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The comic books of the '90's?

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Here’s one way to get ahead in the world of direct-to-video schlock: Think small. Producer-director-writer Charles Band has cooked up tiny terrors such as killer puppets, diminutive demons, and shin-high crime fighters (all antagonists of normal size are humans), and while his films don’t play in theaters, on tape they often become a big deal. ”My whole idea was to make comic books of the ’90s,” says Band, founder and chairman of Full Moon Entertainment, the B-movie factory that has manufactured such video hits as Demonic Toys and the Puppet Master series. The son of spaghetti-Western auteur Albert Band, Charles started out directing such schlockers as the 3-D Parasite (1982) and in 1983 started Empire International, a prolific independent studio responsible for such low-budget successes as Re-Animator and Trancers. In 1988 he sold his interest in Empire and a few months later began sowing the seeds of Full Moon.

Helping to push the ”product” (a word Band favors over ”film” or ”movie”) is a merchandising arm that includes trading cards, fan clubs, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and — naturally — comic books. With Trancers III and IV and ”four or five” more Puppet Masters in the offing, Band says, ”It’s kinda like we’re making a successful TV series here.”

Full Moon movies (available through Paramount) tend to fall into several broad categories. Here are some notable titles:

Little Critter Movies: Puppet Master (1989) A fun, if derivative, horror opus marked by terrific stop-motion-animated creatures doing supremely icky things. B+Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991) This relatively lavish prequel pits the ferocious mini-mannequins against Nazis in 1941 Berlin. Achtung, baby doll. B+Subspecies (1991) A vampire tale featuring a great blood-drooling villain who creates an army of fiendish homunculi by breaking off his fingers. BDemonic Toys (1992) It’s Child’s Play to the nth degree as a variety of satanic playthings wreak predictably sanguinary havoc. C

Period Exploitation: Meridian (1990) This visually sumptuous soft-core take on Beauty and the Beast offers the opportunity to ogle Sherilyn Fenn getting groped by a monster monkey. BThe Pitt and the Pendulum (1991) Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon tackles the Poe tale with grisly vigor and anachronistic comic relief. B-

Movies Starring Tim Thomerson: Dollman (1991) After a promising opening, this brainless actioner about a Ken-size supercop degenerates into a haphazard annoyance. D+ Trancers II: The Return (1991) A chintzy-even-by- Band-standards comic sci-fi outing that fails to inspire even the slightest chuckle. What’s more remarkable is that Band himself directed it. D+