Interview – Charles Band

There is little debate the 1980s were a golden age for Horror films. Monsters, killers, vampires, freaks, zombies, or demons… there was something for everyone lurking around the corner of your local movie theater, or more so, your local video store. Highly memorable, it was also a time when more independent movies would be able to stand toe to toe with the big studios features thanks to the advent of home video rental. Among those finding success during this period was Empire International Pictures; who put out such titles as 1984’s Ghoulies, 1985’s Re-Animator, as well as 1986’s Troll. An inspiring tale, Empire was formed by the one and only Charles Band.

Band, involved in entertainment for over five decades now, is nothing less than an inspiring movie maker. Working as a producer, director, and writer in the ’70s into the early ’80s, Band would soon develop Empire to distribute his own films, before launching Full Moon Productions in ’88. A tale of persistence, vision, and passion, Band’s founding of Full Moon would result in a list of memorable Horror franchises; those which include Puppet Master, and also, Subspecies. Now in 2023 Subspecies rises from the crypt of obscurity once more with a brand-new film, Subspecies V: Blood Rise. An exciting time for fans, it is also for Charles Band who recently took the time to chat about his lengthy career, the return of Subspecies, the ebbs and flows of the movie making world, plus more. 

Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in the entertainment industry for quite a long time. Working as a producer and director, as well as being an entrepreneur who has run your own production/distribution companies, how would you describe your incredible journey in film?

Charles Band – It’s a ride, to some degree, of survival… because this is all I know how to do. The medium has changed so rapidly from when I began, that by the time you figure it out, everything changes and shifts, as it has now. I grew up on a movie set and I fell in love with the craft of moviemaking. My dad made films, I was lucky to have a great dad, and someone who taught me a bunch of stuff.

My taste was toward the Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror realm, and then I started making movies. It’s a mad treadmill, and the minute you step off the treadmill, it’s over. You have to keep running and ducking. I had good stretches and bad stretches too. I recently had dinner with my old friend John Carpenter, who was the editor on my first movie back fifty years ago… that’s Sci-Fi more than anything!

As an entrepreneur, I was not taught. I didn’t go to any particular school; I wish I had gone to a business school. You jump in, make mistakes, you pick yourself up, go back, and do it again. Luckily the good stretches have outweighed the real bad ones. Full Moon is doing really well and we’re excited about our little theatrical release for Subspecies. When you have fifty years to go back to and the medium has changed from film to Betamax to VHS to DVD to Blu-ray to now streaming… it’s a rainbow of madness. 

Ghoulies/ Empire International Pictures (1984)
Troll / Empire International Pictures (1986)

Cryptic Rock – Yes, there have been so many changes. You said you had a passion for film and grew up around film. Did those early years working as a producer prepare you for starting your own production company as you did?

Charles Band – Yes. You learn first that if you’re making small, independent movies, pretty much any distributor you’re in a deal with, whether they give you an honest count or not, that the deck is so stacked against you as far as ever seeing any money. I wanted to be prolific. I didn’t want to wait around like friends I have who make huge movies, but they wait three years in between jobs. Three years for me is twenty or thirty movies… not a movie in development.

You learn a lot. You learn initially, as I did in the ‘70s, that I needed to control my own distribution and I needed to jump into that game. I actually started with releasing a few movies theatrically; which is really scary, because it involved a lot of money back in the day. You make mistakes, you go, “Okay, that didn’t work.” Then I was lucky to be early on in the home video revolution; which sounds funny today, but it was back in the day.

You learn quickly. If your goal is to make one movie every so often and try to place it and take it to film festivals… that’s a different way to approach it. I wanted to have a business where I would be able to make the movies I wanted to make, within limitations, but actually make rent and survive. You do that by having to make money. Unless you go raise money and go lose other people’s money… you have to make money at the end of the day to support your movie making habit.

Cryptic Rock – Right, and you have survived, because here you are all these years later. You first launched Empire Pictures and moved onto Full Moon. Full Moon has done some great things over the years. What has your work with Full Moon been like?  

Charles Band – Thank you. In the ‘70s I more or less made movies for other distributors. Towards the end of that decade, I did some of my own distribution. I made a few movies that made money because we were able to sell them. For example, we made Parasite (1982) in 3-D (with Demi Moore), and we sold that to a company back in the day called Embassy. Then I made Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983), also in 3-D, and we sold that to Universal. Then I got into my own distribution with movies like Ghoulies (1985), Troll (1986), and all the Empire movies of the ‘80s.

As that decade was ending, again the business was changing, and I unfortunately had some partners at Empire who wanted to do this, and I wanted to do that. So, I thought it was better I start brand new and fresh with a label that will only distribute movies I make, or maybe a rare acquisition. That’s when I sold off my interest in Empire in the late ‘80s and I started Full Moon. I was lucky to already have a good reputation for making Exploitation movies and I went to a friend at Paramount and they right away made a deal. I said, “I have this idea for this movie, and if it does well, my thought would be to make a movie every month.” So, I made Puppet Master (1989), which was luckily very successful for everyone. Full Moon started a great roll of what we used to call ‘comic books of the ‘90s.’

For several years Paramount distributed Full Moon movies. We did things no one was doing back then. We had something called the Video Zone way back in the VHS days where people could watch a little bit about the making of the movie at the end of every one of our Full Moon features. A lot of those movies did well, and since then, we’ve made many sequels. The Puppet Master we are in post-production for right now is number twelve. We are really proud of the fifth Subspecies movie, which was released theatrical at Alamo Drafthouse.

We also had other franchises that have done well. We have made nine Evil Bong movies! Figure that out! We are the only company that has ever done it. There is the occasional weed centric movie, but I’ve been making Evil Bong movies for over fifteen years. It’s a fun series and there are apparently people who still smoke weed.

Dolls / Empire International Pictures (1986)
Puppet Master / Full Moon (1989)

Cryptic Rock – It is cool to hear about all the different franchises that Full Moon has been behind. Subspecies is a franchise that launched in the early ‘90s. Now you return with Subspecies V: Blood Rise, the first Subspecies feature in twenty-five years.

Charles Band – Yea, we sometimes take a break. (Laughs) You wonder why we took a break, because it was a very successful franchise at the time. We shot the first four Subspecies series in Romania, actually in large part, in Transylvania. But again, the business changed. The studio I built back in the day is still around and pretty much doing well; I’m no longer involved, but it is called Castel Film Studios.

Being in Romania in 1998-99 was less useful for Full Moon and we found other opportunities. I sold the studio, business got really difficult, home video was diminishing, which was our main source of income… and one day it vanished. One day, you couldn’t go to your local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video, because they were all closed. That began a really difficult stretch financially for Full Moon. I did everything I could to stay connected to the fans. There were a couple of years where I went on the road and did probably two-hundred roadshows called the Full Moon’s Horror Road Show. I went to different cities, we rented venues, and they were like mini conventions all over America.

Luckily streaming then arrived. I was super early on with that; six months after Netflix, I had Full Moon streaming. I remember the first month, I think we had eight subscribers… it was a very slow start. Then Amazon approached us, we got on board with Amazon because they loved our streaming site and asked us to be a part of what they were doing.

Anyway, as our fortunes turned again, after a lot of really difficult years, at the top of the list was, let’s finally make a Subspecies sequel while everyone is still in relatively good shape. Ted and I are really good friends, so we were talking about how to approach it; talking about doing a prequel, and finally, it was time. We were actually ready to shoot it just before the pandemic, but that messed everything up for a few years. We regrouped and shot it in Serbia; it is a beautiful, interesting place, and very similar to Romania with great locations and castles.

We shot the movie and it turned out really well. You wonder, why twenty-five years? Well, if money was no object, everything was awesome, and things were still the way they were in the early ‘90s… we would have probably made the movie twenty years ago. We got it done and I’m happy we had around thirty theaters open it. It may set a new pattern for some of the really cool movies we have in post-production. We have a big slant coming up in the summer of 2023. People are finding their way back to the theaters. I think it’s fun to go out, we can’t sit at home forever watching streaming movies and falling asleep.

Cryptic Rock – Exactly. It is exciting to go to the movies and experience a film in a theater. Subspecies V: Blood Rise is done extremely well. It brings back the feel of the older films. A prequel, what was it like to bring this new Subspecies film to life?

Charles Band – Again, I want to keep making movies that are interesting… I’ve never followed the pack. You think Charlie – over all those years you never made Slasher movies, and Slasher movies made money… but that really wasn’t my cup of tea. I think there are a number of movies, even dating back to the ‘80s that we’ve made, that really stand the taste of time because they are pretty unique.

Making Subspecies, first, was really ambitious for us.  Without revealing numbers, it is around four to five times what we normally spend on our films; our budgets are limited. I think movies today that we can make, if they are clever, well-written, and well-performed, which some of them are, need to be character driven. We are not going to outpace anyone with super expensive special effects; plus, I’m not even into all the CGI stuff that I see. These two-hundred-million-dollar movies are almost a dime a dozen… you can only watch so much of that. I say, give me something with characters you care about, people, and enough of CGI monsters, oceans, and explosions. We are sort of in that realm where we can do that, and hopefully do it in a clever way.

With Subspecies you can’t work around the fact that you needed those locations, horses, and stuff. That is why we were lucky to find Serbia as a good location. It was for us and for Full Moon at this point for whatever we are doing over here, but it was a big stretch. As the footage came in, because we see material every day, it looked so good. It feels like we could have made it in the early ‘90s when we had a lot more money to make movies than we do today. I was proud of how it was looking and then it was stitched together with all of that beautiful music. Ted did a great job with it. Also, here it is thirty years later for Anders Hove; the first Subspecies was in ’91, and I think he did great again too.

I think anybody who has enjoyed the Subspecies features will be happy with this one, and that’s not easy to do. It would have been really easy and far less expensive to create something modern day where Radu is in L.A. or a part of a thousand of other cheap stories… but we would have been crucified. (Laughs) I think we made something true to the series.

Subspecies / Full Moon (1991)
Bloodstone: Subspecies II / Full Moon (1993)

Cryptic Rock – Absolutely, you certainly succeed with that. With this revival of the Subspecies series, will this be the last film or is there the possibility of another?

Charles Band – Yea there is. I don’t know how to say this without sounding how it’s going to sound, but the only way people who enjoy these kinds of movies can keep a small company like Full Moon alive is to support us and sign up to our streaming channel.

It’s really interesting to go all the way back in the day, back in the ‘60s or ‘70s, you still had to pay three or four bucks to go see a movie. That was back when three or four bucks was like twelve dollars today. If you saw one to three movies a month, that was fifteen or twenty bucks. And most people saw more than that many movies… people really went to the movies back in the day. So, when you think of Full Moon, and our little $6.99 subscription, or a little over $5.00 if you buy it for a year… you can literally sit wall to wall and watch three hundred; but I’m not sure if you can even do that in a month though. Historically it is the best bargain ever.

Now, of course, you want to be attracted to what the streaming service has, and I wish we can make a movie every day, but you can’t do that. So, we have our library of hundreds of movies. People cannot only see all the Subspecies movies, but endless amounts of behind-the-scenes footage I shot. I started shooting behind the scene footage in the late ‘80s and that proved really useful for people to understand how we make these movies. We’ve got hundreds of our own movies and many hundreds of movies we picked up. Full Moon makes our own movies, we are not really acquiring movies, but we do license sometimes. We are kind of like an Exploitation website. We are on Amazon, and we give away stuff all the time. For example, something like – sign up and get a twelve Blu-ray boxset to Puppet Master.

The big difference is, one of the reasons the direct-to-video days was so good for small independents like Full Moon, and before that Empire, is it really was an even playing field. If you made a clever little Horror movie, it played, and if you had some kind of distribution, you got on the shelves of Blockbuster, Hollywood Video and thousands of independent stores. You got on the Horror film shelf right next to Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), and all the big studio movies that are a hundred times your budget. You got on the shelf though, and people discovered your movie. Today that does not exist. There is no single shelf, today; you have to subscribe to ten different streaming sites just to get a good sense of what’s going on… and most people can’t afford that. Unless you are on Amazon, and they put you somewhere in the top of their categories. Even then, if you’re not looking at Amazon and you are just on Netflix, then you are not going to see the movie on Amazon. The advantage of being where everyone was looking, I’ll be it for a weekend or two, was huge.

Now, we are Full Moon, we’re streaming, we’re doing what we can, but you still have to go to Full Moon streaming to see Subspecies V: Blood Rise. You still need to be able to do that. (Laughs) The world is really weird like that, and it will change, it always does change. Maybe five years from now there will be some other way to look at movies. Maybe it will be a little more even so you can choose movies that are not just, in many cases, really poorly made Hollywood blockbuster movies.

With Subspecies V: Blood Rise I approached Screambox; which I think does a good job. I said to them, “What if we do a deal and both Full Moon features streaming and Screambox co-release Subspecies V: Blood Rise on the same day?” They thought it was a cool idea and they offered a reasonable amount of money. So, on June 2nd, unlike all the prior Subspecies movies, people can watch Subspecies V: Blood Rise on both Full Moon streaming and Screambox. It is a co-streaming release. It is two little guys getting together and making the movie available for more and more people.

Cryptic Rock – That is a good idea. In response to your statement, you are right, it is a very odd time for consumption of media. Back in the ‘80s and into the ‘90s, you went to the video store. You would observe all the video tapes, see the artwork, strike curiosity, plus you might bump into people you knew. It was a social ritual. We need to find some way to bring something like this back. There has to be a happy medium.

Charles Band – I don’t know. I’m always optimistic, but it’s going to take some years. Things are changing, subscribers are going away, all the studios are saying how did we lose all this money?… and there will be something new. Will it be a platform that will allow everyone to see what’s going on? I don’t know.

I’m just happy we made a cool movie with Subspecies V: Blood Rise and we stretched to produce it. The Alamo Drafthouse theatrical premiere was neat. It was one day, it was not like we were out for two weeks at your local AMC theater, but maybe it led the way for some other things. We sold out some of the venues, which was cool. People may enjoy going back to watch a clever, cultish independent movie rather than sit at home.

Subspecies V: Blood Rise / Full Moon (2023)

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