There can be no talk of Full Moon Features without some talk of Charles Band himself. Not only is he the ubiquitous name, face and personality behind Full Moon, he is also a noted writer, director, actor and producer who has even written a couple soundtracks in his day and has a musical style to his instrumental synthesizer themes that I can best describe as sounding like funerary music as written by Jan Hammer. While some circles of critics and reviewers consider him a hack, all must concede that is he is at least a hack of all trades if not the closest thing we have to a modern B movie Renaissance man, (even if most people can’t think of a single movie he has done since Puppet Master). Anyway, this is THE CHARLES BAND COLLECTION a 4 DVD set of early 90’s sci-fi, back in the day when Full Moon was partnered with Paramount pictures and enjoyed a much bigger budget on their films.
From 1987 to 1990 there was a television show called BEAUTY AND THE BEAST that commanded a cult following especially among cat ladies, gay men, and nascent bestiality fans. Starring Linda Hamilton (Catherine) and Ron Perlman (Vincent), it was a gauche, bizarre romantic bit of twaddle that I personally remember as one of the most infuriating network television about man/animals since…well, MANIMAL. It was supposed to be a story of a perfect romantic love that reaches across species lines which was full of passion yet was never consummated. I openly concede that American prime time viewing audiences of the day would have surely lost their minds if they would have seen onscreen depictions of winsome Linda Hamilton getting plowed by what looked like Chewbacca’s retarded brother but it was an abysmal show for other reasons as well. The tame, lame “Oh, woe” tale of the unconventional relationship between a physically strong beast who didn’t disembowel anyone and a sexy human female who never so much as kissed the godless monster she apparently was in complete and utter romantic love with, made me secretly hope that both Catherine and Vincent died of rabies from their unnatural affections (even as I wished for a more bestial version).
Of course, someone at Full Moon was obviously thinking the same thing, because in 1990 a VHS film called MERIDIAN came out which seemed to be inspired by the old CBS show only violent, chock full of nudity and somehow just about as dumb. Still, this goofy film held a special place in my heart that doesn’t bear critical explanation, perhaps as inexplicably as the fans of the original “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” who believed that a pretentious, brooding, manic depressive, man cat that lives in the New York sewer system might just be the most dashing example of Prince Charming incarnate, if not the perfect gentleman.
Initially, MERIDIAN is the story of two hot twenty-something’s friends touching base while pursuing a life in Italy. Catherine (Sherylin Fenn) has just inherited the same family castle that has appeared in over 10 full Moon Features so you know something bad is about to happen. Her friend Gina (Charlie Spradling) just happened to get a job repairing priceless works of art for the Vatican. When the two meet up to compare notes on their exciting new life paths, lifeway’s and just to “hang out” they come across a traveling circus of street performers who Gina presumptuously invites back to Catherine’s mansion without even so much as consulting with her first. There is a dinner with much levity and merrymaking until the lead troupe performer drugs both of the women’s drink, rendering them unconscious all so he can have sex with them at the same time in a different room. Did I mention he is immortal, not real and in fact his own evil twin? Thankfully the impossible dreamlike surrealism of it all helps conceal the lurid love scenes which are actually a montage of dual date rapes shot in smoke machine splendor that successfully dramatizes the real life horror of such an act of sexual violence and forces you to see it as dark fancy if not romantic fantasy. Though it sounds impossible, and probably deviant of me to say so, this is easily the most remembered sex scene in ANY Full Moon feature from the nineties and the one moment film cult moviegoers (of both sexes, strangely enough) absolutely gush about; perhaps the only reason why anyone would even remember this film because Sherylinn Fenn sans clothing is positively more beautiful that we are used to getting in B movies such as this.
But once the smoke machine fog dissipates and the strangely beautiful orchestral soundtrack fades to silence what we are left with is a goofy little B movie that doesn’t make sense. It seems the two male incubi from the first scene are actually two split personalities inhabiting the same body and the conversations where they quarrel amongst each other in complicated emotional two-part soliloquy seems like the stuff of bizarre melodrama if not late eighties Calvin Klein perfume commercials. Seriously, one of them waxes poetically about how much he loves, loves, loves everything while the other growls in an angry tirade about how he can only hate, hate, hate…At least the two have a constructive dialogue where they can talk about their differences. Of course one of the two twins can also morph into a “beast” who likes to visit Catherine in her dreams and encourage her to set him free from an ancient family curse in a way that only she can...Of course, Gina is off in another corner of the film carefully revealing a hidden image in a centuries old painting, taking so long to scratch the paint away scrape by scrape that it almost seems she is working in real time. Eventually an image is revealed that is the key to the whole puzzle. If all goes well Catherine will destroy the evil twisted clone that drugged and raped her and live happily ever after with his identical twin prince Charming figure…who drugged and raped her. I just love storybook endings!
MERIDIAN, living proof of two gender based truisms in film. The first one is that most women don’t care what type of untoward, sexist behavior goes on in a film whatsoever if it is romantic; passionate enough in its presentation. The second is that men don’t care how sentimental, sappy and stupid film is as long as there are prolonged shots of beautiful naked breasts. This is one of the successful attempts by a B movie company to appeal to all audiences, resulting in a film that is never forgotten once having seen it…even if they are not altogether sure why two decades later…
While this film is not high art, compared to the original BEAUTY AND THE BEAST television show this is either Shakespearian in its complexity or an offensive bit of sexist trash that will make fans of the original series weep openly if not emotionally scar them for life. For the life of me I don’t know which makes me remember this film with greater childlike fondness.
CRASH AND BURN (1990)
First of all, you shouldn't get too hung up on the giant robot on the cover, it takes about the duration of the movie to get him activated and even when he is, the ONLY thing he does is lift a giant tower off a man's leg, then step on a bad guy before collapsing back into the junk heap from which he was resurrected only a minute before.
In fact, if you strip away all the giant stop-motion robot rough housing that is always implied but never actually occurs, you have an average little thriller that pays homage to several classic famous sci-fi movies from the eighties. In the year 2030 the world is a burned-out wasteland which is ruled by an all-powerful private company named Unicom (Think ROBO-COP's Omnicorp) which rules the now-bankrupt United States with the following rules, all punishable by death. First of all, no private citizen is allowed to own a personal computer due to the fact that they helped cause the financial collapse which ruined the country (interesting, does anyone remember when the Wall Street computers went all Skynet on the great “flash crash” of 2010?). Another law is that there is to be no use of robots, especially deadly BLADE RUNNER-like replicants, or ALIEN-like cyborgs. Of course, there is one clause to this ban; if you are Unicom, it helps if you secretly hire as many of the evil "terminator" humans to secretly harass, suppress and murder anyone who doesn't agree with your new ideas of running your country under martial law...
CRASH AND BURN takes place in a small public access television station which is known for its occasional anti-government stance. Because the world is now a desert, with temperatures reaching 110 degrees in the shade, a small, motley band of people inhabit the studio and operate like a family. We have Lathan Hooks, the curmudgeonly studio owner; his granddaughter Arren, eye candy for the film?s intended teenage viewing audience demographic; Parice, the teacher who runs an interactive education show to teach children; and, a gruff but cool technician named Quinn. And there is the local talent, a fat despicable bastard who has his own show on the network because his father owns the station. With Winston come a couple of prostitutes named Sandra and Christie and rounding out the group is our intrepid, mullet-clad hero Tyson Keen who looks like a cross between Rick Springfield and Mad Max. Shortly after the arrival of Keen, a murder occurs and this impromptu band of survivors are first fighting for answers and then for their very lives.
This film is a mixture between THE THING and ALIEN with just a hint of classic TERMINATOR. As it becomes all too obvious that someone among them is a robotic murderous imposter the employees of the station are forced to work together in order to figure out who the doppelganger is. And as is necessary for all films of this type, this flick takes place in a dangerous, desolate location that makes it impossible for anyone to just flee for their lives, once they logically realize they can only truly trust themselves. How does it work? Pretty serviceable despite the "bot and switch" tactics talked about at the beginning of this review where the packaging promises us a giant killer robot and some scenes of rockem sockem robot violence, but instead delivers us the eighty-foot, sixty-second cinematic version of a coin-operated crane game from the county fair.
DOCTOR MORDRID (1992)
Mild-mannered occult authority by day and reclusive landlord by night Dr. Mordrid has a secret. It appears he is actually a powerful wizard who has been watching, waiting and preparing for the day his arch nemesis Kabal would escape from the celestial prison then make his way back to earth to enslave the entire human race, an assignment, a cataclysmic event he has been waiting the last 150 years for. It plays out like the HIGHLANDER story only if it was played by immortal wizards instead of sword-wielding fighters. But aside from that quick twist of fate and sudden shift of the same old Dungeons and Dragons character class of the principals, everything here has been done before, and usually with just a little more magic.
The only people who will love this film are not lovers of modern futuristic sci-fi sorcery but fans of the original Ray Harryhausen SINBAD movies from the 1970's. If you compare this film to works of that era, the scenes in the museum where our two wizard foes use 1980's special effects to reanimate large dinosaur fossils to fight each other in stop motion will seem like a very new and well-done rendering of an old-school skeleton stomp. For the rest of us, those among us who have actually seen JURASSIC PARK, what we get is the guy from RE-ANIMATOR (Jeffrey Combs) fighting the head cop-killer from COBRA (Brian Thompson, the guy who carried the most wicked-looking knife in cinema history).
If you remove the whole evil vs. good spell-caster scene (and the top notch visual effects) from every Harry Potter movie, this movie is like watching the same old testosterone pissing contest between two inseparable childhood friends turned enemies over the years, or in this case, two wizards who grew apart in their teens as they grew infinitely more powerful as sorcerers in their own right. Sadly this film’s climax is a contradiction in terms. I think Harry Potter has spoiled us, made us expect more from a film where two men with magical abilities square off twenty spaces apart cowboy style and try to kill one another with any conceivable visual thing that a writer can describe or a graphics department can realistically render.
From there it plays out as the same thirty-second battle of the wizards as in THE LORD OF THE RINGS between Gandalf and Sarumon, only looking slightly gayer than Ian Mcellan himself in a white bridal dress. This film shall NOT pass.
HEAD OF THE FAMILY (1996)
Ironic, witty and dark from the very first moment that the title makes sense, this is the story about the Stackpools, four mutated non-identical twins who live in a big house near the old town of Knob Hollow and make their living kidnapping people and performing experiments on them. But the Stackpools are so much more than the bloodthirsty ghouls you might otherwise expect them to be from this simple description. Each one of them has vastly different mutation/super abilities and they live together as a tight knit family clan that works together to better distract, track then subdue more victims. Wheeler is a tall slender man with intensely acute bug eyes and super hearing who says very little. Otis is a profoundly retarded man who has the same hairstyle and body strength of He-man. Ernestina is a perfectly-built blonde bombshell who uses her feminine wiles to distract victims and Howard is the titular and comedic literal "head" of the family himself, a hyper-intelligent encephalitic man in a wheelchair with a head the size of a melon, who is physically weak but can (usually) telepathically control the other three freaks in order to keep him in a steady stream of test subjects for his brain experiments. Simple folk that they were, The Stackpools might have gone on as they had forever, rerouting traffic into their property and waylaying random passerby but one day a local country cracker named Lance sees them "taking care of business" and figures they would be just the people who could help him out of a very delicate decision. It seems that Lance is having an affair with the wife of Myron the town local hustler and no good hood, and he would just love a way to get rid of him, so he extorts the Stackpools into helping him, making Myron disappear forever. Once this is done, he still sees a use for the murderous mutants so he then tries to blackmail them for cash. The Stackpools of course, have other ideas and that is where this one really gets good.
This film is awesome, everything you would want in a lighthearted B-movie. Normally a flick filled entirely with immoral, murderous bad people and no central good characters bogs down because the audience doesn't have anyone to root for, but in this one fate somehow knows which bad folks to kill off at the end so there is satisfaction. It is chock full of full frontal nudity too, usually provided by Jaqueline Lovell who is often known as Sara St. James, the soft core porn princess who has appeared in several Surrender movies I have reviewed thus far and in fact plays the title role of LOLITA 2000. Finally it must be said that the Stackpools themselves are hilarious in their behavior, acting like an exact cross between the heavily thematic silly characters in THE ADDAMS FAMILY and the more insidious Firefly clan from THE DEVIL'S REJECTS who also have prison cages in their basement filled with innocent victims who are alive, albeit barely. It will captivate you too. Additionally, if you loved the (1991) Chevy Chase/Demi Moore film NOTHING BUT TROUBLE, this seems like the FULL MOON Version of that, only slightly cheaper; meaner.
I am not going to say that this boxed set was memorable or that it contained the flawless, highly polished, well known film gems which many modern audiences seek, even in the rare event they can even remember the name of a certain straight to video VHS release from 20 years ago. However, the one positive thing I can say is I am personally glad Charles Band and by extension Full Moon is still out there turning out countless movies of questionable critical acclaim. With the recent sale of Lucasfilm to Disney, filmgoers everywhere lost the largest independent studio in existence. Though they are decidedly lower tier than Lucasfilm, Full Moon is one of the last thriving companies creating new B-movies every month and taking chances while so many other companies are just packaging and re-releasing the same films from twenty years ago. If you love goofy movies of whatever age and you, (like myself) just have a hard time losing yourself in modern, beautiful, computer generated fantasy worlds that are primarily designed for children and other virgins, you might as well give some of these flicks from the past a look, because compared to the questionable future of the independent R rated film, Full Moon’s contributions to Blockbuster’s bottom shelf from the days of videocassette may as good as place as any to look for the obnoxious entertainment that appeals to the perpetual teenager within. I will give it three skulls because most of these films were created on Paramount’s pocketbook meaning they actually took place on elaborate outdoor sets that even Full Moon can’t replicate anymore. Look, these aren’t refined, digitally remastered or exquisitely crafted. Yet I firmly believe that nostalgia is undeniably a “quality” all its own, even if only as a basic noun.
Extras include some Videozone extras, behind the scenes featurettes and Trailers from other films.
Grab your...ahem...box, here.