In an age that’s become defined by rapidly changing technology and fly-by-night dot—com startups, perhaps no other business has had so short a shelf life, yet so big an impact, as the video store. The era of the rental chain was relatively short, especially if you only consider the years that it really enjoyed as a cultural mainstay. Though mom and pop stores became a localized phenomenon in the late 80s, the ritual of Friday night at the video store didn’t really develop until the early 90s; by the time Netflix delivered its’ billionth DVD in 2007, Blockbuster and Hollywood Video had already ceased to be places of any significance for anyone but those who’d grown up with them. For the youngest crop of Millennials just coming of age, video rental is, at best, a regional tradition enjoyed only by those few who live in towns with rental stores. Yet for an entire generation of cinephiles, families, and well-meaning kids with nothing better to do, the video store defined movie watching. It was a hangout, a classroom, and a cultural center.
Multiple individuals can make the claim to having been the king of the video boom, but one whose claim is certainly better than others’ is Charles Band. Band was already a director/producer with a pedigree in exploitation cinema when, in the early 80s, he founded one of the first home video labels, Wizard Video, which would go on to distribute some of the most notorious VHSes of the decade, including Zombie and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Yet it was Band’s Full Moon Features label and its’ subsidiaries, created nearly a decade later, that would earn him his bragging rights as one of people who made home video what it was in the 1990s. While the average American may not recognize his name, anyone who stepped foot in a video store has certainly seen—and probably rented—at least one of his films. From the Pupper Master series to more benign children’s fare such as the Prehysteria films, Band’s labels produced a staggering number of direct-to- video films throughout the decade. Whereas other distributors saw the DTV market as a dumping ground for bad investments or a stepping stone to theatrical distribution, Band correctly foresaw an emerging market and catered to their tastes, providing the denizens of video stores with a unique product they couldn’t find anywhere else. Before long, Full Moon had created a subculture within a subculture, as movie lovers flocked to the particular brand of horror cinema Full Moon offered—sometimes crass, sometimes weird, but usually entertaining in a purposefully B-film sort of way, giving viewers thrills without forcing them to sink into the blood- trenches which defined horror in the 1980s and 90s.
While the video store may be gone, that doesn’t mean Full Moon faded away with it. Seeing the dawn of streaming as just another change in the long line of transformations cinema has undergone in his multi- decade career, Band has adapted the label to modern times. In addition to still offering new direct-to- DVD material, he’s also begun reissuing Full Moon Classics on Blu-ray, featuring cleaned up pictures and plethora of special features to reward old fans. For both old and new Full Moon fans alike, there’s Full Moon Streaming, an exclusive streaming service offering users instant access to the company’s massive (and steadily growing) catalog of films.
I count myself as one of the many Millennials who grew up with a keen awareness of how Band and Full Moon defined the video age (in addition to being omnipresent in video stores, Band’s productions were also staples of late-night television in Middle America, and Tourist Trap seemed to play on an endless rotation in Tulsa through the late 80s). As such, it was my pleasure to sit down with him and discuss how he’s kept his product fresh through the years, and how he’s adapted the Full Moon name to continue offering his own brand of quirky delight to a whole new generation…
Preston Fassel: Full Moon has several 90s classics being reissued on Blu-ray. Can you tell us about that?
Charles Band: The Lurking Fear just came out, and the transfer looks beautiful. And Courtney Joiner, the writer/director, does a nice audio commentary, and we continue to find more and more unique, behind the scenes footage. And then we also have, of course, our fifth Evil Bong coming out. People are following that. It’s a very funny, very weird stoner franchise and I don’t think people will be disappointed. And, you know, every month thereafter we have movies coming out like Dark Angel, which did very well for us, and Meridian, and eventually Subspecies 4, because we got the first three out on Blu-ray. And we’re gonna have at least one Blu-ray every month. And kind of a cool thing coming up in July is, we found the original negative of a really strange movie I made called Sorority Babes and the Slimeball Bowl-o- Rama. Which was sort of the beginning of several horror comedy TA movies I made at the end of the 80s and early 90s… This is probably one of the more well know ones. Not only did we get the 35mm footage, I was a million years ahead in wanting to capture behind the scenes material, as I did with all the early Full Moon Films…
PF: Yeah, Full Moon was sort of one of the first studios doing special features on their releases.
CB: You could wind down to the end of that VHS tape and we’d have a video magazine called The Video Zone. A lot of fans really loved it. Of course when DVD came around, y’know, that’s what everyone was doing… But no one was putting special features or a video magazine at the back of their VHS tapes in the late 80s and early 90s. But what I found of Sorority Babes, uh… that was ’87. Wow, almost twenty years ago. I actually hired a crew to film behind the scenes on this movie. And we’ve got all that footage. That’s another featurette that’ll be on the Blu-ray.
PF: Full Moon has really begun to diversify in the new millennium. Whereas a lot of labels are focusing on reissues, or direct to DVD, or just going down one avenue, you’re really sort of tackling them all…
CB: It’s funny straddling two worlds: the world of Full Moon streaming, as that’s where a lot of the younger people are going; and then, for the fans who like to collect physical discs, we’re upgrading our releases from DVD to Blu-ray. The problem for the collector’s market is, [it]’s really difficult because the cost of going back to original negative and putting a twenty, thirty year old movie on Blu-ray is not insignificant… We have quite a roster for the next year; I can only talk about the next few. We’re doing the best we can to release these movies on Blu-ray. And then we also release all these features on Full Moon Streaming, which as of last week is now available on Amazon Prime, which is cool, and hopefully a much bigger audience will find us and subscribe to our streaming site. So, it’s sort of, you know, putting the energy into streaming and the Blu-ray and DVD releases, and that is all secondary to actually making movies… We’re also making a movie every sixty to ninety days, which fuels the whole thing.
PF: You’re also publishing a magazine now, correct?
CB: We’re on the eleventh issue, it’s called Delirium, and we’re really excited about that. We brought over the team from Fangoria, now that they’re not publishing magazines anymore. We got Mike Gingold, Chris Alexander… We have our eleventh issue premiering with the wonderful Barbara Crampton on the cover. I can go on and on, but, that’s, in a nutshell, the bunch of stuff we’re doing now!
PF: You have a huge body of work to your name. How do you decide what’ll get a Blu-ray release?
CB: There’s no real science. I know over the years the films that fans seem to have responded best to. But there’s also more obscure films that have acquired quite a following. As an example there’s a movie I made quite a few years ago with Jeffrey Combs called Dr. Mordered, it was sort of my homage to Dr. Strange. And that was debatable because it never did that well on DVD. I mean, the people who liked it liked it, and I’ve had people over the years say, “Oh, I loved Dr. Mordred,” but by some degree you have to judge on how well it sold back in the day, and in the early 90s. Strangely enough it’s been our most successful Blu-ray ever. We’ve sold more than Subspecies, Demonic Toys, all of the movies we’re more well known for. So you never know. I’m thinking maybe Meridian, which was sort of a Harlequin romance, Beauty and the Beast kinda story I thought was really good, with Sherilynn Fenn, that may have a nice result. And another movie I made, the people who’ve seen it really like it, but not too many people saw it back in the day, was a film called Head of the Family, and that’s coming out on Blu-ray and that looks terrific. And Blood Dolls, and a whole bunch of ‘em… We’re trying to do at least one a month, for sure, maybe two. That’s the plan, as long as we can keep pulling those rabbits out of the hat.
PF: Several years ago, grindhouse movies enjoyed a renaissance with the older Millennial Crowd. Today it seems that late 80s and early 90s direct-to- VHS is enjoying a similar revival with younger millennials. Did you ever think, twenty some odd years ago, that you’d be reaching an entire new generation of fans with an interest in that specific era?
CB: You know, I’ve seen this happen. It’s always a little different…The nostalgia that’s going on now for movies made in the early 90s is in large part a generational thing. And it’s great. But the difference now is you can go online in two minutes and see every movie everyone’s ever made, you can follow a film actor, a writer, the information is so accessible… You can go, “Wow, no wonder I seem to like all these movies, because this particular guy was in it, or produced it, or wrote it.” So that makes it a lot easier. But then, again, the nostalgia thing is very powerful. Back in the day if you were a young guy, or young girl, or young human, uh, like back in the 80s, you discovered the movies at your local video store. Which is a whole different experience, for the people who no longer do that or have never done that. It’s kinda like going to the library. Discovering movies and finding genres that you love at your local Blockbuster or Hollywood, or whatever the little store was… Those are kinda cool days to look back on, when the world was a little more simple. Today there’s 900 different ways to see a movie, and in a way it’s confusing. You know, it’s… there’s just so many niches, depending on your tastes… And you can end up doing it any which way. Where, back in the 80s and 90s, the early 90s, it was your local video store and that’s it, or you find ways to buy a copy. You didn’t have all these choices, the streaming… And for us poor filmmakers, movies had a certain value. The minute the digital world exploded… all my movies you can watch online for free, if you know how to find them. So the value of movies have diminished enormously… Not to mention the fact that, even on the legitimate side of things… Uh, look at Netflix. There’s 10,000 movies on Netflix. What’s the value of one movie if you can be a subscriber for eight bucks? The world is very, very different. But I’m sure young kids who’re discovering these movies are, in twenty years, gonna be nostalgic for how they streamed, and by then there’ll be some other new weird technology that’ll make all this look antiquated. But when I look at a VHS tape, which, to me—was, back in the day, I was the first guy with an independent label back in ’77—to me, it looks like such an antique. And then when you see, occasionally, a BetaMax tape, it makes you go, “Oh, my God, that was a thousand years ago.” Back then it was amazing… It was amazing. You could take that cassette, put it in a machine, and watch a movie.
PF: Do you think that memories of video stores play a factor in the rising popularity of made-for- video movies? That the movie itself conjures up more memories than just the film itself?
CB: Sure, sure! However you discover something that you begin to love—and, we’re talking about genre films, but it’s the same for anything else—however you discover those movies, I think, that you become really passionate about, it’s a huge imprint. Especially when you’re a young kid. I run into people now who’re running divisions of studios, who’re in their early-to- mid 30s, who, luckily for me, in most cases, grew up watching my movies. And they’re all very interested. “Oh, I’ll never forget, when I was at this store and I found this, or that, Puppet Master, Ghoulies, From Beyond…” So those are impressions that’re strong. The same thing with music, with anything else: The ritual of going to your local video store, whatever day you went, or before a weekend, and finding movies and getting excited and bringing them home to watch, that’s something that was very unique. And it was way simpler, and… Not to compare, to say it’s way better than what’s going on now, what we’re doing, what we have available to us now is mind boggling. But because it was simpler, and it was the only way you were going to see these movies, that nostalgia factor is strong. That was the only way you were going to see these movies. If you were into these movies, you really looked forward to the new batch coming in every
PF: Can we talk about that a second? Founding your own video label, I mean. It’s no small feat to be able to say that you were at the absolute forefront of something that would help define movie watching for, about, two, three generations of people…
CB: You know, I’ve got blinders on. I love what I do. I figure if I keep doing what I enjoy, and what I’d have fun watching as a fan of the genre, then things will sorta stay in place. It’s hard right now because what fueled the business for so many years, which was the video rental store, is gone. But, I don’t look at it that way. I look back if I’m doing an interview, like I am with you, and I go, “Hey, yeah, that’s pretty cool.” But I just focus on right now. What I’m finishing in post, what I’m about to shoot. So, yeah, it’s sorta forward motion. The concept of retirement to me sounds like death… for me, I can’t even describe how horrible that is. I’m just gonna keep making movies and keep the Full Moon flag waving.