So we come to the end, for now, of the “Puppet Master” franchise. Despite the often high levels of frustration any sensible film fan should feel towards them – 4 and 5 should really have been one film; the clip film which was bad even by clip film standards; the non-ending of part 10; the cavalier attitude towards continuity; and the terrible terrible acting in the later installments – we’ve made it. The levels of entertainment were often so low as to be almost non-existent, but we made it.
Charles Band, Full Moon head honcho and director of this film, clearly saw the previous film in the series and went “right, let’s hire some people who can actually act for this one”. The three surviving cast members – evil Japanese spy, Dan and Beth – have all been replaced, thank heavens, and the cast, compared to “Axis of Evil”, is like the Royal Shakespeare Company. Rather frustratingly for me, they left the absolute pits of the series for the previous installments and went out on something of a high note (although I’m fairly sure there will be more “Puppet Master” films).
The Japanese spy is killed in the first five minutes by Nazi Commandant Moebius, who takes the captured Tunneller to his imprisoned scientist, who has been tasked with reanimating the dead, otherwise his family will be killed. The serum inside Tunneller is the key to this, sort of, and while he’s fending off death threats from Moebius and his psychotic girlfriend-cum-deputy Uschi he builds a bunch of Nazi puppets to take on our heroes. Hold on, aren’t the puppets essentially lifeless until someone gives them a dead person’s life force / soul / whatever? Weirdly, it feels good to just have such a small continuity error in this one.
Dan and Beth are taken in by the US Army, who believe their story (perhaps due to their heroism in the previous installment) so, when a visiting US General is targeted by the Nazis, it sets up the final battle, for all the marbles. The Nazi puppets are more tough-looking than Toulon’s group – there’s Kamikaze (yes, kamikazes weren’t a thing for another five years), Blitzkreig (a tank), Weremacht (a bizarre pun for a German to come up with) and Bombshell, modelled after the rather buxom Uschi. Luckily, our heroes remember they have a puppet in storage, waiting to be repaired and sent into battle, so all is not lost.
I’ve been trying to think of a way to put this, but…I sort of enjoyed this film. It tells you what’s going on, there aren’t too many holes in the plot, it’s fun and the puppets get a good run out. And the cast can act! There’s some fine scenery chewing from Moebius and Uschi, but head and shoulders above the rest is Beth, played by Jean Louise O’Sullivan. She’s funny and beautiful and although Kip Canyon’s Dan is a bit of a wet blanket compared to her, she does as good a job as possible of convincing us he’s worth it. It’s a long way from perfect – the motivations of the Nazi scientist are somewhat confusing, for one – but it’s the best of the series since the first five.
Thank you, Full Moon, for ending the series (so far) with something decent. I appreciate it must be tough to keep making effects-laden films in the post-video rental low-budget world, so hats off to you for continuing to do it.