“Netherworld”: Southern Gothic horror with New Orleans-flavored voodoo

By on August 2, 2016

Netherworld — one of the lesser-known titles from Full Moon’s heyday in the early ‘90s, now streaming on our Night Flight Plus channel — is Charles Band’s take on Southern Gothic and New Orleans-flavored voodoo and certainly represents that Full Moon ambition.

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Charles Band — while maybe having a fetish for tiny toys that kill — never wanted Full Moon Productions to be a one trick demonic doll, and while most of the studio’s output fell in the horror and sci-fi wheelhouse, there was usually an attempt to differentiate them, perhaps with a rock ‘n’ roll sense of humor such as Bad Channels, a James Bond action sensibility with the Trancers series, or a “Twilight Zone”-style riff on paranoia in SeedPeople.

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When Corey Thornton (the network TV sort of attractive Michael Bendetti of “21 Jump Street”) arrives to take over his father’s Louisiana estate clad in wardrobe leftover from a ‘90s Calvin Klein ad, he is thrust into a world between heaven and hell, with his father planning to be brought back to life.

While there, Corey meets the enticing and mysterious, Delores (Denise Gentile), a sinister beauty and mistress of black magic who also happens to be an old flame of his pops. She also turns people into birds using her own style of voodoo.

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“Believe it or not, this is the first time I’ve ever turned people into birds,” explains star Denise Gentile in Full Moon’s VideoZone, the video magazine that accompanied the film’s initial release on VHS (nowadays you can find it on Youtube).

“I didn’t want to do a voodoo story,” reveals director David Schmoller. “But I wanted to use that aspect of voodoo where you can bring back someone from the dead. I wanted to create our own mythology, so I created a coven of people that was based upon birds.”

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Netherworld is a very stylish entry in the Full Moon universe, drenched in southern-fried neon and sweat (glycerin must have taken up big chunk of the film’s budget), and over the top, sleazy French accents.

The film was shot on location in New Orleans, giving Netherworld an authentic Cajun flavor. New Orleans, much like New York or Chicago, is a city not easy replicated: Vancouver simply would not do for a film set around the French Quarter.

While Full Moon was perhaps best known for producing EC comic books come to life, Netherworld attempts to bring a more sensual, sexual element that is far less exploitative than a miniature woman in a nurses dress being violated by a murderous baby doll.

Much of the eroticism (and witchery) falls on Gentile and Alex Datcher as Mary Magdalene, Southern Madame extraordinaire.

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David Schmoeller (who also has a small part as bottle-twirling bartender Billy Chicago) had been on Charles Band’s payroll since 1979’s creepy Stephen King-approved Tourist Trap which Schmoeller also wrote.

Schmoller went on to direct Klaus Kinski for Band’s Empire Pictures in 1986’s Crawlspace. His experience with Kinski inspired the director’s short film, Please Kill Mr. Kinski, which may give a hint to the onset relationship between the two.

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Schmoeller continued working with Empire, co-writing and directing Catacombs with Timothy Van Patten which would not be released until 1993 as Curse IV: The Ultimate Sacrifice, despite having nothing to do with the previous Curse trilogy.

The director stayed loyal to Band — despite the financial difficulties the he dealt with on Catacombs — and directed 1989’s Puppet Master, the first film in the still popular Full Moon Franchise.

Schmoeller had a hand in creating the now iconic puppet characters, but never returned for any of the sequels. After Netherworld, Schmoeller made a comfortable living directing episodes of the syndicated “Renegade,” with Lorenzo Lamas, and the modest USA Network erotic detective hit, “Silk Stalkings.”

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Netherworld was released just as Full Moon Entertainment was gaining steam on the direct-to-video scene. In the VideoZone featurette, main man Charles Band introduces the seventh edition, and his plans for at least ninety three more.

Band and the team at Full Moon were certainly ambitious at this point, subscribing the Roger Corman method of cranking ‘em out and shooting about a film a month.

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At this point in the company’s three year career, Band was attempting to embrace all angles of marketing and artistry and Netherworld incited a big push on Full Moon’s record label, Moonstone Records.

Pat Siciliano, then president of Moonstone, was a another usual suspect when it came to Charles Band productions, working as music supervisor on both SeedPeople and Demonic Toys (also currently streaming on our Night Flight Plus collection of Full Moon features).

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Siciliano mentions in the VideoZone segment that he “hoped to develop a real nice rock ‘n’ roll thing” in addition to the more traditional orchestral scores (usually composed by Richard Band, Charles’ brother). “I’d like to spice it up with interesting and clever feature music,” added Siciliano.

Siciliano did just that with 1992’s Full Moon sci-fi, rock ‘n’ roll comedy Bad Channels (featuring Martha Quinn) wrangling Joker, Fair Game, and the legendary rockers Blue Öyster Cult for the film’s soundtrack.

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For, Netherworld, Siciliano brought on Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan and Edgar Winter. Both musicians appeared in the film, performing as the house band at Tonk’s Place, the fictional bar and “threshold to the netherworld” in the film.

Winter contributes music (including saxophone) to the film, but Bryan, who had opened for Edgar Winter in one of his first band’s with Jon Bon Jovi, Atlantic City Expressway, composed the score.

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Bryan states in the VideoZone segment that as a classically trained piano player, “scoring a film was always something in the back of my of my mind.”

Bryan wanted to give the movie a “Cajun, voodoo kind of vibe” – a challenge for the musician — but he achieved it utilizing about “twenty or thirty different synthesizers.” Bryan also composed the score on a time crunch typical of a Full Moon joint, finishing the music in three weeks.

The keyboardist would go on to co-write the musical Memphis, premiering off-Broadway in 2002.

As with any of Full Moon’s output, the real star of the show are the low-budget, but effective special effects. Mark Shostrum created the “hand of Satan” that dispatches its victims. The hand — which features Egyptian symbols and icons — was repurposed from a mold of an actor’s digits from a previous film.

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Shostrum created two separate prosthetics for the film, depending on what the hand needed to do in each scene, including one with bird talons emerge from the prosthetic.

Shostrum’s work—as well as his right hand— has been featured in A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, as well as cult favorites The Mutilator and The Supernaturals.

The Tall Man himself, Angus Scrim, once called Shostrum “the Julia Child of makeup” due to his perpetual use of foodstuffs in his creations.

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Netherworld is an ambitious project project from Full Moon Entertainment that should be a thrill for any black magic, rock ‘n’ roll, New Orleans, or B-movie enthusiasts.

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About Mike Vanderbilt

Mike Vanderbilt is a freelance writer and contributor based on the south side of Chicago. He has written for The A.V. Club, The Chicago Reader, and Daily Grindhouse, tackling a variety of subjects ranging from Cheap Trick, George Lucas' Red Tails, and for better or worse he knows a thing or two about online dating. A bartender by trade, when not mixing cocktails, Mike hosts and produces the Drinks On Monday With The Strike Team podcast, as well as Revenge Of The Pod People. He can also be seen performing with his power pop band The Romeros and punk act Modern Day Rippers.