STARBURST: With such a long and successful career what keeps you motivated to keep making films and moving forward?
Charles Band: If you do something long enough it just becomes part of you and part of your routine. I was lucky enough to be able to do it at a young age, and it was all I was interested in doing. There are rough patches, and as the business fluctuates so much, there are moments when you wonder why you’re in it at all. Then something good happens, and you make another movie and it all makes sense again. I never pretended that these movies are anything other than escapism or entertainment; I was never political and not everyone in the world loves horror or sci-fi, but the niche that do really enjoy them. I was lucky that when I started way back in the seventies, much like Roger Corman, there was still an opportunity to have your film released theatrically. There was no video or the other formats that we’re so used to today. You would wait eagerly for a movie to come to your local theatre, so as a young filmmaker, I could go along and watch my movies with an audience. Sometimes even a full house, who would be laughing, or scared, or both. There was an instant gratification. That faded away in the eighties with the direct-to-video revolution, but it’s great to still connect with an audience even if the medium changes. Now, I’m at a point where I wouldn’t know how to do anything else. We’re reinventing ourselves for the umpteenth time for the digital world, making movies every few months, pulling them out of a library and cleaning them up, and there are all the merchandise derivatives. It’s like the Full Moon brand is being introduced to a whole new, younger generation since the video store died. I guess I would have done some things differently but at the core is that I just love making these movies.
You touched on it a little, but do you think your career would have been vastly different had digital been around when you began?
For sure, because the opportunity would have been wider. I was lucky as I grew up around a father who made films, and while I wasn’t sure of what genre I would go into, by my late teens I knew it was what I wanted to do. My influences came from the Universal Monsters, the Italian filmmakers of the sixties and the comics I was reading, and I began to realise I wanted to make horror and fantasy films. I had the training, and I was pretty resourceful at a young age. I begged, borrowed and stole money in order to make my first movie. Today the price of entry is almost free. Back in the day, there were hard costs whereas today you make a movie in your garage for virtually no money. Today there is also little cinematic opportunity for B-movies. Then, if you made a movie for a reasonable price you wouldn’t lose money, and you might even make some. Today, there’s little chance of recovering even 10% of your budget. Right now, the business of making a small, clever, genre film is over. When I started, there was still the theatrical side, and then the video industry, and I was an early pioneer. The model was still make a movie and hopefully, make a little money. Today, there’s more exposure and inexpensive technology, and perhaps the talent isn’t as necessary, or the training and the experience. For me, and for Full Moon, with a library of over 300 films, the streaming world isn’t easy but we’re embracing it.
There’s a prolific festival circuit that exists in the genre market, and many fans may never have seen your films projected, so is that something you actively embrace?
Yeah, but it’s a rarified, unique and not very profitable market. When the local video store disappeared there was nothing left, and as we were still working movies we did a lot of conventions and festivals, and whatever we needed to do to reach even 1% of the audience. Some of the most telling comments at the festivals related to people thinking Full Moon were out of business, and my response was always the same: the video store where people discovered new movies were gone and even though my films were available all over the place, nothing has taken the place of the store yet. Until we got a channel on Amazon and people could see them all! Now we can direct people there and do our best to keep new movies coming and dust off the old ones, we’re finally seeing people reconnecting with films they couldn’t find for years. I’m finally optimistic that as we expand the audience will grow again.
There does seem to be a market out there as so many horror films take themselves very seriously, and there seems to be this need to make ‘hard’ sci-fi films; basically, they don’t make them like you do anymore.
My whole philosophy hasn’t changed. If it’s a horror or sci-fi film with a hard edge, and it’s well made, then I’m entertained. If there are blood and guts just for the sake of it, I’m not. I think my movies travel well. I’ve never made a slasher movie, I try to keep a fantasy element. Some people are freaked out by inanimate objects coming to life and so on, but they know it’s not real. A guy stalking around with a knife sticking it into people, that’s not entertaining. The whole torture genre was not my thing at all. My movies have an overall philosophy and I’ve done what I can to make them clever, a little humorous and entertaining. My favourite films are always off-centre a little. No-one really makes films like this anymore. We have a tiny budget so there’s only so much we can do, but these movies have stood the test of time more than so many of the horrors made in the eighties.
Many of your films have had sequels or crossovers, so when you hit on an idea do you see a lifespan for it, and maybe plan that way?
Any movie I made, if it was well received and did okay, then we would make a sequel. I just try to make the coolest movie I can within my means. With Puppet Master, I thought we might be successful, and with every new one we made I thought that would be it, but we’re now just finishing the eleventh. In truth, some of the films are not very well connected at all, and that’s inevitable with a series over twenty-five years. In general, I never dreamt them up with sequels in mind. I did always hope that in some movies I could team up some of the different characters we had in Full Moon, but through changes in the industry and so on, it wasn’t always possible. We had some team ups such as Dollman and Demonic Toys, but it wasn’t always possible.
The business side of moviemaking seems to have always been at the forefront of your mind. You seem to have had an eye for what is financially viable and what will work.
You have to - this is what I do and it’s my career. I wanted to be prolific. I have friends who make major studio films and get paid very well, but they have to wait two to three years between projects. For me, it’s hard to wait two or three days let alone years. But you have to keep on top of it, and if the money dries up then you make smaller films. I never had any formal training, and I made so many mistakes, but I was able to survive and learn. There are no partners or debt; if we can afford it, we make it and if we do well, then we can make more.
You mentioned you’d never made a slasher film, and you’ve spoken a little of your ethos, but what would you say really defines a Charles Band film?
Luckily, I can point to my body of work, and all you have to do is go to Amazon Prime, sign up, and hundreds of films are there. The nearest thing today to a video store. And we’ll keep adding things as they fit into the Full Moon mode. For me, one of the greatest horror films of all time is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre; when you think you see all these horrific things, and really you’ve seen nothing at all. The Exorcist is my favourite horror movie, but another one I love is The Sixth Sense. Luckily, no-one had tipped me off, so it really surprised me. How do I define my films? I don’t know, but if you watch enough then I guess you’ll get a sense of it.
You can find hundreds of CHARLES BAND movies and selected grindhouse treats streaming on demand at the FULL MOON Channel on Amazon Prime in the UK.