Written by Dave Jay, William S. Wilson, and Torsten Dewi
The story of Charles Band and his Full Moon Entertainment studio is a lot like “The Little Engine That Could”, assuming the engine frequently derailed and due to crippling budgetary restraints the train would sometimes be replaced with a pedal car.
Like Roger Corman with perhaps an even greater degree of hucksterism, Charles Band has kept going in the entertainment industry, onward and upwards, sideways and downward, for longer than most of us have been alive. Rebuilding, rebranding, reinventing himself — from the video store to the rental box to streaming on demand, Band has often been at the forefront of the ever evolving low budget film industry even when it was more out of necessity than visionary.
Band followed up the financial collapse of his theatrical production company Empire Pictures in 1988 by creating a two-word production company that has become synonymous with the golden age of the video rental store: Full Moon.
Anyone of age to remember these magical places called video stores no doubt recall the fantastical works of box art for Full Moon films sucking them in like moths to a flame to take a chance on horror/sci-fi/fantasy films with equally fantastical titles and premises. For better and worse, these cheaply made, hastily assembled, “Blockbuster Night” movies helped turn Full Moon into a brand name that stood out above and beyond the usual slop tossed into the video store hog farms for the masses to consume when they needed a break from the big budget Hollywood blockbusters.
Band’s innovative idea to include “Videozone” segments following Full Moon’s movies – a forerunner to the modern DVD extra – offered viewers a glimpse behind the curtain, a taste of things to come, and solidified Band’s brand as one of the most fan friendly out there. The go-for-broke mentality making b-movies with these premises both wacky, tacky, and even retro before retro was cool was his attempt to do for cinema what the likes of his idol Jack Kirby had done for comic books. Unfortunately, sometimes Band went broke (literally!) and a number of these b-movies were more fun in spirit than execution.
It Came from the Video Aisle! – Inside Charles Band’s Full Moon Entertainment Studio walks a fine line between being a historical document, a love letter to these films and the people making them, and an honest critique of the good, the bad, and the ugly of a little company that produced small films often about tiny terrors.
Co-written by Dave Jay, William S. Wilson, and Torsten Dewi; It Came from the Video Aisle! is a massive 480 page tome containing probably everything you ever wanted to know about the wild, rocky history of Full Moon. I took one look at the thickness of this book and wasn’t sure I ever wanted to know this much. While Band may be the king of the B’s and a proponent of the popular three B’s of b-cinema (blood, boobs, beast), I can best surmise this Full Moon field guide using three E’s: entertaining, extensive, and exhausting.
Why exhausting? Simply put, I found a good deal of what I read to be a tad depressing. A lot of the folks quoted clearly worked their asses off to try and make something they could be proud of when deep down even they clearly knew between the time, budgetary, and creative restraints their work was in the service of something with no chance in hell of being what they wanted it to be. If only we had the money… If only we had more time… If only we had more creative freedom. If only Charles Band didn’t keep butchering the scripts during production… If only: such a common theme it practically becomes as much a mantra as Band’s own overly ambitious “200 movies by the year 2000” plan.
Many a writer, director, special effects artist, cast, and crew member appeared to be more than well aware of the frequently compromised nature of their work; hence film credits littered with an endless array of pseudonyms by a slew of Band regulars. Scam artists and escaped convicts use fewer aliases than the people responsible for Full Moon’s output. “Benjamin Carr” still insisted that alias be used instead of their real name in a book celebrating his career.
It Came from the Video Aisle! is a hell ride through the constantly changing landscape of the low budget movie industry and how a one-man Band and his Full Moon brand continues to survive in it by hook or by crook. This is very much a Hollywood survival story, and not just Band’s.
What I read in many ways echoed my own sentiments regarding Full Moon. I have an unabashed love for many of these films, warts and all, and some I simply have a deep rooted nostalgia for because of the formative role they played in my movie-watching youth. When it comes to a good number of these films, the brutal honest truth is if they were books you could say they weren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.
Following a foreword by Full Moon workhorse C. Courtney Joyner, whose name, alongside Benjamin Carr, are the only ones to appear almost as much as Band himself (except maybe David DeCoteau, who, strangely, declined to contribute in any way to the book), the text is divided into eight chapters presented is a somewhat muddled fashion. More on that momentarily.
Chapter One: The Paramount Years – Can you call it a “chapter” if it runs approximately 109 pages? There are full-length books that aren’t even that long.
If you’re a fan of Full Moon today, it’s almost certainly because of the movies pumped out during the five-year run with Paramount. I would dare say this is the most cheerful chapter of the book, at least until you get to the aggravatingly vague portion when Paramount pulls the plug due to what can only politely described as questionable decision-making on Band’s part. Hard not to get the sense there might be more to the story that for whatever reason, probably legal, gets sugarcoated by the authors. For certain hard not to read this chapter and be left wondering what greater heights Full Moon might have reached had that deal not turned sour so quickly. If only…
One of the biggest surprises of this chapter is the near twenty pages devoted to Band’s kiddie movie off-shoot Moonbeam Entertainment. I had no idea that these family flicks that littered video store shelves during this time period had proven to be so lucrative they often outsold the actual Full Moon titles and frequently were given considerably larger budgets. Moonbeam was such a financial success that when the big Full Moon/Paramount divorce went down Paramount, shall we say, wanted custody of the children.
Chapter Two: The Kushner-Locke Era – When one door slams shut Charlie Band finds a way to stick his foot in another. The other would be the Kushner-Locke Company with whom Band partnered with beginning in 1995 and continued with until about the turn of the millennium when the company financially collapsed. The prevailing theme of this chapter is a determination to try and make even more movies of a wider variety with even less money, time, and creative freedom.
For every success during this period, like the wonderfully loopy Head of the Family, there was an awful lot of movies put out that were just that. The Killer Eye, anyone?
Part of the problem would be overexpansion. Specifically, the various sub-labels Full Moon created to cater to specific genre needs. Amazing Fantasy, Monster Island Entertainment, Action X-Treme, Shriekers, PulsePounders, and Filmmonsters, oh my! The greatest intriguing tale to come out of this failed experiment would be the Skinemax-quality softcore sexcapades of Torchlight Entertainment (later Surrender Cinema) that, surprisingly, even Band was so uncomfortable with he preferred to keep his name off of them as much as possible.
Chapter Three: The Tempe Era – This chapter was guest written by Nathan Shumate, presumably because these were such dark times for Full Moon (no longer even called Full Moon at this stage) that none of the main three authors wanted to revisit any of these film. I can personally testify to having only ever viewed two of the movies mentioned here: William Shatner’s disastrous Groom Lake and the monster movie Demonicus, which I know I saw but have zero recollection of. Nothing I read here did anything to make me want to go seek out any of these titles I overlooked back in the day.
That said, my own unfamiliarity/avoidance with this early 2000s era during which Band went the micro-budget route with distributors Tempe Entertainment, working with the likes of DIY filmmaking kingpins J.R. Bookwalter and David Sterling, made for an interesting read. Of particular interest, tales of the production fiasco that was William Shatner’s bungled directorial effort Groom Lake and how it led the iconic actor to become the host of Band’s short-lived series “Full Moon Fright Nights”.
Chapter Four: The Shadow/Full Moon Features Era – As I like to call this, my PTSD years. These were the movies that came along right as I was just beginning to write reviews online, many of which were scathing, many of which I had completely forgotten about until I re-read about them here and all the bad memories returned.
Oh, Decadent Evil 1 & 2, why – just why?
On the other hand, there’s The Gingerdead Man, a movie I wrote a rave review of that I still get grief for even to this day; as if a film about a killer cookie voiced by Gary Busey could ever be deserving of anything less than four stars.
This chapter begins in the mid-2000s with Band’s attempt to rebrand once more as Shadow Entertainment before fully relaunching Full Moon and striking a distribution deal with this company you may have heard of called Redbox.
Chapter Five: The Pick-Ups – Until l read this short chapter I didn’t even know Band had created yet another sub-label in 1999 called Edge Entertainment with the intent to distribute more respectable, predominantly non-genre films. Robert Altman’s Gun and Matthew Bright’s Freeway follow-up Confessions of a Trick Baby found their way onto store shelves via Edge. As did John Landis’ forgotten comedy Susan’s Plan; a fact that did not sit well with him. Charlie Band is a criminal! decried Landis. And that’s coming from a guy who actually had actors die on his film set.
Chapter Six: Full Moon Streaming – The shortest chapter (9 pages) discussing Band’s move to create his own online streaming service. Makes sense this would be the shortest as this is his most recent venture, the history of which is still being written.
Chapter Seven: The Vault – Another short chapter (10 pages) focusing mainly on late stop-motion master David Allen’s long-gestating passion project The Primevals. An epic fantasy adventure in the tradition of Ray Harryhausen; what would have been Allen’s magnum opus began life in 1968, experienced numerous starts and stops for decades, nearly got finished by Full Moon in 1994, and even to this day Band swears he’ll see it to fruition eventually. If only…
Chapter Eight: The Franchises – Pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about the history and making of what are considered the seminal Full Moon franchises: Puppetmaster, Trancers, Subspecies, The Gingerdead Man, Evil Bong, Killjoy, and the “Moonbeam” adventure series Josh Kirby.
If there’s one major complaint to be made towards the book, it would be the oft clunky nature of how all this information is laid out there. Putting “The Franchises” at the end seemed an odd choice since they could have easily started the book with a whole chapter on Puppetmaster alone seeing as how that film launched the company and the series is Full Moon’s most well-known property. The ginormous opening Paramount chapter could have easily been divided with mini-chapters devoted to Trancers and Subspecies, with others delved into greater detail where it fit.
The narrative flow of chapters periodically come to a screeching halt for lengthy interviews with the likes of poster artist Lee MacLeod, Fred Olen Ray, Benjamin Carr, Danny Draven, J.R. Bookwalter, writer Shane Bitterling, special effect mavens Mike Deak and Mark Rappaport, just to name a few. Sometimes they fit the story being told; other times it felt intrusive. There are already so many quotes and anecdotes I kind of wish many of the longer interviews had been held off for their own chapter towards the end instead.
The mere existence of “The Vault” chapter alone struck me as odd. An entire chapter devoted to unfinished films yet only really discusses two such films at length while the entire book is already loaded with little asides about unmade Full Moon productions?
For the record, based on what I read here about the unproduced Doctor Mordred 2, we should all be heartbroken that we lost out on what could very well have gone on to be regarded as one of the very best films Full Moon would ever produce.
Another layout quibble was how certain personalities got introduced in one chapter and then re-introduced again in a later chapter, sometimes with even more biographical info and how they fit into the Full Moon family the second time around. I swore Jacqueline Lovell got re-introduced two or three times while someone who was a staple of early Full Moon films like Megan Ward was almost completely glossed over.
You expect lots of images from a book like this. Oh, you’ll get plenty of production art and behind the scenes photos but not as much as you might have hoped for and you may have trouble fully appreciating the details given many are bordering on postage stamp size. Now that I think about it; a book about a movie company known for making movies about mini-monsters filled with tiny images actually sounds strangely appropriate.
All in all, if you’re a fan of Full Moon then this is a must-have book. If you’re just a fan of filmmaking and want an inside view of what it was like deep in the trenches of the direct-to-video market from 1990 to today then this is again a must-read.
One of Band’s cohorts tells him with his experience he could get a job as an executive at any studio in Hollywood. Band doesn’t want that. Band wants to be his own boss. If that means jeopardizing his deal with Redbox because they’ve made it abundantly clear that no matter how much he insists on making Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong they absolutely will not distribute such a movie in their machines, then so be it.
As John Carpenter is quoted in the book: “Only two things will still be around after the apocalypse: cockroaches and Charles Band.” He meant that as a compliment.
PANTHER RIDGE Review – When Your New Job Takes You To Interesting Locations
Written by Ryan Swantek
Directed by Ryan Swantek
Director Ryan Swantek’s graphic-take on a young woman unhappy with her looks in White Willow was in my useless opinion, one of the strongest short films to hit the horror genre in quite some time. It was brutal, unflinchingly ruthless to eyeball, and best of all for a first-time directorial effort, there was no apology for what was put before us – let’s venture over to Panther Ridge.
So what comes around in the second-time in the big guy’s chair? Well, when I’d heard that it was a sadistic look into the BDSM scene, I’ll admit I was a bit intrigued (no, I’m not into that stuff, ya kooks) – I’d just honestly hoped for a bit more than what was tossed to me. This particular short film is titled Panther Ridge, and it tells the story of a young lady who is getting a fresh start in a new career – that of a dominatrix, of sorts. As this presentation begins, she’s smack dab in the middle of a dungeon with a very unlucky prisoner and the woman who will be guiding her in her “training.” I’ll tell ya, first days on the job can be stressful, but with the correct forms of relief, you can make it through the day all the while exorcising some pent up demons as well.
Commence brutality upon this poor tied-up fool and the lass roped up across from him, for they know not what lies in store for them next, but rest assured they’ll be making a blood donation whether they want to or not. Unfortunately my self-imposed hype proved to be insurmountable as Swantek’s second time up to the plate resulted (for me, anyway) in a big swing and a miss. What worked in his maiden voyage with Willow was the notion that you were going to witness the repercussions of a tortured soul as she looked in the mirror, whereas this time we’re watching some poor sap get the snot beaten out of him, and I could honestly see the same thing in a number of other productions for a longer stretch of time (if you dig that sort of thing). I’ll await Mr. Swantek’s third production when it’s time, and hopefully it’ll pack more of a sustained punch than this quickie.
Swantek’s sophomore directorial endeavor unfortunately isn’t much more than shock and torture-porn crammed into an abbreviated timeframe – been down this road more than a few times.
EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS Blu-ray Review – Savagery & Sexuality From The Master Of Sleaze
Starring Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Monica Zanchi, Donald O’Brien
Directed by Joe D’Amato (Arisitide Massaccesi)
Distributed by Severin Films
After taking famed sex icon Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) to Bangkok (1976), America (1976), and Around the World (1977) legendary sleaze director Joe D’Amato decided to mash up two of Italy’s most notorious genres by sending his beautiful muse down to the Amazon rainforest, cinematic home to countless hordes of cannibal tribes. The Italian cannibal craze of the late’70s was just beginning to take hold, offering D’Amato a ripe opportunity to satisfy both the bloodlust and, well, regular lust of exploitation devotees worldwide. For the most part the film plays out expectedly, with a reasonably large group of people meeting in the Amazon and trekking off on a quest. By the end, that group has dwindled down to only a few members, all of whom probably have a lot of regret about traipsing through the jungle. Aficionados will get a bit of a “been there, eaten that” vibe from the film, which hits every trademark of the genre sans animal cruelty, but Emanuelle herself spices up this cannibal comfort food with an alluring performance capped off by one helluva genius ending. The film also holds the dubious distinction of showing a penis being eaten less than 15 minutes after the opening credits. You set a high bar, Joe.
When an unlucky nurse has half of her tit eaten off by a newly-arrived mental patient, a girl found in the Amazon jungles, journalist Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) infiltrates the sanitarium to score a hot scoop. Armed with a camera concealed within a baby doll head, Emanuelle surreptitiously snaps a few shots before making the new girl talk via… digital means – and I’m not talking technology. Emanuelle takes her information to Professor Mark Lester (Gabriele Tinti), a museum curator whom she hopes will fund her expedition. He agrees. Then, she goes and screws some random guy in broad daylight down by the river. Later, she comes back and has more sex, this time with Mark. The next day they leave for the Amazon.
Upon arrival, the two are met by Isabel (Monica Zanchi) and Sister Angela (Annamaria Clementi), both of whom have altruistic plans of their own in the rainforest. Their trek soon brings them across Donald (Donald O’Brien), a hunter who is on safari with his wife and a guide. Now that the film has brought together a large group of people, some of whom are more reprehensible than others, it’s time to pick them off and watch in delight as cannibals of the Amazon gut them, skewer them, and devour their flesh while the soothing sounds of Nico Fidenco play in the background.
So many of these Italian cannibal pictures feel interchangeable because the formula is incredibly simple – send a group of naïve outsiders into the Amazon and let an indigenous tribe kill and eat them, usually in the most horrific manner possible. What sets this film apart from so many others is in the title: Emanuelle. Gemser is not only easy on the eyes but she has this magnetic presence on screen, not because she is a great actress but her looks, abilities, and personality combine to create one of exploitation cinema’s most capable and sultry sirens. It is entirely due to her ingenuity here that anyone survives at all. She isn’t a rag doll, tossed around and used for sex and companionship; Emanuelle is a woman in charge of her own sexuality and she calls the shots. This film was made during a time when women were often used as set dressing or spent most of a film being subservient, so it’s a nice change of pace to have one in the lead who takes control and it feels natural, not forced.
Don’t go thinking this is some kind of strong female-led picture that celebrates womanhood or anything. D’Amato never likes to peer too high from his gutter view, and “Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals” is a sleaze sensation; a cornucopia of cannibalism and carnal acts that culminates in the titular heroine literally becoming a god… temporarily. D’Amato takes two of humanity’s greatest loves – eating and screwing – and builds a story around them. Besides all of the aforementioned fornication, nipples are eaten as an amuse-bouche, penis tartare is part of the starter course, a vagina makes unexpected friends with the business end of a machete, a woman is gutted like a deer, and one guy learns a thin rope can still be strong enough to tear the human body in half. Nobody gets out of this thing unscathed… except, maybe, for Emanuelle who seems unfazed by every atrocity the world throws her way.
Ugly films need beautiful music and the lush, soothing sounds of Nico Fidenco make for the ultimate dichotomy of relaxation and revulsion. Fidenco’s score is less the serene soundscape Riz Ortolani composed for Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and more of a funky, porno-lite trip down ‘70s Lane. Oftentimes the composers on these rough Italian pictures delivered scores that felt like they belong to something more refined and accessible, not a movie destined for banning in multiple countries and cut to ribbons in others. Fidenco provided the score for many entries in the Black Emanuelle series and while those films might be past their prime the music is completely timeless.
Severin has provided a new 2K scan from unknown elements, delivering a 1.85:1 1080p image that falls right in line with most of their catalog. The picture has been cleaned up enough to allow for high-def improvements in clarity and coloration to (mostly) shine through, while still retaining a gritty look to remind viewers this is still a grindhouse picture. Film grain is heavy and active, swarming the picture but never becoming noisy. Contrast is variable, as is sharpness, with some scenes looking closer to HD than others. Colors are accurate but a bit anemic, too, with only a few instances of truly popping against the ever-present jungle greens. Detail is swallowed up in darkness, so don’t expect to see much of it when night falls, which thankfully isn’t often. I’ll say one thing Italy sure does make for a fine Amazon stand-in.
Audio is available in both English and Italian DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono, both of which offer a similar audible experience. The standout here is unsurprisingly hearing Fidenco’s score in lossless glory. The ADR work is typically poor and obvious, but everything is understandable and there are no noticeable issues with hissing or audio damage. Subtitles are available in English.
The World of Nico Fidenco – The legendary composer sits down for a new interview, covering his career and the Emanuelle series. In Italian with English subtitles.
A Nun Among the Cannibals – Actress Annamaria Clementi provides a new interview about her role in the film and what it was like working with D’Amato. In Italian with English subtitles.
Dr. O’Brien M.D. – This is an archival interview with Donald O’Brien, who played the wild and wily hunter, Donald, in the film.
From Switzerland to Mato Grosso – Actress Monica Zanchi gives a new interview that covers her career.
I Am Your Black Queen is an audio-only archival interview with Gemser.
A theatrical trailer (in SD) is also included.
- BRAND NEW 2K REMASTER OF THE FILM prepared for this release
- English and Italian audio tracks, with optional English subtitles
- The World of Nico Fidenco – an interview with the composer (27 min)
- A Run Among the Cannibals – an interview with actress Annamaria Clementi (23 min)
- Dr. O’Brien MD – an interview with actor Donald O’Brien (19 min)
- From Switzerland to Mato Grosso – an interview with actress Monica Zanchi (19 min)
- I Am Your Black Queen – an audio commentary by actress Laura Gemser (11 min)
- Original trailer
There is no point to making complaints about plotting when watching a film with this title. D’Amato promises viewers nothing more than a sleazy time intended to induce equal parts creep and kink into a span of time. Severin’s release offers a cleaned-up picture and a solid selection of extras that catch up with a few of the principal cast and crew.
KAET MUST DIE Review – A Game Worthy Of Its Title
Available on PC through Steam
Rated T for Teen
If you are looking for a new survival horror game that is both challenging and irritating, then Kaet Must Die could be your new obsession/torture. The indie game is set in an underground sewer where you are Kaet, a psionicist cyber punk trapped by a “blood witch” named Annalinnia. The objective is to figure out how to escape the ‘dank’ sewer before time runs out and Annalinnia takes your life. Along the way you’ll have to tiptoe over comatosed zombies and frighten off Jawa like creatures with light you absorb from glowing mushrooms. And that’s about it. The game was created and developed by Strength in Numbers Studios Inc., a fairly new gaming company in the world of survival horror.
Now, I normally don’t play these types of survival games. As a novice in the indie survival genre, the experience of trying to complete the first level of Kaet Must Die was quite tedious. Now this is to be expected, as their advertising makes it quite clear that the good folks at Strength In Numbers studios are shooting for the “difficult games are fun” crowd. They give the player plenty of warning that they will need more than luck to survive. Yet here I am to tell you that the first level is possible to get through regardless of what difficulty you select. It just might take a few hunderd tries.
The game starts you off in the underground sewer with Kaet’s sanity at ten (read “sanity” as “health bar). Kaet’s sanity will drop when not in lit areas, another reason why you need to collect the glowing mushrooms. Having six minutes to follow the clues and find the skulls before time runs out gets tricky, especially when Anna comes for you by randomly generating around the map until luck is no longer your friend. Levels will become progressively more difficult, and your time limit changes depending on the size of the map. It’s not terribly complicated, but also not terribly exciting.
There are a few upsides to Kaet Must Die. Like every good survival game, Kaet Must Die has decently immersive visuals and sound. The look and feel of the game is much more appealing than some, from the detailing of the zombies to the sewers you land yourself in. Not that sewers are a pretty place to be in, but they have a solid fantasy/horror vibe. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of cohesion to the various sub-par lights and average shapes. It can be downright impossible to tell where things are around you. You’ll want to keep your ears open, as frustration will become all too familiar when you are too late to hear the gentle snoring of a zombie or the disturbing giggle of the Jawa-like creatures.
I would say that it’s nice that they at least let me change the controls, but for some reason they don’t save when you quit the game. The only settings that stay exactly where you set them are the basics for resolution, sensitivity, and graphics. Now, what is not so frustrating is that after you get killed three or four hundred times, the skulls that you need to escape Anna won’t randomly be somewhere else when you restart the level. Another upside is that as you slowly start to regain Kaet’s powers, you will finally be able to slow down the creatures and make your way to exactly where you need to go. One of Kaet’s powers is the classic stun. Using this power to stun any monster in place for at least five seconds was a relief, and gave me time to focus at the task at hand. Like the mushrooms, Kaet’s stun powers need to be recharged by absorbing puddles of glowing red blood. Simple, right? Well, sort of. Clues left behind hint that the blood makes you more powerful, but also slowly kills you.
For anyone who is not typically good at horror survival games, this isn’t for you unless you have the patience of a saint. The difficulty comes in three flavors: Challenging (Easy), Difficulty (Normal), and Nightmare (Hard). If you’re one of those people that absolutely must have a zombie apocalypse survival plan for any possible situation, you’ll probably find some enjoyment from Kaet Must Die. For everyone else, I would wait for a Steam sale. There are 10 levels to get through to beat this game, but have fun and good luck getting past level 1.
This indie survival game is too irritating to play. Kaet Must Die is near impossible to finish and it’s not a lot of fun no matter how many times you die..
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