Obsessed With Little Dudes

A semi-psychiatric exploration into horror mogul Charles Band’s career-long infatuation with tiny monsters.

Full Moon Pictures founder Charles Band has been called many things: an icon, a low budget profit-hungry huckster and -- with increasing frequency over the past few decades -- a bad, bad filmmaker. But one thing that has dodged serious scrutiny is his seemingly unhealthy fixation with teeny creatures.

From bloodthirsty jack-in-the-boxes to pizza-surfing space buddies, Band’s talent for presenting the public with diminutive protagonists borders on maniacal. His relentless productivity since the late ‘70s showcases an ever-inflating propensity for dishing out lil’ dudes, with the new millennium of his directorial output offering a 2/1 ratio of wee beasties vs. full-grown horrors. For every single underclothed vampiress he unleashes on a disinterested DVD market, there are two Gingerdead Man sequels laying in wait.

It isn’t right.

Questions are raised. What’s the appeal? Does the public actually demand yet another Demonic Toys installment every decade or so? What could have taken place in Band’s past that steered him down this narrow creative road? Sure, there are profit-based explanations. The success of Gremlins, the rental market’s inexplicably enduring support of the straight-to-VHS Puppet Master franchise, even just the fact that it takes less materials and cash to build a foot-tall creature instead of a hulking one. But all of these excuses collapse under the passage of time. Gremlins is practically three decades old, Puppet Master follows close behind and cruddy modern effects work could allow for Band’s visions to run as large as he could imagine.

Band’s career as a producer started with some of the better small horror films of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, like the incredible Tourist Trap and the guilty pleasure Laserblast. So why the undying devotion to pint-sized mankillers? It’d be a slanderous stretch to assume that Band is personally drawn to all sub-adult-sized bipeds, and his beasties are really never childlike. Instead, they’re usually just nightmarish variations on toys or dolls, or even just grown-ups shrunken down to action figure proportions. I wondered, “Is this a fascination that he assumes we all share, and if so, has anyone tried telling him we don’t?”

Obsessed with this man’s obsession, I phoned a former Band collaborator who says he wishes to remain nameless. We chatted for a while, and then I dropped the question:

“What’s with all the lil’ dudes?”

There was a long pause, and X replied, “I don’t know. None of us ever got it, really. I guess he just likes them.”

That’s it?

“Yeah. I mean, y’know, Puppet Master and Ghoulies; those were really big hits on video. But when it got to the point of putting out stuff like, say, Dollman vs. Demonic Toys…I guess that is pretty weird, now that I think about it.”

Not the revelation I was hoping for, but it’s fascinating to learn that even Band’s fellow Lilliput-pushers would lock eyes and shrug behind his back. The conversation went on as we both recounted Band’s chronological history of cinematic spud-slinging:

The Day Time Ended (1980) – A low-key but severely underwatched scifi epic and Band’s first foray into wild tinies. Wee spaceships piloted by claymation creatures invade a family’s desert home. I mistook this film for a false memory for almost twenty years until my friend Dormarth passed along the VHS.

Parasite (1982; released theatrically in 3D) – The post-apocalypse brings many threats, one being a razor-toothed little tuber that’ll eat through your torso in minutes. Band did an audience Q&A for this at our theater and said really gross, personal things about having sex with one of the actresses. A miserable moment in Alamo history.

The Dungeonmaster aka Ragewar (1984) – A mystical scifi anthology that includes some subterranean dwarven thrills. And great footage of the glam metal band WASP murdering people.

Ghoulies (1985) – Spawning three sequels and – for many ‘80s children entranced by the VHS sleeve – an unreasonable fear of toilets.

Zone Troopers (1985) – In which Dio-sized aliens help us defeat Hitler and win World War II. Based on a true story, probably.

Troll (1986) – This movie features the best air guitar scene in history, and more body hair than a dozen Robin Williamses. Note: Not actually related to the all-powerful Troll II, which Band had zero creative involvement in.

Dolls (1987) – Cute little porcelain sadists assault new wavers and cruel stepmothers.

Puppet Master (1989) – Which spawned 10 sequels (!), a line of action figures and tons of merchandising that I’ve never seen anywhere beyond the Full Moon website.

…as you can imagine, the list expands exponentially from here. The ankle-biting vampires of the Subspecies series lasted four movies just like Demonic Toys, while countless one-offs like Shrunken Heads and The Creeps clog his filmography.

He even spent much of the ‘90s churning out kid-friendly variations on his incessant theme, like the alien squirts of Pet Shop and the minisaurs of the Prehysteria films.

All in all, from his humble beginnings to Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver, Band can be held responsible for a full 59 feature films filled with undersized antagonists. It’s an insane career that can’t be explained rationally. Has any one filmmaker (outside of the porn business) dedicated himself so thoroughly to such a specific genre? As much as I’d love to laud him as a prolific creative force, is praise valid for the director of Evil Bong 3D: The Wrath of Bong? Maybe it’s 100% acceptable that Charles Band has established himself as the John Ford of lil’ dude movies. But where Ford examined themes of masculinity and morality, Band has gradually shaped his legacy into an R-rated puppet show.

It isn’t right.