[Interview] Horror Legend Charles Band Discusses 'The Resonator: Miskatonic U', Working with Stuart Gordon, Upcoming Projects, and More!
If you grew up in the 80s or 90s, it's very likely that producer/writer/director Charles Band was at least somewhat responsible for some of your nightmares...
...The man behind studios such as Empire and eventually Full Moon Features, Band has produced over 300 films in the sci-fi/horror genre. He executive produced cult classics such as Tourist Trap (1979) and Ghoulies (1984), as well as various Stuart Gordon films like From Beyond (1986) and Castle Freak (1995). He's also directed over fifty features, ranging from the sci-fi film Trancers (1984) to the nasty horror flick Parasite (1982, starring Demi Moore in one of her first roles), and even the kid's dinosaur adventure Prehysteria! (1993).
Needless to say, Band has a long career in making audiences scream.
Band's latest release, The Resonator: Miskatonic U, a (potentially) ongoing series written/directed William Butler (Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver), is a tribute to some of he and Butler's earlier work with Stuart Gordon, delving back into the world of From Beyond, inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Band to talk about the series, as well as his days working with Stuart, surviving as an independent label, and what future projects we can expect to see from Full Moon.
Photo from The Resonator: Miskatonic U
Killer Horror Critic: How did The Resonator: Miskatonic U come to be, is this a project you’ve been wanting to do for a bit?
Charles Band: We decided last year that we’re ready to gamble because it’s not still like the good ole days when we were alive and well because of video rental which fueled the business and gave us a certain amount of money to work with in the 80s and 90s. Now it’s a fraction of what we used to have so sometimes it’s hard because people go, you should make another movie like 'Robot Jox' (1989) or this and that, or even some of the movies I made with Stuart Gordon. I say yeah, we’re trying to be clever and do the best we can but the budgets are twenty percent what they were.
Now, there are things that give us some savings. We’re not shooting on film anymore. The process is a little easier and quieter. But we don’t have those half a million to two million dollar budgets anymore. Hopefully we will. Hopefully our streaming sites will gain traction and subscribers, which is our whole business now, and we’ll be able to be a little more ambitious, but we still decided okay, let’s make a movie a month and let’s release a movie a month and do it in two parts. That’s sort of a strategy that I hope will work because part of the idea with two episodes is, if any of these do well and people really dig them we can continue it and turn it into a series. It’s almost like a pilot to see how these shows would work as an ongoing series. But they’re also designed to be released shortly after their streaming release on Blu-ray and DVD. I thought, let me pull from some of the movies that people know from the 80s and 90s so that we have a little bit of that history, then obviously make a few more shows that are part of these franchises that have been around forever, and let’s dream up something new and different that hopefully people will like.
It’s a real varied program. We go from 'The Resonator' which calls back movies I made with Stuart, to 'The Gingerweed Man', which is 'Evil Bong' and 'The Gingerdead Man', which those movies have an audience and have done well over the years. Then we’re going to go straight into a movie called 'Don’t Let Her In', which is the first show I’ll have done with Ted Nicolauo in many many years. Ted and I go back to the 70s. He was my editor on movies like 'Tourist Trap', and then we made movies in Italy like 'TerrorVision'. Ted’s show is a real freaky, weird, almost 'Rosemary’s Baby' kind of…it’s going to be very cool. It’s completely different from anything we’ve done for a while. All these budgets are a little more ambitious even though we’re not going to go too crazy. We’re spending more money, and we’re bringing in more talent. So, these releases are real varied, month to month. That was kind of the idea as I was plotting out the year, twelve movies, one a month, what can I go back and do that sort of was part of what was working for us back in the 80s and people know Full Moon and Empire for it? 'From Beyond' sort of felt like fertile ground, and we sort of crafted this different approach. Which I’m really happy with. I’m really happy with the second episode. We got four more that are ready to go. If this does well enough, putting aside the monthly new releases we’re gonna go back in a few months and shoot four or five episodes, because we’ve kind of found a fun way to delve into Lovecraft territory and try to stay faithful to what his material is but do something that fans will enjoy that’s a little different than what I’ve done in the past.
Photo from Tourist Trap
"...We’re going to go straight into a movie called 'Don’t Let Her In', which is the first show I’ll have done with Ted Nicolauo in many many years. Ted and I go back to the 70s. He was my editor on movies like 'Tourist Trap', and then we made movies in Italy like 'TerrorVision'. Ted’s show is a real freaky, weird, almost 'Rosemary’s Baby' kind of…it’s going to be very cool."
KHC: So, with The Resonator, the plan is to keep producing episodes for this if you can?
CB: That’s the plan. It’s a bit lofty and ambitious.
KHC: Well that’s what we love about Full Moon.
CB: A lot of people have enjoyed it. The second episode is terrific. And I think without a doubt we’ll shoot two or four more episodes in the very near future and then we’ll see how they go. It’s rewriting everything. In the old days, not that long ago, direct to video had to be a minimum length because people were renting movies at their local video store or going to see those two hour tent pole movies. Now everything’s different. If you can entertain someone for thirty minutes on a streaming site, that’s cool too. 'Mandalorian' did a good job. There’s no reason why these thirty minute or forty minute episodes can’t work that way. It helps us also because it keeps people coming back. We have a minuscule budget compared to other companies. We’re working to do cool stuff for very little money. We’ve had good reaction and I’m excited about all the shows we’re doing.
KHC: I thought the tribute to Stuart Gordon at the beginning of The Resonator was very touching. His passing hit a lot of us very hard. What was your relationship like with Stuart these last few years, and do you remember where you were or what was going through your mind when you heard of his passing?
CB: Stuart and I were close. We had many years making movies together, starting with 'Re-Animator' all the way to the last show we did, which was 'Castle Freak' in Italy. My dad and Stuart were also very close friends. My dad was real responsible for a lot of the work Stuart did, for Full Moon and for Empire. I mean he was a real terrific producer on those shows, because he was a creative producer and he was also a talented director. You need that. Stuart was to some degree like a bull in a china closet. He wanted whatever he could get. He pushed the envelope. Which is admirable, you know, within reason. We know we’re making low-budget movies, but “no” wasn’t really “no” to Stuart, it was sort of just the beginning of a negotiation to try to get some more days, or a bigger set. And my dad was really good with Stuart as far as giving him what we could give him, and more sometimes, but within some limitations, otherwise we’d go bankrupt.
We stayed close to Stuart. I spoke to Stuart a few times before he passed, but the last time I actually saw Stuart was, my girlfriend and my ex-wife, they’re very close, and Carolyn, Stuart’s wife, we all went out to a great place in Hollywood called Musso and Frank.
KHC: Oh, I love Musso and Frank!
CB: Closed for over a year now sadly because there’s no outdoor dining on Hollywood Boulevard.
KHC: Yeah, thank you very much pandemic.
Photo from the set of From Beyond
"Stuart was to some degree like a bull in a china closet. He wanted whatever he could get. He pushed the envelope. Which is admirable, you know, within reason. We know we’re making low-budget movies, but “no” wasn’t really “no” to Stuart, it was sort of just the beginning of a negotiation to try to get some more days, or a bigger set."
CB: Great, great, great Hollywood restaurant. Over a hundred years old. And we had a great dinner. Stuart, he had health issues, he was a little more frail, but he was in good spirits. We stayed in touch, and he moved on.
I’m proud of every movie we made together. It was sometimes challenging, for sure. We went over to Italy, we made a lot of movies out of the studio for a while in the 80s, and then we shot 'Pit and the Pendulum' and 'Castle Freak' at a castle I also owned for a while. There’s a big history there.
It’s funny. I mean Billy (writer/director William Butler), 'The Resonator' really came from him. I knew where I wanted to go with it, but Billy came up with the way that it works and he pulled a lot of favors. Billy goes back to the 80s with me, back to 'Ghoulies', working with John Beuchler. He was in Italy for all of those Stuart Gordon films. He called himself a slime jockey because he was there putting goo on monsters and being a part of that in those early years. It was really a labor of love to try to find a way to stay within our budget to create something that was obviously dedicated to Stuart and the vibe of those movies we made a long time ago, so Billy’s a big part of that.
KHC: You know with Stuart, you helped kick off this sort of Lovecraft resurgence in the 80s with From Beyond and Re-animator, and it’s continued ever since then in ebbs and flows throughout the last few decades. What is it about this lore that sticks with us?
CB: I think what worked for the movies that we did is these are still character-driven movies. You cared about the people, as interesting and as weird as they were, you believed who they were and you believed in the relationships. I mean the underpinning was always that. Effects and gooey monsters, all that’s awesome too, all that worked. But these were people you bought into. And they were wonderful actors. That was Stuart’s strength, along with Dennis Paoli, these were really well written screenplays, and he did a great job directing them. Barbara Crampton, Jeffrey Combs, David Gale, all of them. I did a little part of a trilogy, a release called 'The Evil Clergyman'. I shot that shortly after we did 'Re-Animator' in Italy. That was also with David Warner and Jeffrey and Barbara, so I had my moment with a Lovecraft adaptation. You gotta believe the people, and then the rest is easy. If it’s an effects laden show where no one gives a, well, you know, it just becomes an exercise in more stupid CGI effects and the audience doesn’t care. I mean yeah, some people like the thrill-ride aspect, but I think Stuart’s movies were really good because of the way he developed those characters.
KHC: Have you found yourself thinking of any fun times working with Stuart during the last year?
CB: Not really. First of all, it’s been a long time. Let’s face it, the last show was 'Castle Freak' in the 90s, so I mean it’s been twenty-odd years.
KHC: Been a little while.
CB: He was just such a great guy. One quick story, we would go over there for dinner, he would come to our house for dinner, and I mean this isn’t even a big deal, but for years, when we would go to Stuart’s with my kids and his kids, he had some paraphernalia, some fun artifacts from some of the movies. When you walked into his house, the first thing you noticed on the left was a life-sized, lit Michelin Man from the fifties.
KHC: Oh wow.
CB: You know, one of those big lit up guys that glow?
CB: It was just a cool thing. And then once we went over, and it was gone, and I said Stuart, don’t tell me you sold Michelin Man? And he goes no. He said sadly, I’m not sure what happened, maybe because of age, it just literally crumbled into twenty chunks and it’s in the garage. So anyways, at the end of dinner, I put all those chunks in a box—this was back when we were flying high and I had two effects labs that we were doing lots of work at—I said to the makeup effects guys, you have got to put this humpty dumpty back together again. And they did, and it was back at Stuart’s. It looked a little humpty dumpty put back together again. I don’t know where the Michelin Man is now.
Photo from Castle Freak (1995)
"It was really a labor of love to try to find a way to stay within our budget to create something that was obviously dedicated to Stuart and the vibe of those movies we made a long time ago."
KHC: Did he ever give you a reason for why he had this Michelin Man?
CB: I don’t remember. It was just very cool and very…it was one of his things. Stuart was really well read. Really clever. He was just a sweetheart. You would never think that this sort of large, jovial guy was making these weird ass movies. These depraved, bizarre movies.
I mean when we shot in Italy, this castle, I owned it for years, we shot 'Castle Freak', and we lived in the castle and shot in the castle. I’ve done that with a few movies. I made a movie called 'Meridian' some years before that with Sherilyn Fenn, sort of a harlequin romance type movie.
KHC: I just revisited Spellcaster recently, which I think you shot at that castle, no?
CB: No that actually was a different castle.
KHC: Oh, I didn’t know there were more.
CB: Yeah, let’s get our castles straight. We shot 'Meridian', we shot 'Pit and the Pendulum' at the castle, we shot 'Castle Freak' and some others, but it was amazing, and Stuart loved it. We had a great time, even though he made a really weird movie. That 'Castle Freak' was pretty terrifying. Not to mention some of those scenes are pretty raw. My movies are very benign. They’re like fairytales with puppets and dolls. I would say 'Castle Freak' is probably the most scary and unnerving show we did in my three-hundred odd movies.
KHC: It’s pretty freaky.
CB: But what was amazing about shooting at the castle…the main cast, Stuart, the director of photography, lived at the castle—it was a huge castle—and shot there as I did with 'Meridian' and a few other movies. They’d be on the fourth floor, sort of the living quarters, get up, go downstairs for cappuccinos, see the cast and crew, and then go to the basement or the dungeon to shoot a scene for the movie. I don’t know how many people get to do that, but it was pretty amazing.
KHC: That’s fantastic. I’ve worked in film for ten years and I can honestly say I never got to shoot at a castle.
CB: To shoot and live there, it’s a trip. I’m not superstitious, the castle always had a good vibe to me, but other people ended up saying oh, I saw a ghost, are we doing the right thing?
KHC: I know you said you’re not superstitious, but did you ever get the sense that it was haunted?
CB: No, no, no. It was a beautiful place. I mean you know, it’s got a vibe. It was a medieval castle, so it was there for hundreds and hundreds of years.
KHC: Right, so there may have been a few strange things that happened there over the years.
Photo from The Resonator: Miskatonic U
"Stuart was really well read. Really clever. He was just a sweetheart. You would never think that this sort of large, jovial guy was making these weird ass movies. These depraved, bizarre movies."
KHC: Back to The Resonator, with this being a tribute to Lovecraft as well as you having tapped into his work over the years, is there any untapped Lovecraft material that you’ve found yourself interested in, or are there some that you can hint at that we might get to see in The Resonator at some point?
CB: Well, I think if you keep watching 'The Resonator' and you know Lovecraft’s material, we want to stay true to the spin we created. We can fool around with time and space with 'The Resonator'. I want to stay true to these characters. They’re really good actors, they’re good kids. Let’s see how it goes, and if we can make more I’d love to just do everything I can dream up. You’ll see that we’ll gently pull in some of the Lovecraft themes if we’re able to make more of these and more of 'The Resonator'.
KHC: Excellent. I have to ask, because Full Moon has such a rich plethora of characters and this is a really interesting thing that you’re doing here going episode by episode and building these series, so are there other Full Moon properties or projects that you’ve worked on before that you’re hoping to do something similar with?
CB: Oh sure. You’re gonna see all sorts of good stuff. One of the first shows we were gonna make, it was two episodes, basically another movie. It’s 'Subspecies', the thousand-year backstory of Radu, if you’ve seen any 'Subspecies'.
KHC: Yes! I’ve actually been on a Subspecies kick lately.
CB: Yeah, so we had that all booked, and we already had location scouts, we were casting around May/June last year, of course all that got screwed up because of Covid. We’re going back to some of the more well-known Full Moon properties, but also new stuff. I mean the one we’re doing that Ted’s directing and wrote, 'Don’t Let Her In', is really, really creepy and cool. So yeah, we’ll touch on some of the Full Moon stuff, and Empire, and then new things.
Photo from Puppet Master
"I’d love to just do everything I can dream up. You’ll see that we’ll gently pull in some of the Lovecraft themes if we’re able to make more of these and more of 'The Resonator'."
KHC: You’ve been in film for a long time, and you had a huge hand in popularizing the VHS market…I would say you’ve sort of been one step ahead throughout the last few decades, between that and then the Full Moon Features streaming service that got ahead of these others such as Paramount+, HBO Max--
CB: Yeah, we were there six months after Netflix. Gotta give them credit, but six months later we were knocking on doors at conventions with Full Moon streaming so we were either the second or third streaming site.
KHC: Right, you were right there with it. In all this time, what are some of the lessons you feel like you’ve learned about film distribution, and what do you next on the horizon?
CB: I learn a lesson every day. The more you know, the more you go wow, I don’t really know shit. It’s an evolving business. I was lucky. I grew up on a movie set, my dad taught me everything I knew about the art of making movies so I have that training, but I had no business training. I made a million stupid mistakes. I somehow managed to survive, but there were a lot of ups and downs over the forty odd years. You learn a lot, but at the end of the day, the medium changes, the delivery system changes, but it’s still about making some length of minutes, hours, of entertainment. There’s still scripts, there’s casting, hopefully some good tastes, and doing something different. I could’ve made more money and made more money back in the day every time there’s a trend. You know, there’s 'Friday the 13th', and 'Halloween', and a hundred copycat movies, but I never made a slasher movie. I never made a torture horror movie. All these trends just came and went. So, my body of work, some of it I guess sucks a bit, but a lot of it is actually pretty clever and has stood the test of time. They’re movies that I made twenty, thirty, forty years ago that still do really well, that travel well, that people know about, just because they were different at the time and they’re still different.
It’s interesting how some of those movies, when we released them, did not make any money, I mean they were just flat. And then years later, people discovered them and thought wow, that movie’s actually pretty cool, so they become sort of culty-type movies. Now we’re at a point where we actually have a couple development deals, which of course I can’t talk about, where major studios have optioned some of my films, the properties, and I think by the end of this year there’ll be at least one or two announcements of reboots, remakes, but with a ton of money and some kind of star. Basically, taking movies or franchises that I made and then hopefully we’ll all do a good job. I mean when you’re in my position, you’re kind of an executive producer, but it’s the studio that really calls the shots, so you just hope that they do a good job and then suddenly we have a baby Marvel universe. I mean I kind of built the Full Moon universe, but it’s an underground universe. But all it takes is a few movies made with a big budget that are clever and they become mainstream hits and then suddenly there’s a whole bunch of films that can be made.
KHC: That would be incredible.
CB: But yeah, so you learn every day, though it really boils down to making something entertaining and fresh and different. And it really does all boil down to human characters. You know it’s gotta be character driven. You gotta care for people. Once in a while there’s a cool movie, a big Hollywood movie in our genre, but mostly they’re just punishing. You get pounded on the head by endless CGI effects, like this is not fun, you know? The great fantasy, sci-fi and horror movies of the 60s and 70s, they were movies where the effects were sparse and magical. And you cared about the people and all the crazy things that people get involved in.
KHC: Something I’ve always loved about your work and Full Moon is that you make these really fun, non-cynical horror movies. How do you see the genre currently and where do you see Full Moon’s place in that?
CB: Well, I’m gonna keep making movies with the same vibe and sensibility, hopefully fresh and different. Hopefully again, fans will support the few independent streaming sites like Full Moon so that over time we can have enough subscribers to be a little more ambitious. It’s funny, I was thinking back to the day, there was a stretch in the early nineties where Paramount distributed all the Full Moon movies. We were making a movie a month. We were doing really, really well. I would go to the local video store just for fun sometimes and watch people, and there was a horror shelf and you would have 'Aliens', or 'The Terminator', and right next to it was 'Puppet Master'. And it was great to be on that same shelf, but sometimes I wish there was a little price tag like 'Aliens', fifty-seven million, 'The Terminator', ninety-four million, 'Puppetmaster', six-hundred thousand bucks. It’s not an even playing field, but it kind of is. I’m just hoping that we can be a little more ambitious. This year we’re biting off the big one and saying okay, we’ll make a movie a month and hopefully that will by the end of the year add a number of subscribers that will make all this make sense and then we’ll see what we can cook up for next year.
The first two episodes of The Resonator: Miskatonic U are now streaming on Full Moon Features.
By Matt Konopka