Puppet MasterBarbara Crampton
Puppet Master
Medium: film
Year: 1989
Director: David Schmoeller
Writer: Charles Band, Kenneth J. Hall, David Schmoeller
Keywords: horror, rubbish
Country: USA
Actor: Paul Le Mat, William Hickey, Irene Miracle, Jimmie F. Skaggs, Robin Frates, Matt Roe, Kathryn O'Reilly, Mews Small, Barbara Crampton, David Boyd
Format: 90 minutes
Series: Puppet Master >>
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098143/
Website category: Horror 1970/80s
Review date: 30 May 2002
What a load of rubbish!
Puppet Master starts well, with an introduction set in 1939. I like period settings. They give an air of class, no matter that in this movie it's completely spurious. The puppets and their master are rather sweet, despite the fact that Little Running Dude looks evil as all hell. The trenchcoat-clad heavies look more like beach boy surfers, but that aside it's a good introduction - and the puppet master is the movie's best character. I guess he'd have to be, since he's up there in the title.
And then we hit the present day and things start looking less promising. There's a lame dream sequence. There's that hackneyed old "bullshitting psychic is surprised by a genuine vision" standby. Though admittedly I liked the sex experiments. You can't go far wrong with those.
The direction is poor, with dreadful mis-edits and some clumping dialogue scenes. Though having said that, none of the characters have any chemistry with each other or the audience. You don't care about a man jack of 'em. The bullshitting psychic comes nearest to having a personality, but that's because she's a bitch. This film would hardly need a jot of changing if the main characters were wheelchair-bound quadriplegics, capable only of shouting at each other. Maybe it's a deep statement on the human condition? "See, we're all puppets really!" If so, these film-makers are even dumber than I thought.
The script has some fairly clever mystery stuff going on, but with no active or likeable characters it's wasted potential. People who hate each other turn up at a deserted hotel and either (a) get killed or (b) survive. That's all they do! The movie's climax is taken out of the humans' hands entirely, leaving them to whimper, look through the window and/or get the crap beaten out of them. And incidentally, that fight scene is the worst I've seen in many moons. Mind you, the film does one thing right by showing us a busty blonde in the bath.
There's some mildly eerie stuff with precognitive dreams and a laid-out corpse that won't stay put, but basically there's only one reason to watch this film. That's right - killer puppets. They're the stars, no question. They have more personality than the humans and get to have more fun. They kill people! That's gotta be a laugh, right? If we'd cared two hoots about their victims then they might even have been scary, but alas they only get to kill bastards. The more sympathetic characters never even get chased, let alone stabbed or hacked up.
But yeah, the puppets are good. Leech Woman is pretty gross. Blade is just evil and I love his pop-spike eyes. Pin Head is the victim of some of the worst stop-motion animation I've ever seen, but he's a laugh too. And the one with a spinning three-part head has personality. He deserves his own talk show. This movie has since gone on to spawn eight sequels to date, of which I've heard it said that the third one is the best. "It's set in Nazi Germany and gives a bit more backstory on how the puppets are animated and why each one was created. The puppet master himself is played well by Guy Rolfe. Plus Richard Lynch turns up playing (as usual) a vile, malicious bastard, this time as some top SS guy or something, who wants Toulon's secret of animating inanimate objects."
The most recent sequel was called Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys, incidentally. It's like King Kong versus Godzilla!
This so-called horror movie isn't much of anything. It's certainly not scary, unless maybe you're cheering for the puppets. Don't laugh. Sometimes I was. It has an unaddressed plot point, viz. why didn't the original Puppet Master get back up like Neil Gallagher, eh? He had all the powers! The filmmakers do have an answer to this question, but it's in the sequel. Overall, mediocre. I've seen scarier "killer puppet" stories on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If some mad person turned this into a TV cartoon series, it would be an improvement.