Charles Band (Part 3)
I'd like to start this second half of the interview by asking about a movie which was shot as Piranha Women, released in the UK as Piranha Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death but released in the USA as Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. The rumour was that someone had decided that US audiences wouldn't know what 'piranha' meant. Any truth to that?
"Gosh, I don't know! There may have been but that was a couple of decades ago! I don't remember is the answer, but I don't think that was the consideration. I think it just had more to do with 'cannibal women' seeming a funnier, more benign name than 'piranha women' - but I may be wrong. Maybe there was some concern about the movie Piranha and we didn't want to feel like we were ripping it off or sending it up. Which, by the way, is now being remade."
"That's right. But anyway, that was a fun movie. It turned out that Bill Maher has become extremely popular over the last seven or eight years because he has had two successful shows: Politically Incorrect and Real Time. He was the host and he's now a very respected political satirist but this is before he did any of that. He was a stand-up comedian. But he's in it and of course Adrienne Barbeau and some others."
Around the same time there was a movie called Intruder with Bruce Campbell and Sam and Ted Raimi. What is the story about that being heavily cut?
"What happened was really interesting. At that time we could not release that without an R rating and we did try to cut it down to an R. It was at a time when the ratings board was harder on independents. Then of course years, years later it was one of those pictures which had never been out on DVD and had certainly never been out in its uncut/director's cut form, so we did that. We went back to the material and pieced it all together, which wasn't easy, and it's coming out here in the US - the unrated Intruder.
“The people involved are amazing when you think about it. It was produced by Lawrence Bender and it's got Sam Raimi being killed in the movie and there's Bruce Campbell and Scott Spiegel wrote or directed it. It has, today, a very interesting group of people involved in what at the time was a very small horror film shot in a supermarket. So that will be out and we've made it available on our site. We've tried to make these pictures available to people a little bit earlier on our site so even if people only order a few at a time it goes out there and starts the word spreading. But I think that comes out some time next month here in the US. We are re-releasing it, or should I say releasing it for the first time, on DVD in the original cut."
Underworld and Rawhead Rex were Clive Barker's first forays into movies. How did you get involved with him?
"I met him at the time. We were very peripherally involved. I was involved however with the executive producer of those two films which were both shot in the British Isles. It was a distribution deal so we were not directly involved at all in any facet of the production. We may have been involved a bit in post-production. I don't really remember - it was a long time ago. They were interesting movies for the time but they were examples of films that Empire distributed for reasons beyond just wanting to do our own home-grown material. So they were acquisitions. I don't remember exactly how they came to us but they fitted the mould a little bit and we released them, but only in the US. They were sold, I believe, directly by the films' producers outside the US. I may be wrong, but that's what I remember."
Why did Empire, which was your company, start expanding into acquisitions?
"That's a pity. In a sense, Full Moon went that way as well and I'm just really hoping - and working hard on the new movies I'm making - that Wizard stays on track. Everything starts for the right reason. The original handful of films that Empire was releasing and pre-producing and pre-selling at the time were all my movies. I wasn't directing every one but they were certainly my concepts and I brought in people like Ted Nicolau and David Schmoeller and others to direct. The problem is, as more people get involved and the overheads go up, you have investors, the next thing you know you're doing things; much as you'd like to do it all you own way, you're beginning to agree to things.
“You need to run more 'product' as they call it - which I hate - but you need to run more product in the fourth quarter so we should really find some movies to distribute because, after all, we've got an expensive operation with a lot of overheads. There's all sorts of reasons why, when you sit there as a film-maker wanting just to make movies but you've built a bit of an empire, there are legitimate reasons why your partners or your banker say, 'Hey, you've got to use this more now as a machine and release other people's films.' Anyway, you begin to distribute yourself from the original intent.
“Maybe third time is a charm but with the new company now I'm absolutely intent that for as long as I can I'll direct every movie but I'll certainly conceive and produce and be very close to each movie here and do my best, first to try to stay as small as possible - as tempting as it is sometimes inasmuch as you get pushed a little bit - to stick to what we're doing and not expand and suddenly find things are out of control."
I was going through some old trade mags and found the Screen International Product Guide from the 1986 AFM. Empire had 32 full-page ads. It looks like it had got out of hand.
"For a few short years we were second only to Canon because sometimes it seemed like they bought the whole magazine! I think it did and I'd love to go back and do things differently. I have only myself to blame. I, ultimately, was the one who made the decisions - but you have partners, you have investors, you have advisors, suddenly you've got a few hundred people working for you. And I have no formal business training, I just wanted to make movies and I should have stuck to that. I could now write a book about it, I could certainly point out things and say why I wouldn't do that again, but back at the time these ideas and proposals made sense. They made sense short term, they never made sense long term."
Full Moon had a couple of spin-off labels. Torchlight was the more adult side of things.
"I have from time to time tried this - and I don't know if I'm going to do it again because I'm pretty set in the subgenre that I'm specialising in now. But the idea of making an erotic movie that is done with some care and is not just what seems to be everywhere on the market today, and tying in a fantasy element, try to make it at least acceptable or pleasant for couples. There's a business there that I don't think anybody's ever really tapped into. Today you either have extremely hardcore films which usually just appeal to me or the really lame simulated sex movies that are just silly.
“Torchlight was that idea but I lost focus. Later on I had another label called Surrender Cinema which made a few movies that were close to what I would have liked. But it's tough and you can only do so many things. That was back at a time when it made sense to have many labels and try to make 30 or 40 movies a year, which right now sounds absurd but back then it made some sense."
The opposite was the children's films label, Moonbeam, which seemed to do quite well because you made quite a lot of those movies.
"Yes, they did hugely well. They were, I have no doubt, with the exception of the Puppet Master series, the most successful films I've made financially, certainly of that era. I didn't really see any of the upside; it all went to Paramount, I was involved in a stupid deal over there. But putting aside who actually got what dollars, those were very well-received, very successful and very well-liked movies. Those movies started towards what they call 'tween', the young adult fantasy film. They were Disney-esque films, no question. In fact the early ones which were well-made, and I had my hand in those very directly, I actually directed a couple of them, those pictures as well as being very, very big direct-to-video successes they also all played the Disney Channel.
“My idea from day one was: let's make, at a budget, Disney-esque films, like Honey I Shrunk the Kids or something like that which tapped into the genre that I enjoy and let's have the leads be boys and girls somewhere around 11, 12, 13. Make them edgy, still PG. If I had to describe them today I'd say they were like Harry Potter, although Harry Potter is a little edgier than those films were; Harry Potter is approaching the R of the early eighties. Because they gave you an R for just about everything including just the 'vibe' of the movie.
“I once had that conversation: they said, 'You know, there's not one thing in this movie that really warrants the R but the overall vibe is a little bit too hard for a PG-13.' But they couldn't point to what I needed to cut out to not get the R. So that's how crazy it was back in the early '80s. Today there are R-rated movies that I've seen that, to me, look unratable. They're so violent with blood and guts and decapitations that I can't believe it, so I don't know what's next. Anyway, the Moonbeam films did very well. Those first films - there was Prehysteria, Dragonworld, Remote, Magic Island - they were made at a price and they all did very well."
The six Josh Kirby movies were a very ambitious project.
"Yes it was - and that was a complete failure financially. It was partly the fault, to some degree, of my relationship with Paramount and the support that really wasn't given at the distribution level. It was during that period that I moved away from Paramount and started trying to do some other films. That was difficult and there was a regime change at the same time which didn't help, over at Paramount. Anyway, it was ambitious. I love the serials of the thirties and forties so that was the absolute inspiration for the Josh Kirby series. But it should have been handled differently, they should have been released differently, they should have been promoted differently.
“My whole idea was to build consumer awareness which would have been a much more expensive marketing ticket than just letting video retailers know about the film. Because if you get everyone hooked on the first episode and they enjoy it and the kids like it and you let them know that on a certain date two months later, much like a serial in a movie theatre, part two's coming out, you leave them hanging. They were designed as cliffhangers. The theory was that people would be looking for it two months later at their video store and driving those sales. But you also needed to do what everyone does today, you needed to promote it at a consumer level, which never happened. It was ambitious and maybe a little ahead of its time. Its hard to imagine but this is back in the day when DVD did not exist."
The Josh Kirby pictures were shown a few months back on British TV, presented as a TV series.
"Well, those dollars are certainly not coming to me! They're going into Paramount's coffers somewhere."
Go back to Part 1 of this very long interview, where Charles Band discusses Wizard video, puppets and dolls, Mansion of the Doomed, Last Foxtrot in Burbank, Christopher Lee and Laserblast.
Or go back to Part 2 where he talks about Tourist Trap, sequels, Trancers, Puppet Master, Subspecies, Dollman, Shrunken Heads, Troll and The Dungeonmaster.
Or jump to Part 4 where he talks about Filmonsters, JR Bookwalter, digital video, William Shatner and DVD Special Editions.