German magazin Moviestar titled an ’88 article devoted to Charles Band’s Empire International “Screen-Comics for the 80’s”, that’s certainly as accurate a summarizing of the ‘Empire Style’ as can be made.
And cinefantastique says in an ’95 article about Full Moon Entertainment, Band’s follow-up company to short-lived Empire,
“If nothing else Charles Band has proven himself a master of advertising”these were the keys to the success of Empire international.
Charles Band was on the way to become for the video market what Golan-Globus were for eighties cinema, but same as the Cannon Group, Empire fell in the end victim to it’s ambition.
Charles Band founded Empire after having shot “Parasite” (a movie that was probably only saved from oblivion because it marked young Demi Moore’s screen debut) in order to gain better control over the publication and merchandising of his movies.
“Swordkill” the actual first Empire production was only later released, reputedly the first release made was the vanity project “Dungeonmaster” a episode movie for which every one of the Empire house directors created a segment, the movie is shockingly bad even for Empire’s low-budget standards (nonetheless Empire produced a follow up called “Pulse Pounders”).
Soon afterwards followed little movies like the Blade Runner/Terminator rip-off “Trancers”, the Fantasy/Horror themed “Troll” and the acclaimed “Eleminators” that managed to quickly gather a devoted following but it was Stuart Gordon’s Lovecraft adaptation “Re-Animator” (a co-production between Charles Band & Brian Yuzna) that cemented Empire’s renown.
With only a handful of movies Empire had become a household name, a synonym for cheap but solid genre productions, but at the height of it’s game Empire was already falling apart.
Band miscalculated the economic market when buying DeLauretiis old studio complex, affectionately named Dinocittà, in Italy for his Empire International, calculating on cheap production costs due to a strong Dollar. Also in order to sustain growth and satisfy the fast growing video market Band bought independent productions shot out-house that more often than not couldn’t keep up with the expected Empire standard and released them under the label Wizard Video. On top of this Band financed a further vanity project, the dreaded “Pulse Pounders”, and started his most prestigious project; the (for Empire standards) high budgeted “Robot Jox” intended to mark both Empire’s and Stuart Gordon’s rise to a higher league should only become their Swan Song. Despite the advance accolades “Robot Jox” got from the press it could not save Empire from the inevitable but rather bound up to much resources and took to long to finish to be of any use to the already faltering company and after only five short years Empire had to close doors in ‘88.
In Germany the publisher VPS video continued for some time publishing under the Empire label such movies as “Godzilla vs. Biolante” or “Dark Room” but also movies that had started out as Empire projects and got finished under Band’s new direct-to-video label Full Moon Entertainment like “Arena”.
How many of the by then un-produced movies managed to escape Empire’s fall is hard to tell exactly, Full Moons “The Primevals” was already part of the Empire catalogue and some reputed lost movies like “Huntress” appeared later on Band’s newly founded, ill-fated erotic label Torchlight.
But in spite of the fact that Full Moon continued and finalised some of their projects the more prolific, financially more stable follow-up misses the spirit which made up Empire. If one was searching for a company to name as heir, Brian Yuzna’s Fantastic Factory would be closer to retaining the old Empire spirit.
A Empire cover gallery
Thanks are in order to fellow bloggers
Otto Rivers from videotopsy
Video junkie William S. Wilson