Puppet Master: Axis Termination (2017)

Puppet Master is back! After a break of five years since 2012’s “Axis Rising”, the WW2 setting of the previous movies continues. This also represents the first series to have made a new instalment since we’ve started covering them. But let’s talk Full Moon for a minute first!

After “Axis Rising”, apparently, Charles Band promised Full Moon’s fans that there would be a new Puppet Master movie every year. This, of course, didn’t happen. They’ve been too busy churning out new instalments in the “Evil Bong” franchise, I guess? Then, they decided to do an Indiegogo campaign for “Axis Termination”, which was apparently a success although if the news of its existence didn’t make it to me (I’m on their mailing list), I’m not sure how well it was advertised. Anyway, the $77,000 or so they raised allowed them to surpass their goals and bring back Six-Shooter, one of the more beloved of the puppets.

Now, a cruel, or realistic, person might say “perhaps if you can’t afford to make it, don’t” but clearly none of those people spoke to Charles Band before production. If you’re an extremely well-established movie company with a decent fanbase, how on earth do you need to raise money before the actual thing-that’s-supposed-to-make-profit release? The money that was raised for Six-Shooter, by the way, resulted in a grand total of ten seconds of screen time and basically no animation for his puppet. We were promised stop-motion, and there’s perhaps a few seconds of that, too – the low point for special effects comes when we’re treated to a long-shot of a few of the puppets, which is clearly just people in puppet costumes filmed from a distance (they move entirely unlike our friends normally do, for one). We were also promised puppet Torch, but they obviously couldn’t afford to animate him…er, “couldn’t find a place for him in the script”.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, a little. Full Moon being somewhat economical with the truth and acting like scumbag carnies (one of the reasons they were dropped from their major studio development deal back in the 90s, I’d have thought, from which they’ve been dying a slow death ever since) is old hat indeed. Let’s talk the result of their campaign.

Friend of ISCFC Jean Louise O’Sullivan, by far the best thing about the last chapter, does the Final Girl thing of being killed immediately at the beginning of the next – her boyfriend’s muscle-bound Army brother Brooks cradles her dying body and vows to look after her sack o’puppets. Almost immediately, the movie then pivots to be a black magic movie, as evil Nazi black magic guy Sturmbahnfurher Krabke and evil Nazi scientist Dr. Gerde Ernst try, for some reason, to find the formula for the serum that creates the puppets. They both have extremely deadly psychic powers, so quite why they’re so determined to master the puppets, when the little fellas are, to be fair, a bit limited, is a question the movie never answers.

In fact, the entire puppet cast is secondary to proceedings – the Nazi puppets Bombshell, Blitzkreig and Weremacht; good puppets Blade, Pinhead, Leech Woman, Tunneler, Jester and Six-Shooter (with the last two barely even making an appearance) could be removed and I’m not sure anything would be that different. The good guys have a black magic fellow too, “Russian” Dr Ivan Ivanov (who, even though they draw attention to his accent, sounds completely English throughout – fun fact, he’s also Peter Dinklage’s stunt double in “Game Of Thrones”) and the real conflict is between those two forces. The only two puppets who get anything close to any animation are Blade and Tunneler – a few of the others are just shown hanging on to people’s backs as they thrash about in pain.

What they’ve done is really camp things up. Out are the realistic-ish characters of the previous two instalments, in are wild overacting Nazis and weird colourful Russians and impossibly brave square-jawed American soldiers. They’ve also removed the central character of Andre Toulon, the guy who created the puppets – he shows up in footage borrowed from part 1, at the beginning of 2010’s “Axis of Evil”, and since then he’s been written out of the story, basically. Well, as much story as there’s actually been (all three movies could reasonably have been made into one good, action packed one). I know he’s supposed to be dead, but that never stopped anyone before, and it’s weird that his name never even comes up.

This camp element could be fun, and a few of the actors go for it, but it’s so amateurishly acted in the main, poorly made and leadenly directed by Charles Band (garishly lit interiors, no visual flair at all) that it ends up not being that enjoyable. I can see what they were going for but I genuinely expected more from a guy who’s been making movies for over 30 years. He must have developed some directing chops, right?

While my first hope is that this franchise is now done with forever, I’m aware enough to know that’s not going to happen. I at least hope we can wave goodbye to this setting, which is among the more pointless cul-de-sacs (culs-de-sac?) in horror franchise history and has never done anything remotely interesting (that wasn’t already done to much greater effect in part 3, also set during WW2 but with the benefit of a budget).

While it’s not as awful as “Axis Of Evil”, or “The Legacy” (which remains the most shameful pathetic rip-off of a movie we’ve covered at the ISCFC), it’s still bad. At least it’s short, scraping in at 74 minutes, with a decent amount of that being credits? Avoid, obviously, unless you’re a glutton for punishment.

Rating: thumbs down

PS – 2018 is set to bring us bizarre Puppet Master news – a reboot of the series, with no Full Moon involvement, called “Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich”, starring Thomas Lennon, Charlyne Yi, Mattias Hues, Barbara Crampton and Michael Pare, among others! I mention it because I’m not entirely convinced it’s not just a joke or a tax dodge or something, but if it is released this year, we’ll be there to cover it.

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Jean Louise O’Sullivan interview

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Many thanks to Jean Louise O’Sullivan for agreeing to do an interview with us. The question I really wanted to ask – “so, I’ve watched Jester in 11 films and I don’t think he’s done a damn thing in any of them. What’s that about?” I decided to leave til I get an interview with Charles Band, Full Moon head honcho. She’s my favourite thing about “Puppet Master X: Axis Rising”, so I ask her a little about that, a little about her other work, and hopefully try and make her laugh so she doesn’t think I’m some lunatic obsessed with the minutiae of low-budget films. (our notes on the interview will follow in the comments)

· There’s quite a few actors and actresses who appear in multiple Full Moon films. Is it a good place to work, or do they just pay well?

Full Moon is a great place to work. When I work on a project with them I’m getting the opportunity to work with some my closest friends and favorite crew members in the entertainment industry. The reason I work with Full Moon time and time again is simply because I love making movies.

· Were you a fan of low-budget and genre films before starting work in them? If so, any favorites stick in your mind?

I have always been a huge fan of low-budget films. The B movie world has long been a place where like minded people can come together and experiment with making new kinds of movies. It’s very exciting for me to work on a project where the crew comes together to make something cool with limited resources. Some of my favorite low-budget films are; Little Shop of Horrors, Dolls, Evil Dead 2, The Masque of the Red Death, Toxic Avenger, Puppet Master, and Trancers.
· Now, this might only be of interest to film nerds like me, but were the historical problems ever mentioned on the Puppet Master X set – that the US didn’t join the war til 1941, and that kamikaze pilots weren’t a thing til 1944, while the film was set in 1939?

We shot Puppet Master X in 10 days… there was no time to worry about or discuss any of the historical problems. I think everyone was more focused on trying to get the new puppet ,Blitzkrieg, to work properly. That thing had a mind of it’s own!
· Is that last question a bit ridiculous given that it’s a film series about puppets that kill people?

Puppet homicide is definitely more the focus of this film than presenting a faithful rendition of World War II history.
· Have you got any news about a third film in the “Axis” sequence, or is a relaunch of the series more likely to be coming next?

I don’t know if there will be another Puppet Master film. I was thrilled to be a part of the tenth installment and I know Charlie Band was happy with how the film turned out. Ten is a nice round number for a popular franchise like Puppet Master. But if the Full Moon fans are looking to see more puppet murders, we can’t disappoint them.

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* I’ve been trying to think of names of sequels for the Ginderdead Man franchise, and I’ve come up with Gingerdead Man: The Serial Killer’s Guide To The Galaxy (set in space, naturally). Or “There Will Be Ginger”, set in the old days of mining. If you pitched them a potential sequel, what name do you think you’d go for?

LOL I would love to see those movies! I think if I was going to pitch a gingerdead man film it would be something like:
‘Gingerdead Man, the Golden Years; Salt and Paprika’ – it would be an independent art film where the the cookie is at the end of his life. He reflects on all the bad decisions he’s made and ponders the existence of heaven and hell. Ultimately he comes to terms with the chaos he’s inflicted during his incarnation as a cookie. Then Gary Busy devours the stale cookie. Fin. It will for sure get nominated for things.
* I notice you’ve worked on “Tim and Eric: Awesome Show, Great Job”. How odd was the experience compared to how odd their show is?

My experience working with Tim and Eric was Awesome! Seriously, those guys have the best time ever making that show. It was really fun working with them. The studio we filmed in was kind of dumpy. It almost felt like we were shooting in their parents garage or something. That dumpy atmosphere made the focus so much less about “Wow! I’m working in Television Production!” and so much more about “Ok, we have a bunch of costumes and props and stuff. We’re all here to make something crazy and weird. How crazy and weird can we get with this?” It was fun. The team they work with is super interesting and creative.
* You produced as well as starred in “The Bates Haunting”. Was the double duty interesting, and is it something you’d like to do again?

Double duty on ‘The Bates Haunting’ was challenging to say the least. Honestly, I have never worked so hard in my life. But despite the hard work I would love to produce another film, and my next project is not far off. I have been reading a lot of screenplays and working on a few scripts of my own. It’s all about finding a project I can make well.
* What’s coming up next for you (in other words, please plug your upcoming films)?

‘The Bates Haunting’ is currently available on DVD in Walmart and other major retailers.
You can catch me playing a nurse on season two of Jim Jefferies show ‘Legit’ on FXX. I play Melanie Parker in ‘AlphaHouse’ an upcoming Asylum film being released April 1st of this year. I’m also working on a new project with Full Moon… but that is all top secret for the time being.

Get yourself a copy of my latest release
http://www.amazon.com/The-Bates-Haunting-Jean-Louise-OSullivan/dp/B00DMOVIRK

Follow Jean Louise
https://twitter.com/OJeanLouiseO

Demonic Toys (1991)

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This film gives you rich stuff to ponder right in the opening credits, and first is “based on an original idea by Charles Band”. The limit of the idea was a poster, apparently, and this sort of impresses me, that Band can get a poster turned into a film. Secondly is the screenwriting credit – David S Goyer! Goyer has written “Man Of Steel” and Christopher Nolan’s three Batman films, among many others, and this was his second script.

80s soap queen Tracy Scoggins is Judith, a cop, in this, and she and her partner are undercover, attempting to buy some guns from a couple of low-rent arms dealers. I don’t want to give the script too much credit, but the main characters are quickly and simply introduced – as well as this scene, we get a security guard at a toy warehouse and the guys at the fast-food chicken place he calls up, which boils down to Mark, the delivery guy who’s friends with the security guard. Oh, how I wish more films could do all that in as little time as this one does.

Judith’s partner (who’s also her boyfriend) gets shot just after he finds out he’s going to be a dad, and the film then moves entirely inside the toy warehouse. Her dreams of two kids playing a game of cards combines with the appearance of a very creepy kid, the personification of some demon or other who wants to hijack a pregnancy so he can be born and take over the world.

So far, so good and toy-free, right? Well, the demon is so weak all he can do is animate the toys found lying around the warehouse, and that’s when that good Full Moon flavour comes right on through. Charles Band must have had some very odd experience as a kid, and it’s burned itself right onto his brain and out through his films. He’s got Puppet Master, this series of films, something called “Blood Dolls” and a few others…without him, the world of films of tiny things attacking people would be greatly poorer. We’ve got Baby Oopsy Daisy, Grizzly Teddy, Jack Attack, and Mr. Static in this one, although Mr. Static sort of sucks.

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As a small aside, don’t try and understand the continuity of the Full Moon universe. We have this film, and then a couple of years later an unholy stew of the toys, Dollman and a character from “Bad Channels” called “Dollman v. Demonic Toys”; ten years after that comes “Puppet Master v. Demonic Toys”; then in 2010 “Demonic Toys 2”, which ignores the events of those two “versus” films. Oh, and a few of them pop up in the first “Evil Bong”. Ah, I give up.

Can Judith, Mark, the security guard, the woman they find in the air vents and the remaining arms dealer fight their way out of the warehouse before the demon can complete his ritual? Well, as we progress towards finding out, we also realise this is a surprisingly interesting film. The ebbs and flows are well laid out, the atmosphere is genuinely creepy at times, you understand where everyone is and why they’re doing what they’re doing and while it’s certainly not perfect (there are a lot of plotlines in this, and a few of them get dropped without a further mention; one of the baddies gets a quip off after being shot in the head; someone picks a handcuff lock with a knife, surely impossible) if you’re at all fond of the Full Moon-iverse, as I am, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

Rating: thumbs up

Puppet Master X: Axis Rising (2012)

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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.

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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.

Puppet Master: Axis of Evil (2010)

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Just when you think a film series can’t get any worse, when the bottom of the barrel was reached and breached some time ago, a skilled group of guys like Full Moon find lower, ever more pointless depths. That pointless depth is “Axis of Evil”, Puppet Master 10 for anyone still keeping count.

First up is possibly the only genuinely interesting sequence of film this entire series has produced. We watch the first five or so minutes of the original “Puppet Master”, but they splice in new footage to make it appear as if Dan, our hero, is in the hotel along with Toulon and the Nazis. Some of the matching attempts are a bit ropey, but all in all it works pretty well – the problems begin when Dan takes the puppets (Toulon trusted the guy who worked fixing furniture at the hotel well enough to tell him his secret, apparently) and goes home with them.

This film is set in 1939. It says it right at the beginning, in case you think I’m just assuming. Dan’s brother Don is ready to ship off to war to fight the Nazis, and makes numerous less-than-pleasant references to the Japanese and their evil kamikaze pilots too. In case you’re from a different planet and know nothing of our Earth ways, America only joined the war in December 1941, and the first kamikaze pilot didn’t appear til 1944. I can sort-of maybe forgive the filmmakers for getting the kamikaze thing wrong (as I had to look it up) but to be wrong on the date of America joining the war by 2 years?

The two Nazis who were hunting Toulon decide to hang around California for a bit, and go to Chinatown in order to meet up with a Japanese agent. They’ve got a plan to blow up a munitions factory by going undercover and getting jobs there, and decide to work together. They make reference to their two countries not working together at the time, but that really doesn’t make it better.

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If I cared any more, I’d use some big words to describe how silly it is that the munitions factory where Dan’s far-too-beautiful-for-him girlfriend works is the same factory the Nazis are going to infiltrate; and that despite only brushing past each other in a hallway at the Bodega Bay Hotel, Dan recognises them immediately. Whatever. Running alongside the pulse-pounding Nazi plot is Dan’s worry about his polio meaning he can’t go to war, his jealousy / admiration for big brother Don, and his attempts to revive the puppets. While kicking the carrying case, he accidentally opens a secret compartment to introduce new puppet Ninja, who may just come in handy later.

Even though Dan seems a fairly level-headed fellow, his girlfriend’s first instinct is to assume he’s lying about her new co-worker being a Nazi, and she doesn’t believe him til she meets the puppets. The one bit of continuity these films possess, for reasons completely unknown, is Pinhead shaking hands with ladies. I like Pinhead, and if I ever make a penny of money from doing film reviews I will buy a Pinhead doll with my first paycheck.

During reconnaisance at the theatre where the Japanese and Germans are holed up, Dan is able to spy on them fairly easily because they choose to have their secret meetings on the stage. Remember, this is supposed to be secret. The conversations are some of the dullest exposition-fests ever captured on film, and the way they feel the need to recap their plans for the audience every time is less-than-exciting too. Anyway, they discover Dan’s spying, and realise the puppets are a much bigger prize than a munitions factory (luckily, their army bosses are a lot less skeptical about magic puppets than any of the hero’s friends). Don is killed, and Dan transfers his soul into the lifeless shell of Ninja, bringing it to life. An observant viewer might wonder how Dan figured out that was a thing you could do, and then how to do it, despite him never being seen reading any of Toulon’s notes; but that observant viewer really ought to have been beaten into submission by now.

The puppets are set loose and do their thing, in a very rare entertaining sequence, both Nazis are killed but the Japanese woman escapes with some of the puppets…and then the film just ends! WHAT ARE YOU DOING, MOVIE??? Clearly, 2012’s “Axis Rising” is a part 2, but the sheer scumbaggery to make a film, have no real resolution then expect fans to pay again to see things wrapped up almost makes me admire Full Moon. Almost.

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I think, top to bottom, this could be the worst-acted film I’ve ever reviewed. Almost every film I can think of has at least one or two people who can read a line, but this has none. Readers of the previous reviews may remember speculation about director David DeCoteau and how his series of homoerotic vampire films hired actors based on how good they looked with their shirts off – well, even though the men remained fully clothed throughout “Axis of Evil”, they showed no discernible acting talent so I can only assume the same casting process was at play. Makes a nice change from the same being true of women being hired only because the producer wanted to sleep with them, I suppose.

To show my annoyance with a film that finishes halfway through the story, I’m going to

Puppet Master v. Demonic Toys (2004)

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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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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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