Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media

Puppet Master Collection (2010)
Buy at Full Moon Direct | Review by Sinferno

Try for a moment, if you will, and guess the largest series of live action, straight-to-video B-movies in your local video store. Did you say BEASTMASTER? The HIGHLANDER films? Or perhaps TOXIC AVENGER? No, all wrong, as usual. There are eight PUPPET MASTER films, which makes them the undisputed king of sci-fi movies that have never appeared in a theater and yet have more installments than the original STAR WARS series. Needless to say someone is seeing them, and most of you have seen at least one. What to think of them? As always with a Full Moon Box set let me briefly examine them in passing over the next few pages....

The Puppet Master (1989)
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 later to modern day and the Bodega Bay Hotel is now owned by an insane, scary-looking man named Neil Gallager who had just killed himself, apparently in a similar fashion of the previous caretaker, Mr. Toulon. It's 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 have 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 King Arthurian-clad clown doll who merely watches the carnage going down, expressing his despair or dark delight with the always switching, always shifting Rubic'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.

Puppet Master 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 the same way that they do on one of the many modern TV shows about parapsychologists. These ghosts hunters get more than they bargained for as they're 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 – they made the puppets much more evil when they didn't have to. In the first film 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 their 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.

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