Dave Allen, Charles Band, John Carl Buechler, Steven Ford, Peter Manoogian, Ted Nicolaou,
Rosemarie Turko, Stuart Gordon
Starring: Paul Satterfield, Claudia Christian, Yvonne De Carlo, Debrah Farentino, Ian Patrick Williams, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Jeffrey Byron, Leslie Wing, Gary Graham, Anne-Marie Johnson
Year: 1984. 1986, 1987
Duration: 115 / 77 / 77 / 73 / 85 min
Country: USA
BBFC Certification: 18

Sometimes a boxset is an act of reassessment, an opportunity to take something familiar and see it afresh. Sometimes, like here, it’s an opportunity to revel rather than reveal. A chance to mainline nostalgia; an HD sugary hit low on nutritional value perhaps but high on pleasure.

Empire International Pictures was a production and distribution company founded by Charles Band in 1983. From Beyond, Re-Animator, Ghoulies, Troll… Empire made a long list of fun, low-budget movies before toppling under the weight of financial debt in 1988. Band immediately bounced back with Full Moon Entertainment, a company that survives to this day.

Inside the beautiful packaging – with exceptional, playful art from Laurie Greasley – this box set from Arrow offers five movies and a solid flavour of Empire’s output.

The Dungeonmaster is represented in full identity crisis with three versions to choose from: the US theatrical cut plus an international and pre-release cut (the latter two under the original title Ragewar). Computer programmer, Paul (Jeffrey Byron) and his girlfriend, Gwen (Leslie Wing) are transported to a fantasy world when pesky wizard, Mestema (Richard Moll) decides he wants to test his ancient magic against Paul’s semi-sentient computer X-CaliBR8. Cue seven challenges, each directed by a different director. As a grab-bag attempt to cash-in on both the popularity of Tron and Dungeons and Dragons, The Dungeonmaster is, of course, a bit of a mess. Still, the piecemeal structure is also an advantage, just as your attention begins to wander, we’ve moved on. This is a consistent upside to most of Charles Band’s movies in fact: they’re quick. 77 minutes was a standard finishing line for Band, the longest a meagre budget and thin script could stretch for, a spit of fruit squash into a tumbler of tap water. Tasty enough.

Charles Band does love the little, especially when it’s been hand-carved. One only has to look to the never-ending Puppet Master series to see his compulsion writ large.

The second disc’s Dolls predates the above franchise but clearly sows the seeds for it. It has the distinct advantage of being directed by Stuart Gordon, between Re-Animator and squicky-slick, Crampton kinkfest From Beyond.

A group of travellers find themselves stranded at a Gothic house during a storm: young Judy (Lorraine); her loathsome father and stepmother (Williams and Purdy-Gordon), the amiable Ralph (Lee) and a pair of rather unbelievable punks (Stuart and Bailey, the latter more well known for consummating with a pencil drawing of Morten Harket in the video for a-ha’s Take on Me). The house is owned by a pair of eccentric British pensioners (Rolfe and Mason) and heavily populated by homemade wooden toys. Naturally, it’s not long before the pocket-size perils are on the prowl.

Dolls is a jolly romp, aiming for humour as much as horror. The characters are broad. Stuart and Bailey, despite both being English never quite manage to convince us of the fact with their ‘cockney’ accents and you’ll swear Purdy-Gordon has Dalmatian hair on her sofa (and a puppy pelt frock dripping in the wardrobe). But this is all part of the colourful, EC Comics tone.

For fans of Gordon’s fleshier pictures it may seem tame but what it lacks in body horror — or teeth of any kind really — it makes up for with charm and wit. It’s simple, well-executed fun. The cast give it their all until, inevitably, their all is cut into pieces by a hacksaw or smeared on a skirting board. It’s a lovely, enjoyable romp.

Which can’t quite be said of the next disc’s Cellar Dweller. What do you call those artist communes you see in films like this? You know, where one artist is doing weird things with video, another’s writing a crime novel, a third is painting like a child, a fourth indulging in performance art and a fifth drawing horror comics?

Ah yes, ‘fictional’. That’s what you call them. Which is a shame as I’d love to go and write my next novel in one because they’re run by Yvonne De Carlo and they look fun, even if the comic artist has brought a powerful demon to life and it’s bumping the talentless residents off one by one.

Cellar Dweller is a load of old tosh. But it’s fun tosh and that helps.

Don’t get your hopes up with regards the presence of Jeffery Coombs, he’s a cameo at the start of the movie (a side note, Coombs is pretending to draw black and white art that’s actually by Frank Brunner, who started his career as an artist on magazines like Creepy and Eerie before working with Steve Engelhart on Marvel’s Doctor Strange).

Disc four’s Arena is – as Charles Band’s pitch sums up – “a wrestling movie in space”. To pay his debts, Steve (Paul Satterfield) agrees to fight in the galaxy’s biggest bout. If the thought of an Empire budget trying to people the universe with realistic aliens concerns you then you might be surprised by how handsome it looks. Every dollar and cent has been well-spent.

The only available source for this release was a 35mm theatrical print and, while the restoration work is superb, the limitations show. It’s hardly a deal breaker though and there’s no doubt this is as good as the movie is ever going to look.

Finally, we are placed back in the capable hands of Stuart Gordon for Robot-Jox. Pacific Rimfor the VHS age, this tale of giant battle robots was the most expensive film Empire would ever produce (at a budget of $7 Million). It would also be their last as they went bankrupt during production. The movie is absurd, escapist fun and the perfect capstone for the set.

Where Empire of Screams really transcends its subject is in the scores of special features that bolster all five of the films. Set producer, Neil Snowdon has slaved over the whole project with the result that, for many, this will be the home video release of the year. It’s particularly joyful that a package that celebrates the low-fi, bare bones joy of VHS cassettes, their heft, their smell, their grain and crackle, does so with such expansive, high-res, luxuriant excess. This glorious box is filled with wit, love, and care and is awonderful tribute to both the movies and the ethos behind them. Empire (and Full Moon) just want to show you a good time and that’s a noble aim worthy of the level of celebration Arrow have given it.

Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams is released on the 26th June 2023 by Arrow Films as a Limited Edition Blu-ray set. It contains extensive restoration work to improve on previously released versions of the titles and is a beautifully presented, neon-filled surge of nostalgia.


• High Definition Blu-Ray (1080p) presentations of all five films
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Limited edition packaging featuring original artwork by Laurie Greasley
• Reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ilan Sheady
• Double-sided posters for each film featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ilan Sheady
• 15 postcard-sized reproduction artcards
• Arrow Video store “membership card”
• 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

• New 2K restoration by Arrow Films from the original negative
• Three different versions of the film via seamless branching: the US theatrical version (The Dungeonmaster), the pre-release version and the international version (Ragewar)
• Original lossless mono audio
• New audio commentary with star Jeffrey Byron, moderated by film critics Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain
• Reject Your Reality and Substitute My Own, a new interview with star Jeffrey Byron
• Theatrical trailers
• Image gallery

• New 2K restoration by Arrow Films from the original interpositive
• Original lossless stereo audio
• New audio commentary by David Decoteau, Empire alumnus and friend of Stuart Gordon
• Archive audio commentary with director Stuart Gordon and writer Ed Naha
• Archive audio commentary with cast members Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Stephen Lee, Carrie Lorraine, and Ian Patrick Williams
• Assembling Dolls, a new interview with Lee Percy, editor of Dolls, Re-Animator and From Beyond
• Toys of Terror: The Making of Dolls, an archive featurette with Gordon, Yuzna, Purdy-Gordon, Williams, Brian Yuzna, Charles Band and Gabe Bartalos
• Film-to-storyboard comparison
• Theatrical trailers
• Image gallery

• Additional picture restoration by Arrow Films
• Original lossless stereo audio
• New audio commentary by special make-up effects artist Michael Deak who inhabited the Cellar Dweller creature suit, moderated by film critics Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain
• 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
• Inside the Cellar, a new interview with special make-up effects artist Michael Deak
• Original sales sheet
• Original production notes
• VHS trailer
• Empire Pictures trailer reel
• Image galleries, including behind the scenes photos courtesy of special make-up effects artist Michael Deak

• New 2K restoration by Arrow Films from the last known surviving 35mm elements
• Original lossless stereo audio
• New audio commentary with director Peter Manoogian, moderated by film critics Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain
• Alternative fullframe presentation
• Not His Arena, a new interview with co-screenwriter Danny Bilson
• Empire of Creatures, a new interview with special make-up effects artist Michael Deak
• Theatrical trailer
• Image gallery

• New 2K restoration by Arrow Films from the original negative
• Original lossless stereo audio
• 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
• Crash and Burn, a new interview with actor Gary Graham
• Her Name is Athena, a new Interview with actress Anne-Marie Johnson
• The Scale of Battle: David Allen and the FX of Robot Jox, a new appreciation of stop motion animator David Allen by those who knew him, featuring contributions from fellow visual effects artists Steve Burg, Yancy Calzeda, Paul Gentry, Kevin Kutchaver, Dennis Muren and John Vincent
• Looking Back, an archival interview with actor Paul Koslo
• Original sales sheet
• Original production notes
• Theatrical trailer
• Image galleries, including behind the scenes stills courtesy of associate effects director Paul Gentry

Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams
5.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)

About The Author

As a ghost writer, Guy has kicked heroin, robbed a casino, worked as a prison doctor and enjoyed the riches that come as part of being a hugely successful YouTuber. When feeling more himself, he is the author of The Clown Service novels, the Heavens Gate trilogy and the famous sixties newspaper strip that never existed, Goldtiger. He also writes comics for various publishers including 2000AD. He has twice been a finalist in the BBC Audio Drama Awards and as well as writing hundreds of hours of Doctor Who is the co-author of Arkham County for Audible and Children of the Stones for BBC Sounds. He also writes about and reviews and watches and watches and watches film. He lives in Eastbourne with fellow author and live-in genius AK Benedict and their daughters (one hairy and canine, the other human) Verity and Dame Margaret Rutherford.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.