On VOD from Mon 22 Apr 2019
It’s curious to think that the Puppet Master film franchise has now been running for 30 years. Yet, the direct to video cult horror series has managed to last the test of time. So it should come as no great surprise that, as is the fashion, the property is having an unexpected reboot. Instead of clinging to the established and self-contradictory canon of the previous dozen films, this new instalment spins the concept off in a slightly new direction. Retaining the concept of Andre Touton, and his psychically controlled killer puppets, but re-framing him as a mad Nazi.
The film opens with a brief preamble in 1989, where the scarred, creepy and oddly sinister Touton, first insults and then murders a pair of queer barmaids. He himself is killed in turn by the local town cops shortly afterwards. 30 years later, his house and grisly deeds are more of a tourist attraction, and his puppets are valuable collector’s items. So when an auction of his work is being held, it draws his creations back under his power. Edgar (Thomas Lennon), is a recently divorced comic book artist, whose brother was killed years earlier under mysterious circumstances. While clearing out his brother’s cupboard, he finds a Touton puppet. Needing money, and desperate to get out of his parent’s house, he heads to the auction. Dragging his new girlfriend, Ashley (Jenny Pellicer), and best friend Markowitz (Nelson Franklin) along with him. Once night falls, the puppets come to life, start chasing around the hotel, and in soon blood and gore are lashing everywhere.
The rest of the movie is pretty much business as usual. The kills are plenteous, inventive and often surprisingly brutal, yet never fail to be funny. Director duo Laguna and Wiklund evidently know exactly what the audience of the film is here to see, and they give it to them by the bucketload. It’s clear that the real stars of this film are the puppets, which at times manage to flit between looking genuinely impressive and deliberately awful, sometimes in the same scene. There are moments where the gore threatens to go a little too far, but the film’s sense of humour rescues it. One particularly grim moment involving the death of a pregnant woman would be shocking if it weren’t played to such an extreme that it becomes hilarious to watch.
All of which is helped along by a clever script by S. Craig Zahler, writer and director of Bone Tomahawk. It allows the main trio of characters to endear themselves to the audience. Which along with some often underplayed and subtle acting from Lennon never detracts from the fun of it all. It’s a film that never really tries to be more than it is, and is better for it. It would be easy to lambast the film for the clunky blocking, the flat cinematography, the clear lack of a decent budget… but who’s kidding who? This is a film for people who want to see Nazi puppets murder people in grotesque ways. It’s like a cheaper version of Demon Knight, but with an angry Jewish man throwing a nappy-wearing baby Hitler puppet into an oven. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and if that’s your poison, have at it.