John Carpenter once joked that after the apocalypse happens, two things will survive: “Cockroaches and Charlie Band.” That soundbite doesn’t sound kind but it’s not the insult it might seem to be on the surface.
And that’s because Band is one of the few true survivors of the b-movie market. No matter what the passage of time and the entertainment business have thrown at him, he’s managed to outlive shifts in the marketplace that killed off many a b-movie mogul. He’s kept his Full Moon empire alive in some form or another since the early 1990’s, staying true to his obsessions and cranking out an array of films for each new crop of budding b-movie enthusiasts.
With the exception of a few “ain’t it kitschy?” news pieces about The Gingerbread Man or Evil Bong, it seems like mainstream press coverage for Full Moon declined alongside its budgets – and that’s a shame because the story of Full Moon doubles as a history of the changes the b-movie marketplace has gone through over the last few decades.
Thankfully for genre buffs, Dave Jay – who also spearheaded the worthwhile Empire Films chronicle Empire Of The B’s – has returned to the subject of Band’s filmography to produce It Came From The Video Aisle!, an informative and colorful chronicle of Band’s Full Moon era. In addition to bringing back his cohorts from that book, Torsten Dewi and Nathan Shumate, Jay has beefed up his roster of contributors with Matty Budrewicz, Dave Wain and the Video Junkie blogging team of William Wilson and Thomas Sueyres.
It Came From The Video Aisle! is different in a few key ways from Empire Of The B’s. For starters, it downplays the graphic design focus of Empire in favor of a more text-driven approach (there are plenty of pictures but they’re smaller in size).
The other is that while It Came From The Video Aisle! is roughly chronological in order, the film-by-film approach of the last book is abandoned in favor of a narrative approach that explores films in the context of a particular production era. It starts off big with Full Moon’s collaboration with Paramount, gets into tighter, more turbulent years with Kushner-Locke and covers a brief, controversial alliance with J.R. Bookwalter’s Tempe Entertainment before Band decides to go it alone. Subsequent chapters explore topics like a company renaming (Shadow), distribution of other filmmakers’ work and the studio’s current streaming orientation.
It’s also worth noting that the first three-quarters of the book avoids in-depth discussion of major Full Moon franchises like Puppet Master or Trancers until a final section devoted entirely to those franchises. Such gambits demand a little more attention from the reader than the last book did but It Came From The Video Aisle! pays off on these quirks by using them to deliver an absorbing narrative.
Jay sets the pace and the style as he and his collaborators break each of the book’s chapters into a series of essays, sidebars, interview and the occasional personal remembrance piece. This allows It Came From The Video Aisle! to weave together a variety of viewpoints while also shifting storytelling approaches, keeping the book from getting stodgy in its approach and allowing the reader to get a three-dimensional perspective on the company, its output and the evolution of the b-movie business itself.
Along the way, exploitation film enthusiasts who haven’t followed Band’s productions closely since the Empire days will learn a lot. For example, Sueyres and Wilson contribute a trio of essays that explore different projects influenced by Band’s short-lived creative liaison with legendary comic artist Jack Kirby. There are also interesting explorations of Full Moon sublabels like Moonbeam, their lucrative kid’s movie arm, and Torchlight and Surrender, Full Moon’s short-lived but prolific dalliances with softcore erotica. Particularly interesting are the sections that reveal how Band pioneered the idea of shooting movies in Romania, playing a key role in creating and building a professional production infrastructure that would later be exploited by major Hollywood studios.
All the essays involve interviews, many of them done especially for this book, plus there are periodic stand-alone interviews that earn their own subchapter. The participants are all frank about their experiences, though some couch their viewpoint into a fondness for Band and others are more sanguine about the heartbreaks of low-budget filmmaking. Some of the best interviews include a chat with Mel Johnson, Jr., a Broadway vet who ran Full Moon’s short-lived “urban” sublabel, and a fun sitdown with Shane Bitterling, a screenwriter who offers some keen insight into what it’s like writing scripts for Full Moon in its current micro-budget era.
That said, the most eye-opening interview here is the one with Bookwalter, who was the prime mover in Full Moon’s most controversial era with Tempe. He definitely holds downs the “sanguine” part of the interview spectrum, offering a take-no-prisoners and often self-critical look at the work he did with Band (there are also some fascinating, darkly funny tales about producing William Shatner’s ill-fated passion project, Groom Lake).
The part of the book Full Moon fans will like the most is the final chapter, which offers film-by-film looks at each of the major Full Moon franchises, covering everything from well-known stuff like Puppet Master and Trancers to more cultish, recent fare like Killjoy and Evil Bong. As with the other chapters, there are plentiful interview clips to add extra insight but the key here is the passion the different contributors have for their subjects. These pieces are b-movie archaeology of the first order and are worthwhile enough to justify the purchase of this book alone.
In short, one can look at Band’s Full Moon years in a couple of different ways: you can lament the death of distribution and funding opportunities for independent genre filmmakers or you can revel in Band’s ability to reinvent himself and stay positive about what he does when times are tight. It Came From The Video Aisle! takes the latter approach and a read of this comprehensive tome will be impressed by the case they make for Band’s b-movie resilience.