AFM Hidden Gem: Charles Band’s ‘Barbenheimer’ Mixes Bombs and Dolls for the Ultimate Low-Budget Comedy Cash-In

Film industry cynics may take one look at a newly announced low-budget comedy called Barbenheimer and a poster that uses Barbie’s iconic pink font over a picture of a nuclear explosion and features the tagline “D-Cup, A-Bomb,” and immediately assume it’s simply a shameless attempt to cash in on a very recent cultural phenomenon. And those cynics would be absolutely correct, says Charles Band, the prolific B-movie icon who has been making low-budget horror comedies since the early 1970s.

“It’s 100 percent true,” he says. “But it’s also an opportunity to have fun with the bizarre coupling of these two movies and the combination of Barbie’s vibe and the darkness of Oppenheimer. You mix that together and you have such an opportunity for dark humor.”

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Barbenheimer, selling at the American Film Market (where else?) with AMP, follows Dr. Bambi J Barbenheimer, a brilliant scientist doll living in Dolltopia, a world of endless summers and beach parties, and her boyfriend Twink Dollman. So far, so Greta Gerwig’s neon-colored billion-dollar megahit. Turning Christopher Nolan’s distinctly less pink dial up a notch, our Dr. Barbenheimer, incensed by the brutal treatment the dolls receive at the hands of human children, ventures into the real world, where she experiences humanity at its worst and, naturally, decides to build a giant nuclear bomb to take it all out. “They got great looks and a super attitude! Oh, and now they’ve got the bomb,” reads the synopsis.

“It’s so silly,” admits Band, best known for his Full Moon banner and a litany of direct-to-DVD low-budget fare spanning the length and breadth of schlock-y horror, including the Puppet Master, Ghoulies, Trancers, Demonic Toys and Evil Bong franchises, and the cult classic Re-Animator. “But it seems like every other feature is dark and depressing, and it’s like, God, we need a little humor going into 2024.”

It was actually Band’s biographer Adam Felber, with whom he co-wrote Confessions of a Puppetmaster: A Hollywood Memoir of Ghouls, Guts and Gonzo Filmmaking, who came up with the idea for Barbenheimer. “He called me and was like, ‘We should make Barbenheimer the movie. Everyone around the world is having fun with that notion, so we should actually make it.’”

Things can move pretty speedily in the B-movie arena, and it wasn’t long before they had a script and also a couple of songs written by Brian Wecht, one half of musical comedy duo Ninja Sex Party. “He has the right sensibility for this,” says Band. Barbenheimer’s cast and director are soon to be announced, and while its budget of just under $1 million may rule out both Gerwig or Margot Robbie, it does make the film one of Band’s more expensive. And it’s a low-budget world he unashamedly leans into with delight.

Before cameras start rolling on Barbenheimer — expected next year — he’ll soon be finishing off his 397th feature (he knows because he numbers each one at the end of the credits), which perhaps helps highlight the tongue-in-cheek nature of Band’s filmmaking. Bad CGI Gator is, he says, a horror comedy “sendup” of the CGI-heavy Sharknado-type movies and is “totally in the spirit of doing something fun and different.” Its tagline: “Terror Rendered Too Cheaply.”

But Barbenheimer — judging by the interest it’s already picking up (Band says he recently attended the horror film festival in Sitges, where fans got him to sign posters of the film despite the fact it had barely been announced) — could be among his biggest to date.

And although it may entirely be intended to exploit the biggest Hollywood moment of the year, it doesn’t stop at just the film. There’s merch, too. Band’s Full Moon has a premium toy division, and he says he’s spent the past few months working on some special, decidedly un-Mattel dolls. The final design isn’t quite ready yet, but there is one aspect Band is willing to share: “Let’s just say she’ll definitely have her arms around a big atomic bomb.”

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