Sunday, April 10, 2011

Like You Were There: Full Moon Roadshow Comes to Chicago

I'm always jealous of the people living in places like Los Angeles and Austin who are able to take advantage not just of the regular programming at theaters like the New Beverly and the Alamo Drafthouse, but also the special events (QT Fest, or Harry Knowles' Butt-Numb-a-Thon, or The Wright Stuff or Dante's Inferno) that never make their way to Chicago. I'm also frustrated that so few bloggers (of which there is a tremendous shortage) take the time to write about those experiences, so that those of us who are thousands of miles away and only dreaming about attending can live vicariously through their words. With that in mind, we at F This Movie! would like to introduce a semi-recurring (?) feature: "Like You Were There." In the first installment, Charles Band and Full Moon Entertainment hit the Windy City with a triple bill of Stuart Gordon/Jeffrey Combs/Barbara Crampton classics and the world premiere of Evil Bong 3D: The Wrath of Bong. Not all movies are created equal.

Charles Band is one of those B-movie makers that has created his own brand. Like William Castle and Roger Corman before him (and with Lloyd Kaufman and Troma as his only real schlock rival), Band has discovered how to create an empire with cheaply-made, exploitative horror/comedies through market saturation, clever marketing and, most importantly, merchandising. Though he got his start with theatrical features (movies you're better off missing, like Parasite and the truly atrocious Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, in which Jared-Syn is not destroyed and metal is not stormed), Band's career really wouldn't be possible without home video. He found his bread and butter on the product-starved shelves of video stores in the '80s and '90s, and that's when his company, Full Moon Entertainment, began cranking out entries in their popular series that have amassed huge cult followings: the Puppet Master films, the Trancers and Dollman series, Demonic Toys, SubSpecies and The Gingerdead Man movies, among others. Band eventually figured out that he could just cannibalize all of his properties and have them cross over, so we get stuff like Dollman vs. Demonic Toys and Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys. He's created his own straight-to-video, pint-sized version of the Universal monsters.

And, judging by the crowd at the Portage Theater in Chicago on April 9, he's got his fans right where he wants them. The lobby of the theater was packed with Full Moon DVDs, posters and merchandise, and I'll be damned if I didn't see just about everyone in attendance either buying something or carrying around handfuls of stuff they just bought, from Evil Bong posters they were getting signed to life-size replicas of the Gingerdead man (which ran for a couple hundred bucks). As a kid who rented the original Puppet Master a number of times in the late '80s, I've been aware of Full Moon for years without ever really becoming a fan of any of their franchises, so I was somewhat surprised to see just what a following Band has gathered over his long career.

(Note: I was joined for the day by F This Movie! regulars JB and Mike, who stayed only for the first movie before going home to watch iCarly or some shit)

The afternoon kicked off with host Steve Prokopy (who writes under the name Capone at Ain't It Cool News) bringing the great Stuart Gordon and an incredibly well-preserved Barbara Crampton on stage to introduce 1986's From Beyond, the follow-up to Re-Animator. It's a crazy, hugely entertaining movie and it was great to see it on 35mm, but if I was programming the day I'm not sure I would have started with this movie. From Beyond is the kind of movie that needs to be built up to, and which, in many ways, is more enjoyable as a companion piece to Re-Animator than as a standalone movie. Watching Crampton and Jeffrey Combs switch roles (as Gordon pointed out before hand) and the way that Gordon and writer Dennis Paoli push the Lovecraftian horror to its breaking point is a large part of what makes the movie such a blast, so it's too bad that we were thrown right into the deep end. The audience didn't seem to mind, though, because the movie played.
After a looong break, Prokopy, Gordon and Crampton introduced the 1995 film Castle Freak, which was the third and final collaboration between those two and Combs. This was the first-ever 35mm screening of Castle Freak, which went straight to DVD in the '90s, and which, having never seen it, was the reason I wanted to attend the Full Moon Festival (for some reason, I convinced myself that the first theatrical screening of Castle Freak held some historical significance). The movie is a huge departure from Re-Animator and From Beyond -- it was way less goofy fun, instead going for dark, brooding, character-driven horror. Shot on location in Band's Italian castle (yes, the man owns his own castle, which is all I could think about every time I saw someone carrying another Evil Bong poster or Puppet Master t-shirt), the movie certainly has Gordon's trademark go-for-broke moments (often mixing sexuality with horror, which was pointed out by a few audience members during the Q&A) while allowing for more show-offy acting and direction than his previous efforts. Besides Barbara Crampton's enduring hotness, Castle Freak was the days happiest surprise and worth tracking down on DVD. It has to be one of the classiest movies in the Full Moon catalogue -- assuming you can call a movie in which a monster eats a woman's boob "classy."
Prokopy moderated a Q&A session with Gordon and Crampton following Castle Freak, and while there were no major revelations it was still a lot of fun. It's fascinating how soft-spoken and humble Stuart Gordon is considering what his movies are like (in the tradition of David Cronenberg and Sam Raimi, I guess), and the mutual affection and respect between he and Crampton was readily apparent.

Up next was the "Full Moon Roadshow," preceded by an extended trailer for a whole bunch of Full Moon titles (which, I'll admit, made me want to track a bunch of the movies down). Charles Band took the stage and proved to be an amusingly laid-back, affable guy (lots of L.A. surfer/stoner vocab getting tossed around), telling a long story about Ghoulies and how a single marketing hook can make for a huge hit (which is no longer the case; otherwise, the image of Rose McGowan's machine gun leg would have made Grindhouse into a blockbuster). He then brought some audience volunteers on stage for what turned out to be a really circuitous process for getting some girls to take their tops off (only one of three girls actually did it) before introducing his latest effort, Evil Bong 3-D.

Oh -- I forgot to mention that he also brought one of the movie's "stars," Robin Sydney, on stage to say a few words about the film. Sydney was a trooper and hung out all day signing autographs and was canny enough to dress in such a way that even horror fans who weren't aware of her would want buy a poster just to get a few seconds of face time (I knew her from the Masters of Horror episode "Right to Die," which is actually really good and worthing checking out). Also, the young man credited with writing the story for Evil Bong 3-D (Band accepted submissions from fans online) came up on stage and proposed to his girlfriend in a moment that probably should have been more exciting or romantic than it ended up being, but I guess that's difficult given the environment. Having seen Evil Bong 3-D, I have a hard time imagining what that "story" treatment looked like.

And then there was the "world premiere" of Evil Bong 3-D. I haven't seen the first two Evil Bong movies and am not a fan of pot humor, so maybe I'm not the audience for this movie. Having said that, I was more than ready to get into the spirit of the thing and have a good time with a knowingly dumb, goofy movie buyoed by gimmicks like old-school, red and blue anaglyph 3-D and "sniff-o-rama," which were numbered scratch-and-sniff cards meant to be used at specific moments in the movie (the fake pot smell, by the way, was making me sick most of the day). Unfortunately, Evil Bong 3-D was a miserable drag, apparently shot on two sets (the inside of a head shop and what looked like Charles Band's garage with a bunch of dry ice and the lights turned off). The acting was broad and obnoxious, the humor was nonexistent and the 3-D and scratch and sniff gimmicks both bombed. You could feel the air getting sucked out of the theater as the movie went on, and all of the excitement built up throughout the day disappeared with every insipid line of dialogue and unnecessary reference to earlier Evil Bong movies. Even star Robin Sydney, who was in attendance as the ambassador to Evil Bong 3-D, only showed up in two scenes. Why she spent a whole day backing this movie I will never understand.
Luckily, the day wrapped with a screening of Re-Animator. Gordon and Crampton, who were both incredible sports and hung around for the entire day signing autographs, remained on hand to introduce the movie (along with a performance of a selection from the Re-Animator musical currently running in LA). Though the film was done a disservice by having to follow Evil Bong, it is a movie about which enough good things cannot be said.
It was a long, sometimes grueling day considering the fact that only four movies were screened, and it had to have come as some disappointment that the movie around which the whole day was based completely shit the bed. Still, it's a rare occurance that a group of like-minded horror fans are able to gather and spend the day together watching some great movies (and all three Gordon movies were terrific) and celebrate the unlikely success of a company like Full Moon. Still, fuck Evil Bong.

Thanks to the Portage Theater, Full Moon Entertainment and Flashback Weekend (Chicago's annual horror festival) for sponsoring the day, and to Charles Band, Robin Sydney, Barbara Crampton and Stuart Gordon for sticking it out for the long haul. Maybe the Roadshow will come back next year and bring Tim Thomerson with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment