Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media
Full Moon Archive Box Set: Part I
Full Moon Video | Buy at Full Moon Direct | Review by Sinferno

Last month after I reviewed the massive twelve disc Surrender Cinema ULTIMATE PLEASURE BOX, I began to have grave moral concerns that my impressionable young audience may become a legion of soft-core porn addicts. So this month, to counterbalance this immoral influence out of basic social responsibility, I have decided to cover an even bigger box set from Full Moon, a collection of sci-fi/horror films that run the gamut from the obscure to the unforgettable. Eighteen disks long and heavier than a DVD player, this is an anthology of animosity to moderate your underground movie tastes, add some viciousness to last month's video Viagra. I feel this is important, because as most other mortals, I too am obsessed with sex and violence in my art. One signifies the usual start of life and the other represents the worst possible end to it, but as is often the case in life, balance is key. This review is my attempt to quietly remind erotica nuts that their beds are so much more than a potential place to make love, sometimes they make a great dark place for monsters to hide below and a perfect breeding place for bad dreams. So put down that fleshlight and pick up that flashlight. For the next five parts it's going to be getting very dark in here.

THE PUPPETMASTER (1989)
If there was one, just one series of film that best portrayed the Full Moon Features mission statement, this would be it. Long before there were Demonic Toys, Skull Heads and Devil Worry Dolls there was the premiere tale of the pissed off plaything. 10 movies and some 20 years later the franchise is still active and ultimately helped put Full Moon on the map of mainstream B horror even as it continues to spawn a slew of imitators, both from within and without.

When the film starts, the action centers on a vast Seaside resort known as the Bodega Bay Hotel where inside Andre Toulon is working on a set of puppets using old world craftsmanship and otherworldly necromancy. No sooner does he complete his beloved playthings, than he is forced to take his own life to keep them from ending up in the hands of the Gestapo who arrive at the worst possible time. Fast forward a few decades to modern day and the Bodega Bay Hotel is now owned by an insane, scary-looking man named Neil Gallager who has just killed himself, apparently in a similar fashion of the previous caretaker, Mr Toulon. It is at the funeral where the strings of intrigue start being pulled as Gallager's four friends arrive at the hotel, each one of them a former business partner, mystic and false friend who seems to want something from him; something terrible and intangible by the laws of our reality. Fortunately for his surviving widow who knows nothing of the dark arcane nature of his husband's evil hobbies, the castle is infested with five themed puppets who are animated by stop motion animation and off-camera manipulation, yet always exude just a little more personality and raw likability than the evil quartet of human psychics they attack and seek to strike down. This is some of the best stop motion animation I have ever seen in any film, and each of the puppets has such a unique schtick and/or means of attack, you won't even care that they are entirely mute and devoid of dialogue: "Tunneler", burrows through human beings with his cone shaped drill head; "Leech Woman" is a slippery little lass who regurgitates disgusting black bloodsuckers onto her incapacitated victims; "Pin Head" is an ADORABLE tiny headed simpleton who grapples with humans using his "man-sized" giant fists; "Blade" is a shock white albino doll in Gestapo garb with a hardware store handshake; and, "Jester" plays the classic Arthurian-clad clown doll who merely watches the carnage going down, expressing his despair or dark delight with the always switching, always shifting Rubik's cube facial expressions of various discontent. Still, the Puppets in this movie are actually exquisitely moral creatures who only kill people who truly deserve it, making them "righteous figures" incarnate. Despite their grotesque, crudely constructed bodies. This classic takes too long to get going, but once it does, it pulls at you with the skill of a puppeteer.

PUPPETMASTER 2 (1991)
The puppets are back, and this time they have a plan! In the opening credits they unearth their creator Andre Toulon and awaken him using the exact same black magic/green goop he once used to create them. Thankful for their gift of life he immediately returns to the Bodega Bay Hotel which (fortunately for him) still exists much as it did fifty years ago, but unluckily for Toulon, the place is now being investigated by a quartet of paranormal psychologists who are seeking evidence of the supernatural, in much of the same way that they do on one of the many modern TV shows about parapsychologists. These ghosts hunters soon get more than they bargained for as they are soon attacked, bedeviled and all but eliminated by the cursed puppets from the last film who are trying to clear the place for their demented corpse mastermind Toulon, as well as secure a steady supply of brains for him so he can complete the final step of his ULTIMATE EVIL PLAN, a transformation from an ugly zombie into a life size, creepy human puppet! How very dark and and unthinkable (pointless)!

This was an okay film, again the puppetry and the stop motion is as good as it was in any stop motion photography movie ever made. And just to spice things up, one of the cast of puppets is struck down in battle only to have it replaced with "Torch" a skull-headed soldier in a Kaiser helmet brandishing a flame thrower. My only disappointment is an ideological one and it is the fact that in this outing they made the puppets much more evil when they didn't have to. In the first one the puppets were immortal, guardian-like figures who protected their creator's secrets, and later, even saved a woman from their creator himself when he became too evil and forsook his own craft. In this one the puppets are living, ailing things, dying in fact because they had to use their own liquid essence to resurrect their creator at the start of the film. This forces them to collect brains throughout the duration of the film for their own ultimate survival, and as such it kind of destroys the mystique that they had in the first film as they are reduced to a pack of ravenous beasts. I think this is kind of limiting because they seemed somewhat possessed of an awesome, arcane morality in the first film, and it seems kind of lost here.

Still the mere fact this film even has an ideology or style when so many in this genre doesn't should tell you something about the quality and the timelessness of it. I am starting to understand why this is the only series that most people think of when they think of Full Moon.

PUPPETMASTER III: TOULON'S REVENGE (1993)
This is an origin story, so you didn't need to see the first two films in the set to appreciate this, but it couldn't hurt. This prequel takes place at the height of Nazi-occupied Germany where Andre Toulon is just a mild-mannered puppeteer who puts on puppet shows for the local children, shows filled with lighthearted magic and whimsy. But when a member of the secret police catches one of his acts and sees a Hitler puppet being portrayed in an unfavorable light, Mr. Toulon starts receiving some unwanted visits from the Gestapo. Soon afterward, it is discovered that Toulon is far more than just another dissident or dangerous political enemy. The Germans actually have plans to use Toulon's formulas of "reanimation" that he uses in his puppet show and use the arcane and profane technology to reanimate dead German soldiers on the battlefield. So with the usual gentle tactics and polite conversational methods the Gestapo is known for they come to visit Toulon and it is during heated negotiations that his beloved ends up shot to death. Toulon soon escapes from custody, and he awakens puppets for a new dark purpose, to avenge his wife, who he loved with all his being. Let me be honest, by the third outing of a series consisting entirely of evil marionettes manipulated by a dead "puppetmaster" I was expecting something, wooden headed that dangled precariously on the string of suspension of disbelief but this one had surprising character development and did explain a lot about the origin of the puppets themselves. There were a lot of things to like about this one, things that PUPPETMASTER 2 screwed up for this reviewer. The puppets are noble again, fighting to destroy only people who would harm their Creator (and defacto GOD figure) Toulon. The film takes place in a fairly convincing facsimile of Fascist Germany that could rival any B movie Naziploitation film, and Toulon himself is a sympathetic character who just wanted to amuse small children, making him a terrible and talented doll maker of death once he is crossed. Also worthy of mention, the scene at the end where Toulon and his creations exact final revenge on their arch nemesis, Major Krauss, is a masterpiece of symbolism, savagery and sadism that has to be seen to be appreciated on a basic technical level. As with any TRUE origin story you might want to consider watching this before the first movie of the set which may make a little more sense in the long run despite the change in actor at the beginning of PUPPETMASTER where an obviously different actor plays Toulon in the brief opening credit sequence before he ends his life.

There are six more PUPPETMASTER films, available in their own box set, but for the purposes of this 18 disc archive, we now must say so-long to Toulon.

[ Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 ]

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