Terribly Fun Films Book Review: Empire Of The ‘B’s

Empire Of The Bs: The Mad Movie World Of Charles Band

In bad movie-dom, just a few names reign supreme. Roger Corman, obviously; Larry Kaufman of Troma infamy; The Asylum’s David Michael Latt/Paul Bales duo; and a man who spent his life in movies, and has made thousands of them, Charles Band. Band’s contributions to film history can’t be overstated, as he’s quite the innovator. He was the first to release direct to video and now embraces streaming.

This new tome, out now in Europe, is a retrospective of the films made within Band’s first two production houses: Charles Band Productions and Empire Films. Spanning almost two decades and sixty-odd films, this exhaustively researched book provides context for the genesis of these movies and their reception at the time of release. Also featuring reviews by the authors, and interviews with scores of cast and crew, Dave Jay and his co-writers – Torsten Dewi and Nathan Shumate – have produced an immensely enjoyable read.

So why am I reviewing a bloody damned great book instead of a dimwitted film? Because within lies the poorly structured fun of Metalstorm, the meandering intrigue of Demi Moore’s first starring vehicle Parasite, and many more films that fit into our usual forte.

Starting with a broad overview of the of the two companies, from conception to dissolution, threw me off at first. But having finished the book, I’m glad it started this way. Knowing how everything winds up right off the bat frees up space to get into the nitty-gritty of the films and their players, which is where this book shines.

We then head right into an epic twelve page interview with Charles Band. Band has always been described as outgoing with his fans and here, discussing what he loves, that generosity and energy are thoroughly evident. Band does candidly lament a few films that didn’t work, and wishes some that he really loved took off more than they did. But an interview can only be as interesting as the questions being asked. In this respect, Dave Jay takes the cake. Band readily admits to not having the best memory, and there are times when Jay asks certain things, and Band can’t remember. Jay has done such meticulous research that Band tells him that he “should be interviewing himself,” since Jay knew more about a few particulars than Band could recall.

The Charles Band Productions filmography then gets the focus. As is standard throughout, a brief synopsis of the films is provided, followed by a review/history. This naturally allows that section to have ample breathing room. Even when lambasting a film for its incredibly stupid moments, Jay takes time to rejoice in the sheer existence of these ambitious, low budget, usually goofy films. Dave Jay was cordial enough to inform me that “this (book) really is an exercise in film celebration, not film criticism.” That love and respect comes across on every page, and it never feels disingenuous.

Within Charles Band Productions, I thought the two most interesting films to read about were Crash! (1977), because I knew nothing of it, and am now jonesing to see it, and Metalstorm: The Destruction Of Jared-Syn in light of its fascinating release history. All the films throughout this decade are given proper weight though. An interview with Richard Band, Charles’ brother, ends the section. It’s captivating to read Richard discussing how he became a movie music composer. It’s a lively interview due Richard’s openness and humor.

Empire of the B'sThis book was eleven years in the making and that time yielded quite the crop of interviewees. Aside from one very brusque person- director Tim Kincaid, who gave such short answers his statements were spliced into another interview to lengthen it- all participants are pleasant, even when discussing the heavier moments. Phil Fondacaro, an underrated actor, succinctly explains why these people have such fond memories of working with Band in this brilliant quote:

“Charlie really gave me the chance to be an actor. And yeah, they weren’t big blockbusters but they were good pieces for me. That’s why I still work with him today. He gives me opportunities to play things I would NEVER get a chance to do if I was to go the Hollywood route.”

Most folks here, some of whom had big fights (at the time of this or that movie) with Band, seem to be in agreement. Band really did give everyone a chance, which led to interesting opportunities. Jack Deth himself, Tim Thomerson, also gives a spectacularly candid and fun interview.

The book is worth the price just for all the Q&As, but the bulk is the examination of Empire’s legacy, and that’s a thing of beauty. Having been a massive fan of Empire in his teenage years (and he still is today), Jay did the majority of research for the book. His co-workers efforts shouldn’t be trivialized, though. Torsten Dewi’s discussion of Zone Troopers is definitely my favorite, non-Jay written piece. Circling in on the verve of typical WWII flicks while being able to single out how the added alien twist adds a compelling angle – excellent stuff. Jay’s descriptions of Rawhead Rex‘s old school creepfest sensibilities are outstanding. Maybe it’s my love of the film, or my fondness for dark fairytales, but the “Dolls” section deconstructing the merging of adult horror with children’s whimsy is the capstone. Unfortunately, due to time, memory lapses, and a few people unwilling to be a part of the book in any capacity, some films have gaps in knowledge and details. Nevertheless, those titles get filled in with context clues as much as possible, and everything still feels complete.

John Klyza, writer/ producer of cult faves Doll Killer and Sleepaway Camp IV discusses the history of Wizard Video, Band’s direct to video arm with the same depth and respect found throughout the rest of this book. There’s a complete Wizard filmography listed after the historic overview, as there are just too many films to go through individually. Klyza mentions the big titles (i.e. Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Equinox) and gives serious thought to the artwork for the Wizard releases. I wish more people recognized the importance of video artwork during the rental boom. Its inclusion here is just another example that all involved strived their hardest to make this book comprehensive and engaging.

The last chapter is dedicated to the “lost films” of the Empire reign. This is my overall favorite part, as reading about the hows and whys a film never made it to full release has always been of great interest to me. More importantly, two of these have had work prints recently uncovered, and are now available to buy. Cool footnote, huh?

Having read lots of movie centric-books, there are only a few I would consider this great and heartfelt. I wouldn’t change a word of “Empire Of The Bs;” this book is perfect. Book critics, film reviewers, and bad movie fans have been celebrating and singing this book’s praises since its release . You owe it to yourself to read this and rejoice with us.

Bobby Lepire

About Bobby Lepire

Bobby LePire will watch anything once, much to his chagrin. He also hosts an annual "Bad Movie Party".