Zombies, aliens, a little skin, lots of gore—and even more laughs—the cinematic universe of Charles Band is legendary. From the toilet-invading creatures of Ghoulies to the time-travelling bounty hunter in Trancers to the pandemic-crashed Corona Zombies, Band has spent four decades giving B-movie lovers exactly what they love. It’s been a wild ride as Band has surfed the ebbs and swells of the industry, his own life often as outrageous as the movies he produces. In CONFESSIONS OF A PUPPETMASTER: A Hollywood Memoir of Ghouls, Guts, and Gonzo Filmmaking (William Morrow; November 16, 2021; $27.99), this congenial master of Grindhouse cinema shares the incredible story of an ordinary movie-loving guy who lived his passion, constantly reinventing genres—and himself.
Born into a family of creative artists, Band spent much of his childhood in Rome where his father worked in the film industry. Early visits to movie sets sealed young Charlie’s fate. By his twenties he had plunged into moviemaking himself and found his calling in exploitation movies—quick, low-budget efforts that exploit the zeitgeist and feed people’s desire for clever, low-brow entertainment. Soon, Band was turning out dozens of movies, establishing himself as a major player. His movies crossed genres, from vampire flix to sci fi, from Lovecraft adaptations to erotic musical adaptations of fairy tales. He cast his movies with Hollywood icons like Roddy McDowell and Christopher Lee and future stars like Helen Hunt and Demi Moore.
Beyond the set, Band’s life was often like an epic adventure tale even his own vivid imagination could not have dreamed up. Returning to his beloved Italy he bought both Dino De Laurentiis’s movie studio and a medieval castle. After Romania’s oppressive communist regime fell, he circumvented the rules and built a studio outside Bucharest. He bought and sold real estate in Los Angeles and Europe; and made and lost moviemaking fortunes with remarkable equanimity. A visionary, Band was early to recognize the future of home video and created his iconic film company Full Moon, making and distributing direct-to-video movies long before the major studios caught on. On the popular AVOD streaming platforms Tubi and Pluto, Full Moon Features generates millions of views per month.
A natural raconteur, Band shares astonishing stories of his misadventures, his personal life, and his encounters with both the great and the notorious:
- His first babysitter was Marilyn Monroe
- At 15, Band opened nightclubs in Rome
- His crew illegally built and then abandoned a giant “old woman who lived in a shoe” set in Los Angeles’s Griffith Park
- A disgruntled creditor (read: loan shark) firebombed his Hollywood Hills home
- He bought Liberace’s house, but only stayed in it one night
- An eye for talent: In addition to Demi Moore (Parasite) and Helen Hunt (Trancers), other Hollywood newbies Band gave early breaks are Kelly Preston and Richard Moll (Metalstorm), Mariska Hargitay (Ghoulies), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Troll), Viggo Mortensen (Prison) and Bill Maher (Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death)
- A seventy-something Stan Lee jumped on Band’s young son’s bed to endear himself to the shy boy
He shares behind-the-scenes secrets from some of his biggest hits, including Head of the Family with its 3-foot long, slimy latex tongue performing unspeakable acts, Re-Animator whose unwatchable dailies were edited into a film even Pauline Kael loved, how Ghoulies was saved by a toilet, and Troll, with its magical child character presciently named … Harry Potter, Jr.
- He had a memorable, if nebulous, business meeting with Michael Jackson at the height of the superstar’s fame
- Gary Busey (The Gingerdead Man) and Klaus Kinski (Crawlspace)—infamous for their “difficult” personalities—wreaked havoc on his sets
- He was arrested at a Florida fan convention and spent a scary weekend in jail
Still going strong and ever adapting with his usual savvy to the world of streaming, Charles Band continues to splatter blood, reanimate corpses, and titillate the teenager in all of us. A candid and engaging glimpse into the Hollywood’s zany underbelly, CONFESSIONS OF A PUPPETMASTER is as entertaining as the movies that made this consummate “schlockmeister” famous.