Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pull The Strings!: Retro Puppet Master

Full Moon likes to play fast and loose with chronology in their series'.  The Puppet Master series is the one that put the company on the map, so, naturally, they made a bajillion sequels!  As they went along, they made jumps around the series' timeline and went from sequel to prequel at whim.  As such, this is my attempt to put it all into chronological order.  Naturally, this means that I'm beginning with the seventh film in the series.  Sure- why not?!?  This film is set in the early 20th Century and explains where Toulon got the original puppets that set this bit of history in order.  All of the original puppets have an origin, although it is a bit silly.  Speaking of silly, this film introduces a classic Universal monster into the mix.  This should be interesting, huh?  Oh yeah, Guy Rolfe makes his final series appearance here in the story's framing device too.  In contrast to how he appeared in Puppet Master 4 and 5, this is a blessing.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, just wait and see.  Get out your Jedi force powers for my review of...
The film begins with Andre Toulon hiding out in a bar as he tries to make his way into Switzerland.  Where does this fit into continuity?  That's not exactly clear, but we'll have more time to discuss that later.  One of the puppets discovers the head of one of Toulon's odd dolls....somehow, which leads into the story.  This is how you get top-billing in a Full Moon film: appear in the beginning and end only!  The story jumps to 1902 in Egypt.  Yes, they're going there.  An old man who looks kind of like Guy Rolfe (but isn't) steals a scroll from a pyramid (although he's only ever shown on the inside).  He's stopped by a pair of men in theme attire who shoot him with force blasts that glow from their hands.  Oh yeah, the second guy only repeats the other guy's lines...about ten seconds later.  Odd.  He defeats them with some powers of his own and leaves.  After that, we hear the voice of an evil God- who is the crux of Puppet Master 4 and 5- who reanimates a trio of mummies and tells them to get revenge.  Finally, over ten minutes into the film, we get the credits.  The story subsequently jumps to France in the same year.  Mind you, traveling from Egypt to France would take a long-ass time in this era, but whatever.  We get to meet young Andre Toulon, who runs a puppet show at midnight.  Ah yes, the midnight puppet show- a French tradition!  In the B-Plot, a young lady- who is the daughter of an Ambassador- wants to 'live' and goes to his show.  In this film, Toulon has about five helpers for his show- since they're just normal puppets.  Gee, why is the number of assistants and puppets the same?
During all of this, the mummies- wearing make-up and overcoats- hire some thugs to attack the wizard in the city.  It's right outside Toulon's theater- how convenient- and is interrupted by the young woman calling for help.  Why does the guy have no powers now?  It's not exactly clear, nor is it consistent with later.  After helping out the old man, Toulon is given the secrets of reanimating his puppets by the old man.  Conveniently, the B-Plot takes Toulon away from his theater when the trio of mummies show up to kill everyone.  All of the assistants- who share traits with the dolls in some way- are killed and the creatures confront the old man.  Rather than giving us a rematch, the movie cops out by having the guy commit using his powers.  Um, okay.  Toulon returns and is not happy to see what happened.  He uses the formula to reanimate his puppets with the souls of his friends.  How does he decide who should be whom?  Well, one of the guys has an eye-patch, so he's Cyclops.  Another guy used a knife in the fight (that Toulon didn't see), so he's Blades.  Brilliant logic, Toulon!  When the mummies return for Toulon, a fight ensues.  This Cyclops uses a stage rope for his weapon, which is not all that interesting.  The mummies are forced to retreat and go to Plan B.  Now is not a good time to be the girlfriend in this movie!
The mummies set up an odd sort of trap to lure Toulon and the secret he holds out.  Basically, they kidnap his lady- big shock- and go on a train.  What do they plan on doing there exactly?  I get that the filmmakers wanted to go noir and represent stuff like the Hercule Poirot stories, but why did they do it in context of the story?  On top of that, this is a bad trap, as our hero manages to sneak up on them easily.  Were you setting a trap, running away or borth?  This leads to the full-on battle that the movie was building up to.  Drill Sergeant (aka Tunneler), Cyclops, Dr. Death (a new puppet that apparently vanished), Blades and the rest attack two of the mummies, while Toulon fights a third.  Really?  You're going to fight the immortal creature with magical powers?  Okay then.  Naturally, the good guys win in the end & the woman embraces Toulon and his puppets.  We jump back to the present...of the past.  Toulon is 'asked' by a puppet what happened to the retro puppets.  What does he say?  "That's a story for another day."  News Flash: you haven't made this story in the 11 years since this film was made.  Don't do cliffhangers!  The End.
This movie is...pretty bad.  The plot works in a lot of ways- setting up the story and characters- but feels just like that: a set-up tale.  Since there's not a lot of actual plot to progress here, the pace is pretty leisurely.  Case in point: the credits don't appear until 10 minutes in!  The whole thing just serves to try and bring back-story that's not really needed.  You made it six films without telling this tale, so how important could it have been?  To the film's credit, some of the puppet work is good.  Unlike a lot of the films, the footage appears to all be new.  Get used to stock footage with this series, people!  Mind you, they only do this because they decided to make brand new (or old) dolls.  Why did they do this?  To sell new toys, of course.  When your main goal in creating stories is to make new toys, you've officially become a 1980's cartoon show!  The whole point of this film is kind of goofy and I don't get it.  Even so, it's part of the series, so I watched it.  You can skip this without missing much, at least until they fill in the gap.  Good luck waiting another ten years or so for that, people!
Next up, we jump back to Puppet Master 3- which is kind of next in line.  This is a David DeCoteau film though, so look for some shirtless guys here.  Stay tuned...

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