“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.

Perhaps I picked a strange week to finally watch Amour, having just returned from a funeral, or perhaps I picked the perfect time. After all, I hear that it’s an emotionally wrecking movie, but the experiences in the movie seem brief and merciful compared to what a couple of my relatives recently went through.

Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant are tasteful and educated, have lived together for decades in their quiet apartment where she gives piano lessons. One day she has a minor stroke, then a corrective operation doesn’t go well, and she slides further away every week while her husband watches, helping as much as he can, but desperately unable to keep her mind from deteriorating, until she’s almost completely gone and he finishes her off with a pillow. In a typically quizzical Haneke ending, their daughter Isabelle Huppert comes home at the end looking for them – we’ve seen police find the body in an opening flash-forward, but we don’t know where Jean-Louis has disappeared to.

I thought it an excellent movie despite how dismissive I’m sounding here, and it’s encouraging that Haneke seems to have learned empathy. It’s also much, much better than the last movie I watched called Love. The movie (and Haneke and Riva) won all the awards, from césars and oscars to the Cannes palme d’or, but the AARP “movies for grownups” award went to Flight instead.

Adam Cook:

The couple’s apartment, full of their memories and long collected items (paintings, books etc.), slowly shifts from a haven to a prison, both physically (the camera rarely ventures outside the confines of their flat) and in the objects that fill the cavernous rooms. Music, once the loves of their lives, becomes a painful reminder of their pasts and what will never be again. Haneke, in the use of long static shots allows the audience to soak in these all important details and help to understand who these people were before the debilitating illness systematically destroyed their world.

Ouch from C. Huber:

Haneke, meanwhile, adhered demonstratively to the world of his polite, bourgeois couple, tactful even in the “provocations,” making Amour the ultimate in art-house art: a film that comfortably ushers its dwindling target audience towards its eventual demise.

The Sea of Trees (2015, Gus Van Sant)

Just for a change of pace, let’s start with something that played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, by a director I’ve often loved. McConaughey is searching for his missing friend Ken Watanabe, to no avail. He limps into the Japanese forest, leaving a trail of objects, while the music soars (and soars! and soars!), finally discovering not Ken but an orchid. The orchid gives him flashbacks, and he opens a package he’s been carrying for years I think, finding a children’s book, which he reads on the plane ride home to his old life in a gorgeous house, teaching undergrads about “forces of attraction” whilst remembering his dead wife. So I think Ken was a ghost in a haunted forest. Writer Chris Sparling also did Buried, which I’ve been low-key wanting to watch for six years.


Captain Fantastic (2016, Matt Ross)

This won a directing prize at Cannes and lead actor Viggo got an oscar nomination, but the Guardian says it’s terrible, so who to believe? Viggo has already lost his beard from the movie poster, has gathered his clan for the viking funeral of his wife. That’s two dead wife movies in a row! The kids play a hippie “Sweet Child o’ Mine” while their mom burns up, then her ashes are flushed down a toilet. Really glad I didn’t watch this one – thanks, The Guardian. The director is better known as an actor, in American Psycho and The Aviator.


Anthropoid (2016, Sean Ellis)

I thought Inglorious Basterds would’ve halted the nazi assassination attempt movies for a while, but nope, here’s another one based on another extraordinary true story. Looks like it’s all gone to hell and our heroes are being shot at. Well-directed scene of Jamie Dornan’s last stand. A captured ally tries to convince Cillian Murphy and his remaining buddies to surrender from their church basement hideout, but they finally get flooded and blasted, shooting themselves when all hope is lost, but not before Cillian sees the ghost of his dead wife (so that’s three in a row). At least the closing titles say they killed their target nazi, though 5000 civilians were murdered in response. Whatever the Czech Lion awards are, this movie got nominated for a hundred of them.


Equals (2015, Drake Doremus)

The movies are getting less respectable now, though this won an award in Venice for its many-layered scratch-roar music, as Nicholas Hoult pretends to wanna jump off a building. That’s four suicide-referencing movies in a row… this is what I get for watching serious festival shit instead of the usual dumb horror. Hoult has a tearful reunion with Kristen Stewart in their dark blue apartment, the whispered dialogue buried under the yelling of my suddenly-active birds. I think the idea is these are the only two people in a future universe who have emotions, and I guess at the end they get separated and she is sad – or he loses his emotions and she is sad. It depends whether this guy in the final scene is Hoult or not. I cannot ever recognize the guy. Doremus previously made Like Crazy with Anton Yenchin and Jennifer Lawrence, which Katy has probably seen.


Terminator 5: Genisys (2015, Alan Taylor)

I missed the future-set Salvation but it costs four bucks to rent, so let’s see if this alternate-timeline sequel makes any sense without it (or at all). Out of respect for a formerly-beloved series, I’m gonna give it twelve minutes. Ol’ one-eyed Arnold is back from part two, fighting another liquid metal thing. I guess Genisys is a virtual baddie with a dramatic countdown clock before he becomes Lawnmower Man all over the internet, and John Conner has turned evil. “You are nothing but a relic from a deleted timeline.” Arnold stolidly sacrifices himself yet again, and yet another big building blows up, as Jai Courtney and some fake Sarah Conner make their escape into a hopeful future, aided by new T-1000 liquid Arnold. The director did Thor 2 and lots of television, the writers did Alexander and Dracula 2000, and I can’t believe that Terminator was handed over to these bozos.


Yoga Hosers (2016, Kevin Smith)

This feels like an SNL movie or an Austin Powers sequel, since it’s all painful jokes extended past their breaking points. Hey, miniaturized nazis inside a Friday The 13thAlien costume, so maybe this is an Austin Powers sequel after all. The bad guy wants to kill art critics – that’s the only Kevin Smith-sounding thing I’m hearing. Johnny Depp’s makeup is excellent since I only realized that’s him after looking up the character name – but then, why cast Johnny Depp at all? I don’t get how terrible this looks, since I thought Red State was good. An important precedent has been set – I couldn’t bear this any longer and didn’t watch the full ten minutes. I guess the extra couple minutes for Genisys evens things out.


Antibirth (2016, Danny Perez)

AV Club gave this a C- but I almost watched it anyway because of the sweet blacklight poster. Chloe Sevigny tells Natasha Lyonne that she knew about the horror experiment from the start, so Natasha escapes with Meg “sister of Jennifer” Tilly. None of the dialogue or camerawork is good, and now villain Stephen Stills from Scott Pilgrim is driving Chloe somewhere while Natasha gives birth to a rubber demon head (which I guess is better than a CG demon head), then in some of the most incompetent strobe-light flailing I’ve seen in a movie, she gives birth to a full-size demon body that pummels Stephen Stills to death. Danny Perez also made Oddsac, which I rather loved.


Sinister (2012, Scott Derrickson)

Ethan Hawke finds the director’s cut of some ghost home movies in the attic of his haunted house, and a thrilling, poison-coffee-fueled film-splicing scene follows. Deputy James Ransone calls to say a serial killer will probably kill Ethan tonight, then Ethan calmly returns to his film screening, learning that the missing children of the murdered families did all the murders. Then I guess his own missing daughter chops him up with an axe. I think they hoped to do for small-gauge film what The Ring and V/H/S did for videotape. Derrickson made previous LTM entry Hellraiser: Inferno, and I don’t have high hopes for his Doctor Strange.


Hush (2016, Mike Flanagan)

The one about a deaf woman being stalked at home, not the one that premiered the exact same day about a blind man being stalked at home. Scared Kate Siegel emails her family a physical description of her attacker, says “died fighting,” and waits for the inevitable. But the attacker is super dumb, and tries sneaking up behind her as if she has no other senses, gets stabbed. Fight ensues and he chokes her to death. But wait no, she is alive and corkscrews him in the throat. Seems like your standard-issue murder thriller. Director and star also made Oculus and a Ouija sequel together, are working on Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game.

Daniel Kaluuya (my favorite Black Mirror actor) is dating Allison Williams (my fourth-favorite Girls actress), comes to visit her parents Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford and brother Caleb Landry Jones (Antiviral) in an aggressively white suburb. At first there’s the socially-awkward but not overtly threatening kind of racial tension: dad brags about his Obama support and all the white family’s employees are black. But things get weirder after the mom hypnotizes Kaluuya and now he can’t tell if he’s being paranoid or if there’s a conspiracy, until it’s too late and he’s tied to a chair in the basement being prepped for brain surgery, so the highest bidder (blind Stephen Root) can flee his aging white body and live fifty more years inside Kaluuya’s.

A finely crafted thriller, and I’d never in a million years guess it was from the writer of Keanu. I could tell that Peele had made a super-effective movie when the white Nebraska audience at my crowded screening erupted in cheers when Allison Williams got shot (or maybe she’s just their least-favorite Girls actress as well). Betty Gabriel (The Purge 3) and Marcus Henderson (Insidious 4) play the grandparents play-acting as servants (she’s especially good – coldly suspicious then briefly vulnerable). Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12 and Atlanta, Snoop in Straight Outta Compton) is the party guest who yells the title line at Kaluuya when a camera flash wakes him from “the sunken place.” And comedian Lil Rel Howery is Kaluuya’s buddy in the TSA who gets all the best lines.

Some of the reception has focused on whether it’s a scary/effective horror movie, which is the same kind of horror-purist bickering that lowered appreciation for Cabin in the Woods and The Witch. Come on everyone, break out of your genre holes. Peele more accurately calls it a “social thriller,” and says he’s working on four more.

Alan:

One minute in, this movie that will play every mall in America makes it viscerally clear that it’s not black guys who are scary — it’s neighborhoods packed with sheltered dopes who quake at the very thought of black guys … Get Out is searing satire, with scary/comic riffs on slavery and assimilation, but it’s also a smashing crowd-pleaser of a horror film, complete with mad science, cult-like crazies and a creep-out homage to Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin … But even as Peele brings the house down, we see the serious toll of all this horror on Chris’ face and body. Neither the movie nor anybody watching can take it all as a joke.

Reviews of the long, long-awaited new Phantasm sequel are in, and they’re all negative. The digital effects are so bad, you guys. The spheres have no sense of physical reality and move in perfect straight lines. The plot is bizarre, the sets and cameras are cheap, the trailer was better, and so on. These things are true, but I’ll gladly take this Phantasm sequel over no Phantasm sequel.

New characters: Dawn Cody is the hottie who gives Reggie a ride to her house then gets killed, showing up later under a different name. Chuck is an anti-sphere militant short enough to masquerade as one of the robed beastie creatures. Old characters: they bring back the Lady In Lavender from the graveyard in part one, of all the crazy things, and also nunchuck-totin’ Rocky from part three in a cameo. Speaking of cameos, that’s all Jody’s role amounts to – a couple minutes driving the digitally-souped-up Barracuda before it recedes into the sphere-dominated wastelands.

The movie has its fan-service showdowns, apocalyptic hellscapes and bloody sphere-killings, but it’s a proper Phantasm movie, which means it is properly unusual. I don’t think fans were clamoring to see Reggie losing his marbles in a rest home or dying peacefully in a hospital bed. At the end of part one Mike is told that there were no spheres or tall man, that Jody died naturally, and this one doubles up on the reality-questioning, with Reggie flashing between the rest home and different horror/adventure scenarios (along with The Tall Man, Reggie’s rival and/or roommate). The ball implanted in Mike’s head is referenced, Reggie and the others warp between dimensions through the usual portals, plus via mini torture-chamber mind-control portal, plus unwillingly by insanity or chance. None of this gets quite explained in a way that privileges one reality over another, and the parts are shuffled just enough to leave the series on unsteady ground, letting us write our own version of the ending. That’s all you can ask of a series as strange as this one – to take the characters on one more ride, and leave things just as mysterious as they began.

“I can still get a fair way into a film and not know when the fear will come, or where from.”

One last SHOCKtober entry. The one-two punch of 31 and Neon Demon almost murdered the season prematurely, but I decided not to give in to despair. This was a supercut of horror films – including some interesting less-horror choices like Code Unknown and Post Tenebras Lux and Gravity – with a moving voiceover essay about fear and death in both film and real life.

Uzumaki:

What a disappointment after the great Lords of Salem. All I can think is that Zombie was contractually obligated to deliver another full-length movie by the end of 2016, and after touring his band nonstop he ran out of time, so threw some actors and makeup artists in an abandoned factory and said “go nuts, we’ll film it and add some Malcolm McDowell scenes later to explain what’s happening.”

Sheri Moon and beardy Jeff Phillips and Meg Foster return from Salem, minus Ken Foree and Dee Wallace, plus two new black guys to be killed first (to be fair, Lawrence lasts quite a while). Malcolm in foppish powdered wig gambles on annual deathmatch with Jane Carr and Judy Geeson, sending waves of killers into the factory after our abducted carnival gang until only Sheri and “Doom-Head” (Richard Brake of Halloween II, whose makeup keeps changing in the opening scene) remain. Dialogue is mostly “fuck, fuuuuck” and camerawork is handheld garbage. Insultingly, the movie only got a single showtime and was billed as a “special event” with higher ticket fees, but joke’s on the theater since only six people showed up.

AV Club:

31 is set almost entirely within a smoky, leaky, dimly lit factory, like something out of a bad hair-metal video, and it has the structure of an especially half-assed video game, as the survivors creep from one boss battle to the next, confronted by assassins of escalating formidability: a little person done up like Hitler, slinging insults in unsubtitled Spanish; two clowns with chainsaws, cackling about “fucking all your holes”; a flirtatious Harley Quinn clone with a giant European partner … a messy mishmash of shit he’s done better before.

Sometimes I get it wrong. I remembered this from 25 years ago as a pretty good movie with a great creature and cool lighting, so I bought it cheap on blu-ray, and it’s a very bad movie with a great creature and mostly poor lighting (screenshots below only represent the highlights).

P’head is unimpressed by crosses:

City folk vacationing in a cabin in the sticks accidentally kill some kid with their motorbike, so the kid’s dad Lance Henriksen asks local witch Haggis to summon a pumpkinhead demon and slaughter the motherfuckers, but when Lance realizes the death and horrors he has caused he tries to stop the thing, eventually shooting himself (cuz their souls are linked, or something). There are no police in this town – if your son dies, you just bury him in the yard.

Lance swears revenge:

I think Jeff East (young Huck Finn in the 1970’s) and local Beyond Thunderdome-looking kid Bunt (Brian Bremer of Society) survive at the end. Slaughtered are leather-jacketed tough guy John D’Aquino (That’s My Bush!) and his indistinguishable friends Kimberly Ross (Death Street USA), Cynthia Bain (Spontaneous Combustion), Joel Hoffman (Slumber Party Massacre II) and Kerry Remsen (Ghoulies 2), in no particular order. This got a 1990’s sequel with Soleil Moon Frye, and a couple more in the mid-2000’s with Lance (and Doug Bradley).

Baby P’head awakens:

Cabin Witch Haggis:

On the heels of A Bay of Blood, here’s another godfather of slasher films. I’d heard and heard that this was good but still wasn’t anxious to watch it because sometimes the most highly recommended movies turn out to be losers (ahem, The Changeling), but surprise, it was good. Sorority house is gradually emptying due to holidays and also because the remaining girls are being murdered and stashed in the attic, the bodies never found so the survivors don’t know to be afraid. And unusually, no crazed killer backstory – we never find out who’s murdering people, or why. So, suspense is generally higher than in most of these kinds of things.

Argento covets this shot:

Kidder ain’t kiddin’:

I was surprised when Margot Kidder was killed, but I guess Sisters wasn’t a mainstream hit and the Superman movies wouldn’t start for a few years. Instead, Olivia Hussey (of 1968 Romeo & Juliet) makes the last stand with her semi-crazed boyfriend Keir Dullea. Victims Ms. Mack (Marian Waldman of Phobia) and Phyl (Andrea Martin, who’d play Ms. Mack in the remake) and Claire (Lynne Griffin of Dream House) are dead in the attic while Detective John Saxon (between appearing in Enter The Dragon and Mitchell – the man had a strange career), his moron assistant Doug McGrath (Ghosts of Mars) and Claire’s guy Art Hindle (his third 1970’s horror I’ve watched in two months, after Body Snatchers and The Brood) uselessly look around campus not realizing the calls are coming from inside the house.

Saxon spends most of his time on the phone:

Those calls feature some of the dirtiest dialogue I’ve heard in a non-porno 1970’s movie. Also surprised by the abortion debates between Olivia and Keir, and the amount of comedy in the movie. Director Bob Clark is better known for his other holiday movie A Christmas Story but he did a couple other 1970’s horrors I might check out.