by Patrick Bromley
#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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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