Sometimes, I'm envious of my homie who still has cable. He will text me random requests about films that he caught on out of nowhere via channel surfing; he talked about it so much that I end up falling into opening Hulu, just to see what's on Live TV. Why? It's how I grew up; a Black kid in an active neighborhood with no friends and no Internet (at that time)? HBO, The Movie Channel, and the TV Guide were my best friends (especially after I introduced the three of them to Mr. VCR). It's also how I first learned about the legendary Charles Band, although at that time I didn't realize it.
See, on Saturday nights, I'd tune into The Movie Channel's Joe Bob Briggs block of films. They were usually a lot of B (and C, maybe some D) movies. TMC used to play bangers but it's the channel where I really caught indie darlings like Drugstore Cowboy and early '90s edgy stuff like Kalifornia. It's also where Frankenhooker played, as well as the Puppet Master and Demonic Toys films, which definitely were more about the fun and shocks and comedy than they were about trying to be some kind of Grade-A horror flick. It was actually an exciting time; practically anything you could think of was a film—I've seen things like Ticks, where a group of kids are attacked a campsite by a group of ticks hopped up on steroid-enhanced pot plants. That kind of zany excitement was freeing, especially when you were a creator who could make anything you could think up with relatively low overhead, for a decent profit if it was hot enough. Band wasn't new to any of this, though; the man behind Full Moon Features was also behind Empire Pictures, the company behind the cult classic Re-Animator and Ghoulies.
Charles Band has continued to keep it pushing. With over 300(!) films to his credit as a producer and/or director, Band's Full Moon Features has kept it pushing. This is the guy who directed Gary Busey in 2004's The Gingerdead Man, and the Puppet Master series continues on, recently giving fan-favorite Blade his own spin-off film. Full Moon's also in the Halloween spirit; they are in the midst of their weekend-long Halloween sale, which finds buy-one, get-one deals on everything from Blu-ray discs and comic books to prints and magazines. There's even a limited-edition Halloween Mystery Box featuring over $400 worth of Full Moon films, merch, and more on sale. They've even brought back Toulon's Trunk, a limited collectible trunk featuring 13 Puppet Master discs, figures, and more!
This isn't about the merch, though. This is about Charles' passion for making movies. Exploitation movies, sure, but the love of the art of the motion picture is without a doubt what keeps Charles going. On a calm day in October, Complex caught up with Charles Band to talk about Toulon's Trunk, the Full Moon saga, and his journey from theaters to VHS rental shops to the wild world of VOD, as well as a genius way to get your quarantined trick-or-treat on!
I was amazed to see that Blade got a film this year. I knew that The Puppet Master series had continued on, but I hadn't realized that just this summer a Blade spinoff film came out as well.
Well, you can't stop making them. There's so many fans. I shot the first one in 1989, [and] it was released in 1990. I had never guessed that I'd be still making Puppet Master movies, what, 30 years later. Pretty bizarre. But Blade is the most popular character. We have so many promotions now running with masks, and action figures, and one-to-one scale replicas, all the fun stuff we've been doing really more this year than ever because everyone's at home, right? So I figure they can't go to their local horror sci-fi convention, because they're all canceled, so might as well just serve up a bunch of fun stuff tied to the movies on our streaming sites. The world's changed a lot since the Ghoulies days, that's for sure.
In watching documentaries on horror and the VHS era, it's always been interesting to me at how many horror movies were made during that time, primarily because of how easy it was to pump out movies in that market. What was it that drew you to making horror films in the first place, and what do you think it is about the genre specifically that's kept you going so long?
In recent years, major studios, cable networks...horror is no longer a well-kept secret, but back in the day, it was. Major studios were not making horror moviesl that kind of changed with The Exorcist and The Omen, and then slowly but surely they would make more. But then you had also cable networks and bigger independents like Dimension and others would make Friday the 13th, and Halloween, and all that stuff.
But no, I started making movies—I hate to say it—but back in the fricking '70s. I grew up on a movie set. My dad made movies in Europe—Spaghetti westerns and epics with Steve Reeves—so I was born into that world, but the genre that I enjoy the most was sci-fi and horror. So I've pretty much made movies for many, many years now in that genre.
Back when I started, the only venue was the theater. Our movies were called B-movies because they always played, I should say, on the B-side of a double bill. There was the A-movie, which was generally a major film. My movies would go out theatrically and they all did relatively well [in the] mid-to-late '70s. Then video sort of came in and allowed a lot of filmmakers to, with a smaller budget, make movies and have a good chance of recovering the investment, making a few bucks at your local video store. When video first happened in the '70s, you could not rent a video. That concept came a few years into sort of the growth of the home video business. If you wanted to get one of the first movies ever released on a VHS and Betamax tapes in '77, you'd have to pay $49.95. So you'd have to think twice, "Is The French Connection worth 50 bucks?" Back then was more than 50 bucks today.
Then the video business exploded, because of the concept of rental. Now video stores were popping up on every corner where the video store would pay the $30 wholesale or whatever it was for, let's say, The French Connection, and then rent it for a few bucks. Suddenly, that made it affordable for everyone. The video rental business reigned supreme for decades. So when there were enough video stores out there doing this, independents like myself came along and found this as a way we could make some money and be experimental, too, because that also allows you to do things that you can't do anymore today. Right now, that window's closed. As cool as streaming is, and as much as we're invested in it in so many different ways, the math is not the same. Which was a pity, and hopefully that'll change, and hopefully streaming sites like ours will flourish. Otherwise, one day the world will be like Netflix, and Hulu, and HBO Go, and there won't be any room for independents.
I noticed that with the new Blade film, it's up on Amazon, but it's Full Moon having loads of content up there for a fee. You mentioned that it's not the same content-wise in the streaming era; how much are you able to push the envelope?
Well, there are many answers to what you said. The most important ones are....after video rental business died and Blockbuster and Hollywood Video closed their doors, there was no way for an independent filmmaker—and we were a very well known and prolific film [company]. Full Moon, people knew who we were, but we lost the connection, so there was no way for the average dude out there who was used to seeing our movies and going to their local video store [to see the movies], because their local Blockbuster became a laundromat. There was a really bad stretch for a number of years between the end of rental video and the very beginning of streaming, where it was really hard for people like us at Full Moon. We found ways to kind of stay relevant—we still made movies, I did a roadshow. I went to 200 cities over four years, but there was nothing like having tens of thousands of video rental stores all over the country and all over the world.
So then streaming started happening, and it's like anything else. The first week that we launched our own streaming site—this is before Amazon came in—we wound up with seven subscribers. It's like, "Okay, that's pretty cool." Of course, there was a cost to put it up and we were thinking, "Well, we need at least 500 to even break even on the cost of running a streaming site." But we had some good training back six, seven years ago. We were right after Netflix, so we were the pioneer days.
One day a few years in, Amazon approached us and they said, "Hey, we're starting an add-on subscription service for our Prime members. There are 40 channels that we're going to launch. You're one of only two horror channels"—the other one was Shudder—"and we're going to have Showtime. Do you want to come on board?" It was like, "Yeah, that sounds good." One hundred and fifty million Prime members. It'd be good to be exposed, so we started that. We kind of morphed our Full Moon streaming into the Amazon channel. That did well [and] we grew, but then about a year and a half ago, we also realized that a lot of the really weird movies and the exploitation movies that I wanted to put up on our channel—not just ones I made, [but] the other ones that I license—Amazon did not want us to put up. I understand it. They're a massive service. They don't want anything too weird. So we started our app. It's an alternative. It basically has everything that is on our Amazon channel, but it also has several hundred more risque movies that are movies that we can't put up on Amazon. So it's a choice. I'm happy that someone subscribes to either.
When I first started watching films like The Puppet Master, there was no concept of even being able to own a small toy, let alone a better quality replica of what's in the film. When did the collectible figures and merchandise side really come into play, and how is that business?
About, 14, 15 years ago, more or less, we launched our own online store called fullmoondirect.com. We had been in the action figure business in the '90s, we published a book through a distributor. [We] did well with that, but I knew instinctively, and we got lots of letters and emails from fans going, "Hey, we can't make it to San Diego Comic-Con," or whatever the convention was, "Can you sell some of these items online? We'd love to buy." Because the movies are all, to use an old word, somewhat toyetic with puppets and dolls. That is not so difficult to merchandise, so that was the impetus for starting the store. And like everything else, the first week, I think we brought in $60. It took years for the word to spread, and then we did a pretty good job of letting people know at conventions, sometimes we ran little commercials at the beginning or end of our movies that came out on VHS and then DVD. It grew into really something quite special and was a big part of what we do. If they can afford a few hundred bucks, [there are] fans who do want a one-to-one scale replica of Blade or of any of the Puppets or Demonic Toys.
That's done well for us and it's helped and cross-promotes the movies, too. But what I did earlier this year when we all went into a lockdown, because I thought, "Well, people are going to still want merch and there's a way that they're going to want to participate somehow in part of what the conventions represented." So I really put a lot of energy into creating a lot more merch, strange things, and promotions. We really ramped up the Full Moon Direct store, and the most amazing stretch ever in 14 years is literally right now, where every week we're coming out with a new item or items.
A few weeks ago, we released an incredibly beautiful looking, if I say so myself, trunk. It's Toulon's Trunk, and it was designed by an amazing artist here. It's made out of wood and metal; it's a very limited series. We did 500 of them. It took half a year to get them made. In the trunk, you get all 12 Puppet Master movies on Blu-ray, and an additional Blu-ray called Arcane of The Puppet Master, which is about two hours of a lot of never before seen behind the scene footage. Plus you get the little action figure. That's a $300 item. I'm numbering and signing every trunk. I enjoy it because they come from the movies that somehow came out of my brain.
Was Gary Busey a Puppet Master fan before working on Gingerdead Man?
Not at all, but he sure [is] now. When I speak to Gary on occasion or I run into him, he'll say something [about going] to these shows and [signing] autographs. He's made a lot of wonderful movies. He goes, "Goddamn, Charlie. Now just people want Gingerdead Man." So it's sort of, I guess, one of his most popular movies.
I never believed a name really does much for the kind of movies I'm making. William Hickey, who was in the first Puppet Master, was a wonderful actor. I mean, it maybe gave it a little extra stamp of some kind of legitimacy, but these are high concept movies that don't really rely on... I mean, they rely on good actors and I've had a lot of wonderful actors, many of whom gone on to become famous, but there's no real reason to put a name in any of these movies.
Now, the Gary Busey thing, on the other hand, it came about via fluke because I wanted to make a movie about a maniacal cookie, and it's The Gingerdead Man. But it sounds weird enough. It was one of those things where all I needed was Gary Busey for one day of shoot—the opening—and his voice to be the little cookie guy. It just sounded so cool. Plus, Gary Busey is definitely unique, and I'm just being polite. He's a great guy, but a handful. But just somehow, Gary Busey and The Gingerdead Man just made sense, but it was one of those fluky things. Generally speaking, my movies don't have any names that would make a difference.
What's Halloween like around your house? Do you go all out with the decorations? Do kids not want to go there?
I hate to admit to this, my offices... I mean, I owned studios in the past. We always went all crazy with any kind of holiday, especially Halloween. But my home life is pretty conservative. I came up with an idea for Halloween that some other people may want to do.
I have four grown children and three little grandchildren; they're around four, five, six. And like anybody with kids today, it's a super bummer that you can't go out and do a traditional trick-or-treat deal because kids love that. So what I came up with, which will sound... Sadly, you need a pretty big house to do this, at least a house that has eight or 10 rooms with doors. We're doing is the nine adults, the eight or nine adults that are basically my kids and their wives and my girlfriend. We're doing kind of an in-house faux Halloween party. Each adult gets a room and a door, and they've been given the assignment to decorate. They can wear a costume, they can give out candy, they can give out toys, they can give out anything they want. And then the kids will be led through the house and they'll knock on each door, "Trick or treat."
That's really awesome. It keeps the spirit alive while also...I think that's been the key. Not trying to be funny, but...I'll preface this by saying it's interesting following the horror genre in Hollywood, it's interesting to see why a company like Blumhouse would be as prevalent as it is today because they are very good at making movies that look like they were made with tens of millions of dollars, but it might've only been like two or three. But I know that that was also your ethos when you started making films. So presenting an idea like this for quarantine trick or treating, it's kind of like... It's what you always seemed to have been doing, making sure that while we may not have all of the means, we want to still give you the experience that you came looking for.
Yeah, that's the idea. I've kind of done that for a long time. We had five projects that I was supposed excited to make this year, and of course all those had to be put on hold because you can't shoot.
But I did come up with a crazy series, a show called Corona Zombies, which I know some people go, "That's crazy. That's not very nice," [but] a lot of people got the humor. It's actually not about zombies killing people, but a very clever show about these girls who discover a really low rent horror network, and it's kind of like Mystery Science Theater. They watch a 50-year-old zombie movie where we took the soundtrack out and put in our own relevant, current, current dialogue and music. Anyway, that did super well.
I brought the girls back and we made a second one that came out two months ago that did even better relative to our streaming site, called Barbie & Kendra Save the Tiger King. We got the second most popular guy on Tiger King, who plays the guy, the robot leg guy was the zookeeper. Obviously couldn't get Joe Exotic, because he's in the slammer.
I found a film from the '60s that was a Crown International movie called Terror in the Jungle. It's about this five-year-old kid who luckily for us through the whole thing is holding a tiger. He gets into these adventures of jeopardy in the jungle. And of course, we totally threw out the soundtrack as the one we did in Corona Zombies, put in some really hilarious dialogue. We got some super well-known voice actors for these shows, because everyone's at home, sort of trapped and bored to tears. We got Leslie Jordan [for] the voice of the five-year-old tiger, the king. It's freaking hilarious. The third one, which is coming out on November 6th, is called Barbie & Kendra Storm Area 51. So it's aliens, and conspiracy theories, and flat-earthers. Once again, as the formula works, they find a really low-rent, conspiracy network and watch a movie, which again is an older movie that we redubbed about space and half-naked chicks. It was a '60s movie. The original thing was called Space Thing. So here we've got a series that we were able to make during the pandemic. With the exception of one day of shoot for the wraparound material with the girls, which we actually had to go shoot carefully, everything else was done by remote.
Barbie & Kendra Storm Area 51, when it comes out, will be my 333rd movie. Which means something, because nine's my lucky number, so yeah, those threes make some kind of sense.
30 years, 300 plus films. Do you ever think about when you'll hang it up?
That would be crazy. No, I'll hang it up when I'm...even when I'm gone, I still have this vision that by then, they're going to be able to keep my head alive in a jar, okay? One of my favorite movies I've made, it's called Head of the Family. Not that this is exactly my vision, but yeah, I hope to still be a head. I can be a centerpiece on someone's table and still let people know how to make these movies. I don't plan to go anywhere.