We Irish like to think of March as our month. Sure, St. Paddy’ Day is just on the 17th, but I’ve always felt March, with Spring slipping in, is a great time to be green and tipsy. More so this year, considering the miles of shit we’ve had to trudge through just to get here.
I bet you think I’m going to talk about Leprechaun movies? Too easy. However, Leprechauns are diminutive creatures, kind of like talking dolls or toys, which brings me to…
Back in the day, video store horror regulars were split in two camps – those who loved Troma movies, and those who loved Empire International/Full Moon Features. Sure, we all dug The Toxic Avenger despite the fact it looked like one of the home movies that weird kid down the block made in his backyard. I could endure Class of Nuke ‘Em High and even Surf Nazis Must Die, but it always felt like a slog through a thick swamp — and I’m talking a Jersey swamp that was most certainly home to innumerable mobsters that had been deep-sixed.
My girlfriend, who I was rapidly indoctrinating into the world of horror, couldn’t stand anything from Troma. She thought those movies were the cinematic incarnation of a drunken conversation with my friends at a house party. In both cases, copious amounts of kamikazes helped make things much more palatable.
When we hit up the video store on a Friday night for our usual five movies (the limit for the weekend was three, but we were VIPS not just because we rented a ton of movies, but also because we were almost always late in returning them, which meant we were walking, talking cash machines), we’d make a hard right from the Troma shelves and lock our orbs on anything Charles Band had to offer. The master of horror with a slice of dark humor, Band cranked out flicks faster than a meth lab in Florida. It seemed that there was a new one every month. And even if there wasn’t, hell, we could always watch Puppet Master II for the seventh time.
There was a certain aesthetic to Charles Band movies. When we spotted a cover to a new video, we’d just know it was a Band creation without even reading the box. The man loved to inject utter evil into creations that looked like they belonged in the toybox of a demented child. I’d love to interview him to find out just what the hell went on in his childhood. And he loved Lovecraft, or at least wild interpretations of Lovecraft stories.
In the eighties, under his Empire International banner, we got a break from slasher movies and feasted on popcorn during marathons that featured Ghoulies (a Gremlins-esque knock off), Crawlspace (Klaus Kinski at his nuttiest), Dolls (a Stuart Gordon movie that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves) and Creepozoids (a cheapo Alien imitation with Linnea Quigley that had my favorite cover art). Oh, and let’s not forget that this same studio gifted us Re-Animator and From Beyond. Band’s movies invited you to laugh with them, not at them. They may not have been the most inventive of all time, but so what? Roger Corman has become a legend driving on the same track as Band.
As the eighties waned, Empire International went bankrupt. Hey, shit happens. Shed no tears for the man, because Band came back quickly with Full Moon Features and hit his stride with a little series called Puppet Master. Nipples hard! The first time I saw Blade, the leader of the murderous puppets, I said to my then fiancé, “Hey, that looks like Klaus Kinski!” It wasn’t until many years later that I learned that’s exactly who they based his character on. I toyed with the idea of asking her if we could name our son (should we ever had kids) Tulon. The woman has her limits, so I kept that to myself. Until now. If you’re reading this honey, you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing we’re past those baby-making days. Though it would be nice to have a little grandson name Tulon. Or Blade.
Then came Demonic Toys with the lovely Tracy Scoggins, which to me was just a mashup of Puppet Master and Dolls. Not as good as either, but fun for a night cuddling on the couch. They went on to battle Dollman, but I’m still waiting for them to be pitted against the full cast of Puppet Master.
We watched all of the Subspecies movies multiple times and Castle Freak became a regular in the rotation. Both had that eastern European vibe complete with chilly castles and hideous baddies. Not as campy as many of Band’s earlier movies, but effective all the same. On a side note, if you decide to watch the remake of Castle Freak, produced by Barbara Crampton this time around, stick with it to the end. I know you’re going to want to poke your eyes out at one point, but as my tattoo says, never give up. The payoff is bonkers. And for shits and giggles, highly recommend it to your non-horror friends. They’ll never look at you the same again.
Now, we never deluded ourselves into thinking any of these movies were high art (though for my money, Re-Animator comes close). These were the heady days of direct-to-video horror where studios were spending more time creating captivating VHS cover art than an even remotely entertaining movie. One thing Band’s movies always did was entertain. He gave us Stuart Gordon and Jeffrey Combs and turned all of our precious toys into wide awake nightmares. Where I knew a Troma movie was going to test my ability to make it through to the end, we could count on a few laughs and some outrageous, low budget moments in a Band film.
Band’s preoccupation with tiny things gone wild probably deserves a deeper study with a few head shrinkers to pry the WTF out of it all. Personally, I’m curious but don’t need to know the why. All I want is to be able to kick back and watch some puppets/toys murder the ever loving shit out of people. Now, after writing about it, I think I’m going to dig out my Puppet Master collection. Hmm, maybe I should rename the cat Tulon.
Hunter Shea is the product of a misspent childhood watching scary movies, reading forbidden books and wishing Bigfoot would walk past his house. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal—he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself. You can follow his madness at huntershea.com.