Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pull the Strings!: Puppet Master

The year was 1988.  A man named Charles Band had a dream.  He wanted to make a horror film with dolls. Sure, he had already done that in 1987 with the film Dolls, but he wanted to do it again.  It's not as dramatic when you say it like that though.  This is the film that started it all, people!  Does it hold up well in the wake of 8 other sequels, as well as numerous attempts to copy it's success?  Basically, a man controls dolls that kill people.  There's more to it, but I prefer to leave out context sometimes.  Get out your stuffed dog for my review of...
The film begins in 1939 with a grainy shot of a hotel near a cliff.  Not the best place to build a hotel, but whatever.  If this footage looks and sounds familiar, it's because it was also used in the beginning of Puppet Master: Axis of Evil.  Naturally, the last film made- as of this writing- begins with the footage that started the first film ever in the series!  Only in Full Moon films- I'm telling you!  A tiny P.O.V. scene leads to Andre Toulon, here played William Hickey.  You don't appear to be a tall, gaunt character actor with a goatee.  When the Nazis show up at his door, he kills himself with a bullet to the skull.  So much for the guy who got revenge on the evil Nazis, stole an officer's identity and escaped the country, huh?  Considering that the man who taunted a God, stole their power and escaped Egypt offed himself in a similar fashion, I guess it's just part for the course in this series.  We jump ahead about fifty years to the same hotel.  Apparently nothing of interest happened in the time between those two events.  Screw you, Puppet Master: Axis of Evil!  By the way, note how the Oriental puppet is put in the chest, but does not appear again.  Was he not cool enough, Charlie?  To further compound this, his footage is used in the other film and he still does nothing.  Ouch.
The whole film revolves around a group of people going to the same hotel from before.  For some reason, they're all psychics.  I'm sure that won't come into play later.  The segue into this is a seance, since there aren't enough horror films that include these.  I guess a Ouija Board would look silly.  The whole trip sounds like a fun affair, even if the characters are all jerks.  However, the fun ends when they learn that their host is dead.  Naturally, one of the psychics pokes the body with a needle to verify his corpse status.  What did you gain if he actually was alive exactly?  This leads us to some filler where we get to learn about the characters' individual, psychic powers.  That will really matter a lot when you start killing them, Charlie!  Later that night, we see one of the dolls climb out of the man's grave.  Alright then.  The doll kills one of the people off-camera with a poker while they're by the fireplace.  Note to self: next time I'm told to avoid a fireplace, I'll do it!  When the scream is heard, the people are surprised to also find the body of the dead man from earlier in a different place.  Those wacky dead people, huh?  Two more of the psychics wander off to have sex.  Yeah, that's going to end well...
Sure enough, the pair die when two more dolls- Leech Woman and Tunneler.  Just to note: Leech Woman shouldn't exist, since she was made in 1941 according to Puppet Master 3.  No, I won't let that go!  In the hallway, one of the other psychics is attacked by Blade, but she knocks it away.  Pinhead shows up and punches her via the 'Bruce Lee punches the camera' trick, but she knocks it away too.  You know, for the film that set up the dolls as killers to be reckoned with, they kind of get their asses kicked by a girl here!  They eventually take her down, however, redeeming their credibility.  All of this leads up to the big 'villain explains everything' monologue.  What happened, you ask?  Well, the dead guy from the beginning actually stole Toulon's formula from the case.  I'll try to ignore the inconsistency with how the formula works and the fact that the case was still at the hotel while we're here.  He's now immortal and has some killer dolls at his whim.  Other than killing the remaining psychics, that's about the extent of his big, master plan.  I guess you have to start somewhere.  When he shows his sadistic side more overtly, the dolls turn on him and torture him to death.  What's the moral here?  In the 'it's not over' ending, we see the remaining woman go upstairs with the now-reanimated dog from earlier.  The End.
This not that great.  The plot is simple in theory, but confusing in practice.  The guy invites them to the hotel, kills himself and then uses the dolls to kill them.  He doesn't really need to, as far as I could tell.  In fact, if he had just quietly killed himself and done this without the others there, he'd probably still be alive today.  I guess we can't always count on our villains to be logical, people!  Aside from that, the humor is just weird.  Looking back at the film, you can see the basic outline which would guide the series along.  The dolls are brought to life with good stop-motion effects.  However, they do skimp out on other effects.  Case in point: the whole beginning scene where Blade runs back to Toulon.  It's not bad- just made in a cheaper manner than it could have been.  The dolls and their actions are the star of the show.  To that end, the producers put off showing them in action until quite a ways in.  Wait- that doesn't really make sense?  It doesn't make it a bad film, mind you.  I just think it's important to know what they're going to get.  If you haven't seen it yet, it's a fun enough film.  They would go on to make better films in this series...and worse.
Up next, we take a break from dolls and that damn hotel for the holidays.  Unfortunately, this does not mean that I can get away from low-budget crap.  Stay tuned...


  1. Did you quote Ed Wood/Glen or Glenda in the title of this entry?

  2. Mondo BIZARRO. Aye. Fun stuff.

    Puppetmaster is a great series of movies and collectibles.

  3. To Andrew, the answer is 'yes.' Gots to love them Ed Wood jokes.

    To G.M, I'm always happy to pimp another website as long as they say nice things about me first. Good form!