“Full Moon Pictures presents”

Oh God, it’s happening. I delayed for seven years, watching the occasional Dollman or Demonic Toys movie, but there are still Puppet Master sequels to watch, and eventually I must watch them.

“A Charles Band Production”

Don’t be too impressed – IMDB says Band produced 30 movies that year.

“A Joseph Tennent Film”

Since his previous Puppet Master sequel only a year earlier, director David DeCoteau had made about seven movies under various aliases.

Retro Puppetmaster

It’s so retro that Puppetmaster is one word again – a throwback to the first movie, or a misspelling due to overall franchise confusion and underpaid titles writers?

Flashbacking from 1944 to “long ago” Cairo, a sorcerer is stealing the secrets of the gods, and everyone in this temple is repeating their lines of dialogue in order to pad the scene.

Vincent Price-ish sorcerer holding scroll of forbidden secrets:

To Paris 1902, and enter flamboyant Ilsa, who is acting her heart out, and uptight Marguerite, who seems to be appearing in this movie at gunpoint and reading her lines phonetically. “Don’t go into any opium dens,” Ilsa is advised as she heads for a puppet show. She meets Young Toulon (now played by Greg Sestero, soon to become infamous in The Room) backstage when sewer-dwelling Dark City fellows hire hit men to take out a hobo after the show.

Sestero is not strangling this hobo, he’s checking for signs of life:

The prop and costume budget on this movie seems higher than the talent budget. “I understand. You’re a 3000-year-old sorcerer from Egypt and you want to teach me the secret of life.” Afzel (Jack Donner, DiCaprio’s dad in J. Edgar) shows Young Toulon how to resurrect the soul of his dead hobo friend into a mute wooden puppet with oversized arms, telling him this is the most precious power in the history of the world, which I dunno. The new wooden puppets are cool: I call them Skeletal Surgeon, Primitive Screwhead, Sergeant Cyclops and Hobo Hulk.

“It is time to act,” say the Dark City Goons, and not a moment too soon… oh, but that’s not what they meant. While Toulon is off being arrested and beaten by Ilsa’s ambassador father’s soldiers, the DCGs head to the theater and psychically murder all the puppeteers by blurring the film over their faces. Cornered, Afzel proactively blurs himself to death.

Blur-attack:

Self-blur suicide:

After all this plot and dreadful dialogue delivery, Toulon only has 30 minutes left in the movie to transfer the souls of his dead friends into the wood puppets and direct them to murder the DCGs. “We shall be avengers.” It’s actually not bad as far as origin stories go.

They set out to search the country for the Dark City Goons, but they’re standing right in the other room, so we get our first showdown straight away: the DCGs’ film-blurring powers vs. a bunch of stabby, strangley little puppets. The DCGs are dispatched by a falling chandelier, then the voice of Sutek shouts “live again,” and two of them do, with newly green-glowing hands. The remaining DCGs (their leader, the appropriately-named Stephen Blackehart, was later in Super and both Guardians of the Galaxy) decide to get to Toulon by kidnapping his girl.

Lovely Ilsa: Brigitta Dau, a voice on My Little Pony in its least-popular era:

Blackehart, probably:

Second showdown, on a train this time, where everyone talks real slow to allow the puppets time to get into position. It’s all kinda underlit and non-dramatic, so DeCoteau tries tilting the camera around to build some energy. The puppets team up on one guy and Toulon punches the other out the window. As with the rest of the Puppet Master movies, it feels like they’re desperately stretching out scenes to make a contractually-obligated runtime.

In 1944 postscript, properly aged Toulon (series fave Guy Rolfe) builds anticipation for another movie by telling his puppets that he’ll tell them what happened to the original puppets “at another time” – but it would be four long years before the clip-show Puppet Master: The Legacy, a cheap and shitty move even by this series’s standards, then came the Demonic Toys faceoff, and in the 2010s a new nazi-themed trilogy began, so I guess we’ll never know.

Happy SHOCKtober!

In early September I assembled a list of SHOCKtober contenders. So many promising horror films! Since it looks like my Mets might be in the postseason threatening SHOCKtober screen time, and since I’m usually a month behind on the blog anyway, I went ahead and started watching them, beginning with this sorry sequel to one of my faves from last year.

Phibes with raptor:

Opens with a full recap of the first movie, in case you missed it. And even though Vincent Price is embalmed and buried at recap’s end, sure enough he’s waking up right afterwards. This one’s got an interesting concept at least, as Phibes has taken his revenge for the death of his wife, but she’s still dead, so now he’s going after a fabled fountain of life beneath some ancient Egyptian tomb. Better, Phibes has a rival – an archaeologist named Beiderbeck (Robert Quarry, star of Count Yorga, Vampire, with a silly voice but okay sideburns) who has survived for centuries with a small vial of eternal-life water and now seeks the source.

Phibes jacked-in:

That all sounds promising, and Phibes 1 was heaps of fun, but I wasn’t feeling it this time. Less well shot (DP Alex Thomson later worked with David Fincher and Nic Roeg), less well written (Fuest cowrote with Robert Blees: Frogs, High School Confidential), and less interestingly designed (lot of people talking in front of plain white walls). Slower-paced scenes and a vaguely shabby feeling. I do enjoy when Price “speaks” by plugging a guitar cable into the jack in his neck, but the characters who move their mouths might as well have done the same, with all the dialogue-editing blunders I caught. The hapless cops from the first movie are even more hapless here, Terry-Thomas reappears as a new character, and minor characters are dispatched regularly via scorpion, snake, raptor (unconvincingly), sandblasting, crushing, telephone, etc.

Mouseover to see how one gets killed by telephone:
image

IMDB trivia reveals arguments, power struggles, rivalries, changes “for budget reasons” and a final script composed of two separate scripts “sort of stuck together”. So the movie’s disappointing but I guess it’s surprising it turned out as well as it did. Nice ending: Phibes floats away with his wife’s coffin on the enchanted river singing “Over the Rainbow” as time catches up with Beiderbecke outside, suddenly aging him to death faster than Bowie in The Hunger.

Phibes with Vulnavia with sousaphone:

There’s a new Vulnavia (Valli Kemp) since women are interchangeable. First dead archaeologist who attracts police attention is Hugh Griffith (Polanski’s What? and Fuest’s The Final Programme), dead guy’s cousin is Beryl Reid (The Killing of Sister George) and Beiderbeck’s woman is Fiona Lewis (Liszt’s neglected wife in Lisztomania).

Don’t think I’ve watched a mummy movie since I was eight, because that’s the last time a living mummy seemed scary or interesting (I’m not counting the 1990’s Mummy series, since those were more about poor computer effects than mummies). But for some reason I watched this instead of The Curse of Frankenstein as my annual Hammer horror. And it wasn’t scary or interesting. Not a terrible movie, a classy-looking production but, well, it’s about a mummy. What can you do with that?

Same writer and director as Hammer’s Dracula and Frankenstein movies, starring Creature/Count Christopher Lee as the mummy and Doctors Frankenstein & Van Helsing Peter Cushing as the wimpy archaeologist who defeats it. Lee appears unbandaged in flashback scenes, a high priest with a forbidden love for a princess (Yvonne Furneaux, title character in something called Frankenstein’s Great Aunt Tillie). He tries to resurrect her after her burial and is caught, mummified alive and buried behind a secret panel in her tomb.

John FrankenHelsing Banning:

However-many years later in 1895, archaeologist Felix Aylmer (of Olivier’s Henry V) digs up the tomb despite warnings about curses. An Egyptian local (George Pastell, actually from Cyprus) who still believes in the ancient gods swears revenge and a couple years later carts the Lee-mummy to Britain and has it assassinate Felix and his buddy. Felix’s son Peter Cushing escapes due to the lucky fact that his wife is the same actress who played the Egyptian princess, and she’s able to override the mummy’s commands.

Christopher Lee, before:

… and after:

Cushing figures out the plot, manages to convince the local police of the facts (it’s rare in a supernatural movie that the police believe the hero’s story), then saunters over to the vengeful Egyptian’s house, introduces himself and insults the man’s silly religion. This of course draws another mummy visit, but this time Cushing is armed – which should lead to the terrific poster artwork with a beam of light passing through a hole in the mummy’s midsection, but sadly doesn’t. Good wins out over evil, assuming Cushing is good – the movie doesn’t mind his participation in the looting of Egypt’s sacred history for the benefit of British museums.

Kind of a slow movie, with flashbacks that repeat whole scenes we just watched 45 minutes earlier. All the IMDB trivia articles are about the various ways Christopher Lee got hurt during the production, but he still stayed with Hammer through the early 70’s.

Tarsem’s previous movie The Cell had a crappy story and bad acting wrapped around a handful of intensely cool but disconnected imagery. This one has a simple but decent story and good acting, with about half the movie being intensely cool imagery, finely intertwined with the rest of the plot. A quantum leap forward!

The gimmick of not having a gimmick (no digital effects, etc) was distracting as hell. We were always “what country do you think that is” or “THAT isn’t a real place is it” or “aha, that’s GOT to be a digital effect” or “is the little girl acting or not, she seems so natural.” From online trivia we learn it’s a remake of a 1981 Bulgarian film and the little girl was often improvising.

Movie itself is a wonder. In Princess Bride’s framing story, grandpa Peter Falk is reading a great, classic storybook, so the bulk movie has to be great and classic, and it lives up – but in The Fall we have an unreliable narrator, suicidal, heartbroken, wasted on morphine, making it up as he goes along. In a sense this makes the story more unpredictable, but it’s also a huge cop-out because if the writing is poor you can say “oh it’s supposed to be poor, didn’t you get that?” And it is kinda poor. Our hero the masked bandit with his lost love and archnemesis kinda fizzles, and his side characters Luigi (“explosives expert” who only uses explosives once, suicidally at the very end), The Ex-Slave and The Indian just make poses and look beautiful against the exotic scenery, getting shown up by the problem-solving Charles Darwin and his pet monkey. So it doesn’t sound too good and it’s probably not, but if you’re gonna throw out images this nice, I’ll let your thin plot slide. Carried over from The Cell we’ve still got some nightmarish imagery too. When their guide The Mystic is captured, being chopped to death with an axe (barely offscreen), crying and repeating the safe word “googly googly”, small birds flying out of his mouth, that’s a thing that gets stuck terribly in my head while I’m trying to sleep.

Movie ends with a montage of Keaton and Chaplin stunt scenes, half of which I recognized, in a belated homage to stunt men (our hero is one, ended up in the hospital with the little girl by falling badly off a bridge). Weird. Nobody I’ve heard of in the cast, which makes sense. If you’re shooting a self-financed movie over four years in 20+ countries, you’re not gonna get many recognizable actors to sign up. However, Lee Pace (our storytelling hero) is now starring in Pushing Daisies.

So I’ve shown Katy two post-9/11 movies with downer endings in a row, and now I realize that I was about to show her a third. Unintentional, but can’t be a coincidence. Current theory is that 9/11 hit in the middle of my exploding cinephilia and I was angry that nobody wanted to talk about it in film, so the few films that dared to discuss it stuck in my mind… and it’s been about five years since I’ve seen ’em, the perfect amount of time to watch them again? Does that make sense?

Malkovich is still deliciously distracting as the captain. I’d forgotten how BUNUELIAN the whole thing seems. From one ancient landmark to another, having slightly unreal meetings and conversations with people along the way, then a huge narrative jump and we’re at dinner with the captain and his famous friends, then another dinner conversation, this time with the mother and child, Malkovich standing the whole time, a song in Greek, then terrorist attack!

A very unusual movie. I kinda love it, but never quite knew what to make of it. I remember this M. Dargis piece:

As the two stop at ports from France to Turkey, the film takes the shape of a genial history lesson, one that grows progressively darker when you realize the message Mr. Oliveira has been delivering alongside all the seemingly benign tourist shots. The film begins, rather prophetically, with the image of people waving goodbye. … As they stand in the shadow of the Acropolis, Maria Joana wonders, “What did people do here?” Her mother replies, “They worshipped their gods.” In a sense, who those gods were and what they meant is at the center of “A Talking Picture,” which takes the measure of Western civilization for good and for ill. Although the mother-and-daughter exchanges purposely recall the discourses that once echoed throughout the Acropolis, their sightseeing also has the flavor of everyday life. … The metaphor of privileged tourists blithely afloat on a luxury ship – and embarked on a circle tour of that crime scene known as Europe and its colonial-era environs, no less – is at once blunt and brilliant. In both its intellectual reach and the elegant simplicity of its form, “A Talking Picture” bears resemblance to Andrei Sokurov’s “Russian Ark.” … this is the only film I can think of that, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, has so directly addressed the war on liberal democracies. Maybe it takes an angry old man who can cede the sins of the West without also sacrificing its ideals.

N. Vera:

On one hand it’s a young girl’s education on the world and its ways; on the other it’s a meditation by three godlike women (godlike for their high status in the film and higher status in world cinema), representing at least two of the most prominent cultures in Europe, holding forth on their views of love, life, and human history.

France and Italy are, if not the most prominent, easily the most graceful of European powers (odd–or maybe not–that Germany, Britain, and Spain are not mentioned); both countries owe much of what they are to Greece, a fact Helena points out, lamenting at the same time the subsequent loss of status of her country (French, Italian and especially English are spoken everywhere; Greek is spoken mostly in Greece, and at most as borrowed words in other languages). America, the single biggest Western power in the 20th and 21st centuries, is represented by a fawning buffoon of a captain (played with selfless enthusiasm by Malkovich)–who is, it must be noted, Polish (all Americans except the natives are, of course, immigrants). Portugal as represented by mother and child is invited to the table, but the invitation is politely refused (the mother capitulates on the second offer, which included a gift of a lovely little Muslim doll to the child). France, Italy, Greece together at a table with the party hosted by America, and Portugal a reluctant but desired guest.

What’s missing from the table and from much of the picture, of course, is the true (truer, anyway) cradle of humanity, basis of much of even Greek civilization, the Middle East. Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt among others are not represented, and while Egypt’s monuments are shown and discussed, they’re discussed not by an Egyptian but by a Portugese. The silence is overwhelming; we hear secondhand about Muslim civilizations, usually as it relates to and clashes with Western civilizations (the Hagia Sophia, Napoleon visiting the pyramids, the Arabs burning the library at Alexandria (a historically disputed event)). Suddenly the Middle East speaks out (or at least we assume it’s from the Mid-East–Oliveira leaves even this ambiguous), in the form of a ship’s officer with an urgent message, and the entire ship is forced to react to a neglected culture’s startling response.

In an article by Z. Campbell, he says the film “is often if not exclusively interpreted as a conservative lament,” but he praises Oliveira’s other works and says “This is an artist concerned with, among other things, the representation of unrepresentable experiences the source of which exists in some unspoken spaces of social structure (hospitality, companionship, family ties, tradition).”

The mother, Leonor Silveira, has appeared in just about every Oliveira film I’ve heard of. Captain Malkovich will be in the next movies by the Coens and Clint Eastwood and also a thriller about vampire mutants. French entrepreneur Catherine Deneuve was in a few Raoul Ruiz movies I’ve gotta see. Greek singer/actress Irene Papas starred in Costa-Gavras’ Z and previously The Guns of Navarone. Italian model Stefania Sandrelli was in a bunch of Bertolucci movies including a starring role in The Conformist.

The box art takes the one looking-into-camera close-up of Leonor Silveira and nests it inside the one shot where she is dwarfed by the monuments she visits. A nice idea, but then of course it’s cluttered up with titles and floating heads of the other stars.