During the ‘80s, Charles Band’s Empire Pictures was an indelible fixture on video shelves. Though never splurging as liberally as Cannon Films, Empire managed to crank out a lot of movies over a relatively short period, mostly in the horror and sci-fi genres. Re-Animator notwithstanding, none are classics, but a few have earned a bit of a cult following.
Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams collects five films from Empire’s heyday. Calling any of them great is a stretch, but for those old enough to recall haunting their local mom & pop video store every weekend, nostalgic warm fuzzies probably trump quality. Those same folks will likely get a kick out of this boxed set’s packaging, which is apparently pretty elaborate and loaded with amusing goodies. We were provided with promo discs, so that material was not made available. This is a review of the disc content only.
The Dungeonmaster is about a computer whiz forced by the devil to face several challenges in order to save his girlfriend. Each challenge is a story unto itself (with different directors), more-or-less making this anthology film. Much of it is pretty silly, though it does feature a pre-Night Court Richard Moll and a cameo by W.A.S.P., who I thought was the coolest band in the world at the time (hey, it was the ‘80s and I was a teenager).
While the late Stuart Gordon never topped his first film, Re-Animator, he enjoyed a long and productive working relationship with Charles Band, so it’s only fitting that he’s represented by two films. Dolls doesn’t reach the delirious heights of his Lovecraft-based work, but it’s arguably the best movie in this collection. Creepy, funny and occasionally quite gory, one could see it as a precursor to Band’s Puppet Master series. Conversely, Robot Jox is a drab slab of kid-friendly sci-fi, though it does predate the conceptually-similar Pacific Rim by 15 years. Considering the budget and the time it was made, the special effects aren’t bad.
|The Village People Collection|
Cellar Dweller is an enjoyable creature feature with a creative premise, that of an ambitious art student who inadvertently resurrects a dead cartoonist’s demonic comic character, which proceeds to kill everyone around her. Directed by renowned make-up effects artist John Carl Buechler (another Charles Band frequent flier), this one features some good gory kills and a cool looking monster. The performances kind-of suck, though.
One might question the decision to include these particular titles over some of Empire’s more revered films. It’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t swap-out Arena for From Beyond, or Cellar Dweller for Rawhead Rex. Maybe the rights to those belong to someone else, or perhaps the intent was to showcase the studio’s comparative obscurities. Whatever the case, Enter the Video Store does offer an eclectic smattering of the video fodder Charles Band built an Empire with, all nicely restored for Blu-ray.
(NOTE: Free Kittens Movie Guide was provided with “promo discs” for review purposes. The actual retail version of this boxed set includes substantial physical extras, which were not made available).
DOUBLE SIDED POSTERS (not reviewed)
POSTCARD-SIZED ART CARDS (not reviewed)
80 PAGE PERFECT-BOUND BOOKLET (not reviewed)
VIDEO “MEMBERSHIP” CARD (not reviewed)
COLLECTIBLE BOX WITH NEW ARTWORK (not reviewed)
3 CUTS OF THE FILM - Theatrical, pre-release & international versions.
INTERVIEW - With actor Jeffrey Bryon.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Jeffrey Bryon, critics Matty Budrewicz & Dave Wain.
INTERVIEW - With editor Lee Percy.
“TOYS OF TERROR: THE MAKING OF DOLLS” - Vintage featurette.
3 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) By David Decoteau; 2) By director Stuart Gordon & writer Ed Naha; 3) By actors Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Stephen Lee, Carrie Lorraine & Gabe Bartalos.
“GRABBED BY THE GHOULIES” - A tribute to director John Carl Beuchler by critics Matty Budrewicz & Dave Wain.
INTERVIEW - With make-up FX artist Michael Deek.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By make-up FX artist Michael Deek, critics Matty Budrewicz & Dave Wain.
ORIGINAL SALES SHEET & PRODUCTION NOTES
2 INTERVIEWS - 1) With co-screenwriter Danny Bilson; 2) With make-up FX artist Michael Deek.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Peter Manoogian, critics Matty Budrewicz & Dave Wain.
“THE SCALE OF BATTLE: DAVID ALLEN AND THE F/X OF ROBOT JOX” - A nifty little tribute.
“SALVAGED FROM THE WRECKAGE” - Behind-the-Scenes photos.
INTERVIEWS - Individual interviews with actors Gary Graham, Paul Koslo, Annie-Marie Johnson.
2 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) By director Stuart Gordon; 2) By effects director Paul Gentry, mechanical effects artist Mark Rappaport & stop-motion animator Paul Jessell.
ORIGINAL SALES SHEET & PRODUCTION NOTES