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

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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.

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