If you think about it, these films are pretty weird. The closest they have to a central character, Andre Toulon, is the protagonist in some installments, the antagonist in others, and either doesn’t appear at all or pops up to offer advice for a few minutes in the rest of them. The most recent (11th) film in the series is, if you take them chronologically, fourth; and the way they ignore continuity is almost at the level where it might be a joke from the filmmakers – we have another couple of juicy examples in this one.
This is film 7, and takes place immediately after the events of film 3, although the majority of the film is set in 1902, making it the earliest Puppet Master appearance. Toulon is on the run from the Nazis, and while hiding out in a disused cafe, one of his other puppets finds the head of Cyclops, a former puppet of his. This inspires him to tell the puppets the story of his early life and how he came upon his powers.
Flashback to 1902, and Paris. Young Andre Toulon is…Greg Sestero! Sestero is bad film royalty, thanks to his role in “The Room” (his book about it, “The Disaster Artist”, is well worth reading), and he gives ample demonstration of why he’s never become a leading man with this performance, which is, dare I say it, more wooden than the puppets. Hey, it took me 7 films before I finally used that pun! Give me a break! Anyway, Young Toulon gives a puppet show, which looks boring and terrible, although the audience seem to love it – one of the audience members is Elsa, Toulon’s future wife, and they have a brief interaction when Afzel, who stole the magic scroll from Sutekh, is rescued injured from outside his theatre.
In terms of the continuity of the story, we learn in part 1 or 2 (I forget, and I’m certainly not going back to check) that Toulon was in Egypt in 1912, touring with his puppets, and took the scroll from someone there. The power of reanimation is through mechanics and a weird green goo…until now, when it’s just straight-up magic that one person can teach another, without needing the scroll. I’m far from the most observant film viewer, and if I can notice this stuff then the people whose job it was to make the films make sense really ought to have. The problem of having Sestero, 21 at the time, play the part of young Toulon, when the 40 years later version Guy Rolfe was actually 67 years older, is small potatoes by comparison.
Sutekh sends some of his boys, who actually look pretty scary, to finish off Afzel and anyone else who gets in their way. Cleverly, they decide against using the Sutekh puppet from parts 4 and 5, as it looked terrible. The actual puppets they do use are crude older versions of the little guys and gals we’ve come to know and love, hence the title, which is quite a fun little touch.
The accents in this film are, unsurprisingly, awful. Sestero attempts half a French accent, one or two other people give it a go, but most of them just don’t bother. The acting is even worse, though. When you’ve seen your tenth person just stood around in the background, doing nothing and looking blank, either because they suck or because the director gave them nothing to do (or more likely both), you begin to get a bit annoyed by it all. The sole person who looks comfortable on camera is Elsa, played by Brigitta Dau, but she’s nowhere near enough. Her romance with Toulon is told to us rather than shown, so it all feels like box-ticking rather than an organic part of the film.
This film looks cheap too, with strings being visible for the supposedly self-propelling puppets, and the camerawork and lighting reminding me of a 1980s episode of “The Twilight Zone”. That’s really where these films belong, as hour-long TV episodes telling the story of the Puppet Master from the beginning of his career, through his death, then onto tales of his puppets after he’s gone. Even the “good” films in the series could benefit from a little trimming, and this film could comfortably tell the same story in an hour (even an American TV hour, which is about 45 minutes after adverts).
It just doesn’t feel like a film, and that’s, after everything else I’ve criticised about it, the main problem. It’s the bits that should be edited down to make flashback sequences in another film, stretched out to feature length. I’m now really not looking forward to the last four films…god, there’s still four left?