Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Jul 31, 2023
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams (Blu-ray Review)



Release Date(s)

Various (June 27, 2023)


Empire Pictures (Arrow Video)
  • Film/Program Grade: See Below
  • Video Grade: See Below
  • Audio Grade: See Below
  • Extras Grade: A+
  • Overall Grade: A+

Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!


[Editor’s Note: This is a co-review by Stephen Bjork and Tim Salmons.]

In the annals of low-budget independent filmmaking, the name Roger Corman towers over the rest, thanks in no small part to his longevity and his resiliency. He’s not alone in that regard, however, as there have been a few other mini-moguls out there who don’t necessarily have the same level of name recognition that he does. One of them is the slightly less legendary (if also somewhat more notorious) Charles Band. Like Corman, Band kept reinventing himself throughout his career, though not always with the same levels of success. While Corman was able to sell companies like New World Pictures for a profit, Band tended to make a move because he didn’t have any other choice at the time.

When his original production company Charles Band International Productions struggled with distribution deals, he formed a new company named Empire International Pictures in 1983 to handle both production and distribution of low-budget exploitation films. Over the course of the rest of the decade, Empire released some fifty different titles, most of them made on a shoestring, but a few having a bit more ambition than the rest. It’s the latter category that helped to contribute to Empire’s eventual collapse, especially since the independent film market was changing irrevocably as the home video market grew. Yet Band responded by reinventing himself yet again, forming his direct-to-video label Full Moon Entertainment immediately after his exit from Empire. Sometimes, you just have to keep moving forward.

Still, it’s his Empire period that tends to be remembered the most fondly by genre fans, and with good reason. Even when budgets were at their lowest, Empire films still displayed a Roger Corman level of creativity, and when the budgets were higher, they often had aspirations to match. With the Limited Edition Blu-ray boxed set Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams, Arrow Video has collected a representative sample of both ends of the spectrum for Empire International Pictures: The Dungeonmaster (1984), Dolls (1986), Cellar Dweller (1987), Arena (1989), and Robot Jox (1990). That covers the entire era from Empire’s earliest days to its last gasps—Robot Jox wasn’t actually released until two years after Empire’s assets had been seized by Crédit Lyonnais and bought out by Moshe Diamant and Eduard Sarlui’s Epic Productions. It was an ignominious end for a company that produced some of the most memorable exploitation titles of the Eighties.

The Dungeonmaster (aka Ragewar) was Empire’s second release after The Alchemist in 1983, and while it was indeed produced on a shoestring, the concept was rather interesting. Seven segments helmed by seven different directors, all of them held together by a framing story. Despite the North American title being an obvious attempt to capitalize on the growing popularity of the board game Dungeons & Dragons, The Dungeonmaster is really more of a riff on computer gaming than it is on tabletop roleplaying. Paul Bradford (Jeffrey Byron) is a computer wizard who has developed a unique bond with an artificially intelligent computer that he designed named X-CaliBR8. Their connection is close enough that it’s caused a rift between Paul and his girlfriend Gwen (Leslie Wing), but when the two of them are drawn into an underworld governed by the ominous figure of Mestema (Richard Moll), Paul is forced to fight to save her life. Mestema has proposed a series of winner-take-all games, pitting his own ancient magics against that of Paul’s magical technology—with Gwen as the ultimate prize. Mestema dubs Paul the Excalibrate and then transports him into seven different trials to battle for dominance, where Paul will need to use his wits as well as his bond with X-CaliBR8 in order to win.

While it’s not entirely clear who helmed the framing story, and the script is credited pseudonymously as “Allen Actor,” the various segments were generally written by their directors: Rosemarie Turko, John Carl Buechler, Band, David Allen, Peter Manoogian, and Ted Nicolaou. The only exception is the segment directed by Steve Stafford (credited as Steve Ford), which was written by star Jeffrey Bryon. Many of these lean into the strengths of their individual directors, with John Carl Buechler’s Demons of the Desert featuring a diminutive animatronic imp charmingly named Ratspit. David Allen’s Stone Canyon Giant naturally involves a stop-motion animated creature that was his homage to Ray Harryhausen’s Talos. It may be glimpsed far too briefly in the final cut, but it still shows off his prodigious talents. Rather incongruously, Band’s section features the Eighties rock band W.A.S.P., proving just how piecemeal that the production really was. (Never one to waste material, no matter how strange, Band would later re-use some of this footage in TerrorVision.) All of that means that The Dungeonmaster isn’t particularly coherent, and the segments are variable in terms of quality, but it’s still entertaining enough for a low-budget quickie. It’s briskly paced, a few of the creatures are memorable, and if all else fails, it offers Richard Moll chewing scenery with abandon.

Note that there are actually three different edits of The Dungeonmaster, all of which are included in this set: the pre-release cut running 87:59, the international cut running 87:23, and the U.S. theatrical (and home video) cut running 83:35. The pre-release and international versions are both under the original title Ragewar, while the U.S. theatrical version bears the more familiar title of The Dungeonmaster. The biggest differences are that the segments are in a different order in all three versions, and the pre-release & international versions both include a prologue that was omitted from the U.S. version. The international cut also drops a few shots from the pre-release cut, including some full-frontal nudity (although for some strange reason, there’s still another shot of frontal nudity that was left intact). The pre-release version is the most complete one out of the three, so it’s definitely the best choice—although if you’re familiar with either of the two other versions, the altered order of the segments might seem a little jarring at first.

The Dungeonmaster was shot by cinematographer Mac Ahlberg on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The main source of the three presentations is a new 2K restoration of a 4K scan of the original camera negative, mixed with an existing high definition master supplied by MGM. Other materials that were used aren’t mentioned by Arrow. The majority of the three presentations offers a major uptick in detail with more pronounced grain and a modest bitrate. The prologue that opens the pre-release and international versions is very soft, meaning that it was likely taken from the previously existing master. Judging the color palette for this film can be complicated, mainly because the various segments are so vastly different from each other, but hues are generally good, though flesh tones tend to appear a bit too pink at times. Contrast is decent with generally deep blacks and nice shadow detail. David Allen’s wonderful stop-motion sequence blends a little better thanks to the newfound clarity, though the softness and grain fluctuations remain, forever a part of the original cinematography. This is also true of many of the opticals and various special effects sequences. Truth be told, The Dungeonmaster has always been a rough film visually, but these new Frankensteined presentations offer it in the best possible light.

Audio is included in English mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. Compared to the other films in this set, which were all recorded with Ultra Stereo surround mixes, The Dungeonmaster’s mono soundtrack is definitely tame by comparison. It’s not an entirely flat track though, offering good support for score and sound effects in particular, with clear dialogue as well. It’s also a clean track with no real issues, including a lack of sibilance and hiss.


Dolls was the second film that director Stuart Gordon made for Empire after Re-Animator (although due to an extended post-production period, it ended up being the third one released). While Roger Corman is noteworthy for having provided early opportunities for many directors who would go on to bigger and better things, such as Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, and Joe Dante, the same thing isn’t quite as true of Charles Band. Still, he did give Gordon a break, and the two would end up having a long association with each other that extended well into Band’s Full Moon period. Dolls was a pretty drastic thematic shift after the Lovecraftian horror of Re-Animator, and it’s not surprising that Gordon would end up returning to the Lovecraft well for his follow-up effort From Beyond. Yet Dolls still carries all the entertainingly campy hallmarks of Gordon’s best work.

The script by Ed Naha opens on an appropriately dark and stormy night, when a young girl named Judy (Carrie Lorraine), her abusive father David (Ian Patrick Williams), and her Cruella De Vil-esque stepmother Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon) are forced to take shelter in a mansion owned by the elderly Gabriel and Hilary Hardwicke (Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason). The Hardwickes are veteran toymakers, and their home is filled with an impressive collection of dolls, toys, and other figurines. Along with some fellow travelers who have also been stranded in the storm, Judy and her family will discover that there’s more to this menagerie than meets the eye. Dolls also stars Stephen Lee, Bunty Bailey, and Cassie Stuart.

As that description should make abundantly clear, Dolls is essentially The Old Dark House flavored with shades of Tourist Trap—which is no coincidence, since Tourist Trap had been an early pre-Empire release from Charles Band Productions. (Band was never shy about milking the same material for everything it was worth, and he would continue to do so in the Full Moon era with series like The Puppet Master and Demonic Toys.) There’s a good reason why horror filmmakers have kept mining the subject of dolls, mannequins, wax figures, and ventriloquist dummies throughout the decades: they’re inherently creepy. Whatever flaws that may be contained in any individual film that uses these kinds of simulacra, it only takes a few shots of their macabre faces shrouded in shadow to raise the stakes.

Dolls does quite well in that regard, with an abundance of animatronic figures handled by John Carl Buechler’s crew, and some nifty stop-motion animation from David Allen. It’s the latter creations that extended the post-production schedule and delayed the release of Dolls, but Allen delivered some remarkably ambitious shots on a limited budget. While they’re all fairly brief, a few of them feature a large quantity of figures animated together in the same frame. Band did demand the addition of some graphic gore effects that don’t necessarily mesh well with the tone of the film as a whole; this is one case where everything may have felt a bit more balanced with a PG-13 rating rather than a hard R. Still, Gordon managed to maintain just the right kind of tongue-in-cheek flavor despite those occasional excesses, and so Dolls provides vivid proof of just how special the late director really was.

Dolls was shot by cinematographer Mac Ahlberg on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Presented here is a new 2K restoration from the original 35 mm interpositive. It looks amazing, blowing the previous Blu-ray out of the water with higher levels of detail, a much more generous bitrate, and attractive levels of grain. Even the variances in the stop-motion sections are improved, blending much better with the material that surround them. It’s a clean but healthy presentation with perfect contrast, featuring deep blacks and extreme detail in the shadows (a UHD release with HDR would boost them even more). The color palette is gorgeous with a wide array of hues throughout Hardwicke mansion. It’s a stunner.

Audio is included in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. The 5.1 track spreads out the Ultra Stereo surround soundtrack a bit more, boosting the low end and giving a little more clarity to the various elements. The 2.0 track is terrific, but the 5.1 aids the film dutifully, giving its sound design some much-needed muscle.


Cellar Dweller is a fairly conventional creature feature, inspired indirectly by The Crate segment of Creepshow. Colin Childress (Empire stalwart Jeffrey Combs) is a comic book artist whose drawings spring to unexpected life one evening while he’s working in his basement studio. He discovers a mysterious leather-bound book with a pentagram on the cover, and reads from the enchanted pages within it. While working on a panel showing a woman being attacked by a demonic creature, the scene suddenly is enacted for real right in front of him. When he sets fire to his illustrations in order to stop the beast, he ends up burning himself to death. Thirty years later, the house has been renovated and turned into an art colony called The Throckmorton Institute, run by the elderly Mrs. Briggs (Yvonne De Carlo). Whitney Taylor (Debrah Farantino) is an aspiring comic book artist who joins the colony hoping to channel the spirit of Childress. That ends up working out in ways that she never could have anticipated when her own Childress-inspired drawings revive the monster—and much worse. Cellar Dweller also stars Brian Robbins (Head of the Class), Vince Edwards, Cheryl-Ann Wilson, and Pamela Bellwood.

Cellar Dweller is little more than an old-school monster movie with updated animatronic makeup effects and gore—a fact that it freely acknowledges by using the classic Universal Studios “A good cast is worth repeating” tagline over the closing credits. The Cellar Dweller itself bears a passing resemblance to the fabulous demon that producer Hal E. Chester added to Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon against the wishes of the director, with just a touch of Fluffy from Creepshow thrown in for good measure. That may or may not have been deliberate, but Cellar Dweller was helmed by John Carl Buechler, who also supervised the makeup effects, and he certainly knew his monster movie history. The script was by future Child’s Play scribe Don Mancini (credited as Kit Du Bois), who also knew his history—it’s a good guess that the Universal Studios reference was his idea. Mancini didn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but he supplied plenty of opportunity for Buechler to flex his latex muscles. The effects are the primary reason why a film like Cellar Dweller exists in the first place, and despite the limited budget, Buechler threw himself into them with abandon. Whatever flaws that vintage Eighties animatronics like these may have, they still possess that wonderful tactile quality that’s missing from modern CGI. Cellar Dweller may not achieve the heights of other Empire productions like Robot Jox, but it was never intended to, and it still delivers the Empire goods.

Cellar Dweller was shot by cinematographer Sergio Salvati on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This release carries over the same HD master used for Scream Factory’s previous Blu-ray release, which was bundled with the film Catacombs. It’s print-sourced as original elements likely couldn’t be located, but additional grading and restoration work has been performed on it. As such, the color palette is a little more even with more natural flesh tones. Blacks tend to suffer a bit, but overall contrast is improved. Grain is variable due to the source, but a much higher bitrate has been employed here. Minor speckling still remains, but it’s an otherwise enjoyable presentation considering its source.

Audio is included in English 2.0 LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s very restrained in comparison to some of the other Ultra Stereo-sourced tracks found in this release, but it offers good support for the various elements with no real issues to speak of.


Arena landed near the end of the Empire era, when the budgets were a little higher and the ambitions were loftier, but the writing was already on the wall regarding the fate of the studio. In a few respects, it formed something of a dry run for Robot Jox, using the same basic story template in a slightly less expansive setting. The script from the dynamic duo of Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo is set on a station in deep space, where Steve Armstrong (Paul Satterfield) and his four-armed pal Shorty (Hamilton Camp) find themselves unemployed after Armstrong defends himself against an alien patron at the diner where they both work. Armstrong’s pugilistic skills end up catching the eye of a fight manager named Quinn (Claudia Christian), who’s impressed that a mere human was able to defeat a more powerful alien. Official fights on the station take place in the Arena, where a handicapping system weakens stronger opponents in order to maintain a level playing field between species. Quinn enlists Armstrong into her stable, and his success brings both of them into conflict with the rival fight manager Rogor (Marc Alaimo), who is willing to do anything in order to win. As Armstrong rises through the ranks and reaches a title bout with Rogor’s cyborg champion Horn (Michael Deak), his team ends up locked in a battle for survival, both inside and outside the ring. Arena also stars Armin Shimerman and Shari Shattuck.

Arena is loaded with the kind of earnest whimsy that has always been a hallmark of Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo’s work. From Trancers to Zone Troopers to The Rocketeer, they’ve always had a knack for keeping their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks, but without any traces of the cynicism or mockery that other writers would have been tempted to include. The pair took their silliness quite seriously, which usually the most effective approach. They also filled Arena with amusing references to professional wrestling, the Marx Brothers, This Island Earth, and much more. (Fans of Mystery Science Theatre 3000: The Movie will want to listen carefully for a fleeting allusion to Exeter’s favorite device). Tonal balance can be tricky with this kind of material, but Bilson and DeMeo always nailed it without ever veering too far one way or the other.

The direction from Peter Manoogian is competent at best, but the technical aspects of Arena are a cut above many previous Empire efforts. There’s some nice model work for all of the spacecraft, and even the optical work isn’t too bad. Of course, it’s the makeup effects that are the real star of the show, and John Carl Buechler’s crew delivered in that regard. Still, the most interesting alien in the entire film is the giant grasshopper-like combatant named Sloth, who was actually created by Screaming Mad George and operated by Steve Wang. (Fans of Screaming Mad George will instantly recognize his distinctive handiwork in the design). If anything, the fight with Sloth is memorable enough that it makes the final duel with Horn seem anticlimactic in comparison. Still, that’s a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things, and Arena remains an enjoyable journey through the farthest corners of the Empire universe—even though it did end up being overshadowed the following year by the ultimate in science fiction arena combat, Robot Jox.

Arena was shot by cinematographer Mac Ahlberg on 35 mm film (Mitchell GC high speed cameras were used to shoot the visual effects, though it’s unclear what was used for the live action segments—being that it was a low-budget industry standard, Arriflex cameras might have been employed). Everything was finished photochemically with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Unfortunately, any pre-print elements for the film couldn’t be located, so Arrow was forced to use a new 2K restoration of a 35 mm theatrical print, which was sourced from the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA). All of the titles used in the film were accidentally printed offset, which Arrow was retained for this release. With all of that going against it, Arena looks better than it has any right to. It’s definitely not up to snuff alongside 4K restorations of camera negative or interpositive elements, but it offers good color and clarity, with only minor speckling and occasional scratches. Grain is heavy, but handled well enough with a satisfactory bitrate. A surprising amount of depth is achieved with decent contrast, though shadow depth is obviously lacking. Even from a low quality source, it’s a very natural presentation that looks like film, as it should.

Audio is included in English 2.0 LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. One assumes that this track is sourced from the Ultra Stereo optical portion of the film print, particularly judging by some of the distortion found throughout the presentation. Still, it’s a rather powerful soundtrack with excellent low end response and good support for dialogue and score.


Robot Jox is arguably the crown jewel of the entire Empire Pictures catalog. It ended up being the biggest-budgeted film that the company ever produced, with cost overruns making it even more expensive, but it still managed to punch well above its own pay grade. It’s long been considered to be the film that broke Empire’s back, but to be fair, it merely contributed to the $26 million dollar debt burden that Empire already couldn’t handle, and the studio would have sunk under that weight regardless. Robot Jox failed to find an audience when it finally got a perfunctory release in 1990 via a different distributor, so there’s little chance that it was going to save Empire anyway. Part of the problem was that it was filling a need that audiences of the time didn’t realize that they had. Mecha had never been a prominent part of American popular culture, and animated series like G-Force, Voltron, and Robotech were actually reworked versions of seminal Japanese anime like Gatchaman, Beast King GoLion, and Macross (among others). Even a seemingly homespun series like Transformers was animated overseas, and the toys themselves were heavily inspired by Japanese toys like Microman (rechristened Micronauts in the United States).

So, when Stuart Gordon brought his concept for giant rock ‘em sock ‘em robots to Charles Band, it’s to Band’s credit that he backed the director despite having some valid concerns about the project. Gordon brought in science fiction author Joe Haldeman to develop a script set on a post-apocalyptic Earth where open warfare has been banned. Instead, the rival global factions of the Market and the Confederation resolve their disagreements via gladiatorial combat featuring giant robots, pitting the Market champion Achilles (Gary Graham) against the brutal Confederation pilot Alexander (Paul Koslo). Yet with spies running rampant, Achilles’ final bout with Alexander will be anything but a fair fight. Robot Jox also stars Anne-Marie Johnson, Danny Kamekona, and Michael Alldredge.

Unlike Arena, Robot Jox struggles to maintain a consistent tonal balance, due in no small part to the fact that Gordon and Haldeman never saw eye to eye. Haldeman wanted to explore some serious science fiction concepts set in a dystopian future, but Gordon just wanted to have fun, as the late director explained to the Bristol Bad Film Club back in 2015:

“Joe Haldeman and I had few clashes during the actual making of the film. Most had to do with the tone of the film. I envisioned the audience to be 10-year-old boys and Joe was writing for an adult audience. My hope has always been that both ages can enjoy the film.”

Of course, regardless of how much the tone of the final product may waver, anyone who goes into a film with a title like Robot Jox is there for one reason, and one reason only: the giant frickin’ robots. The acting is adequate, and the story is serviceable at best (although Haldeman did manage to sneak in an interesting conceit or two), but when it comes to giant mecha action, Robot Jox lives up to its catchy title. That’s thanks to David Allen and his talented crew, all of whom did fantastic work under difficult circumstances. While there’s some quality stop-motion animation in the film, the bulk of the effects were achieved with large scale rod and cable-controlled puppets. Allen’s biggest stroke of genius was to take everything out to the El Mirage Dry Lake Bed in California, and shoot it with natural lighting on a massive elevated platform with real mountains and sky in the background. It was essentially a tabletop miniature writ large. That offered an uncommon level of photographic realism, and combined with using the right frame rates (as well as a metric ton of Fuller’s earth), it resulted in effects that hold up surprisingly well today.

Needless to say, all of that contributed to Robot Jox going well over its original shooting schedule, and significantly over budget as well. (There’s a damned good reason why visual effects are rarely shot on location: the weather can be a fickle mistress.) Once again, Empire was doomed regardless of cost overruns on this film, so it’s not fair to Allen to blame his relentless pursuit of creating the coolest possible visuals. Instead, Gordon, Haldeman, Allen (and yes, Band as well) deserve credit for crafting a ridiculously entertaining film that may have failed to capture the imaginations of audiences in 1990, but it has proven influential in the decades since then. Guillermo del Toro freely cribbed many concepts and images from it for his 2013 effort Pacific Rim, right down to the iconic fist-into-palm salute—although del Toro also discovered that North American audiences at large still didn’t have much of a taste for mecha action. Like Pacific Rim, Robot Jox will never have a meaningful place in popular culture as a whole, but it will always have a welcome home deep in the hearts of loyal genre fans.

Robot Jox was shot by cinematographer Mac Ahlberg on 35 mm film using Arriflex and Fries Mitchell cameras and lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The Blu-ray features a new 2K restoration of a 4K scan of the original camera negative. The obvious deficiencies of the look of the film are inherent in the stop-motion photography, which features unavoidable variances in grain and exposure, as well as frequent speckling, but the majority of the presentation is stellar with a decent bitrate and higher levels of fine detail than the previous Scream Factory Blu-ray release. Color and contrast are marginally improved as well, and the overall look of the live action segments is solid with tighter grain. It’s a very natural presentation, and definitely the best the film has looked on home video.

Audio is included in English 2.0 LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. As the film was recorded in Ultra Stereo, there’s lovely engagement all around the sound space. Dialogue exchanges are always up front and discernible, but the surround and low end support for score and sound effects is phenomenal. As with Dolls, a discrete 5.1 encoding might have improved the clarity slightly, but only a Dolby Atmos remix would offer any real improvements.


Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams offers all five Blu-rays in five clear amaray cases, all of which contain a double-sided insert and poster, with new artwork by Ilan Sheady on the front and the original theatrical poster artwork on the reverse, and three art cards per case (as well as an Arrow Video “membership card”). Also included is an 80-page booklet entitled Arrow Video Magazine, which features cast and crew information for each film, the essays Emperor of the “B”s: The Rise and Fall of Empire Pictures by Dave Jay, Substituting Realities: The Unmaking of The Dungeonmaster by Dave Jay, Dolls: Stuart Gordon’s Grown-Up Fairy Tail with Sharp Teeth by Meagan Navarro, Panels of Purgatory: Horror Comics, Monsters and Artistic Integrity in Cellar Dweller by Lee Gambin, an interview with John Carl Buechler, Body and Soul in Outer Space: The Making of Arena by Dave Jay, Drop Your Jox! These Robots Don’t Need Any Disguise by John Harrison, a set of production notes for Robot Jox, restorations information, and a set of production credits. All of this material is housed in a lovely boxed set package, which also features new artwork by Ilan Sheady. The following extras are included on each disc in the set:


  • Audio Commentary with Jeffrey Byron, Matty Budrewicz, and Dave Wain
  • I Reject Your Reality and I Substitute My Own (HD – 15:07)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:57)
  • Alternate Trailer (Upscaled SD – 3:02)
  • Image Gallery (HD – 11 in all)

The previous DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film contained nothing more than the film’s theatrical trailer, so all of these extras are a more than welcome addition. The audio commentary features actor Jeffrey Byron being interviewed via Skype/Zoom by film critics and Empire Pictures fans Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain. It’s a Q&A session as the three watch the film, and Byron has plenty of stories to keep listeners interested. In I Reject Your Reality and I Substitute My Own, Byron returns for an on-camera interview, discussing many of the same subjects, including Metalstorm leading to The Dungeonmaster, casting the film himself, shooting an anthology film, working with the various cast and crew, working with Charles Band years later, and his retrospective feelings on working for Empire Pictures. Last are a pair of trailers and an Image Gallery containing 11 stills of promotional photos, home video artwork, and posters.


  • Audio Commentary with Stuart Gordon and Ed Naha
  • Audio Commentary with Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Stephen Lee, Carrie Lorraine, and Ian Patrick Williams
  • Audio Commentary with David DeCoteau
  • Assembling Dolls (HD – 17:01)
  • Toys of Terror: The Making of Dolls (HD – 38:31)
  • Storyboard Comparisons (HD – 3 in all – 8:30)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:34)
  • Alternate Trailer (HD – 1:24)
  • UK Home Video Trailer (SD – 1:35)
  • Image Gallery (HD – 51 in all)

A mix of new and old material, this release features three separate audio commentaries. The first features Stuart Gordon and screenwriter Ed Naha, recorded in 2005. I could listen to Stuart Gordon tell stories for days, and both he and Naha keep things lively and informative, making for a lovely commentary. Next up is another 2005 audio commentary featuring actors Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Stephen Lee, Carrie Lorraine, and Ian Patrick Williams, all of whom appear to enjoy each other’s company and maintain a fun chat, even if they fall into the trap of watching the film instead of commenting on it. The third commentary is brand new, featuring director David DeCoteau, who discusses working at Empire Pictures and his long friendship with Stuart Gordon. He too is always a treat to listen to. In Assembling Dolls, editor Lee Percy talks about his early career working on Roar, working with Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon, Stuart Gordon’s tone in comparison to other filmmakers at Empire, the editing process, and his retrospective thoughts on the film and Stuart Gordon. Toys of Terror details the making of the film, featuring interviews with Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, Charles Band, Ed Naha, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Ian Patrick Williams, special make-up effects artists Gabe Bartalos, Gino Crognale, and John Vulich. Next are a set of three Storyboard Comparisons of three scenes: Teddy’s Revenge, Rosemary Takes a Dive, and Punch’s Little Secret. Last are three trailers and an Image Gallery containing 51 stills of posters, production photos, and behind the scenes stills. Not carried over from the Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray is an additional interview with Brian Yuzna.


  • Audio Commentary with Michael Deak, Matty Budrewicz, and Dave Wain
  • Grabbed by the Ghoulies: An Ode to John Carl Buechler (HD – 16:03)
  • Inside the Cellar (HD – 16:30)
  • VHS Trailer (SD – 1:15)
  • More Films by Empire Pictures (HD – 11:23)
  • More Films by Empire Pictures (VHS Mode!) (SD – 17:01)

Since the previous Blu-ray release for the film was bare bones, any extras are appreciated, and there are some nice ones here. The audio commentary features special effects artist Michael S. Deak, moderated once again by writers Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain of The Schlock Pit website. Although it’s basically another Q&A session, they seem to have a good rapport, which makes it an enjoyable listen, and Deak is more than game to answer questions. It’s a very nice track. Grabbed by the Ghoulies sees Budrewicz and Wain return for an extended discussion and tribute to the late John Carl Buechler, which also includes coverage of his life and career. Inside the Cellar features an interview with Michael S. Deak, who discusses working for John Carl Buechler and Charles Band on Empire Pictures productions, portraying the creature in the film, and his appreciation for the cult appeal of the films he’s been a part of. More Films by Empire Pictures is a trailer reel that features trailer for Ghoulies, Ghoulies II, Breeders, Eliminators, Crawlspace, From Beyond, and Prison. More Films by Empire Pictures (VHS Mode!) is a VHS-sourced trailer reel that features trailers for Catacombs, Eliminators, Enemy Territory, From Beyond, Ghost Town, Ghoulies, Ghoulies II, TerrorVision, Troll, and Crawlspace (that last one is a TV spot).


  • Audio Commentary with Peter Manoogian, Matty Budrewicz, and Dave Wain
  • Alternative Full Frame Presentation (Upscaled SD – 97:15)
  • Not His Arena (HD – 14:44)
  • Empire of Creatures (HD – 16:21)
  • Theatrical Trailer 16:9 (HD – 1:40)
  • Theatrical Trailer 4:3 (Upscaled SD – 1:41)
  • Behind the Scenes Image Gallery (HD – 9 in all – 1:06)
  • Posters and Stills Image Gallery (HD – 27 in all)

This too is another film that never had any bonus materials when it was released on DVD, so this is a very welcome extras package. The audio commentary featuring director Peter Manoogian, moderated again by writers Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain of The Schlock Pit website, is mostly a dry Q&A session, though Manoogian is able to keep things on track by delving into his career and experiences on the film. The Alternate Full Frame Presentation is a straight VHS transfer of the film in decent standard definition quality. Not His Arena features a brutally honest interview with co-writer Danny Bilson in which he discusses not necessarily being a fan of horror films, R. Crumb and Body and Soul influences on the film, other Empire films that he worked on, and the problems that lay within. Empire of Creatures offers an interview with special effects artist Michael S. Deak, who discusses how big the production was, the challenges of portraying the character of Horn in full make-up and costume, what it was like on the set, being present when the studio was shut down once the film wrapped, and his final thoughts on the film. The 16:9 trailer has been digitally re-created. The Image Galleries contain a total of 36 behind the scenes stills, home video artwork imagery, posters, and production photos.


  • Audio Commentary with Stuart Gordon and Michael Felsher
  • Audio Commentary with Paul Gentry, Mark Rappaport, and Paul Jessell
  • Crash & Burn (HD – 17:09)
  • Her Name Is Athena (HD – 13:25)
  • The Scale of Battle: David Allen and the FX of Robot Jox (HD – 26:35)
  • A Look Back at Robot Jox with Paul Koslo (HD – 10:24)
  • Salvaged from the Wreckage: A Robot Jox Collector’s Archive (HD – 8:19)
  • Trailer (HD – 1:25)
  • Behind the Scenes Image Gallery (HD – 101 in all – 9:14)
  • Posters and Stills Image Galleries (HD – 113 in all)
  • Original Sales Sheet Gallery (HD – 2 in all)
  • Original Production Notes Gallery (HD – 11 in all)

These bonus materials represent a range of new and previously available material. The first audio commentary features a highly enjoyable chat between Stuart Gordon and Michael Felsher, both of whom watch the film together and discuss it extensively. Stuart names various influences for the film, including Transformers and The Right Stuff, mentions that Vanessa Williams auditioned for Athena, and discusses the big budget take on similar material in Pacific Rim. The second audio commentary features associate effects director Paul Gentry, mechanical effects artist Mark Rappaport, and stop-motion animator Paul Jessell who also watch the film together and delve into the mechanics of it, offering an array of behind-the-scenes information. It’s a dryer track than its predecessor, but if you want the nitty gritty details on the making of the film, you can’t do much better. In Crash & Burn, actor Gary Graham offers his take on his character, problems he had on the set with the fight choreography and special effects, the alternate ending and his feelings on what was ultimately used, talks of a sequel at the time, and financial issues that the film had. In Her Name Is Athena, actress Anne-Marie Johnson talks about her audition and training, working with Gary before filming in order to create chemistry, how exhausting the shoot was, the film being re-discovered because of Pacific Rim, and the importance of the diversity in the cast. In The Scale of Battle, various effects artists discuss their memories and appreciation of stop-motion animation and animator David Allen, featuring Dennis Muren, Paul Gentry, John Vincent, Yancy Calzada, Steve Berg, and Kevin Kutchaver. In A Look Back at Robot Jox, actor Paul Koslo talks about seeing the film on the big screen, working with Stuart Gordon, shooting the fight scene at the end, and his thoughts on the robots and sets. Salvaged from the Wreckage features Paul Gentry narrating footage and photos of a collection of props, concept art, and memorabilia from the film. While the trailer is presented in HD, the frame rate is off severely. The Image Galleries contain a total of 227 behind the scenes stills, home video artwork imagery, posters, production photos, the original sales sheet, and the original production notes. Unfortunately, some of the extras from the Scream Factory Blu-ray haven’t carried over, which include a set of archival interviews with Stuart Gordon, pyrotechnic supervisor Joe Viskocil, Paul Gentry, Paul Jessell, and animation and visual effects artists Chris Endicott and Mark McGee; raw behind the scenes footage; and a TV spot.

(Unfortunately, during our work on this title, it quickly went out of print. So our recommendation comes with a bit of a caveat. Hopefully it means that Arrow will either re-release it, or release each disc as a separate release. Its sales could likely mean that we haven’t seen the last Empire Pictures boxed set. Time will tell.)

Anybody who’s a genre fan and was alive during the 1980s and 1990s can attest to the fact that there was an overwhelming quantity of films with attractive box art strewn across video store shelves. Those boxes frequently made empty promises since the art was usually more intriguing than the actual films, but in the case of Empire Pictures, they almost always delivered something that, while low budget and chintzy to look at, was inevitably entertaining—and that’s the most important aspect of any film, regardless of budget. Arrow Video has attempted to recapture a slice of video store nostalgia with Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams, and if you can get your hands on it, it will be a credit to your own personal video shelves. Highly recommended.

- Stephen Bjork and Tim Salmons

(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)

(You can follow Tim on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel here.)



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