If you grew up watching horror movies in the 90s, there’s a good chance you’ve seen at least one film by Charles Band, head of Full Moon Features and creator of Puppet Master, Castle Freak, Head of the Family, Evil Bong, and many other cult franchises.
Full Moon Features recently launched The Deadly Ten, an extra feature on their website where you can watch live as their latest ten movies are shot. One of these movies is the first stand-alone feature in the Puppet Master franchise, Blade: The Iron Cross, which follows a timeline independent from the “bizarre universe” Puppet Master franchise which started recently with Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich.
Charles Band is to be awarded the 2019 “Time Machine” Lifetime Achievement Award at the Sitges Film Festival on October 5th, and he was nice enough to make time to speak with Crypt Teaze about his thoughts on this award as well as the future of Full Moon Features:
Crypt Teaze: What were your thoughts in finding out you’re going to get the Lifetime Achievement Award?
Charles Band: It’s kinda cool. Every time I hear life time achievement, I think, ‘Wow, I feel like I’m just getting going and just figuring this business out.’ It’s a pretty neat award to get, and Sitges is a really cool festival. It’s a sorta foreign notion, because if you start to look backward on your career, you’re screwed. It’s been forty odd years of staying alive in this business, some great Ups and really difficult Downs. I’m proud of the body of work we’ve created. But when you hear Lifetime Achievement, it just kinda feels like, ‘Wait a minute… I still have about five thousand more movies I want to make.’ Aside from that, it’s really cool. I don’t know much about it, I just know that Sitges is a cool place and a cool festival, and this is their 52nd year, which is amazing. Apparently, these awards are given in front of eight or nine hundred people, and there’s a lot of international press, so I’m happy that it may remind people about Full Moon, which, like any other independent studio, sort of dropped out of sight when video rental stores closed. Even though we fought hard to keep making movies, streaming took a toll. There was that gap when people used to go to their local video store to find movies I was making and many others. For us, now, with the streaming business, we’re just trying to reconnect with fans who’ve followed us.
CT: Speaking of which, and I’m sure you get this a lot, your movies were actually a big part of my love for horror as a kid. So thank you for that!
CB: That’s great! What’s fun is when we started with Puppet Master in the early nineties we were lucky to be distributed by Paramount, so we had a pretty strong distribution network. I was able to just keep making the movies I would’ve wanted to see as a fan. With monthly releases, with the whole Video Zone and video magazines dedicated to the upcoming releases and interviews with the effects guys, it really was cool for those first three or four years. We wound up, aside from being in tons of video stores and chains, we also had almost five thousand stores we were in touch with that had Full Moon sections, which was really a blast. I’d walk into some of those and do signings back in the day, and god damn, that was cool. But they began to connect the dots. Nowadays, online, you can find almost anything. But back then it was sort of the beginning of people connecting the dots.
CT: How was starting out in the film industry different than it is today?
CB: The process keeps changing, but the basics never change. If you’re making small, low-budget movies, they have to be character-driven, either fresh or different. Because “more of the same” is what most people do, and you need to set yourself aside. I remember all the trends, with slasher movies and erotic thrillers, and I always thought, ‘I may make movies that don’t follow that, because they’re not following those trends, but I think a lot of them have stood the test of time.’ You need a cool story with people the audience cares about, and it’s kinda like you’re making a camera fit a movie with a very limited budget. There’s no sense in doing something that’ll look silly because you’re trying to do Star Wars on a tiny budget. A lot of these movies that keep playing and do well are good stories that are well-directed, and the acting is good, and the effects are more minimalistic, which I prefer anyway. These big blockbuster films, I go see every one because I’m a movie junkie, but more and more it’s just these big loaded films where you don’t really care about anyone, and you start to think, ‘My God, I can’t believe they have another huge effects scene with a city being destroyed, and this thing’s already over two hours now.’ When effects were used very minimally, with all the fun movies we grew up, when the effects came they felt pretty special. Like with anything else, you get indigestion with something that’s just wall-to-wall special effects.
CT: What can you tell me about your latest and most ambitious project, Deadly Ten?
CB: It’s kind of an add-on to our normal streaming service. We’ve been on Amazon now for over four years on our own channel, Full Moon Features, and we launched our app, which you can get to by going to FullMoonFeatures.com. You can download it just about anywhere, so people can see our films on both channels. What I did was, ever since we had this concept of making ten movies all at the same time, was I created this site at DeadlyTen.com that’s free, with no strings attached, where you can go and actually watch us film with two separate crews for the entire production of each movie we make. We shot our fourth movie, Blade: The Iron Cross, which is essentially the twelfth Puppet Master film, and we have more coming. It’s really neat because from the minute we turn the cameras on in the morning to the minute we yell that it’s a wrap, there are two separate crews shooting the live stream, and it’s uninterrupted. So you can actually hang out and watch these movies being made, the entire process, and you can seriously spend a twelve-hour day seeing how something like this is put together. One camera’s pretty much an on-set camera, and the other’s roaming between effects, wardrobe, makeup, trying to grab interviews. It’s pretty much the ultimate ‘behind the scenes’ extra, not just a ten-minute featurette. It’s completely raw.
CT: That’s amazing! It sounds almost better than taking a film course.
CB: Yeah, and it’s free! I tell parents who are about to spend two-hundred-grand sending their kid to film school to just come and watch how it’s done. School has its place, but seeing a movie being made is a different experience altogether. You get to see all the hair-pulling, all the people getting overly frustrated or dramatic, and you see all the great moments too. It’s cool, because they’re all small sets and we have over a thousand people watching even though we’re just getting going. We’ve had some really nice reactions, and a few people have told us it’s an addictive experience, watching these movies being made, because they want to see all those ins and outs of the ‘making of’ stuff. You get pulled in.
CT: With Puppet Master continuing as two separate franchises, what’s the future with the characters and how is it expanding?
CB: Well, we’re sticking with our Puppet Master franchise while they do theirs. I licensed the right to make an alternate universe Puppet Master, called The Littlest Reich, which Cinestate did. It’s very different than the Puppet Master movies I’ve been making, so the two can definitely co-exist, and fans can enjoy both. I like to stick with what we’ve done, and in our world Nazis are really bad…I think the tagline to our new movie Blade: The Iron Cross is “Fuck Nazis,” even though we can’t really publish that. It all works, and I also made a similar deal with Cinestate for Castle Freak. They’ve remade it, and I’m involved as an executive producer. It’s their version, their take on Castle Freak. It’s kinda fun; it’s a bizarre universe take on what we’ve done. I hope these movies do well for them, and people can have a choice between which version they want to watch. I don’t think I’ll be making a sequel to Castle Freak ever, because the original stands on its own, but I’m excited to see what the new one looks like.
CT: When creating a horror mythology, what’s the most important element to you?
CB: Getting into the characters. The puppets have stood the test of time for sure, and they’re kinda unique, and nobody’s really ripped us off too badly yet. I think you have to have some emotion involved in these movies. I find it hard to go to a film if I’m not involved emotionally, even though it may be beautifully done, you kinda lose me. You need endearing characters, and we’ve had quite a few of them over the years. Even this whacky franchise I’ve been making the past several years, Evil Bong, that’s one of our most popular franchises. We’ve made eight of them, and I’m taking a little Evil Bong break for now. The kids in these movies are are sort of the types who keep getting in trouble, and they open up these weed shops and get pulled into this crazy and sexy universe. If anyone’s seen it, they’ll know what I’m talking about…they’re these fun and endearing characters, and that’s what keeps people coming back.
CT: How can fans support the future of Full Moon Features and other independent studios?
CB: People can support the few remaining independent studios, which I think there are less than about five, by staying involved and helping us keep moving forward. Troma goes back with us, and they do a whole different deal, nothing really similar to us. There are so few independent studios left, and we’re hanging our hat on the streaming services, because video rental’s long gone and how else are people going to see these movies? I think we keep making clever and well-crafted entertainment, and for six dollars a month you’re supporting the studios that continue to survive. In the old days it was ticket sales, and we were usually the b-side of a double bill, and then when video exploded it was all about how many units you sold, and now we’ve really morphed into this world where basically our channel, Full Moon Features, is a lot like publishing a magazine…you don’t really care how well any one movie does, you just hope that more people sign up for your streaming service because they’re entertained by the programming and keep returning. In a way, it’s the best deal ever for the fans, just six bucks for all our movies, and we’re constantly adding to the library. We have hundreds of movies available, and we’re putting up more literally every day, including the ones we license. Right now we’re making around one movie a month, when we’re lucky. And we license all sorts of stuff, like Eurotrash, exploitation films, all these stranger movies you don’t find elsewhere. When you sign up, you’re supporting us making new movies.