hough I wouldn’t realize it until I was almost in college, I’ve known Charles Band all my life. Whether it was in St. Louis or Tulsa, Okla., I’ve been an inveterate video-store junkie almost since birth. I came of age at the apex of the rental age, when every supermarket had their own video joint at the front of the store and going to Blockbuster was a viable Friday night activity. Some of my earliest memories are of the posters hanging in front of the checkouts at Dierberg’s, and the VHS and NES boxes that packed Schnucks’ surprisingly well-stocked video department.
While I didn’t know it at the time, I would come to realize that I was — at least vicariously — raised on Band’s Full Moon Entertainment. You really couldn’t consume horror movies in the late ‘80s or ‘90s and not stumble across Band and Full Moon sooner or later, though usually it was sooner, and frequently. It was his Tourist Trap that played in such endless rotation on late-night TV in Tulsa that people were forever writing to the Sunday TV Trivia column, asking what they’d seen. And it was often one of his frustratingly PG-13 rated flicks I’d stumble across as a teenager while clandestinely surfing late-night cable (oh, the false promises of Blood Dolls).
Indeed, it’d be safe to say that Band is one of the last men standing from the video era. Those were his tapes packing the shelves at all those Blockbusters (in addition to original content, it was his Wizard Video that distributed such horror gems as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Zombi on VHS). And while the brick and mortar stores may have crumbled in the face of Netflix, Band certainly hasn’t. Full Moon is still alive, kicking, and — like Band himself — has no intention of slowing down. With Puppet Master enjoying a renaissance and new content on Full Moon Features, Band has proven himself a master of horror capable of true staying power. The real-life Puppet Master sat down to chat about his career.
FANGORIA: Tell us about some of your earliest experiences with the horror genre?
Band: I was really, first, more a sci-fi and fantasy film fan. I didn’t grow up in the States, and there weren’t many movies that came over to Italy — where we lived, where my father made movies — so I was a big Marvel Comics fan … And then occasionally, something would come over like [The 7th Voyage of Sinbad], a Ray Harryhausen film, a couple of horror films that I was excited about as a kid. And then there was a time when — there was a revival house there, and they were screening — in Italian — I saw most of my early classic horror films in a different language — but they were screening all the classic Universal horror films that I just loved, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man and all that … Saw those movies at an early age and loved them … And then I saw movies like Night of the Living Dead — also in Italian —and that was probably the first real scary movie that I saw, kind of jumped out of my seat. Then shortly thereafter The Exorcist — which remains my favorite horror film — and others like The Shining and The Omen and so forth and so on.
FANGORIA: When you were first conceptualizing Full Moon, what made you want to make it a primarily horror label?
Band: My early movies were predominantly horror. I started a company called Empire Entertainment in ’82 and the first movie we made was Ghoulies, and of course we made sequels to that movie, and primarily a lot of horror fare: y’know, Dolls, From Beyond, Re-Animator, Troll. So during the ‘80s, I made a lot of those films under the Empire label. And then when I started Full Moon, I thought, what I really like and feel most able to deliver credibly are horror films.
FANGORIA: What is it about the horror genre that captures people’s imagination so?
Band: People like, historically, a good roller-coaster ride. One hundred-twenty years ago, I’d have been running a carny show. I’d have a carny act where you’d come in and see the dwarf and the fat woman and somebody swallowing swords and some sexy girls. If you go back centuries, two thousand years ago, people were entertained by Christians being fed to lions in the Coliseum, and that’s extreme as it gets, but over the years people do like forms of escapism, and I think the horror genre provides just that. It’s a roller-coaster ride, and if you’ve been successful you pull them into a fantasy world that is entertaining, and then they go back to their normal lives. So, I think it’s something that is actually healthy. Obviously too much of anything isn’t good, you have to moderate it, but I think it’s far better to have these fantasy, pretend games or moments or entertainment experiences rather than being out there and getting into trouble.
FANGORIA: What is it about Puppet Master that struck people’s imagination so?
Band: Part of the way I approached making all these movies, especially after the home-video explosion happened, was sort of at least trying to make — and this may sound weird —counterfeit “A” movies. We had 1% of their budget or less, but I wanted to do as well as I could, as far as delivering an incredible film ... They were big ideas but made very carefully … it was very important that the campaign, the art and title, were something that the customer — the video-rental customer — sort of felt like he or she missed it at the local movie theater. If a video feels like it was a big, feature-film release, and then you see it on the video store shelves next to Alien and Predator, you’re more apt to rent it than the competition. So, the campaigns were super important. And we didn’t hit it every time, and we knew when something worked, or something didn’t. But … we were usually in the top two or three independent releases that month … I really wanted to, again, give the illusion — when people saw this on their video store shelves in early 1990 — of a big, campaign-type poster where one would feel, “Yeah, I missed that in the movie theater, so I want to rent it because I didn’t get a chance to see it in theaters.” And that was one of the reasons the film was so successful. I had people years later say just that, that they’d missed it in the theaters, but they’d really love to see it. I think a combination of the way we sold it, and the artwork, and it was new and fresh, and we delivered a good movie. So, who knows, all in all?
FANGORIA: OK, I’ve got to ask: Do you have a favorite puppet?
Band: (Laughs) You know, mostly I’m asked if I have a favorite movie. They’re all kind of my strange children. I mean, I’ve got — I would have to say probably Blade and Six Shooter equally. But they’re all very cool in their own way. Strangely enough, Six Shooter — my initial concept was to have a ninja character and he had six arms and he could fight, and when I started working out the details with the wonderful David Allen, who was my stop-motion animator, designing these puppets from concept sketches, Dave was the one who came up with the idea of making him a cowboy. Which of course made his name more clever. So, he’s pretty cool. And Blade. But they’re all neat.
FANGORIA: Tell us about the role fans have had in your career and in making Full Moon what it is.
Band: I love the fans, love the feedback. I think I’ve done more than most in connecting with fans. I did over five, six years of hundred road-show tours, went all over the country, did stuff with fans. I was the first guy — back in 1990 — to put a program — we called it "The Video Zone" — which was a 20-, 30-minute video magazine that played at the end of all Full Moon Features. You got to see how the effects were done, and the actors, and what was coming next. And this was at the end of a VHS, before DVD special features and all that. Technology was different. So, if you knew there was a "Video Zone" at the end of Subspecies, whatever, you had to wind down past the end credits and then watch this kind of bonus featurette, which people really enjoyed. So, there’s always been a big connection to fans.
FANGORIA: How do you feel about Puppet Master as your legacy?
Band: Well, I feel like I’m just getting going here, so I’m far from thinking about my body of work so far. But — yeah, it’s probably true about Puppet Master, the series I’ve made the most features under, or the franchise that’s been the most prolific. The newest Puppet Master, which is Axis Termination ... is our 11th edition over 27 years, so that’s a lot of Puppet Master films. [Editor's note: Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich continued the carnage in 2018.] But there [are] eight other very active franchises like Subspecies, which I shot entirely on location in Transylvania, Romania; and Demonic Toys and Dollman; and more recently Killjoy and The Gingerdead Man, with Gary Busey bringing life into an upset cookie; and Evil Bong — we’re about to shoot our seventh Evil Bong, which has been a lot of fun.
FANGORIA: And you’ve got a unique platform to launch it from.
Band: It’s cool now actually in that — I wouldn’t say the video store has been replaced, because things are so fragmented, but we’re re-finding and reconnecting with our audience. We started a channel: The Full Moon Channel on Amazon. So, if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you just go to “Add on Subscriptions,” and you’ll find a bunch of channel options, and just go to “Full Moon,” and it’s really our new video store. All the movies I’ve made are there, other titles; we release two or three movies every single week … We also started one a few months ago in the UK and in Germany, and hopefully Japan is next, so it’s a good way to reconnect. And it’s a great deal. For $6 and change [$6.99], it’s a month subscription and you can play it on any device, and you’ll see my entire body of work and a lot of new material. And I’m excited about that. And if we can keep growing subscribers and get to a reasonable number, it’ll make a big difference. We can start making more movies and getting better budgets ...
FANGORIA: Any final thoughts?
Band: I’m excited about all the new projects … We’re gonna keep making some of the franchise movies we’re known for, but I love doing something new and different, and we have some of that coming out soon. Everything will premiere on the Full Moon channel. People can go on the Full Moon Channel and see what we’re up to. But it’s really exciting. I run into people all the time at conventions saying, “What happened to you guys? We used to rent all your movies at the local Blockbuster!” I say, ‘Well, nothing happened to us … Blockbuster went out of business.” So, it’s phenomenal people can watch our movies again.
Preston Fassel is an award-winning author and journalist whose work has appeared in FANGORIA, Rue Morgue Magazine, Screem Magazine, and on Cinedump.com. He is the author of "Remembering Vanessa," the first published biography of British horror star Vanessa Howard, printed in the Spring 2014 issue of Screem Magazine. From 2015 to 2017, he served as the assistant editor of Cinedump.com. Since 2017, he has served as staff writer for FANGORIA magazine. His first novel, 'Our Lady of the Inferno,' was the recipient of the Independent Publisher Book Award for Horror and was named one of Bloody Disgusting's 10 Best Horror Books of 2018. Twitter: @PrestonFassel