When one mentions Charles Band’s Full Moon Features (formerly Full Moon Entertainment) to other horror fans, there are generally one of two reactions. Either that person will (A) reminisce fondly about the early days of the studio, when they first released the films that would become their biggest successes, such as the Puppet Master, Subspecies, and Trancers series, or (B) they will both laugh and cringe at the thought of their more recent franchises, such as Evil Bong and The Gingerdead Man; possibly even newer titles like the dreadfully unfunny Barbie and Kendra films or (deity-of-your-choice forbid) the abysmal Corona Zombies (which was nothing more than an edited down version of Bruno Mattei’s Hell of the Living Dead with newly-shot, completely unrelated footage added in).
Some horror fans may immediately think of that time that Charlie tried selling duplicated VHS copies of older films as original copies that mysteriously “got lost” for 30 years. Band still insists that they are legit, but sorry, Charlie…. no one is buying that story… even if they ARE buying the cassettes.
I tend to lean more towards side A, crediting the early years of Full Moon with helping to firmly establish my love for horror. That said, I’m undoubtedly someone who has the same reaction as side B when I see some of the phoned-in bullshit that Full Moon has released over the last 15-20 years. While I will openly discuss my love for Demonic Toys, Dollman, Crash and Burn, and those first aforementioned series, one early Full Moon film that I never really find myself mentioning is 1992’s Netherworld.
One of Full Moon’s earliest films (Home video copies of Band’s 1970’s era features such as Tourist Trap and Laserblast may be sold by Full Moon now, but were originally released by the Irwin Yablans Company) Netherworld was directed by David Schmoeller, who had previously directed Tourist Trap, Puppet Master, Crawlspace, and a few other films for Band. The two have seemingly had a falling out over the years, presumably due in large part to Band’s relabeling re-releases of Puppet Master as “A Charles Band Film”, thus essentially depriving Schmoeller credit for starting what would undoubtedly become Full Moon’s most successful franchise. (One that has not only seen damned near a dozen sequels of increasingly lower quality, but also spawned a remake in 2018).
Netherworld tells the story of Corey Thornton (Michael Bendetti, who had previously appeared on the 5th season of “21 Jump Street“, after the show had been cancelled by Fox, picked up for syndication, and most of the original cast replaced), a young man who travels to Louisiana after inheriting the mansion of his recently deceased father (Re-Animator‘s Robert Sampson). While this may seem like a fantastic parting gift for many, the situation is an odd one for Corey as he never really knew the man.
Upon his arrival at the estate, Corey is greeted by a cast of bizarre characters, including his father’s black-gloved lawyer (Robert Burr – A Return to Salem’s Lot, Ghost Story), his father’s live-in housekeeper/assistant (Anjanette Comer – The Baby, Dead of Night), and her flirtatious teenaged daughter, Diane (portrayed by Holly Floria, who later appeared in the TV series “Acapulco H.E.A.T“… and is very much not a teenager.)
Even more bizarre, Corey soon reads his father’s will and learns that the old man has discovered a way to return from the world of the dead in order to live again. Of course, he will need his son’s help in the matter. This leads Corey to a local brothel, where he meets Delores (Denise Gentile – TV’s “Santa Barbara” and “Babylon 5“), a prostitute with the powers of black magic. Unbeknownst to Corey, at least not as of yet, Delores also possesses a few other powers, namely the ability to turn bad people into birds. Mind you, this does not seem to be a painless process. Not in the slightest.
While Corey seems to have an obvious attraction to the underaged Diane, this doesn’t stop him from starting a sexual relationship with Delores. Naturally, Diane is not one bit pleased by this discovery, but seems more concerned for Corey’s well-being than she is about the fact that he’s boning not only a woman who is not her, but a prostitute at that.
As one may expect, there are a few twists and turns, and at least one character’s motives prove to be more sinister than expected. Well, maybe not, as the final outcome (while not necessarily predictable) is far from surprising. While Netherworld may be one of the most story-driven entries from Full Moon’s earliest days, and also arguably one of their oddest, the film is far from cohesive, making the film a tad confusing at times. Even the demonic-looking hand featured in the film’s poster art (and trailers) adds little to the film other than a couple bloody, but not overly gory, kills.
While I wouldn’t exactly call the performances in Netherworld “bad”, most aren’t overly convincing, particularly Floria’s “teenager”. That said, hers in not the worst performance in the film, as that dubious “honor” goes to the actress playing the prostitute who claims to be a resurrected Marilyn Monroe. Sadly (VERY sadly), she looks and sounds nothing like Marilyn, despite the cheap blonde wig (God, I hope that was a wig!) that she wearing. Passenger 57‘s Alex Datcher gives the film’s best performance (IMO) in a small role as a prostitute named Mary Magdalene…. who very well may be the ACTUAL Mary Magdalene. Schmoeller also appears a few times in the film as a bartender, adding nothing to the film but his ability to spin beer bottles on his fingertips.
Overall, Netherworld is very much a slow burn. Unfortunately, it’s one that doesn’t really go anywhere interesting or exciting. The film does feature make-up effects from Mark Shostrom, who also worked on A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Evil Dead II, and Dick Tracy. However, other than one living corpse (unliving corpse?), there’s not much to see, other than the bird transformation. Even then, these generally occur in the backgrounds of shots and are not clearly seen. I can only assume that they weren’t any more convincing up-close as they are from a distance.
In closing, Netherworld is one that I would generally recommend passing up. If anything, the film’s most interesting aspect may be that it features appearances and music from Edgar Winter and Bon Jovi keyboardist, David Bryan. I use the word “interesting” only because I have no clue why they are in the movie to begin with.