Flashing back to Charles Band’s Gothic Black Comedy
I’m always a bit baffled when I see other members of my generation mist over with nostalgia when regarding the moribund video rental store experiences of our youth. Maybe my own corner video store was somehow that much shabbier than theirs, but I say confidently that modern streaming media are superior, an upgrade in every sense. What was really all that charming about dragging yourself down to the video store, only to be disappointed that all available copies of whatever new release you had your heart set on had already been snapped up? So there you were, stuck either settling on re-watching something or taking a chance on some suspect object with come-hither cover art—anyone else out there stare in the mirror with sour recrimination the morning after renting BARB WIRE? There was also the anxiety of knowing that you might be watching a cut or altered version of the movie you rented, as dictated by stodgy, stuffy store owners—no NC-17 BAD LIEUTENANT waiting for you at a certain blue-and-yellow family-values video chain, just keep on walking. There was also the issue of cost; adjusted for inflation, five bucks then is like ten bucks today. It hurt to know that being sucked in by a cleverly-marketed dud just burned up your entertainment investment. With subscription streaming, picking a stinker only costs you in terms of your time. All the other trappings of the video store—having to remember your membership card, being compelled to rewind VHS tapes that usually stunk of pizza grease and stale weed, dealing with snotty, judgmental film-school-dropout clerks looking down their pimply noses in disdain at the copy of SHOWGIRLS clutched in your grasp—streaming has efficiently sanded all those irritating edges off of the home movie viewing experience. Worst of all was having to arrange one’s day around returning that rented tape, lest the punitive anvil of late fees be dropped upon one’s head. This process might not have been such a hassle to city folks, but for rural people serviced by dirt roads pocked with more craters than the Ho Chi Minh trail after a USAF strafing run, the drive back to the video store could be a trek of Odyssean proportions.
For further evidence on the superiority of streaming, you could also just look at bellwethers of the film industry—Charles Band, one of the pioneers in videocassette distribution, moved on pretty quickly from plastic tapes and discs once streaming became a viable platform for getting movies onto eyeballs. At the risk of being accused of doing a little bit of corporate tap-dancing here, I’ll say that’s what makes Full Moon Streaming one of the better bargains to be had online; being an early adopter of streaming technology, Band has managed to load up his little station with a massive catalog of titles; it makes other streaming services look like that old video store at eleven-thirty on a Friday night, when they only things still left on the shelves were copies of JERRY MAGUIRE and dust bunnies. And, I’m willing to wager big coin that Band doesn’t miss the video store days either, with all the manufacturing and shipping headaches that magically no longer exist for distributors like him thanks to the internet.
So that brings us to the point of this column: Full Moon Online gives you the best kind of problem to have—too much choice. You’ve probably already burned through all the PUPPET MASTERs and SUBSPECIES sequels, what’s next? A little KILLJOY action? That bad old EVIL BONG? Maybe some licenced material like Blue Underground’s Lucio Fulci favourites or Something Weird’s Herschell Gordon Lewis gore classics?
I want to start off by reminding people of a title that I think exemplifies the Full Moon brand even better than PUPPET MASTER or DEMONIC TOYS—it’s director “Robert Talbot”, a.k.a. Charles Band’s HEAD OF THE FAMILY from 1996. HEAD begins with a shot of an odd-looking manse on some generic cul-de-sac… something is off about that house, evoking the same sort of skewed suburbia vibe with which Tim Burton worked in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS or Joe Dante in THE BURBS. HEAD’s retro Saturday morning cartoon score by Richard Band and Steven Morrell adds to the off-kilter feel, and will have viewers expecting Bugs Bunny to pop his head out of the ground at any moment ask Doc just what exactly the hell is up.
The HEAD plot is a simple one: Redneck dimbulb Lance (Blake Bailey) runs a grocery store-slash-diner in some anonymous Floridian burg, distracting himself from days of shelving canned goods and frying up grits by carrying on with the sultry squeeze (Jacqueline Lovell) of his biker best friend. One night, while out on a surreptitious tryst with Lovell’s comely Loretta, Lance spies the town weirdos kidnapping an unsuspecting passerby; said weirdos are the Stackpool siblings, who consist of a massive blond oaf, a spindly, bug-eyed creep, and an impossibly buxom sister who acts as the Marilyn Munster-type ‘normal’ Stackpool.
Lance, in classic redneck-noir schemer fashion, processes the kidnapping as an opportunity as opposed to a crime. He decides to approach the sketchy Stackpools in order to blackmail them. Once inside the Stackpool house, Lance is introduced to another family member: Myron (J.W. Perra), a grossly mutated, wheelchair-bound cephalopod who looks like a sallow Mr. Potato Head toy come to life. Myron agrees to dispose of Lance’s romantic rival in exchange for his silence over the Stackpool family’s regular procurement of what Lance soon learns are unwilling subjects destined for Myron’s basement medical experiments.
True to their word, the Stackpools neutralize Lance’s biker pal via unsanctioned lobotomy. Lance celebrates his victory by getting even greedier, to the chagrin of Loretta. Lance re-ups his blackmail scheme by simply extorting Myron for money. Myron, who touts himself as some sort of advanced intellect, decides not to take Lance’s new demands sitting down (so to speak), and soon hatches a scheme of his own…
What lifts the modest HEAD is really the ace casting job—Bailey has enough sly charm and comic timing to sell the bizarre and outsized HEAD premise; Band certainly saves on his costume budget with the frequently-unclothed Lovell, but she has the crucial comedy chops needed to back up both her looks and HEAD’s jokey atmosphere. The unappetizing Myron is another memorable aspect of the movie, and the optical illusion behind his grotesque living-gumdrop appearance is almost elegant in how uncomplicated and effective it is.
Like much of the Full Moon catalogue, HEAD is categorized as horror when it should really be taken more as a broad, black comedy. HEAD is not tense or scary at any point, though there are a few cringe-inducing moments seeded among the laughs—witness the excruciatingly gross moment when Myron’s slug-like tongue uncoils to stroke Loretta’s exposed nipple, leaving behind a trail of slime across the bare flesh like a garden snail.
So what makes HEAD the epitome of a Full Moon feature, as I stated earlier? Simple: HEAD is low budget with high ambition, a film with no pretension but plenty of aspiration to be something more than the rote slasher exercises or backyard zombie fumbling as put forth by competing studios. Anyone who is tired of routine indie frights and misses the dark, cock-eyed humor and unpredictable weirdness of HBO’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT series from the nineties, check out HEAD OF THE FAMILY on Full Moon Streaming. Myron will be waiting…