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Return of the Living Dead: TARMAN

Return of the Living Dead Tarman

Most of my work is portraiture, in which the individual is still recognisable beneath their horrific makeup and gore. Sometimes the horror effects can be quite extreme and the real person can vanish a little into the character. But sometimes, I just like to go wild and create something in which the real person is obliterated!

Way back in 1985, a comedy zombie film fueled by punk counterculture hit the horror scene called Return of the Living Dead. It was this film that first introduced the world to the zombies' hunger cries of "braaaaaaaaiiins!" and somehow succeeded at being both scary and hilarious in equal measure. Very few horror comedies actually work (I can only think of a couple that are any good), as it is a notoriously difficult balancing act to get right. But ROTLD nails it! Even today, some 30 years later, this golden oldie still shines bright and is still a joy to watch.

One of the most memorable zombie characters was of course Tarman, so called because he was covered in sticky black glop from being locked in a toxic barrel of 245 Trioxin. Once he was released, this weird cartoony skeletal zombie slithered and oozed across the screen with drunken abandon, and a legend was born! Tarman is hardly in the film. He only appears for a couple of fairly short scenes and meets a very memorable ending. It is testament to the genius and wild imagination that led to his creation that he became so instantly iconic.


To create this shoot I'd need a few things. A large barrel. A bucket of disgusting black glop. A truck load of makeup. And someone brave enough to actually model for me. Thankfully, Lee Frost was up for the challenge. He's a great male model, who often lends his well-formed figure to educational establishments for life drawing classes and body painting events. I warned him to brace himself for Tarman. This was going to be gross, disgusting, sticky, cold… Oh, and he was going to be blinded by having fake eyeballs glued to his face.

I made the barrel using a sheet of flexible plastic rolled into shape and bonded, then I hot-glued all manner of junk to it before painting it. The defining characteristic of the barrel was a stencil instructing anyone who finds the barrel to call the military. This stencil was duly made as exactly as I could match to the film using cut vinyl and spray paint. Then the whole prop was covered in as much gross crap as I could lay my hands on: mud, old paint, various items of runny food, and stuff that you just don't want to know! Poor Lee, he had to get inside this thing.


Creating Tarman himself was just as gross. It was a two-man job that was undertaken by myself and my wife. To start with we had to paint Lee's whole body solid black, glue a life-size rubber rib cage to his chest and hide his finely chiselled face beneath a skeletal, runny, melting makeup. Tarman has his trademark orange head perched atop his black slimy skull, a rather weird design choice but a cleverly unique feature. This was achieved with a latex skull cap and airbrush. Torn black rags were attached to Lee using a system of invisible fishing wire that was netted across his body and just tied on wherever it would tie. Then, finally, the "tar" was added.

"What's in it?" Lee asked with some degree of caution. "Oh, just stuff I found," I replied. "It has…. Stuff in it." That "stuff" was really gross, and I'm still not going to say what was in it. Handful after handful was splattered onto Lee, dripping with a heavy "spluht" sound and creating the vile, glossy black slick look I was after. It looked perfect!


The shoot was done with plenty of smoke, colour gels, back and front lighting, in fact just about every trick in the book was employed to create these shots.


Lee was unable to see, and that gross makeup and slime was not comfortable, so I shot fast. We raced through the shoot, probably getting all the shots we needed in around half an hour. Planning my lighting beforehand came in handy for this - I knew exactly how to get what I wanted so we were able to zip through it.

Return of the Living Dead Tarman Return of the Living Dead Tarman Return of the Living Dead Tarman

Thanks for reading folks. Keep loving horror :)

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