Imagine, for one horrific moment, that you’re a big fan of the Puppet Master series. You’ve been entranced by the series, by Andre Toulon’s adventures with his little wooden friends over the course of the last seven films. Now imagine the 8th film in the series is just the highlights of those previous 7 films, a shade over 70 minutes long with about 5 minutes of new footage (where we see fresh puppet movement a grand total of four times)? You’d probably be a bit bummed out, wouldn’t you?
Now imagine you sort of tolerated the first five films, and thought 6 and 7 were absolutely terrible, and what your feelings would be then. Well, you don’t have to imagine, you have this review!
We see a young woman poring over an enormous book, which is apparently Toulon’s diary. Anyone who’s wondering how he kept this massive book, which we’ve never seen before, while on the run from the Nazis across Europe and to the USA, don’t expect any answers. Anyway, this woman is on the phone to someone, and she’s after Toulon’s secret.
The puppets are now back at the Bodega Bay Hotel, for absolutely no reason whatsoever. The kid from part 3, who Toulon escaped with, is now an old man who’s sat fiddling in the middle of a lab; and the woman arrives there, tells him she’s killed a load of people to get to where she is, that Toulon is actually a psychopath and that she wants the formula. He fills her in on Toulon’s history, they fight, he shoots her, she reveals that she wanted to use the formula to release the souls trapped in the puppets, and then she dies. The man turns almost to face the camera, looks horrified and shoots the gun.
That’s it. That’s the entirety of new footage you get in this film. The rest of it is sort of in chronological order, but not really (as avid readers of these reviews will know, the films ignore continuity almost completely), so we’re treated to a grand total of five different actors playing the part of Toulon – original Toulon from part 1 (William Hickey), flashback Toulon and weird ceramic Toulon from part 2 (Steve Welles and Michael Todd), Greg Sestero and Guy Rolfe. They also keep the flashback conceit from “Retro Puppet Master”, meaning a large chunk of the film is a flashback within a flashback.
I’ll say one thing in its favour – they really try and fit the unusual motivation of Toulon from part 2 into the main continuity of the series. They fail, I think, at least partly because the explanation is cheap and unsatisfying, and smacks of a 4am writer’s room decision. Also, this attempt to fix the continuity creates more problems than it solves. The puppets seemed fairly happy when Toulon was making them do good things, but according to the woman, who Wikipedia tells me is a “rogue agent” called Maclain, they’re “immortals” who live every day in agony. I presume they’re getting this information from some outside-of-film source like the comics that were apparently created, because it is not in the film at all (and given its length, they could have comfortably fit in 20 minutes more explanation).
I don’t think I can use enough negative words to accurately describe my feelings towards this film. Firstly, it’s a disgraceful cash-in attempt by its producers, like a greatest hits album with one new song on it, but the “greatest hits” in this instance are a bunch of disorganised clips from increasingly poor horror films. Secondly, they attempt to fix some of the continuity problems (and fail) but leave others as gaping holes. I’ll give you one example:
Rick, the star of parts 4 and 5, was completely written out of part 6. No mention is made of him, and the owner of the puppets in part 6 bought them at an auction “years ago”. Maclain apparently killed Rick, but not before he’d evidently gotten bored of being the puppet master and had sold them, after promising to uphold the sacred pact of the Puppet Master at the end of both part 4 and 5? None of the people who were interested enough in the puppets to kill bothered to show up for this auction, either; and no mention is made of how those puppets got from their location at the end of part 6 back to the Bodega Bay Hotel (again?) for part 8.
It’s not like I’m the world’s biggest nitpicker, either. These are holes big enough you could drive a truck through, and given the lack of comedy in the films, I have to assume they’re not being done deliberately. It’s just such a waste.
Next up we’ve got “Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys”, with Corey Feldman and Vanessa Angel, which I assume will be a completely forgettable attempt at comedy-horror; then two films with Axis in the title, which sound like they’ll continue Toulon’s increasingly lengthy journey to his 1939, then 1941, then 1943-5, then just post-WW2, suicide. See you soon!