Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams (1984-1989) – Limited Edition [Blu-ray]

Charles Band and Empire Video and his sub-labels like Full Moon, Moonbeam, Action Xtreme and others were a huge part of the Video store shelves in the eighties and nineties. There was rarely a time where you could walk in to a video store without seeing something from Charles Band on the shelves. Now with Arrow Video unleashing their gargantuan “Enter the Video Store” box set for film collectors, fans can re-live a lot of their favorite titles from Charles Bands’ studios, along with a plethora of vintage extras and even some mementos for good measure. If you fancy yourself a Charles Band fan like I do, “Empire of Screams” will prove to be a treasure trove covering the his golden years from eighties with titles newly, digitally restored.

I’m assuming there’s a second box set planned spanning the 1990’s. Fingers crossed.

The Dungeonmaster (aka Ragewar) is a cheesy but fun anthology fantasy film. It centers on a computer programmer named Paul Bradford who is sucked in to a fantasy world by a demonic sorcerer (classic scene stealer Richard Moll). It’s kinda, sort of like “Tron,” but not. The collective of Rosemarie Turko, Steve Ford, Ted Nicolaou, Charles Band, David Allen, John Carl Buechler, Peter Manoogian offer up what is a series of tales with Paul traversing this harsh land in order to save his girlfriend. Despite the limited budget, the movie is a fun, compact genre adventure even including one of Bands’ (W.A.S.P., bitches!) infamous inexplicable rock music numbers.

Previously available through Scream Factory, this upgrade includes a 2K restoration from the original negative. There are three alternate versions of the movie – the seventy three minutes US Theatrical Version, the seventy eight minutes Pre-release Version, and the seventy seven minutes International Version. There’s also a brand new Audio commentary with star Jeffrey Byron, moderated by film critics Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain. There’s the 15 minutes I Reject Your Reality and Substitute My Own, a new interview with star Jeffrey Byron, who discusses his career with Band and after Band. Finally, there’s a 2 minutes Theatrical Trailer, a 3 minutes Alternate Trailer and an Image Gallery.

Dolls is another compact but very good horror movie from the late, great Stuart Gordon. Coming off of “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond,” Gordon’s gothic horror movie is a more low key entry with creeping suspense and terror. It’s also the beginnings of Charles Band’s unusual obsession with miniature objects. It’s also a precursor to the gigantic “Puppet Master” movie series. Gordon’s film is very much like a dark fairy tale where a group of hapless characters are prey to an evil old couple dwelling in their house filled with supernatural, murderous dolls.

Also previously a Scream Factory release, this is also restored on 2K. Arrow carries over all of the 2014 Scream Factory extras, but with a new audio commentary by David Decoteau, Empire alumnus and friend of Stuart Gordon. There’s also the 17 minutes “Assembling the Dolls,” a new interview with Lee Percy, editor of Dolls, Re-Animator and From Beyond.

Cellar Dweller comes from John Carl Buechler, and is a very good horror meta-comic book creature feature hybrid. It’s another compact fun horror movie with folks like Brian Robbins, Debrah Farentino, Jeffrey Combs, and Yvonne De Carlo on board. Here we meet Whitney, an art student who attends an art academy where years earlier, a famed horror comic book artist Colin Childress was burned alive. The school’s headmistress takes issue with Whitney’s morbid at work, and begins to bother her when Whitney takes an interest in Childress’ work. When Whitneys dig deeper, she finds Childress’ basement studio where she inadvertently unleashes a demonic presence that may or may not be murdering students in the school.

Since the Scream Factory release from 2015 was barebones, Arrow includes a new audio commentary by special make-up effects artist Michael Deak who inhabited the Cellar Dweller creature suit, as moderated by film critics Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain. New interviews includes the 16 minutes Grabbed by the Ghoulies, a new appreciation of John Carl Buechler, special make-up effects artist of many Empire Pictures films and director of Cellar Dweller, by film critics Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain, the 17 minutes Inside the Cellar, a new interview with special make-up effects artist Michael Deak. There’s also the Original Sales Sheet, Original Production Notes, a brief VHS Trailer, an 11 minutes Empire Pictures Trailer Reel, a VHS style 17 minutes Empire Pictures Trailer Reel, plus a pair of Image Galleries.

Arena is an imaginative science fiction action picture screaming for a big budget remake. I’d love to see this concept realized with a blockbuster mindset. That said, Arena is one of my favorite from Bands’ studio offerings that works on a micro budget but is damn fun. Peter Manoogian’s genre hybrid set in a distant galaxy where Earthling Steve Armstrong (Paul Satterfield), a short order cook who dreams of becoming an Arena fighter. The Arena is a brutal sport dominated by alien-fighters of all kinds from all walks of life. When he catches the attention of promoter Quinn (Claudia Christian), she makes it her mission to turn him in to a superstar Arena combatant.

But that’s going to be difficult when some local alien crime lords decide to rig Steve’s rise to the top. The movie’s enthusiasm and creativity outweighs a lot of the bare bones production quality and obvious flaws. I just love it. This new release includes a new Audio Commentary with director Peter Manoogian, moderated by film critics Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain. There’s the 15 minutes Not His Arena, a new interview with co-screenwriter Danny Bilson, the 16 minutes Empire of Creatures, a new interview with special make-up effects artist Michael Deak. There are also the 4 minutes of Theatrical Trailers, and a pair of Image Galleries.

Robot Jox is a science fiction gem from the late, great Stuart Gordon. Starring Anne-Marie Johnson, Jeffrey Combs, Robert Sampson, et al. Gordon’s movie has aged well. It’s a giant robot science fiction movie in the vein of “Gundam” (I said in the vein. I never said it is “Gundam.” Relax.).  Set fifty years after a nuclear war. the remaining people of Earth have split into two separate factions, the Western-influenced Market and the Russian-themed Confederation. Now the Market and Confederation land-resource disputes are settled through gladiator-styled matches fought by human-piloted robots, the pilots are knows as “robot jox”. It has political intrigue, it has action, it has war, and it has giant stop motion robots battling to the death. I love it.

The special features includes archive audio commentary with director Stuart Gordon, archive audio commentary with associate effects director Paul Gentry, mechanical effects artist Mark Rappaport, and stop-motion animator Paul Jessell. There’s Crash and Burn, a new 17 minutes interview with actor Gary Graham. Her Name is Athena, is a 13 minutes new Interview with actor Anne-Marie Johnson. The Scale of Battle: David Allen and the FX of Robot Jox, is a 26 minutes tribute to stop motion animator David Allen by those who knew him, featuring contributions from fellow visual effects artists. There is the 10 minutes Looking Back, an archival interview with actor Paul Koslo, as well as the Original Sales Sheet, Original Production Notes, and the Theatrical Trailer. Finally, there’s the extensive image gallery, courtesy of associate effects director Paul Gentry.

The Limited Edition contents includes packaging featuring excellent newly commissioned artwork by Laurie Greasley, there are Reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ilan Sheady, as well as double sided posters for each film featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ilan Sheady. There also 15 postcard-sized reproduction artcards from the various films, as well as a novelty Arrow Video store “membership card”. Finally, there’s an 80-page perfect bound book featuring new writing on the films by Lee Gambin, Dave Jay, Megan Navarro, and John Harrison plus select archival material.