We rank every movie in the new Empire Pictures box set
Gen X-ers and Millenials who were cable viewers in the 80’s and 90’s fondly remember the output of the late Empire Pictures. Now it’s time to take a stroll down memory lane as we count down our ranking of all 17 films included in the new Empire Pictures box set that we’ve viewed (and reviewed), including genre classics like Ghoulies, Trancers and Robot Jox. Check it out in the gallery below!
Founded by producer and director Charles Band in 1983, the fabled studio and distributor Empire was responsible for a tidal wave of amazing, imaginative and profitable horror, science fiction and fantasy films many of which have become definitive works and high water marks of their respective genres.
Charles Band and Full Moon (in collusion with Shout! Factory) have released The Empire Pictures Blu-ray Collection, a massive limited edition collection (only 600 are being produced) featuring 18 films on 15 discs (14 Blu-ray + 1 DVD) packaged in a stunning, sturdy and elegant black collectors box adorned with a collage of original Empire poster art. Inside there will be an exclusive 24-page book as well, with liner notes penned by our own Chris Alexander.
The Empire Pictures Blu-ray Collection units ($250 US per unit) will not be sold in stores and can only be purchased at FullMoonDirect.com.
#1. ROBOT JOX (1990)
The Apex of Empire Pictures was this lavish (by Empire standards) special effects feast from Stuart Gordon, which takes place in a future where America and the Soviets duke it out via giant robot fisticuffs. Featuring the largest budget for any single film Band was ever involved with, and glorious stop-motion bots by the late effects genius Dave Allen, it’s still loads of fun even in the post-Pacific Rim world.
#2. TRANCERS (1985)
Charles Band’s finest hour as a director is also a high point for low budget cult cinema. Tim Thomerson was born to play burnt-out, time traveling detective Jack Deth, and pre-fame Helen Hunt is bitchin’ as his punker “gal Friday” Leena, both of them completely selling the world and humor of the story. A terrific script by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo (The Rocketeer) borrows elements from Blade Runner and The Terminator, but puts a spin on them that’s wholly unique. The Blu-ray also includes the terrific “lost” short sequel Trancers: City of Lost Angels, originally part of the unfinished Empire anthology movie Pulse Pounders.
#3. FROM BEYOND (1986)
Arguably Stuart Gordon’s finest Lovecraft adaptation outside of Re-Animator, From Beyond features all the Gordon hallmarks turned up to 11, including creature effects, crazy gore and hyper-sexuality. The great Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton reunite, with Dawn of the Dead‘s Ken Foree along for the ride, and John Carl Buechler’s make-up effects are stunning.
#4. ELIMINATORS (1986)
Want to see a movie that has time travel, ninjas, a boat chase, a cute flying robot sidekick and a ManBorg with his own tank? Then Eliminators is the movie for you, buddy! Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo’s script is full of such knowing left field insanity that you can practically hear the writers giggling in the background. Co-starring Pet Sematary‘s Denise Crosby as a hot scientist in a tank top, and the ever-dependable Andrew Prine as a sleazy riverboat captain.
#5. PRISON (1988)
Before he shot to the big time with Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger, Renny Harlin made this remarkably well-done supernatural prison flick that’s one part Shawshank, one part Shocker (and made before either). A young Viggo Mortensen is already a movie star in-waiting as the charismatic lead in a quiet, less-is-more performance.
#6. CRAWLSPACE (1986)
Director David Schmoeller brilliantly channeled actor Klaus Kinski’s real-life creep-factor into playing a legit Nazi psychopath in this unsettling and effective thriller. Talia Balsam co-stars as the innocent young woman who moves into an apartment filled with several lovely and eccentric women who one-by-one become the victims of Kinski. This is one of the few Empire movies with real scares and no real camp factor.
#7. CELLAR DWELLER (1988)
The only produced screenplay outside of the Chucky films for Child’s Play writer Don Mancini, it concerns an EC Comics-esque artist played by Jeffrey Combs who unleashes a monster in his comic book and is summarily killed by it. Decades later a young woman (Debrah Farentino) comes to the house where it all happened and unwittingly unleashes the beast again. The creature effects are great, as is the affection for 50’s-era horror comics.
#8. GHOULIES II (1988)
This sequel set in a carnival is superior to the original in almost every way, from the much better puppets to the presence of legendary actor Royal Dano as an aging magician. Oh, and there’s a giant Super Ghoulie!!!! Directed by Charles Band’s father Albert Band, who lends the film an old fashioned feel akin to a modern-day Freaks.
#9. DOLLS (1987)
While it doesn’t contain much of the satire of director Stuart Gordon’s other movies, this movie about (what else?) evil dolls come to life helped inspire the mini industry Charles Band later created at Full Moon with Puppet Master, Demonic Toys, etc. The gothic castle in the English countryside is great, and Gordon doesn’t spare the thunder, lightning and cool kills courtesy of effects man Dave Allen.
#10. TROLL (1986)
Although in the collective imagination it shares some guilt by association with the infamous in-name-only sequel Troll 2, the original Troll is actually barely a horror movie and more of a fantasy romp about a kid named Harry Potter (really) whose sister becomes possessed by the mischievous spirit of the title troll. Havoc ensues, and a bond is formed with the witch who lives upstairs (June Lockhart). Features an early role for Julia Louis-Dreyfus and a manic one for the always-loony Michael Moriarty.
#11. GHOULIES (1985)
While inferior to its sequel, the first Ghoulies firmly established the memorable title demons as they crash a new mansion owner’s party after he becomes obsessed with the occult. Certainly one of the better of the wave of Gremlin‘s rip-offs in the eighties.
#12. CATACOMBS (1988)
This is a pretty average-but-effective little religious horror flick featuring the typical “young girl goes to a haunted monastery” plot and follows every beat you would expect as the monks get knocked off one-by-one by an evil force. Nonetheless, the film makes the most of its eerie locations and collection of great older character actors including Ian Abercrombie (Seinfeld), Vernon Dobtcheff (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) and Feodor Chaliapin Jr. (Moonstruck).
#13. TERRORVISION (1986)
While director Ted Nicolaou would go on to create the successful Subspecies franchise for Charles Band’s Full Moon, his first solo directing outing was this oddball horror satire. Featuring a great cast including B-movie favs Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000), Gerrit Graham (Phantom of the Paradise) and Diane Franklin (Better Off Dead), the tone is so WACKY with an exclamation point that it’s liable to be a love it or hate it proposition for many. Features a great parody of Elvira named “Medusa” played by Jennifer Richards.
#14. ARENA (1989)
All the plot scenes and character beats of this sci-fi boxing movie in space are an utter snooze, not helped by the fact that it has the look and feel of a bad ’90s UPN show. However, the monsters by Screaming Mad George are a knockout, pun intended. Due to Band’s inability to recover the original negative elements, this is the only film in the set presented on DVD in pan-and-scan form via an old VHS master, which makes the experience even less fun.
#15. METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN (1983)
This scrappy Mad Max rip-off gets points for implementing a heaping helping of sci-fi imagination, but loses many more for poor execution. It even includes The Road Warrior‘s Michael Preston as the title villain, but the chase sequences are slow as molasses (the cars go about 15 miles-per-hour) and some of the 3D gimmickry is laugh-out-loud silly, including an overlong close-up of a tree. The final jet bike battle is an embarrassment, but the behind-the-scenes doc on the disc at least acknowledges this. The box set includes both a 2D and 3D version.
#16. THE DUNGEONMASTER (1984)
While this anthology film featuring Jeffrey Byron as a computer nerd who has to rescue his girlfriend from a series of random scenarios was a good proving ground for the directors who helmed different segments, most of it is of such varying quality that it becomes tough going even at a scant 73 minutes. Surprisingly, the segment directed by Steve Ford (Gerald Ford’s son!) is the strongest, and he went on to direct nothing else.
#17. GHOST TOWN (1988)
A totally standard low budget trifle about a small town sheriff who gets trapped in a ghost town with literal ghosts. There’s nothing really “wrong” with this totally serviceable B-flick, except that for a horror western made by Empire it’s utterly lacking in any of the wonderful weirdness you would want in it. A few stop motion cowboy skeletons could have gone a long way.
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