Remembering a Kung-Fu legend - By Calum Waddell 0In this latest blog we look back at the life of Bruce Lee through the eyes of one of the men who knew him best: his brother Robert Lee…And with our 88 Asia range dedicating itself to some classic kung-fu - what better time to remember the most famous martial artist of all time?
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One Man Band 0
88 Films looks back at the weird and wacky world of Charles Band: the B-movie maverick whose obsession with pint-sized shocks created an entire cottage industry...
By Calum Waddell
One day, in the near future, it is surely not too farfetched to predict that there will be a museum which attempts to recapture a small snapshot of late 20th century life by rebuilding your average, unassuming, family-owned video rental shop from around1991. This, after all, was the peak of the VHS era: almost every home in Britain had a cassette-recorder and entire film-franchises were produced for the small screen (although we hear that only the hardiest of souls have dared to brave the entire Children of the Corn or Hellraiser catalogue). Yet, going against the grain, and competing with some of Hollywood's biggest and best in these heady days were the likes of Troma (The Toxic Avenger), Roger Corman's New World Pictures (who birthed the Slumber Party Massacre series) and, most prolific of all, Charles Band's terrific twosome of Empire and Full Moon Entertainment. These were the punk rockers of this era - boasting a DIY approach to filmmaking, concentrating solely on cheap and cheerful genre productions and often relying on some colourful box covers to sell otherwise utterly obscure (and often idiotic) creature features.
All the same, we at 88 Films - and any self-respecting student of the video shop period - loved them, and no VHS outlet could have possibly saved face without at least a few of these weirdies weighing down their shelves.
Sure, the end product was just as often garbage as it was good, but for at least attempting to make movies with titles like Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, Cellar Dwellar and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, at least you knew these schlock-services had their hackneyed hearts in the right place. Suffice to say, though, it was Band's outfits which were the most reliable insofar as quality, as well as quantity, went - boasting a resume of distinguished classics that even includes 1985's zombie romp Re-Animator. Moreover, thanks to a fascination with small and psychotic villains, it was not too hard to spot a Full Moon movie in the horror section of many a pre-Blockbuster rental shop, which is where Band's reputation really resides. So much so, in fact, that when The Dark Side talks to Band he is about to be subjected to a brand new book on his life and legacy entitled IT CAME FROM THE VIDEO ISLE!.
Not bad huh?
"I must have done over 300 movies now," claims Band. "Some of these might not be the best films ever made but I have really good memories of doing them and there are a few which I think really hold up. They spawned sequels and franchises and even today I have fans who are excited at a new Puppet Master movie. So I guess I did something right [laughs]."
The son of fringe-filmmaker Albert Band, whose credits include such wonderfully-monikered madness as I Bury the Living (1958), Charles worked as a production assistant for his father before making a move into overseeing his own low budget lunacy. This he did by setting up Empire Pictures, an exhaustingly industrious outfit which gave the eighties such genre gems as the Demi Moore-starring 3D monster-marvel Parasite (1982), the futuristic fantasy classic Trancers (1985) and the tawdry terror title Troll (1986), a ridiculous romp in which Sonny Bono is magically turned into a caesar salad.
"You know, even I can't believe I made some of these movies," laughs Band when reminded of inflicting such ritual humiliation on Cher's one-time muse. "I have VHS sized covers of everything I have ever produced on my wall and I still find myself saying, 'wow, did I really make that?' Those Empire days... they were good times [laughs]."
Empire prefigured Band's better known Full Moon Entertainment - and usually indicted an eccentric knack for rubber-reality monster mash-ups, as indicated by such esoteric oddities as Ghoulies (1985), Stuart Gordon's colourful Dolls (1987) and the cheapie Aliens take-off Creepozoids (1987). To the surprise of many pundits this even allowed Band to finesse his own franchises - although anyone who has seen the stillborn sequel Ghoulies go to College may not agree that this was always for the best...
"The eighties was really the end of an era," mentions Band of Empire. "It was a time when an independent company could take out a small horror movie theatrically and make a modest profit. But as we were doing this, the big studios were also putting out their own genre pictures, which started with Star Wars, and there was no way to compete with them. Stuff like the Friday the 13th films were playing everywhere - which was because they were backed by Paramount Pictures - and we could only do limited releases with something like Re-Animator, which was a far superior movie."
As such, it was still the trusty old video shop that Band counted on to make the bulk of his cash...
"Back in the days of VHS you were more or less an equal player with the bigger Hollywood movies," he admits. "You had just as much chance of being picked up and rented by the horror and sci-fi fans. But what you really needed was something lurid - the more lurid, the better in fact - and you also had to have a really cool trailer. Something that would make people say, 'Yeah, I have to see this.' I think one of the best examples of that was Ghoulies. We had a ghoulie coming out of the toilet bowl, with a big smile on his face, and the tagline was 'they'll get you in the end.' Well who could resist that, right? So we put a lot of effort into a cool poster as well. That was how you could catch people's attention and say, 'Hey, look at this'. In a cinema you couldn't do that because the studios booked out the screens. In a video shop, at least, you had a chance..."
Indeed, and with hits such as Ghoulies and Re-Animator, Band was on a roll. Although as theatrical business took a dive at the close of the decade, the entrepreneurial B-movie master opted to end his 'Empire' and instead go the straight-to-video route. This was the goal of his new company, Full Moon Entertainment, which launched with 1989's Puppet Master. As with Dolls, Ghoulies and Troll before it, this was yet another story of small, but deadly, psychotic-critters..
"I honestly have no idea why I keep producing films about scary small things," laughs Band. "I guess it is because when you do low budget movies about little creatures that come to life - like puppets or ghoulies - they are far more manageable than a 40 foot giant. Another influence on me was an anthology film called Trilogy of Terror which featured an iconic episode called 'Amelia'. It is about this African doll which comes to life and chases Karen Black around her house and it is really, really scary. That has an impact on me and I guess ever since I have been wrestling with it in my deepest darkest psyche [laughs]."
Certainly, after the success of Puppet Master, which has inspired nine (count them: nine) instalments to date, as well as a collectible toy line, Band went on a bender of identikit-themed features. Choice cuts include 1991's Dollman (a miniature superhero from outer space), 1992's Demonic Toys (about, erm, demonic toys) and1993's Seedpeople (carnivorous alien plants. Pretty tragic, this one). In addition Band would continue the mythology of the Trancers series with four follow-ups, undress the stunning Twin Peaks star Sherilyn Fenn for 1990's Phantoms and venture into Romania to shoot the atmospheric vampire shocker Subspecies (1991), itself spawning three sequels. To this say, Subspecies is actually one of Band's finest achievements - a movie made for video that looks as theatrical as anything else of the era.
And ever want to learn about franchising a film? Band is your man.
"I think that when you have something that works it is inevitable to do a part two and three," admits Band. "My idea of Full Moon was to model it after Marvel. Growing up, I was a huge fan of Marvel comics. I liked how they would introduce characters and then do a series with them - including bringing Spider-Man into the world of the Fantastic Four or The Incredible Hulk. That is why I produced and directed Dollman vs. Demonic Toys. More recently I did a film called Gingerdead Man, in which Gary Busey becomes a pissed off, crazy cookie - an actual cookie, as crazy as that sounds, and it did really well on DVD. So now we're making a fourth one and we are intending to make a Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong movie, which is about a cursed marijuana pipe. I think that whole idea goes right back to the comics of the Marvel era. Nothing was too strange or too outlandish in that universe."
Consequently, Band has no plans to slow down and, in this day and age of corporate big studio carnage, it is quite refreshing to know that Full Moon remains active - even if the company is no longer the home video juggernaut that it once was. Alas, as VHS turned to DVD and DVD turned to downloading, Band's budgets have shrunk and the comparatively lavish lacerations of Demonic Toys and Puppet Master are a thing of the past. That said, the fine fellow is still splattering the screen blood-red with ambitiously cut-rate craziness such as last year's demented duo of Evil Bong 3-D: The Wrath of Bong and The Dead Want Woman. In other words - Band's knack for a lurid title and an equally lascivious leaning towards gratuitous nudity, cash-strapped special effects and satirical storylines have not mellowed with age.
"You know, this is a tough business to work in," he mentions. "It is easy to get carried away on these movies - it is never one thing that kills you, it is death by 1000 blows. So you might have an idea for a really great special effect but maybe it will take another day to shoot it, right? And then you need some more crew. Then it comes down to maybe having another day on top of that to get it looking really good. Well just like that, you have doubled the budget and that is when you start going into the red. It is tricky to stay in business today, I can tell you that."
However, with a fresh slate which includes a 3D spin on Puppet Master, the tantalisingly titled Zombies Vs. Strippers and even more gory gloriousness, one thing is for sure - Band and his Full Moon Entertainment continue to keep the spirit of the video shop alive. Tasteless, tawdry and trashy, a Charles Band film is like 1991 revisited. But without the techno music. And with many of these top titles now running out of stock and license - now is the best time of all to relive them via 88 Films!
- 88 Films
STUDENT BODIES - By Calum Waddell 0
88 Films brings back its (sure to be) award-winning blog with an exclusive Q and A featuring Richard W. Haines... creator of our Slasher Classic SPLATTER UNIVERSITY...
By Calum Waddell
When Richard W. Haines embarked on Splatter University, back in 1981, he was hoping to helm a low budget blood-fest that might ride the wave of the then-popular slasher trend. In return, he anticipated that his debut would lead to bigger and better things. Perversely, then, it is Splatter University – and his follow-up feature Class of Nuke ‘Em High (a film that he is no big fan of) which remain the director’s most popular work.
Why Splatter University?
Well, despite being a patchwork amalgamation of campy theatrics and serial killer psychosis, the end result happens to be a colourful bout of carnage with a solid pace, unpretentious intent and a likeable leading lady in Forbes Riley. Moreover, there are plenty of plasma-spurting set pieces as well as a maniacal sense of continuity and a delirious finale. Sure, it’s no Halloween (it’s not even Halloween II!) but Splatter University is difficult to dislike. Indeed, despite its reputation as a bit of a stinker, the sleazy shocker that you hold in your hands is easy to have fun with – and its re-release, and reappraisal, on BluRay should be welcome news to any slice and dice scholar. Long unavailable, Haines offered us this essential chat recently that will hopefully serve as a reminder that, have you not already, you surely owe it to yourself to pick up this largely unheralded slasher classic - only available from 88 Films!!
Warning: The Following Interview Contains Spoilers!
So, just to start, can you talk us through your beginnings in the industry? What was it that caused you to get involved in cinema?
I was always involved in a production of some sort – ever since I was a kid, really. My parents bought me a Super 8 camera and I began making amateur shorts. In one little movie I rounded up my friends and we did a mock version of the climax of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly shoot out. I even created simulated squibs and had everyone dress up in makeshift Western outfits [laughs]. I remember that after the shootout, someone threw a plate of spaghetti at the winner for the final gag. Later I purchased a Super 8 sound camera and made sound shorts. After graduating from high school I went to NYU to study film from 1975-1979. It was there that I learned how to work in 16mm - from shooting to editing to negative matching and mixing and making a print. This was certainly valuable experience since my first feature, Splatter University, was shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm. After graduation I saw a post on the NYU bulletin board looking for production assistants on an indie horror movie called Mother's Day. I met with the director, Charles Kaufman, and he hired me as a PA and then as an editing assistant to Daniel Loewenthal. I later ended up doing the sound editing too because no one else knew how to and I had done it on my student films…
Were you a fan of horror movies in general at that time?
Yeah, I was always a fan of horror films but really only of a specific kind, namely the more character driven stuff like Psycho, Night of the Living Dead, Carrie and Jaws. In these movies I could identify with the people who were put in danger. I was never a fan of splatter movies – at leas the type where unknown people are just lined up and killed. Since I knew how the special effects were created, splatter films usually bored me…
Which is a strange thing to hear, but we can return to that. How did you go from working on Mother’s Day to getting a job on Madman, another slasher flick from that period?
After doing the sound editing on Mother's Day, Dan Loewenthal hired me to do the same thing on Madman. Basically, I was brought in after the film was completed to create sound effects. I had nothing to do with the production other than that. It was called Madman Marz when I worked on it and they later changed the title. That is about as far as my stories from that one go.
Nevertheless, despite admitting that you don’t like splatter movies, here you were working on two of them. And, of course, you were about to embark on the title-it-says-it-all… Splatter University…
The story behind that is as follows: while I was at NYU, one of my roommates was another film student, John Michaels. We had discussed co-producing an indie horror movie whilst we were still studying so we were developing Splatter University before I worked on other people’s movies. So doing stuff on Madman or Mother’s Day was not really influential on how Splatter University turned out.
Did you have the chance to meet Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz, of Troma back then? Of course, they would initially distribute Splatter University…
No, I didn’t meet Lloyd or Michael until after I finished editing Madman. They hired Dan to edit a movie called Waitress! So Dan brought me along to do sound editing again. After that movie, they hired me to edit some of their subsequent movies.
How did you fund Splatter University?
My parents put up a portion of the budget, which was only $25,000. After principal photography, John and I worked on other pictures and used our salaries for post-production editing, sound editing, negative matching, mixing and an answer print. Speaking for myself, I used my editing salary from Stuck on You, The First Turn On and The Toxic Avenger to complete Splatter University.
Can you talk about the film’s various name changes?
The screenplay was called Thou Shalt Not Kill. Although that title did fit the story, we thought Splatter was a far more suitable exploitation title. Later we added University - which worked even better!
Why did you decide to kill your leading lady at the end?
It was for one very simple reason: I just thought it would be an unexpected twist to murder the lead character. After all, they usually survive their ordeal in these movies [laughs].
Aside from Madman and Mother’s Day did you watch any of the other slasher films that were coming along back then?
Yeah, I was seeing all of the slasher movies at the time – mainly because I wanted to try and make our one a little bit different. However, I didn’t like slasher movies – mainly because, as I previously mentioned, these are splatter films. So I tried to incorporate some character development for the lead role, although it was probably negated by the campy aspects of the film. To be honest, the only reason I made a slasher film is because it was the only kind I could afford and they were all profitable at the time.
Splatter University went through a troubled production period insofar as it took quite some time to be finished and released. Can you talk about this?
Sure – well we finished principal photography in 1981. While I was sound editing Waitress! – and doing the same job on another film called Stuck on You - I was putting together Splatter University at home on weekends and at nights. All my time was spent editing back then [laughs]. Anyway, the final cut of the movie only ran for about 65 minutes which was too short for a feature. However, I will say that this cut of the movie played like a semi-legitimate mystery film. The killer really was a deranged priest and the performances by Forbes and the rest of my cast were really good. The electronic score, which was conducted by Chris Burke, worked pretty well within this context too. Nevertheless, we knew we needed to expand the running time so we went back into production and rounded up some friends to shoot some very campy, over the top footage of students partying, smoking dope and acting like idiots. We also added another death which was a head slit. Ralph Cordero, who was our special effects assistant during principal photography, returned for these scenes. Unfortunately, the running time still was not long enough so I shot a framing device to alter the story and make the killer an escaped mental patient. We also secured a Rockabilly band called The Pedestrians to supply songs for some of the new sequences. When I added all of these scenes together it brought the running time up to 79 minutes which enabled us to release it as a feature film.
These additional scenes also make Splatter University a bit of a farce – indeed, it becomes quite over the top…
Yeah, the new scenes completely changed the tone of the film. I hate them but the slasher cycle was running dry and if I didn’t get the film out there soon, I might not have gotten it released at all. So, although I prefer my original 65 minute cut of the film over the theatrical release version, we needed to have something we could put out. The new scenes were shot in 1982 and then I had to re-edit the movie, re-mix it and make a new answer print which brought us up to 1983. The film was released in 1984, pretty much the end of the slasher genre. The rather mixed up narrative combined realistic scenes from the first cut, and way over the top campy scenes from the second cut, and I guess that’s what gave us the ‘so bad it's good’ cult following. It’s now a six pack movie which means it's far more entertaining after a few beers [laughs].
As mentioned, Troma were behind the initial release of the film. How did Splatter University do when it finally hit cinemas in 1984?
The film did well theatrically and then on home video. The reviews were bad at the time, as anticipated, but it has been re-evaluated in the interim and I have gotten some good notices over the last few years. This has included in such underground fan journals as Ultra-Violent magazine. I guess they were able to get past the campy aspects and examine the basic storyline which, I think, has some interesting twists and themes…
What impact, if any, do you think Splatter University had on Troma?
I actually think that the reason that Troma decided to switch from sexploitation to horror – starting with The Toxic Avenger - was because Splatter University and Mother’s Day had been so profitable…
And you, of course, worked as an editor on The Toxic Avenger before co-directing Class of Nuke ‘Em High with Lloyd Kaufman…
Well Class of Nuke ‘Em High was a bad experience for me - but I also learned from it. I had written a screenplay titled Atomic High and I was going to co-produce the film in 16mm with John Michaels. Troma offered to finance and distribute it in 35mm but John and I would have to do it as ‘work for hire’. John wisely declined the offer and made his own 16mm film with a similar theme – it was called I Was a Teenage Zombie and it actually did quite well. However, I agreed to direct Class of Nuke ‘Em High on the agreed terms – although that meant I lost creative control.
Can you speak about how this effected the final production?
Troma decided to alter my concept so it could be set-up as a sequel to The Toxic Avenger. Then they re-wrote my script. In my version, this gang starts as an honor society and then they gradually mutate into the group, The Cretins, which cause havoc throughout the school. In the Troma version, they were already a gang wearing ridiculous outfits. In my version the mutant fetus monster screams "Mommy" before allowing the couple to escape the school which then explodes. It gave the story a Freudian twist – and this was removed to make it a monster on the loose story. Fortunately, the experience inspired me to form my own production/distribution company afterwards called New Wave Film Distribution. For my third film and every later production, I retained complete creative control. So, as an example, my next film - Alien Space Avenger - has superior performances, production value, special effects and cinematography when compared to my first two movies. I see Splatter University and Class of Nuke ‘Em High as 'warm ups' for these later, and better, films.
I’m interested in the fact the late adult movie star Jamie Gillis made an appearance in Alien Space Avenger. How did that transpire?
While I was at Troma editing their sexploitation features, they also had some older X-rated movies they had produced in the seventies. They hired me to re-cut them from hardcore to softcore for cable. Jamie Gillis appeared in some and I noticed he was one of the few performers in the adult industry who could actually act…
Yeah, I agree...
So, when I was casting Alien Space Avenger I thought it would be a funny gimmick to have a famous porn star get, literally, screwed to death by a creature. So we shot that sequence and put it in the film. Getting him involved was really quite straightforward – the film’s co-producer, Ray Sundlin, contacted Jamie and he liked the idea. That was why he agreed to do his little cameo.
Although you insist that Splatter University and Class of Nuke ‘Em High are not your proudest moments, they are the two films that you are best known for…
I would rather be known for what I call ‘my art imitates life’ trilogy which are Alien Space Avenger, Unsavory Characters and What Really Frightens You. Each story chronicles the experience of a writer who interacts with his fictional characters which I thought was an interesting theme. However, each movie uses a different style of cinematography and performance. Alien Space Avenger looks like a live action comic book with its garish primary colors in Technicolor, simulating a strip. Unsavory Characters echoes the look of a forties film noir and has very believable performances. What Really Frightens You is my homage to the Hammer films of the sixties. Visually, this film also uses distorted colors for its hallucination scenes - similar to what Roger Corman did in his classic Poe series. I think that this trio of movies would make for an interesting triple bill anywhere…
You became quite public in voicing your support for filming with Technicolor – leading to your book Technicolor Movies: The History of Dye Transfer Printing (McFarland Publishing, 2003). Can you speak a little more about this?
I had met with some great Chinese lab technicians during the shoot of Alien Space Avenger and they gave us pointers on how to dramatically use colour. After I finished editing I traveled to Beijing to make ten dye transfer prints of the movie. No one had used the process since The Godfather Part II in 1974. I was always a fan of Technicolor and aside from its unique color dyes, the print don’t fade. I later donated dye transfer prints of Alien Space Avenger to Eastman House, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and to Martin Scorsese’s archive. And I still have two in my own archive.
Your last film was What Really Frightens You back in 2009. Are you working on a new film?
No, I am no longer producing independent features. The indie movement has collapsed on the East Coast – particularly if you want to shoot on film. Most of the labs, equipment rental houses, mixing studios and negative matchers folded with the switch to digital. Today I write pulp fiction books with movie themes. So far my three thriller novels are Production Value, Reel Danger and The Anastasia Killer. But you never know… perhaps some enterprising producer will be interesting in adapting them into feature films in the future!
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Slipcase Quantities Update, 24th October 0
- Eliminators - 579 / 1000
- Luther the Geek - 243 / 500
- Bride From Hell - 228 / 500
- Django Kill - 236 / 500
- The Flying Guillotine - 172 / 500
- Mountaintop Motel Massacre - 137 / 999
- Cold Blooded Beast - 96 / 500
- Body Puzzle - 75 / 500
- The Oily Maniac - 44 / 500
- The Perfume of the Lady in Black - 37 / 500
- Bewitched - 148 / 400
- The House on Sorority Row - 614 / 1000
- Watch Me When I Kill - 245 / 500
- In the Eye of the Hurricane - 440 / 500
- Happy Hell Night - Sold Out
- Zombie Creeping flesh - Sold Out
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