Friday, June 20, 2014

Full Moon Fever: 21 Essential Full Moon Movies

by Patrick Bromley
Wondering what to watch on Full Moon day for #Junesploitation? Here are 21 options.

I grew up on the movies of writer/director/producer Charles Band, the rightful heir to Roger Corman's throne as the king of low-budget genre movies (a designation I make with full affection and respect). I never grew out of them, either, as I still love the kinds of weird horror and sci-fi movies that make up Band's entire filmography. I've written about him before and started up a semi-regular feature at F This Movie! called Full Moon Fever, in which I write about Full Moon movies for an audience of hardly anyone. I do it because I love this stuff, even when I don't.

Today's list is a bit of a cheat. I'm calling it a list of "Full Moon" movies to fit with both the day's theme and the Full Moon Fever banner, but really it would be more accurate to call it a list of Charles Band productions, as it covers titles from his early career, the Empire Pictures days and, finally, Full Moon Features. Let's just say they all count.

Are these movies you HAVE to see? Not necessarily. These are the movies you should see if you're interested in Full Moon, Charles Band or weird genre movies from the '80s and '90s. Some of them are legitimately great. Some of them aren't great but a lot of fun. Some of them are included for other reasons.
1. Tourist Trap (1979, dir. David Schmoeller) Made in the days before Full Moon and Empire Pictures, Tourist Trap is important for a couple of reasons: it proved to Charles Band that successful horror movies could be made on the cheap, began the company's longtime fascination with puppets and dolls (though here they are full size), kicked off the working relationship with David Schmoeller, who would helm several of the best Charles Band productions (including Crawlspace and Puppet Master) and, most importantly, it's really good. Great score, great atmosphere, super creepy. This was recently made available on a very controversial Blu-ray from Full Moon.
2. Ghoulies (1985, dir. Luca Bercovici) Here's where things really started to get going for Charles Band. After making a few profitable movies elsewhere (like Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn at Universal), Band finally scored a massive success for his own Empire Pictures and really started to build the studio. Combining small creatures -- a future Full Moon staple -- and a brilliant exploitation marketing campaign (about which Band tells a very funny story), the movie became a huge hit in theaters and an even bigger one on home video. Though it's often dismissed as yet another Gremlins rip-off, the script for Ghoulies originated in 1983, one year before the Joe Dante movie hit theaters.

3. Re-Animator (1985, dir. Stuart Gordon) Arguably the best movie in the Empire Pictures catalogue, Stuart Gordon's debut feature remains a masterpiece of splatstick horror comedy. Based on the H.P. Lovecraft short story, the movie boasts amazing special effects and GREAT performances from Jeffrey Combs, David Gale and Barbara Crampton in her most legendary role. Though not a huge box office hit at the time, the movie has gone on to become one of the most loved and respected Charles Band productions. It also began Band's working relationship with Stuart Gordon, who has several more titles on this list.

4. Trancers (1985, dir. Charles Band) One of my favorite titles from the Empire days, Trancers is part Terminator, part Blade Runner, all awesome. Tim Thomerson plays the excellently-named Jack Deth* (*you're fucking A right), a future cop who sends his consciousness back in time to 1985 L.A. to catch a bad guy with the power to awaken hypnotized zombies called, that's right, Trancers. This is the kind of genre movie that could only have been made in the '80s -- part sci-fi, part horror, part film noir, all done impressively on the cheap and carried by the great Tim Thomerson. The series would eventually become a Full Moon staple, leading to five sequels with varying degrees of quality (2002's Trancers 6 tries to get by recycling stock footage of Thomerson from previous movies). The first one remains my favorite.

5. From Beyond (1986, dir. Stuart Gordon) Re-Animator alumni Stuart Gordon, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, producer Brian Yuzna and screenwriter Dennis Paoli all reunite for another H.P. Lovecraft adaptation -- one that's even crazier and gooier than their last effort. This was the first Charles Band production to shoot in Italy, where he would subsequently build his studios and film through the end of the Empire era (era). From Beyond is twisted and kinky and, at times (particularly in its restored unrated cut) really gross in the best possible way. Another of my favorite Empire productions. Now available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
6. TerrorVision (1986, dir. Ted Nicolau) The debut feature from former Empire Picture editor Ted Nicolau is also his only theatrically-released film -- an insane monster movie that's tacky and obnoxious, riffing on television and '80s culture. The terrific cast includes Mary Woronov, Gerrit Graham, Diane Franklin, Jon Gries and Chad Allen. Nicolau would remain a company man, going on to direct Full Moon classics like Bad Channels and the Subspecies series; TerrorVision is much more Bad Channels than Subspecies. This was unavailable on DVD for nearly two decades until Scream Factory put it out on Blu-ray (in a double feature with the much worse Video Dead) in 2013.

7. Prison (1988, dir. Renny Harlin) Charles Band deserves some credit (or blame) for discovering Finnish director Renny Harlin, who made his American debut with this Empire production. A young Viggo Mortensen stars alongside Lane Smith and Chelsea Field in a story about an executed inmate seeking revenge on the warden who sent him to the chair. The movie is crudely stylish and fun in an '80s way, deserving a spot on the list for a chance to see some future superstars (yes, for a time Renny Harlin was a very successful and sought-after filmmaker) working for Charles Band. Available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
8. Puppet Master (1989, dir. David Schmoeller) This is arguably the most important movie in the catalogue, if for no other reason than because it's the first movie released under the Full Moon banner. This is the movie that launched a thousand tiny terrors, from Demonic Toys to Dangerous Worry Dolls, Devil Dolls to Blood Dolls, killer bongs to killer cookies. But it's also an accomplished piece of genre filmmaking thanks to the excellent stop motion effects (courtesy of Dave Allen), Richard Band's beautiful, haunting theme and the atmospheric direction of David Schmoeller. Available on Blu-ray from Full Moon.

9. Meridian (1990, dir. Charles Band) This one makes the list because it comes from a time when Full Moon was still finding its voice and making real movies -- genre movies, yes, but ones which attempted to explore different genres inside of the larger framework of horror or science fiction. Meridian (or, as it's known by its full title, Meridian: Kiss of the Beast) combines elements of gothic romance, fairy tale, monster movie and tragedy in telling a variation on Beauty and the Beast in which a college girl (Sherilyn Fenn) is drawn into a love triangle of sorts with a mysterious stranger and a hairy monster. Once again shot at Band's Italian castle, the movie features a lot of gorgeous location photography and some genuine eroticism. Plus Charlie Spradling.

10. Robot Jox (1990, dir. Stuart Gordon) Held up for a few years because of funding issues and the collapse of Empire Pictures, Stuart Gordon's Robot Jox is a big, splashy comic book of a movie with impressive-on-a-budget special effects (once again courtesy of stop-motion puppeteer Dave Allen) and a lot of heart. Taking place in a future in which global conflicts are settled by giant robot fights, the movie features one of the least likable heroes in genre history but makes up for it with its wide-eyed sense of fun and adventure. This is one of my favorite underrated sci-fi movies -- one that I like even better than some more recent giant robot movies Hollywood has put out. The DVD is out of print. Here's hoping a company like UK distributor 88 Films is able to get the rights for an HD release.

11. Subspecies (1991, dir. Ted Nicolau) Though I think the sequel is a better movie, the first of five Subspecies films (three sequels and a spin-off) represents another attempt from Full Moon to do a much more straightforward horror film than the majority of their output. While the two romantic leads are big drips, Anders Hove creates one of the best screen vampires of all time with Radu: part rock star, part insect, all monster. He would be softened in subsequent films as he began to take center stage, but in the original film he's pure evil and he's amazing. The Romanian locations lend the movie authenticity and Ted Nicolau demonstrates that he's one of the better filmmakers in the Full Moon stable.
12. Puppet Master II (1991, dir. David Allen) After creating stop motion and puppet effects for Charles Band on a number of productions, Dave Allen finally got a chance to direct his own feature (for the first and last time). The result is a sequel that might even be better than the first film, repeating the plot (with paranormal investigators investigating the hotel this time instead of psychics) but changing things up, including getting rid of some original puppets and introducing new ones. The effects are even more ambitious and abundant and the human puppet featured prominently in the climax is the stuff of nightmares. The movie is a weirder and darker than the original and the series has not yet given way to camp. Plus Charlie Spradling. Wow. Available on Blu-ray from Full Moon.

13. Dollman (1991, dir. Albert Pyun) It only makes sense that sooner or later prolific genre filmmaker Albert Pyun would eventually team up with Charles Band and Full Moon. Tim Thomerson stars as the excellently-named alien cop Brick Brando who is normal sized on his home planet, but revealed to be tiny when he arrives on Earth in pursuit of a bad guy. Jackie Earle Haley plays a villain (this was during the lean years, pre-Little Children comeback). The movie is grimy and ugly but amusing, best viewed as a curiosity. Thomerson is great, the violence is shocking and the movie plays the material with a mostly-straight face, offering a handful of twists and surprises to keep you off-balance. Available on Blu-ray from Full Moon.
14. The Pit and the Pendulum (1991, dir. Stuart Gordon) Yes, Stuart Gordon is all over this list, but that's because his movies are among the best in the catalogue (you'll notice Dolls is not on the list, but maybe I need to revisit that one). Another retelling of the classic Edgar Allen Poe story that, in the best Roger Corman tradition, actually combines multiple Poe stories into one. Lance Henriksen gives a characteristically great, intense performance as the Grand Inquisitor in 1492 Spain who is tortured by his lust for a peasant woman. The early '90s were the best time for Full Moon; maybe it was just holdover from the Empire days, but a number of the movies could have been theatrical features despite being made for video. More strong atmosphere, production design and good performances make for one of the studio's best dramatic efforts. Available on Blu-ray from Full Moon.

15. Doctor Mordrid (1992, dir. Albert Band & Charles Band) This was Full Moon's lone attempt at a superhero movie. Charles Band grew up obsessed with Marvel comics, and Doctor Mordrid is basically him doing Doctor Strange without technically having the rights (he held the option at one point but it had run out). Co-directed with his father Albert, the movie casts Jeffrey Combs as the titular Doctor, a wizard sent to Earth to stop an evil magician (professional creep Brian Thompson) from opening a doorway to Hell. The comic book trappings plus tons of fun optical effects and a lead performance from Jeffrey Combs make this a really enjoyable change of pace for Full Moon. Supposedly, Jack Kirby did some concept art for this one.
16. Bloodstone: Subspecies II (1993, dir. Ted Nicolau) Another popular Full Moon franchise, the Subspecies series tells one long story about monstrous vampire Radu (Anders Hove) and his quest to get control of the Bloodstone, which has some sort of mystical powers. While the first film has its charms and a sense of authenticity -- it was the first feature actually shot in Romania -- the sequel is a huge improvement. It's beautifully shot, features a lot more gore and cool monster shit and lead actress Denice Duff is a big step up from Part One's Laura Tate. If you're only going to see one Subspecies movie, see this one...even if some of it may be really confusing. Available on Blu-ray from Full Moon.

17. Dollman vs. Demonic Toys (1993, dir. Charles Band) Though not my favorite Full Moon title, this one is important because it solidifies Full Moon as a kind of '90s DTV equivalent to the classic Universal monsters in the way it establishes a shared universe that all the characters inhabit. Dollman's Brick Brando searches for tiny Nurse Brenda from Bad Channels and ends up fighting the Demonic Toys. That's three Full Moon movies in one! This would pave the way for future crossover Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong. Another Full Moon mashup, Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys, was produced through the SyFy Network and actually has nothing to do with Charles Band or Full Moon.
18. Oblivion (1994, dir. Sam Irvin) This one is something of an anomaly in the Full Moon catalogue, as it is not part of a larger franchise (though it did get a sequel) and doesn't include small creatures or naked women. What it does have is a sense of fun, featuring cowboys and aliens before Cowboys & Aliens and boasting an ensemble that includes Andrew Divoff, Meg Foster, Julie Newmar, George Takei and even Isaac Hayes. This has one of the most sophisticated scripts of any Full Moon movie (no surprise since it's by Peter David), mostly because it mixes genres so confidently and has such a sense of humor about itself. A gem in the catalog.

19. Castle Freak (1995, dir. Stuart Gordon) Another Stuart Gordon classic reunites Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton for a Gothic monster movie set and filmed in Band's Italian castle. Trading in Full Moon's usual sense of fun and levity for a movie that's part domestic drama, part Greek tragedy and part gory monster movie. Whereas most Charles Band productions are defined by their special effects or high concepts, this one stands out because of its atmosphere and, most of all, its acting. This is one of the studio's very best movies. Available on Blu-ray from Full Moon.
20. Head of the Family (1996, dir. Charles Band [as Robert Talbot]) There are a few Full Moon movies that seem reverse engineered from the title. Gingerdead Man is one of them. 1996's Head of the Family is another. Directed by Charles Band (under the name Richard Talbot for some reason), the movie tells the story of a two-bit criminal (Blake Bailey) and his girlfriend (the stunning Jacqueline Lovell, who spends a good deal of the movie totally nude) getting hooked up with a weird crime family ruled by the titular Head (J.W. Perra). Though a little slow going in the first half, the movie gets nuttier as it goes along. This is one of the last Full Moon titles that feels like one from the early days even though it demonstrates several of the issues that would eventually come up again and again in their productions. In that way, it's a perfect bridge between the two eras (eras) of Full Moon Features.

21. Gingerdead Man 2: Passion of the Crust (2008, dir. Silvia St. Croix) The original Gingerdead Man is emblematic of much of Full Moon's current output: super low budgets, very few actors, single locations, scenes of mostly talking, intentional camp and a tiny monster that can easily be turned into a doll or statue and sold at conventions. Many of these same complaints could be leveled against its sequel, too, but it improves on the first movie by increasing the scope (a little), having more fun and embracing its own craziness even more. The reason it's "essential" Full Moon, though, is because the whole thing is constructed as a satire of the company. Taking place during the production of the ninth Tiny Terrors movie at Cheatum Studios (I didn't say it was a particularly clever satire), the movie-within-a-movie features parodies of Band's famous puppet monsters, including Shit-for-Brains (a puppet with poop on its head) and Haunted Dildo (a haunted dildo). The movie's self-awareness makes it particularly rewarding for fans of Full Moon who have come to love all the things the film is mocking but also recognize that, yes, it's all a bit silly. And Haunted Dildo will never not be funny.

Got a movie you'd like to see covered in Full Moon Fever? Let us know in the comments below. And sign up for Full Moon Streaming here.


  1. Crap, had I known From Beyond counted for Full Moon! I would've saved it and watched another 80's Horror! On the plus side, I watched From Beyond! I assume the Scream Factory blu-ray I watched was the uncut version? Because it was pretty gooey.

    My babysitter's dad owned the town video store (I spoke with him this past weekend - he's hanging in there but barely), so between the ages of 4 and 6 I spent a fair amount of time hanging out there looking at movie covers. I'm not sure anything made more of an impression on my young mind than that Ghoulies one - is there anyone who lived through the 80s that wasn't curious about it? Posters just don't sell a movie like they used to.

    I think I'll try a month of FMS and give that and maybe a couple others a watch tonight!

    1. ^^^ Yeah, I thought Empire movies not released/owned by Full Moon were out. Oh well, it forced me to watch "Trancers" which was an awesome experience (even if Tim Thomerson wasn't).

  2. I'm proud to say I've seen most of these (and own every Scream Factory release here), but there's a few I missed, like Dollman -- and the Demonic Toys crossover -- that you make sound pretty entertaining, so I'm all over it.

    THIS is why you guys stand out, and why we proud FHeads! love this cover not just current releases (both the geek-friendly stuff but even the more mainstream entries which appeals to every movie lover with a wide range of tastes) but stuff like this with class, wit and a whole LOT of heart. You guys are the best, and I just want to personally thank you for it.

    1. Thanks, Albert. That means a lot. We're very lucky to have a community of people like you who are passionate (or at least show interest in/tolerate) the wide variety of movies we all love.

  3. This is great, thanks Patrick! I have to say every time I saw Gingerbread-man 2's full title it made me smile. Looking forward to watching these!

  4. there are only 20 movies listed, 11 is skipped.

    1. This is an outrage that F This Movie has perpetrated on it's audience for 19 months now without any repercussions. I hope to see a full mea culpa article stickied here in the morning!