Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Band on the Run! (Part 2 of 2)

Hanging with Charlie Band under the Full Moon...

If you'd like to know more about Charles Band and his movies, your local library is a good place to...kidding! Check out part one of this two parter, my historical perspective on the filmmaker, using the link to the right.

    On October 16, 2009, I jumped in my car with my wonderful wife Suzie and we headed up I-40 to Raleigh NC. I was wondering if this was going to be like a stadium event, with thousands of attendees and hours of waiting in lines to see a tiny Charles Band in the distance, or would Full Moon's niche status make this a smaller, more intimate thing? We arrived at the venue, which was a bar called Volume 11 (nice Spinal Tap reference there). The parking lot was relatively small, and about a third full. Visible near the building was the SUV and trailer that carried the Full Moon Roadshow from city to city, all decked out in the company logo and looking cool. I wish now I'd gotten a picture, but oh well. There were about 8 people lined up outside, and Suzie and I joined them. Some of them knew each other, though it was obvious they'd met up at the show instead of coming together. They were all chatting about previous experiences meeting Charlie and going to conventions Full Moon had appeared at. I had none, so Suz and I just stood quietly and listened. The show was scheduled to begin at 8:00pm, and we'd arrived early, around 7:20 or so. There was no other activity around the club, and I was happy we were so close to the front of the line.

The picture so nice I used it twice!

    Eventually it turned out we were seemingly waiting for no good reason, as the bar was open. We stepped inside, where a guy checked our tickets but thankfully did not rip them or take them, leaving us a nice souvenir. (Sure, I have four, but that just means more scrapbooking possibilities!) The guy also gave us a special ticket, because our admission also came with a special contest: everyone who came to the show was entered in a drawing - the winner would be invited to participate in the filming of a big mass electrocution scene Band was planning for Gingerdead Man 3 - yes, it was a no expenses paid trip - meaning you'd have to get yourself to Los Angeles and put yourself up when the scene was to be filmed in order to participate - but still a neat idea - and I planned to pass the chance along to one of my pals in Los Angeles if I won. (Digression: this was not the first time Charles Band killed a lot of people in one movie scene as a kind of prize - back in the glory days of Full Moon he arranged for several videostore and video chain owners who'd purchased a lot of his product to come out to Los Angeles to be "killed" by having them all in a bus that goes off a cliff in the movie Shrunken Heads.)

Help set a world record, and make movie history! Uh...yeah!
    Back at the Roadshow, we went on into the club, which consisted of a large area with the bar, and a second large room with a small stage which was where the show proper would go on. There were probably either side of a hundred people there, not all present for the Roadshow, some just apparently at their favorite Friday night watering hole. What the hell? The more the merrier! Or, the more the money-er! Because let's make one thing perfectly clear: Charles Band is an old time huckster. Almost everything Full Moon does is geared in some way to sell you something. As I said in the previous blog, every movie they've made in the last ten years features some kind of living toy, animated inanimate object, or little creature that can be marketed as a "collectible figure" and of course there are DVDs, posters, T shirts and the like available through the Full Moon website. So as you might expect a big part of the Full Moon Roadshow was going to be about moving some merchandise. I have no problem with this - it's no different than the old roadshow presentations that would show the audience some kind of seamy movie ostensibly in the interests of "public education" then try to sell dirty picture books after the show as "educational" material. Therefore, I was not surprised that the bar area was filled with tables and tables of Full Moon branded stuff for sale, surrounded by some not-for-sale props from the movies (though I wonder how long Mr. Band would resist selling them if you started throwing piles of filthy lucre at him). I wasn't sure I wanted Suzie walking around the show with her expensive digital camera, so we only got a couple of pictures with our mobile phones, but at least we commemorated the evening photographically in some fashion.

Hanging out before the show with Six-Shooter from the Puppet Master series.
    After checking out everything on display and purchasing a T-shirt and a couple of DVDs, (coincidentally enough to get another entry in the mass electrocution scene contest) Suzie and I went into the second room and sat down. There were several more props and things scattered around the stage, like King Bong from Evil Bong 2 and an electric chair. (?) There was a screen behind the stage, and a slideshow of pix from various Charles Band productions was going on. Then, some of the lights faded, the slideshow disappeared, and a short video sequence highlighting very fast clips from 30 years of Charles Band movies came on with incredibly loud sound. The finale of the video flashes what appeared to be every title logo of every movie Band's ever been connected with in about ten seconds, giving the viewer subliminal memories of some of the flicks, or an epileptic seizure. Maybe Charlie was just experimenting with Psychorama, who knows? With the video ended, the room went dark, then a spotlight came on and there he was. Charles Band. Holding a microphone and showing the quick and ragged setup this show must have gone through with the venue's sound-and-light man in every city, he spent the first minute or so getting the sound level and spotlight adjusted to suit him. Thankfully, he did this in a light and airy manner, not sounding as exhausted and cranky as he might have more than halfway through his crosscountry jaunt.

The man in action, on stage in a Chicago Roadshow appearance. I repurposed it - pretend he's in Raleigh and this is what we saw that night!

    The next hour or so was basically Charlie telling us stories of being Charlie Band. And removed from the constraints of most print interviews, he was pretty open, funny, and profane. Along with some short bits, his biggest stories involved his most notorious ad campaign, and perhaps his most notorious casting ever. The ad campaign was for the movie Ghoulies, and although he told it in a expansive and detail laden manner, I'll boil it down for you: he made the movie (a Gremlins "homage") and set up distribution through his own Empire Pictures. There wasn't a whole lot of interest in the movie from theaters, so a partner in Empire told Charlie they had to come up with an ad campaign that would get the movie moving to theater owners. Eventually Charlie came up with a cute idea and got together a photo shoot for the poster using one of the Ghoulies and one other important prop. Here's the poster:

    Ha! Pretty funny, right? Well, this print image was also extended to the movie's trailer and TV spots, and the kicker of the story is, a week after the advertising goes out on movie screens and across America's airwaves, Charlie goes in to the office and finds a huge pile of hate mail and death threats from angry parents who are suddenly having problems getting the little ones to sit on the toilet for potty training. Charlie knew he had a hit!
    The other main subject for the evening was about an actor Charlie worked with. Now keep in mind, Charles Band has worked with some actors across 200+ movies. Gotta be up around 4 digits, right? So what actor could provide so much material that Charlie spent half his time onstage talking about him? Is it Tim Thomerson, who's made five or six movies with the director? Jeffrey Combs, also in several Empire and Full Moon movies? No, it's an actor who only worked one day on set with Charlie, and spent one more day with him in a sound studio doing some looping of dialogue. Two days of work altogether, yet did enough crazy stuff for "ten stories," according to CB. Who could it be?

Who else?

The face of peace and calm. Or the face of your worst nightmare. One and the same, sharing the name:
Gary Busey.
    Gary made a cameo appearance in the movie Gingerdead Man as the psycho whose later executed-and-cremated remains end up in some baked gingerbread dough, spawning the meanest, craziest cookie of all time. According to Band, during the lengthy all day shoot, Gary completely reworked Charlie's tightly planned directorial blueprint for his scene; ad libbed beyond the scripted dialogue in every take, sometimes for minutes at a time; spoke quiet motivational doubletalk to nearly everyone he met; and disappeared from set only to be found moments later nearby terrorizing several young women with his thoughts on pubic grooming. And in case you read that wrong, that's not "public" grooming. After his one day of shooting, Gary went in to the sound studio a few weeks later to dub the voice of the little puppet Gingerdead Man as he spouts off his baking pun one liners while killing off the cast. This get together was a tiny bit less outrageous, with Gary bringing a date and serenading her while accompanying himself on the guitar during the brief bits of downtime from laying down lines like "Eat me!" and "Save room for dessert 'cause I'm coming after you!" (Quick aside, in case you're a big Busey fan - like me - and now want to see very frame of every Gingerdead Man movie to complete your GB jones - Gary was only involved in the first movie - the sequel and the in-production part 3 use a soundalike.)
    After we'd heard three of the ten Busey stories, our headliner decided to leave us wanting more (especially one particularly drunk guy in the audience who periodically heckled Charlie to tell more Gary stories for the rest of the program) and moved on to some video -  a couple of trailers for then upcoming movies Demonic Toys 2 and Skull Heads; a clip piece showcasing actors who worked for Empire Pictures and Full Moon who have gone on to bigger things (among them Viggo Mortenson, Demi Moore, and Helen Hunt) and some behind the scenes footage of the production of Puppet Master: Axis of Evil in China.
Trancers (1985)

Demi Moore in Parasite (1982)

Viggo Mortensen in Prison (1988)
    Next up was an auction of some of the bigger, more expensive pieces that were for sale during the show - limited edition Puppet Master figures for the most part - and Charlie let them go for much less than the listed retail price (but at what I'm sure was still a tidy profit.) After that was the drawing for the winner of the "Get yourself to Los Angeles when we tell you and you can be electrocuted by the Gingerdead Man" contest. I did not win. La de dah.
    Then came the show finale, a bit of impromptu theater directed by Band and featuring that aforementioned electric chair. Basically Band auditioned members of the audience to play four roles: a psycho about to be executed, his treacherous brother, the killer's girlfriend who has been making time with the brother, and a female friend for the girlfriend. The director wanted a small weaselly guy for the brother, a larger, more imposing guy for the psycho, and two young ladies who would preferably allow their tops to be popped for some cheap thrills. I tried out for the psycho, along with five or six other guys. I used my brief introduction time to tell Charlie I'd been a fan since seeing Laserblast. On BETA. (See how I keep trying to use that punchline?) He countered that had I told him I'd seen it in a theater he would have been impressed. Damn! But all in good fun. The audience assisted the casting by applauding for each prospective actor, and I lost out to a bigger, younger, more psychotic looking fellow. (I guess that's really a compliment) The actors were chosen, Charlie laid out some directing, and we watched about three minutes of fun, bad theater that ended with one of the two girls flashing her breasts at the audience for a total of 1.3 seconds. One more auction and the show was over. But Charlie told us to hang around as he would join us in the bar in a few minutes for autographs and pictures.
    We made our way out to the bar area, where the large fellow who was handling the merchandise selling was back on duty. While we wait for our star to appear, let's take a look at the show we just saw with a critical eye, shall we? If you do an internet search for the Full Moon Roadshow, you'll find a fair amount of reviewing of the show on various blogs. And the positive/negative split is about 50/50. The bad reviews tend to get down on Charlie for his overuse of the words "Dude!" and "Duuuuddeess!" But Band knows exactly what he is doing, repeating those words through funny, past unfunny, and back to funny again. The next biggest complaint is that the show is one long commercial trying to sell you expensive merchandise. Duh? If you've watched any Full Moon DVDs made this century, you should already know about the hard sell the company brings to their entertainment -  no different than the Hooters waitress imploring you to buy a T shirt from her, or the timeshare presentation you have to sit through to get that free steak dinner, or whatever they're dangling in front of you. Lighten up. Lastly, they complain that it's creepy for Band to try to entice the young women in the audience to come up on stage and show their breasts. Well, I'm not sure what kind of Shakespeare festival they were expecting, but this is Full Moon, which hasn't had very many actresses in very many of their movies keep all their clothes on for the whole flick. Charlie asks the young lady to do it (admittedly several times) but he is up front about the prospect before they ever come to the stage, so it's not as if he's springing it on them in the middle of their time onstage and trying to use surprise and audience pressure to get boobs on display. For any woman who doesn't want to be seen topless, it's only a matter of not going up there. Or, if you're itching to take part in this nonsense or are dying to be directed by Charles Band, but your exhibitionism ends there it only takes saying no to him a couple of times (as the secondary girl in our little finale did) and he backs off, defending the woman and her choice to the audience. I guess there still may be a tiny bit of creep factor there, but not much of one considering all that.
    After a few minutes Charlie came out to the bar area bearing two big marker pens. He took up position behind one of the bar's tall tables and people immediately started lining up. He spent a moment with each person, signing whatever they had with a fast and confident hand, and posed happily for pictures. When I got to him (the line was moving very quickly) he signed three DVDs for me, and when he saw Suzie nearby with her phone in camera mode, he not only got ready for the photo, he suggested we move several feet away from his table to a better lit spot, and click!

The man, the legend, the really cool guy. And Charles Band.

Right after the photo, I asked Charlie to consider bringing the Roadshow to Wilmington in 2010. He asked where it was, and I told him a couple of hours east, on the coast. He seemed to give it serious consideration, and with that, he went back to his table to continue interacting with the fans. With Suzie's help, I had completed nearly everything I wanted to accomplish that evening (only missing out on a chance to pitch a screenplay idea to him - I would love to write a Puppet Master movie!) we left Volume 11 and headed home. I had met and chatted with a man who had entertained me scads of times over the years. I couldn't have been happier. The next night, he was doing it all over again in Richmond Virginia. I wish I could have been there.
    Postscript: Sadly, as it turned out, there's been no official 2010 Charles Band Full Moon Roadshow. Charlie has actually been making movies, finally wrapping Gingerdead Man 3 just a week or so ago. He is making Roadshow style appearances at a few horror movie conventions throughout the year, but so far none of them are close enough for me to attend. I did end up pitching an idea to the man through email for Evil Bong 3, but my idea was not chosen. (It might have been the fact that I haven't caught up and seen either previous Evil Bong movie...) (I'll try again the next chance I get!) Best of all, having met the man I gained a new appreciation for the more recent, smaller Full Moon movies and have started seeking them out again. If you want to watch some with me, let me know. Until then, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a good time to me! Maybe he'll do it again in 2011. I'm gonna keep an eye peeled...

    Oh, and speaking as a card-carrying theatre guy with a degree and the whole magilla; Any play where people take off their clothes is a successful play!