In the 1980s, one studio stood tall over the schlock indie market (move over, Cannon Films and New World Pictures!), and that was
Empire Pictures. Before it collapsed in 1988, producer/director Charles Band’s company not only churned out its fair share of classic B-cinema ( Trancers, Robot Jox, Ghoulies), but also a good number of A-list stars! Check out our list of 10 Stars Who Got Their Start at Empire Pictures in the gallery below!
Click here to buy Arrow Video’s 2-Disc Special Edition Re-Animator Blu-ray!
This article coincides with a major Empire Pictures Blu-ray release:
Arrow Video‘s 2-Disc Special Edition Blu-ray of Re-Animator, featuring BY FAR the best transfer of Stuart Gordon’s 1985 Empire classic that we’ve ever seen, in glorious 4K and loaded with new extras. We also highly recommend the official Empire Pictures Box Set featuring 17 of their most beloved films in a big, beautiful shelf-ready box, which is currently available on their website for half-price ($125). If you’re a fan of ’80s cheese, then we can’t recommend either of these releases higher!
RELATED: Every Movie in the Empire Pictures Box Set Ranked
Which of these old Empire Pictures releases do you remember best? Who were you most surprised to learn got their start at Empire? Let us know in the comments below!
10 Stars Who Got Their Start at Empire Pictures
Helen Hunt (Trancers 1-3, Pulse Pounders)
Although this future
As Good as It Gets Oscar winner began as a child actress in TV starting in 1973, 1985's Trancers was Helen Hunt's first big leading role in a movie. She portrays Leena, the punk rock girlfriend of Jack Deth's (Tim Thomerson) 1980's ancestor. Hunt stuck around for the first two early '90s direct-to-video sequels as well as the short film Trancers: City of Lost Angels, which was part of the unreleased anthology movie Pulse Pounders, with the short later released as a bonus feature on the Blu-ray. In all these films, Hunt is spunky, fun and clearly having a blast.
Penn Jillette (Savage Island)
The more loquacious half of the comedy magic team Penn & Teller made his big screen debut in this 1985 film, which is actually comprised of footage from the films
Hotel Paradise and Escape from Hell. Ten minutes of extra footage featuring Linda Blair was added to tie it all together, with Jillette's performance as a security guard amounting to about 30 seconds before he's shot in the head by Blair.
Demi Moore (Parasite)
This 3D horror feast directed by Charles Band was only Moore's second film and her first lead role. She plays a scavenger named Patricia in a post-apocalyptic world helping a doctor find a way to evade mercenaries and remove a parasite in his abdomen.
Viggo Mortensen (Prison)
Although he'd had a supporting role in
Witness, the 1987 film Prison served as Mortensen's first major lead role. He plays a sympathetic prisoner in a kind of haunted Shawshank ruled over by a sadistic warden (Lane Smith). Mortensen projects a kind of quiet, James Deen-like cool in this decent flick that served as Renny Harlin's American debut as a director.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Troll)
Seinfeld and Veep Emmy winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus made her first big movie appearance in Empire's 1986 children's fantasy feature Troll. While her scene as a near-naked nymph is nothing special, the film itself is notable for two things: The lead protagonist and his son are both named "Harry Potter," and the unrelated sequel Troll 2 became a cult phenomenon as one of the "best worst movies" ever made. At his point, Louis-Dreyfus had just come off nearly four years on Saturday Night Live, and appeared in Troll with her husband and fellow SNL cast member Brad Hall.
Richard Moll (Dungeonmaster, Metalstorm)
The 6'8" actor who made his name for eight years as Nostradamus 'Bull' Shannon on the hit '80s series
Night Court got his start at Empire. He played a wasteland marauder in a memorable fight scene in Metalstorm, and was later the lead bad guy for the omnibus film Dungeonmaster.
Kelly Preston (Metalstorm)
The actress who would go on to such notable films as
Christine, Twins, Jerry Maguire and The Cat in the Hat (and later became Mrs. John Travolta) landed her first major movie role in the Charles Band's 1983 3-D epic Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, a silly-but-fun Road Warrior rip-off film.
Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Cellar Dweller, Robot Jox)
If any one actor could be considered a kind of mascot of Empire Pictures, it would be Jeffrey Combs. Although he'd had minor roles in other films prior, it was the one-two punch of taking the leads in 1985's
Re-Animator and 1986's From Beyond, both for director Stuart Gordon, that made Combs a cult sensation. He would go on to have roles in other Empire Films, as well as big parts in Charles Band's follow-up company Full Moon ( The Pit and the Pendulum, Doctor Mordrid, Castle Freak). He went on to roles in Peter Jackson's The Frighteners and William Malone's House on Haunted Hill remake, and is still a working actor and voice actor, recently guesting on the hit series Stan Against Evil.
Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond)
Arguably one of the finest actresses to be so closely linked with the horror genre, Crampton had an early role in Brian De Palma's
Body Double but became a cult sensation after Re-Animator and From Beyond, even posing with some of Empire's Ghoulies for a 1986 issue of Playboy! She continues to have a thriving career in film as both actress and producer, recently appearing in You're Next, We Are Still Here and the indie hit Little Sister.
Mariska Hargitay (Ghoulies)
The daughter of Mickey Hargitay and Jayne Mansfield was Hollywood royalty, but for her first acting appearance in film or TV she portrayed one of a group of wild pals who come to a house crawling with little satanic monsters in
Ghoulies. Hargitay would work steadily after that, mostly on TV, until 1999 when she landed her signature role of Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which she continues to play to this day after more than 430 episodes.