Puppet Master v. Demonic Toys (2004)

Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys

If there’s anything that should strike fear into the heart of a film-watcher, it’s the slowly dawning realisation that the film you’re watching ripped its central plotline from “Halloween 3: Season of the Witch”. Still, I suppose, it can’t be that bad, can it? 

Well, it tries its hardest. Apparently, Full Moon have said this is a “non-canon” film, due to it being produced by the Sci-Fi Channel (aaarrrghhh it’s a SyFy Channel movie, I thought I’d escaped you), although with their laughably lax relationship with continuity, I’m surprised they care. Due to its non-official nature, all the puppets look slightly different, and we’re down to four – Blade, Six-Shooter, Pinhead and Jester. Pinhead looks much more normal – either his head is bigger or his body is smaller, which surprisingly disappointed me.

The new puppet master is the great-grand-nephew of ol’ Andre Toulon, Robert, played by Corey Feldman. Growing up, I was a huge fan of his, but it looks like at some point in his past, he sadly forgot how to act and now just gestures wildly and speaks in an exaggerated whisper / growl the entire time (my favourite post-fame film of his is still “Tales From The Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood”). After finding the puppets at a French flea market, and along with his sassy but loving daughter, he’s trying to bring the puppets back to life… and he also has the diary which was burned in the last film? After a brief bit of them rewriting the backstory again (who cares by this point? Also, non-canon, I guess) we’re introduced to the film’s villain, Vanessa Angel. She’s now the boss of Sharpe Toys, after her Dad died. He was so devoted to her that he sold his soul to the demon Baal to give her what she wanted (toys that were really alive), and now she’s making another pact with Baal, where she sells (or gives away) toys to millions of kids, and he animates them with his demonic power, so they can kill just about everyone and she can rule the world.

Vanessa Angel knows all about the Toulon legacy and spies on the Toulons, while they’re experimenting with how to bring the puppets to life. They succeed, obviously, Angel tries to steal the puppets (for kind-of a lame reason) all the while having the weird habit of sacrificing her receptionists to Baal. After the robbery attempt, the policewoman who comes to check it out gets involved in the plot. She firstly seems extremely suspicious, then flirtatious, and I couldn’t tell if she was a suspicious sort or just a really terrible actress (it’s the latter). While you’re pondering that question yourselves, you can also wonder why the film never says the words “Christmas Eve”. A news report says “less than one shopping day til Christmas” and an occasionally appearing inter-title counts down “24 hours til Christmas morning”, “12 hours til Christmas morning”, and so on. Answers on a postcard, please.

I’ve not really mentioned the Demonic Toys yet, have I? As I want to maintain some mystery for when / if I review their films, and definitely not because I’m lazy, I’ve not done too much research into them. Baby Oopsy Daisy is clearly the star of the trio we see, a Noo Joisey-sounding baby who loves sex and murder, and the film is building up to the climactic fight between them and the Puppets. Luckily, after getting damaged in a fire, Toulon is able to upgrade the puppets with metal attachments, and in the case of Six-Shooter, lasers, and…I was about to say “they don’t disappoint”, but that would reflect entirely wrongly on my opinion of the film.

It would have been fun if Baal, during one of his appearances, had made reference to the puppets killing another demon, Sutekh, back in Puppet Master 5. Him being frightened of them could have helped push the second half of the film along…sorry, no-one wants to read stuff from an armchair director, and I’m slightly bummed out that I’ve remembered as much stuff about these films as I have.

This film has, maybe, the stupidest bit of plot-advancement in the entire history of cinema. I have to spoil it in order to tell you about it…the Toulons have packed up the puppets and are ready to leave to go to the final battle. Suddenly, Corey decides he needs to go to the toilet, and as he disappears round one corner Vanessa Angel appears round another, kidnaps the daughter and takes the box containing the puppets. A few seconds after they leave, Corey, not remembering what’s happened to him up to this point, strolls round the corner going “what’s all the commotion here?” It feels like a stage farce, not a crucial bit of a horror film, and is even dumber than I’ve described it. I remember a pro wrestling TV show where a guy won a championship belt by finding it in a bin…that was smarter than this was.

The ending is stupid, although I kind-of enjoyed the fight between the toys and the puppets (the poster, at the top of this review, is the funniest thing about the film), and Baby Oopsy Daisy’s method of propulsion round the room is an eye-opener. But the film overall, just didn’t quite work. A surprising amount of stuff happened, as I discovered when trying to put a mini re-cap of it in here – I kept thinking of new things to put in, which would have made the review way too long…the problem it had was it wanted to be funny, and had two capable comedy actors in Feldman and Angel, but they just didn’t click. Weak script, poor direction, the two of them realising this was a TV movie and no-one cared? We may never know the answer to these questions.

Rating: Thumbs down

(still not the worst Puppet Master film though)

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Puppet Master: The Legacy (2003)

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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!

"If we keep our mouth shut, the film will end soon and we can go home"

“If we keep our mouth shut, the film will end soon and we can go home”

 

Retro Puppet Master (1999)

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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.

Oh hai Andre Toulon

Oh hai Andre Toulon

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?

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Puppet Master 4 – The Demon (1993)

"When Good Puppets Stay Good", but whatever

“When Good Puppets Stay Good”, but whatever

Sutekh is an odd looking skeleton demon, and he’s not thrilled with humanity. Firstly, Andre Toulon got his formula for reanimation and used it on his puppets and now, decades later, a group of scientists are close to figuring out the secret of reanimation through science. So, he needs to do something, and that something gives us the backbone for the fourth Puppet Master film, “The Demon”.

A couple of scientists get killed, thanks to letting completely unchecked mysterious packing crates, delivered by a shadowy stranger in the middle of the night, right into the middle of their labs. They both mention Rick, the super-genius whose work is the inspiration for everything they’re doing, and we’re introduced to him, who’s taken a job as winter caretaker at…the Bodega Bay Hotel! Now, I don’t mind an artful coincidence or two when it comes to driving a plot along, but his presence there is never inspired by any visions, or research, and he’s got no idea what the puppets are, keeping Blade on one of the shelves in his “lab”. Oh, and no-one makes a reference to “The Shining”, either, which I expected.

Luckily, he’s not alone, as his…girlfriend?… Suzie comes to visit (I don’t think they share any romantic time on screen), and she brings a few of their friends – Cameron, a scumbag scientist who is jealous of Rick’s success, and Lauren, a psychic who’s studying “metaphysics”. Either it’s a coincidence she’s a psychic, or the people who made this film have no idea what metaphysics means. I hate psychics, boring vision-having lazy devices for advancing plots.Puppet_Master_4-3

 

Sutekh, after dispatching the scientists, goes after Rick, but before his “Totems” can make it to the hotel, Rick and his friends stumble upon Toulon’s old case and decide to reanimate all the dormant puppets, who are nice and friendly this time round. Now, for those of you who watched part 2, you’ll remember that Toulon was a villain in that, and after he died (again) the last woman he killed, her soul inside a mannequin body, took the puppets to a home for troubled kids. Clever place to hide weird stuff, but this film just ignores all that. She never existed, Toulon is the genial guy from part 3 and we the audience are left scratching our heads that they never even bothered with a minute or two of explanation. The link between this film and part 3, on the other hand, done in diary form, is pretty clever.

The last bit of the film is the friendly puppets vs. Sutekh’s totems, with Toulon appearing in voiceover form to give advice. This includes the introduction of a puppet we’ve never seen before, the amazingly named DECAPITRON, who has a Wurzel Gummidge vibe to him (look it up). Lauren the psychic turns out to be a scream queen but the people I thought were introduced as cannon fodder do okay, apart from Cameron who deservedly gets sliced up and then ignored.

The thing I’m quite surprised by is how much fun these films have been. The plots are tight, the puppets are well characterised and the endings are usually satisfying, unlike every other horror franchise. But the treatment of them all as individual films causes problems, chief of which is the way part 2 doesn’t fit into the continuity at all. Part 1’s evil puppets can be explained as them having an evil puppet master, the WW2 timeline issue repeated on every Puppet Master page on Wikipedia doesn’t bother me that much, the way the person who delivers the Totems never has his identity revealed is a bit weird, but it’s the confusing treatment of Toulon along with the part 2 problem makes me wish Full Moon Pictures had a stronger continuity department. With the film being under 80 minutes, too, they did have time to fit an explanation in there.

Part 5 is billed as “The Final Chapter” and apparently does provide some conclusion, and that’s going to be next. Of course, Full Moon decided to keep making them after a break of a few years, so we’ve still got many films to look forward to, including a Demonic Toys crossover with Corey Feldman in it. While trying to avoid future spoilers, I get the impression that Full Moon underwent the same fate as Jim Wynorski (whose story was told in the documentary “Popatopolis”) and their more recent films are super-low-budget quickies, thanks to the bottom falling out of the video rental market. I get the feeling these first five films are going to be the highlight of the series.

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Puppet Master 3 – Toulon’s Revenge (1991)

"When Bad Puppets Go Good" would be more accurate, but whatever

“When Bad Puppets Go Good” would be more accurate, but whatever

After a couple of films set mainly in the beautiful Bodega Bay Hotel, we’re taken back to Nazi Germany for part 3, “Toulon’s Revenge”. For those of you keeping score, my prediction during the part 2 review was wrong, and Toulon does not become the villain of the series. This goes with my incorrect prediction from the review of part 1, to indicate I may not be the best person to review these movies. But let’s try anyway.

Dr Hess, whose lab is apparently just on a normal street somewhere, is trying to reanimate dead soldiers under the supervision of Major Kraus. First up, they’ve confusingly given Hess the same surname as one of the most famous Nazis – Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s Deputy Fuhrer who for some reason flew to the UK in 1941, was immediately arrested and after the end of WW2 spent the rest of his life in Spandau Prison before committing suicide in 1987, aged 93. It’s not him. These two are played by two of the all-time great “That Guy” actors, people you’ll recognise from hundreds of shows and films but who never got the huge name recognition.

Of course, Hess is failing, and it’s only when a young Nazi goes to see Andre Toulon’s puppet show that he realises with the help of the special goo, introduced in the last film as the method for “feeding” the puppets, he can create super-soldiers. Toulon, for some reason, hasn’t figured out that the Nazis are the bad guys and it really takes the murder of his wife at the hands of Kraus for him to come round to the right way of thinking- and when a man who controls a group of badass puppets promises revenge on you, you know you’re going to get it.

6 arms to hold you

6 arms to hold you

This film also operates as the origin story for two of the series’ most iconic puppets, Leech Lady and Blade. As I’m far too lazy to do it myself, some kind souls have done a timeline of which puppets appear in which films – should you ever think “well, I’m only interested in films where Decapitron appears”.

Toulon spends the lion’s share of the film sending his little friends out to kill themselves some Nazis, and, a few minor hiccups aside, that’s exactly what he does. Which is odd, really – the first two films were haunted-house-esque horror films, and now we go to a fairly straightly played revenge film (admittedly, one with magic puppets in it) set in WW2. It’s so different a prequel that it barely qualifies as one, and that’s leaving aside the timeline issues. Toulon dies in 1939 in part 1, but this film is set in 1941 and he’s still alive and kicking; also, he says he found the magic for his puppets 15 year ago, which would be 1926, but when we’re treated to the same flashback from the last film (edited to remove the different actor playing Toulon, of course) the poster saying 1912 is clearly visible. I don’t know, I try not to nitpick these films. Sorry.

Despite my misgivings above, any film where Nazis get slaughtered and outwitted is okay in my book. And surprisingly it’s not that bad a film, with three solid veteran character actors at the centre of it – Guy Rolfe, Richard Lynch and Ian Abercrombie (who is best known nowadays for a hilarious recurring character on “Seinfeld”). In purely film terms, it’s the best of the series so far, but it might be worth pondering what we’re seeing for a moment. Toulon is a reanimated villain in part 2, so seeing the story of his earlier life where he seems to be a genial, loving, decent person, without seeing any hint of the man he would become, is disconcerting. Parts 2 and 3 were produced at almost the same time, by the same few creative people, so we can’t blame forgetfulness or retooling on any of this.

Still, as has been established, I continue to be wrong about these films, so perhaps a few of the future films, judging by the “Axis” in the title set around the same time, will give us more of this backstory. It feels like a sea change for the series, so let’s see where they go with it next. Although I can’t help but think there’s going to be a lot of different stories, linked only by the puppets and “hey, a distant relative has discovered Toulon’s horde and needs to use the puppets for evil purpose X”.

DID YOU KNOW? Puppet Master 3 is one of those films where a sequel is announced during the end credits that never happened – the name of their potential part 4 never materialised. This joins “Chasing Amy”, “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai” and a few others – read all about it here.

"Hang around" LOL

“Hang around” LOL

Puppet Master 2 (1991)

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If ever a film had an “abandon hope, all ye who enter here” sign right at the very beginning, this one does. The camera pans over the entrance to a cemetery…only to see the sign spelled “Cemetary”. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, and say it was an homage to “Pet Sematary” and we can move on.

I now realise, two films in, that the puppets are the stars of these films, with the humans as an ever-replenishable source of meat to be chopped to pieces or burned. Andre Toulon, the creator of the puppets, is conveniently buried in a cemetery which is next door to the beautiful Bodega Bay Hotel, location of the first film and this one. I know when I want to go to a picturesque hotel, I make sure it’s right next to a cemetery, so it’s good this film realised that.

After the puppets use some magic goo to bring Toulon back to life, we move on to the “stars” of the film, investigators for the US Office Of Paranormal Claims, which we’re expected to believe is a government-funded organisation. Filming this must have been traumatic for Carolyn, played by Elizabeth Maclellan, as this was her last ever film. Perhaps the idea of future Puppet Master films was too much for her.

This film is for you if you’re a fan of stars of previous films in the series being written out in really stupid ways. Megan, who survived the previous film, apparently had her brains extracted through her nose by Blade, my favourite of the puppets, at some point in between the films; and Alex, the business-mulleted hero, was suspected of her murder, thrown in an asylum and began suffering from seizures and hallucinations. Did they ask for too much money to return? Or did they both sensibly decide they had something better to do, like organise their sock drawer?

We’ve got 4 psychic investigators, a psychic hired by the investigators to see if she can sense something that science can’t (?) and, when psychic lady gets offed by one of the puppets, her son turns up to investigate. Toulon, in full Invisible Man bandage garb, turns up and pretends to be the new owner of the hotel by inheritance, and the federal employees just accept it rather than calling the police on the obviously super-creepy guy. In fact, this film seems to be set in some police-free world, as no-one reports deaths here.

The puppet activity then hots up, with them wandering hither and yon killing people whose relation to the hotel is tangential at best. Now, if you were paying attention during the first film, you might have thought Toulon was a good guy – chased out of Europe by the Nazis, killing himself rather than letting his magic puppets fall into their hands. Not so – he wants to kill a bunch of people in order to do some magic spell, which involves putting himself and Carolyn into the bodies of mannequins as she reminds him of his dead wife. It’s good to see the old dead wife resurrected as new person plotline, a horror classic.

This film also is a recipient of the Caroline Award, named for my wife and awarded to films which feature male (but no female) nudity. Psychic Lady’s son has to fight Torch, a puppet with a Nazi helmet and a flamethrower for an arm, and as he leaps out of bed to put a fire out, we’re treated to a good five seconds of man-ass. This may have something to do with producer (and director of future installments) David DeCoteau, who’s best known for several series of low-budget supernatural films with strong homoerotic tendencies, featuring guys hired due to how they look with their shirts off more than acting ability. Saying that, there’s eye candy for admirers of the female form in the film too, but they remain responsibly dressed throughout.

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So, the Puppet Master mythos has been enriched, and a decently entertaining story has been told. I don’t think it benefits from being watched immediately after part 1, as they clearly decided to change the emphasis of the film towards the puppets, from mindless followers to creatures with their own agency. As the next installment is called “Toulon’s Revenge”, I assume that Toulon’s journey to full-fledged villain of the piece is now complete as well…I rather enjoyed this film, despite its myriad flaws and oddities. I’m feeling more and more positive about the next nine films.

POSTSCRIPT: No Youtube Film Club for this one, but Full Moon Pictures did, for a while, put special behind-the-scenes films called “Videozone” on the end of all their VHS releases, and those are available on Youtube. Enjoy the one for Puppet Master 2 here:

I was on my way to audition for a better movie, but these guys just dragged me in here

I was on my way to audition for a better movie, but these guys just dragged me in here

Puppet Master (1989)

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As I was in my teens in the late 80s / early 90s, and loved films back then too, I’m really quite surprised that not only did I never watch any of the Puppet Master films, but I have no idea what they’re about either. Readers, we shall discover these films together.

Turns out the puppets are actual puppets, and we see puppeteer Andre Toulon in a 1939 flashback at the Bodega Bay Hotel, with an Egyptian scroll and some puppets that move on their own. Looks like the Nazis want that scroll, though, as we’re treated to a scene that feels like it goes on forever with two Nazi agents traipsing through the hotel to find Toulon. The whole sequence, in this film at least, is pure backstory and has no direct relevance to the main plot, so could have been left to flashbacks later on? Anyway. Toulon kills himself before his secrets can fall into Nazi hands, and then…

Present day! A group of real psychics in various jobs – University professor, sex therapist couple, and carnival fortune teller (the poor woman works at a place which is the spitting image of the carnival from “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies”) all receive visions which take them to the Bodega Bay Hotel, where we discover all these people know each other; as well as knowing Gallagher, their sort-of friend who married the owner of the hotel before killing himself.

So far, so good. I think it’s safe to say the filmmakers watched “The House On Haunted Hill” before producing this, and the central section of the film is our psychic friends exploring the hotel, having sex and having a series of near-misses with puppets and Gallagher’s corpse, which keeps popping up all over the hotel. Alex, the “star” of the film, has a rare double-wake-up dream sequence, which is always fun.

The puppets are surprisingly decent, little animatronic people, and the effect looks tons better than the CGI which I’m presuming the later films in the series will go for. There’s a creepy-looking chap in a black hat; a pinhead with human hands; a woman who produces slugs from her mouth; and a sole bark indicates that the stuffed dog is not as dead as it appears. Full disclosure: I own a pekingese, so seeing a stuffed version of my beloved Charlie was a bit of a bummer. It’s all to do with ancient Egyptian magic, or something, but the scroll itself is a bit unimportant to the plot.

We learn the truth about why Alex wanted to be in the hotel, and why the seemingly friendly puppets from the beginning were killing people left, right and centre by the end. All in all, it’s not bad! It’s a little bit like an extended episode of “Tales Of The Unexpected” (or “The Twilight Zone”, for any American readers), and it’s fairly tense, there’s some black humour in there and the gore, while definitely not excessive, is well done.

It’s not all positive though, sadly. The pace is s-l-o-w at times, and there’s no explanation as to why these people have psychic powers, or why they’re friends. The motivation for bumping them off seems okay but doesn’t really stand up to a moment’s scrutiny…but it’s certainly not terrible. And we get to see the pekingese brought back to life right at the end, and he seems happy, so there’s that.

This is the first of 11 films in the series, and if I’m reading Wikipedia right at least one of them will be a greatest-hits style compilation with 20 minutes of new connecting footage. What is it with these horror franchises and doing stuff like this? You cheap bastards! Full Moon Pictures also ripped off their own property for the “Demonic Toys” series, so if I’m in a really good mood I might do them too. The same company also made the “Trancers” films, which I love, and a series of vampire films called “Subspecies” which might be worth a look. They seem to be the sort of company which would have been killed off by the internet, relying on video rental, but they’re still doing their thing (the last Puppet Master film was released last year, and the “Evil Bong” series seems to be doing well for them).

In summary – it could have been 20 minutes shorter and not a thing would have been missed, but the acting is solid, the special effects are surprisingly decent and the thought of watching ten more films doesn’t fill me with the sort of dread it could do.

pm2