterfell,” Season 8, Episode 1 // 7.9
  70. “The Long Night,” Season 8, Episode 3 // 7.8
  71. “The Bells,” Season 8, Episode 5 // 6.5
  72. “The Last of the Starks,” Season 8, Episode 4 // 5.9
  73. “The Iron Throne,” Season 8, Episode 6 // 4.6

6 Things You Might Have Missed in 'The Iron Throne,' Game of Thrones's Series Finale

Gwendoline Christie in "The Iron Throne," Game of Thrones's series finale
Gwendoline Christie in "The Iron Throne," Game of Thrones's series finale
Helen Sloan, HBO

No matter how you feel about "The Iron Throne," Game of Thrones's series finale, it goes without saying that many fans of the show are in a state of mourning right now. One of the greatest shows in television history has come to an end. And while the ending, unsurprisingly, didn't please everyone, we're still sad to see the series go.

You can, of course, re-watch Game of Thrones at any time—and a repeat viewing of the finale might be a good idea. Emotions were running high during the final episode, which means that you might have missed a few small-but-important details.

1. The Opening Sequence Tweak that Signified the End of the Lannisters' Reign

Game of Thrones's opening credits are regularly tweaked to illustrate changes within the Seven Kingdoms. So it would make sense that the finale’s opening credits contained a few adjustments to account for the destruction of King’s Landing in "The Bells." One change that might have gone unnoticed by many was that above the Iron Throne, the lion head representing House Lannister was absent, signaling that Cersei Lannister was no longer the queen.

2. Daenerys's Depiction as the Angel of Death

Many fans on social media were quick to point out how beautiful the shot of Drogon flying up behind Daenerys was toward the beginning of the episode, which momentarily made it look as if the Mother of Dragons had her own wings. But it also made her look like an angel of death, with the dark lighting and considering the darker tone of the scene. This, of course, seemed to foreshadow her death, which came shortly thereafter at the hands of Jon Snow.

3. An Obvious Nod to The Lord of the Rings

There are multiple references to The Lord of the Rings throughout Game of Thrones, but the finale saw one major parallel between the two fantasy franchises. As Vanity Fair predicted, Game of Thrones's Iron Throne basically became the ring from The Lord of the Rings. And unfortunately, that brings up a comparison between Daenerys and Gollum.

“Like Tolkien’s Ring of Power, the Iron Throne seems to corrupt and breaks all who touch it and all that would possess it. You win the game of thrones, or you die. Daenerys may want the throne the most, and, arguably, has done the most to get it,” Vanity Fair wrote.

Ultimately, the final episode showed the Iron Throne being destroyed—just as the ring was in The Lord of the Rings—and Daenerys was brought down with it. While it’s difficult to see similarities between Dany and a character like Gollum, they did meet very similar fates.

4. Brienne’s Callback to Season 4

Although Brienne of Tarth had her heart broken by Jaime Lannister, she still took it upon herself to fill out his history in the White Book during the finale. We saw the pair discuss this “duty of the Lord Commander” back in season 4, as Vanity Fair pointed out. In the scene, Jaime told Brienne that there was “still plenty of room” on his page. So after his death, Brienne, now the head of the Kingsguard, respectfully recorded all of Jaime’s heroic acts, concluding with how he “died protecting his queen.”

5. Tormund's Prediction of Jon’s Fate

As a fan on Reddit had theorized earlier in the season, it seems Tormund knew that Jon would be back at Castle Black after the battle at King’s Landing. During their farewell at Winterfell, the wildling was not convinced the two would never see each other again. After embracing, Tormund told Jon, “You got the north in you, the real north.” Some thought the conversation hinted at Jon’s fate in the finale, and they were spot-on.

6. The Series' Final Scene Mirroring the Series' First Scene

While countless events have happened between the show’s pilot and its finale—events that changed Westeros forever—the final moments of "The Iron Throne" were almost identical to the opening scene in Game of Thrones's pilot episode. As the finale saw Jon going back up north with the wildlings, we get a scene of them traveling beyond the wall. This is similar to how the series started, which showed a few members of the Night’s Watch treading into the same unknown territory.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER