Monday, April 22, 2019

Full Moon Fever: PREHYSTERIA!

by Patrick Bromley
It's Full Moon...but, you know, for kids.

Reading It Came from the Video Aisle, the comprehensive history and guide to Full Moon Entertainment published in 2017, one of the things that struck me most was the number of "offshoot" labels Charles Band attempted to launch during the company's heyday. There was Torchlight Entertainment, specializing in softcore movies; Big City Pictures, focusing on "urban" genre films; Pulp Fantasy Productions, a kind of catch-all for movies that didn't fit under other headings; Cult Video, which released older Band productions and movies made at Empire Pictures; Shadow Films, a label that existed to release genre films Band wanted distanced from Full Moon (titles like 2002's Bleed); plus sub-labels that were renamed or re-branded into other sublabels like Wizard Video, Pulsepounders, Surrender Cinema, and Shadow Entertainment. But maybe the most successful of Full Moon's offshoot companies was Moonbeam Entertainment, the studio's family-friendly label launched in 1993 with the release of Prehysteria!.
Co-directed by the father and son team of Albert and Charles Band, Prehysteria! casts short-lived child star Austin O'Brien (Last Action Hero, My Girl 2) as a young boy who, along with his farmer father (Brett Cullen) and teenage sister (Samantha Mills), accidentally comes into possession of some dinosaur eggs. The creatures hatch and reveal themselves to be a tiny brachiosaurus, a tiny stegosaurus, and a tiny T-rex, which O'Brien names after famous rock stars and keeps as pets. Unfortunately, the original owner of the eggs, a criminal museum curator named Rico Sarno (played by Dolls' Stephen Lee), comes to claim his treasure and brings a couple of goons along with him. So it's Jurassic Park, but small (because Full Moon), but then it's also Home Alone. It's a lot of things, but none of them are original.

That's perfectly ok. Full Moon has never been known for breaking much ground. What they have done so successfully is carve out their own space in genre entertainment, and Prehysteria! makes that space a little wider by opening the company up into the realm of family entertainment. The movie rented well at the time because of course it did: kids across America had dinosaur fever thanks to JP and here was something with dinosaurs that their parents could be all too happy to rent from the video store. Though not quite the kind of mockbuster for which companies like The Asylum are now famous, it's got enough telltale signs to demonstrate once again the sort of business savvy and survival instinct that have kept Full Moon and Charles Band afloat all these years. That doesn't happen by accident.
I realize that up to this point, I've only talked about Prehysteria! from the perspective of business and marketing. That's really where the movie succeeds: offering a kid-friendly alternative to the biggest movie of 1993 and helping to launch Moonbeam Entertainment. As a movie, Prehysteria! is just ok. Co-directors Albert and Charles Band (who also worked side by side directing Robot Wars the same year) keep things light and goofy, particularly whenever Stephen Lee is on screen chewing up the scenery. Like a lot of Full Moon titles, though, there are a lot of dialogue scenes that feel like they exist to fill time between effects sequences, which is what we all came to see. I know a low-budget effort like Prehysteria! can't afford to have wall-to-wall dinosaurs -- stop motion animation is time consuming and expensive -- but I find myself sometimes wishing while watching these movies that special attention could be paid to the dialogue in the non-effects scenes to give us a reason to hang in there. Good writing doesn't cost any extra.
I wasn't young enough for Prehysteria! by the time it was released in 1993. I had already moved on to the harder stuff. Hell, the original Puppet Master was my entry point into Full Moon as a kid, and there was never any looking back from there. As a result, I don't have any nostalgia for the title itself, even if I am nostalgic for the point in time when something like this was being produced by Full Moon and could find success on the shelves of Blockbuster. Like so much children's entertainment from the '80s and '90s, Moonbeam Entertainment and movies like Prehysteria! were all rendered mostly obsolete by Cartoon Network and Disney Channel and multiple Nickelodeons and the proliferation of options when it comes to kids' programming.

As far as Full Moon's many, many offshoot labels go, Moonbeam is still among the more successful -- enough that the library still lives on the company's streaming service...though not as successful as the company's softcore offshoot, Surrender Cinema, which now has its very own separate streaming service. Prehysteria! is a good introduction to the world of Moonbeam in that it's got plenty of Full Moon DNA (including stop motion creature effects courtesy of the great Dave Allen) and its heart is in the right place. Even though it was targeted at kids, everyone involved clearly wanted to make a good movie. That's what I will always love about Full Moon: they love making movies and always want to make good ones, even when they don't.

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