A country song playing over the production credits, nice color in the opening scene, which features a scarfaced Udo Kier – even before the stylin’ comics-page opening titles, this is already classier than any Puppet Master movie I’ve ever seen. I think it’s considered a reboot… I suffered through the first eight movies, skipped (for now) parts 9-11 (The Axis Trilogy), and rented this as soon as I found it. I’m rewarded with a topsy-turvy world, in which noble Toulon is an evil nazi in a Puppet Master sequel which is somehow decently good and mildly interesting, with lead actors who are actually worth watching (Thomas Lennon of The State and Nelson Franklin of Scott Pilgrim).

I mean I don’t want to oversell it, but we’ve also got Barbara Crampton as a cop, Charlyne Yi, a bartender named Cuddly Bear, a hotel convention with more knife murders than in the previous movies combined, and lines like “This incident is starting to turn into a happening,” from writer S. Craig Zahler (Brawl in Cell Block 99)…

…and a big ol’ “TO BE CONTINUED” at the end. The directors made a bunch of Swedish horror movies together, and will hopefully make at least one more of these stupid killer puppet things, preferably right away.

There’s a new Puppet Master movie out this year, so I am falling behind – decided to watch the last of the “classic” series. It’s the Puppet Master clip show, featuring scenes from the other movies in roughly chronological order, with a framing story of an anti-Toulon woman reading a giant book, presumably the official novelization of Puppet Masters 1-7, then trying to get the secret of eternal puppet life out of some vaguely Toulon-looking guy (Jacob Witkin of the Evil Bong trilogy). She’s an assassin, who conveniently claims to have killed the survivors of previous movies, so no more sequels I guess.

We start with the Greg Sestero movie, go through the nazi era to parts one and two, then the laser tag sequels. With all these craptastic movies crammed into one hour, the few decent performances stand out: Guy Rolfe, and surprisingly Cameron, the asshole computer rival in part four. I thought the flashbacks would be a “best of Puppet Master,” so a montage of murder scenes, but the writer/directors (ashamed, working under pseudonyms) assume we watch these movies because we care about the fleshed-out history of original puppetmaster Andre Toulon, so it’s all the mythology stuff (with some good murders mixed in). As a result, this is probably the best Puppet Master movie – but if you’re some kind of idiot who watched the previous seven of these, then there’s no need for it, unless we’re gonna need all this recapping in order to follow Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys.

“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.

“Full Moon Entertainment Presents”

1993 was the year of Puppet Master 4, Remote (IMDB: “my best advice is to skip it”), Mandroid (from the writer of Dr. Moreau’s House of Pain), Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight (sequel to Mandroid), Arcade (with Seth Green, “a virtual reality game begins taking over the minds of teenagers”), dinosaur flick Prehysteria, Robot Wars (Robot Jox sequel starring Barbara Crampton) and Subspecies 2.

Dollman and the nurse… can you tell how tiny they are?

Another guy is breaking into the toy warehouse from Demonic Toys? New security guard (Phil Fondacaro, the troll in Troll) doesn’t notice this guy just wandering in and dying on the floor, then the toys are back in town – plus an army guy and minus the teddy bear I think, taking the Puppet Master approach of adding and removing evil toys on a whim.

I like the new PTSD-GI-Joe doll:

Weirdly power-hungry dwarf security guard:

Elsewhere, tiny Dollman finds a hot tiny girl who “got shrunk by aliens” – I don’t remember this happening. Turns out this is a crossover between Dollman, Demonic Toys, and something called Bad Channels (“in space, no one is safe from rock ‘n’ roll”). How do I know? Because Dollman vs. Demonic Toys – only a one-hour movie – spends as much time as possible running flashbacks from its three predecessors.

Can Dollman, shrunken Nurse Jude and Demonic Toys survivor Tracy Scoggins keep the Toys from taking over? Yes, easily. Dollman shoots them with his little gun and they explode. Sorry for the total lack of suspense. Before that, the Toys are warping prostitutes into another dimension in order to summon their master (the Puppet Master?), and the final showdown involves the Baby toy trying to rape the shrunken nurse. Directed by madman Charles Band himself and written by Tarantino friend Craig Hamann, both of whom should stay away from children.

Sometimes called In The Hands of a Puppetmaster, presumably to distinguish it from the terrible Donald Sutherland movie The Puppet Masters and Full Moon’s Puppet Master series. Another Taiwanese-occupation historical drama, the center part of a trilogy with City of Sadness and Good Men, Good Women. City of Sadness seems more memorable than this one did since I had ol’ Tony Leung to latch onto. This one is more detached from the action, which is broken up over a longer timeline.

A true-ish story narrated by the film’s real-life subject, who appeared as an actor in previous Hou films. We don’t see him on-screen for the first third of the movie. His appearance brought to mind American Splendor, only with less humor and no cartoons. Wiki: “Based on the memoirs of Li Tian-lu, Taiwan’s most celebrated puppeteer, this story covers the years from Li’s birth in 1909 to the end of Japan’s fifty-year occupation of Taiwan in 1945.”

Real Mr. Li:

from V. Canby’s original Times review:

His story is revealed in a succession of short, often oblique but vivid vignettes. These begin with a dramatization of a family row about whether the baby is to bear the name of his mother’s or father’s family, a tale cut short by the real Mr. Li’s terse soundtrack interjection: “That’s how I was born.”

There are harrowing tales about his mother’s death, his unloved stepmother, his disinterested father and his rebellion as an adolescent, when he was apprenticed to a traveling puppet-theater troupe. From time to time, the audience is given long, wonderful chunks of Mr. Li, as a boy and as a young man, working his delicately fashioned hand puppets during performance.

A synopsis can’t convey the particular quality of “The Puppetmaster”; that is, the seductive way Mr. Hou takes the audience into a world of arcane rituals and rites. The director’s fondness for the meditative, stationary camera, which was favored by the Japanese film master Ozu, no longer looks borrowed but reimagined. The lack of camera movement and the long takes, in which an entire scene is shot without a cut, reflect the searching manner of an old man as he tries to make sense of the past.

The camera occasionally simply stares at a room or into a series of rooms that open one out of another before a character has entered or after a character has departed. It’s as if the mind of this singularly alert survivor were dealing with Proustian associations, memories uncovered by a kind of afternoon sunlight, or a cooking smell or the touch of someone long gone.

Young Fake Mr. Li:

I had trouble keeping up from the very start, when the old man narrates his own birth and explains why he’s got his mother’s last name. Obviously a movie that rewards a second viewing, once you’ve got a basic grasp on the plot. Neither am I sure which actors played what parts – usually I can use the IMDB cast to help figure out which characters were which, but not today.

Older Fake Mr. Li:

N. Schager:

That Li ascribes his origins to a set of legal provisions immediately connects him to his occupied homeland—a disempowered territory now defined by the rules and regulations of a foreign party—just as his age-old profession ties him to the ancestral traditions of Taiwanese culture. Such associations run throughout Hou’s biographical tale, with Li’s rebellion against his abusive father and stepmother, his exile from puppeteering after the Japanese forbade public performances, his compulsory work for a Japanese propaganda puppet troupe (part of the government’s “Japanization movement”), and his ultimate triumphant rebirth as a celebrated artist all designed to reflect the upheaval of a country in which the indigenous population was forced to accept that, as one drunken Imperial Army soldier tells Li, “You can never escape the fact that you are a colonized islander. A third-class citizen.”

By having Li relate altered versions of things we’ve already witnessed, Hou strikingly points out how the act of remembering invariably sparks a metamorphosis of what’s come before. Yet just as importantly, such a device allows the filmmaker to express the passage of time by asking viewers to experience the film’s occurrences in both real-time and, through our own reliving of certain scenes more than once via Li’s delayed annotations, the past. This process of experiential repetition is the film’s most arresting and vital structural component, linking now with then, the real with the semi-real, in a web of era-intertwined symbiosis.

I wish our gov’t would put on propaganda puppet shows:

When he’s eight, his grandmother gets sick, but as she’s recovering his mother dies instead. His girlfriend Big Eyes is sent away. Grandfather dies and little Li is beaten by his stepmom. But he gets his dad to let him join a puppet troupe, after which he’s traded away to other troupes for years and finally founds his own (called Also Like Life – so that’s where Shooting Down Pictures got their domain name from).

Japan starts interfering, prevents all outdoor performances in Taiwan, killing puppetry dead. Li moves in with an opera group, meets a prostitute named Leitzu. “I had told her before that I was married with children. But what about us? We are travelers that meet on a path.” Back into puppetry (and back with his family), he joins a couple of Japanese propaganda puppet theater groups, gets into a scuffle with an occupying officer, but gets away with it because of his fame and regard.

At the end of the war he has a terrible evacuation from Taipei. The whole family catches malaria and his youngest son and father-in-law both die. He joins a new theater group – the final shot is of the townspeople disassembling Japanese planes, after he’s told that the money to pay him comes from selling scrap metal.

Grunes: “The title refers to both Li’s profession and Taiwanese history under the Japanese, who appropriated Taiwanese puppetry for their own propagandistic purposes and who otherwise impressed their own culture on the Taiwanese, making puppets of them.”

T.M. Hoover:

It’s long but not big, complex but not epic, morally committed but not given to proselytizing, and offers no grand spittle in the face of the cruelty of colonization. Instead, it gives us the story of a man who had to organize his life around circumstances he did not want and, through the juxtaposition with the source of those trials (some of which had nothing to do with politics or other alterable conditions), talks of what one has to do when the gods throw thunderbolts at inconvenient times.

Large-faced actor Jason Segal had a dream to resurrect the Muppets on the big screen, full of celeb cameos and musical numbers so he called up Flight of the Conchords (not Jemaine – he must’ve been busy on Men In Black 3). Proven cutey musical lead Amy “Enchanted” Adams is a love interest, Chris Cooper a villain, and Jack Black an unwilling celebrity guest.

And it worked! Good movie, full of the same self-referential humor and silliness as the originals. Plot revolves around Segal’s friend (brother?) Walter, who is a muppet, idolizes the 1970’s Muppets and convinces them to reunite to hold a fundraiser to save their old studio from an evil oil baron. Two of the voice actors/puppeteers are from the original Muppet Show (and Fraggle Rock too) – including Gonzo. So why is Gonzo barely in the movie? (edit: oh it’s because of Muppets From Space) This one was Kermit and Fozzie-heavy, so maybe they’re saving the others for the next movie.

My favorite bit from the IMDB trivia: “Bret McKenzie taught Chris Cooper how to rap.”

“We live in a democracy. You can’t just take a little baby gator.”

Thanks heaps to the White Elephant Blogathon for making me watch this.

Original announcement
List of reviews
My pick was The Gate (link is dead)


“Scott Shaw Presents…”

Shaw is behind fifty direct-to-video movies that sounds awesome but are almost certainly not: Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell, Lingerie Kickboxer, Max Hell Frog Warrior and more.

“A film by Donald G. Jackson…”

Jackson also voices the gator. IMDB says he died in 2003, but he is so productive, he continued making movies through 2009.

“Roller
Gator”

Hmmm, the title is on two lines, so is it “Roller Gator” or “Rollergator”? Since the director is partying in b-movie heaven with Ed Wood and Dennis Hopper, we may never know for sure. Aspect ratio is unknown as well – I’m watching a 4:3 frame inside a widescreen window, thanks to Amazon.

Roller (not pictured: gator)

Supposedly Joe Estevez (who has previously explored these themes in Legend of the Roller Blade Seven, Gator King, and Return of the Roller Blade Seven) is running an amusement park, but I’m pretty sure the filmmakers just paid admission (or hopped the fence – I wouldn’t put it past them) and shot Joe shouting dialogue to himself on what looks like a late-80’s camcorder.

Suddenly a ninja is playing loud acoustic guitar while a girl frolics on the beach. Or is that a rifle the ninja is holding? Then who is playing the guitar? Enter the grating voice of the Rollergator, shouting from a cave near the frolicking girl. Oh, special-effects be damned, the gator is just gonna be a hand puppet.

“You’re an alligator. You’re a purple alligator. But you’re purple, and you can talk”. Immediate references to Barney and the electric boogaloo follow. One thing I can say for the alligator puppet – it’s a better actor than this girl (played by Sandra Shuker, also of: nothing), who is apparently going to be our protagonist. I’m not seeing how this even qualifies as a movie. It wouldn’t make the cut at Mystery Science Theater 3000 (on which I’ve seen two previous Joe Estevez flicks: Werewolf and Soultaker) for lack of any qualities whatsoever.

Joe Estevez, also of Lethal Orbit, Fatal Justice and Murder-in-Law, with gator:

Finally the movie kicks it up, with a drum track, some rollerblading, and dutch angles on the ninja.

I wanted to get a motion capture of this scene – after narrowly escaping the least-competent “ninja” ever, the girl rocks slowly on a coin-op ride for 2-year-olds, leaning on the gator exactly like it’s a stuffed animal (which it is) and looking just depressed.

Also, I can no longer make out her dialogue over the guitar music, not that I’m complaining. I think they might’ve left the guitarist in charge of the movie’s final sound mix. Back to Joe Estevez (of Horrorween, Killa Zombies and Caesar and Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre), who talks to his nephew Reggie about locating the gator, which Joe thinks will draw customers to his park, and I just noticed Joe’s cute little ponytail.

Speaking of the amusement park, they get a lot of mileage out of simply filming stuff there: rides, games, displays. Saves money on sets, production design and story, I suppose – although not on talent, since sometimes Joe Estevez (of Hercules in Hollywood, Las Vegas Psycho and The Rockville Slayer) and Reggie are shown joylessly sitting on the rides. The credits claim production design by Sergio Kurosawa, a name that I’m positive was made-up since I didn’t notice any production design. Effects (and I didn’t see any of those either) by Tom Irvin, whose IMDB trivia page tells a heartwarming story of how Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions helped reunite him with his estranged father. I’m glad that movie served a purpose besides wasting my time.

This facial expression will be referenced later:

The gator is trying to hide from a “crooked carnival owner”, so they go straight to a carnival, agree to talk to carnival worker Reggie’s boss, then act surprised when it turns out to be crooked carnival owner Chi Chi (Joe Estevez of Necronaut, Zombiegeddon and Crimes of the Chupacabra). Oh shit, Joe is having a heart attack! Wait, is this in the script, or is it really happening? Oh he’s okay. Contract negotiations break down and PJ leaves with the gator, taking him to her completely unfurnished apartment. Again with the production design.

Enter the mythical Swamp Farmer (played by mythical Ed Wood actor Conrad Brooks, also of Beast of Yucca Flats, Curse of the Queerwolf and F.A.R.T.: The Movie), who wanders the urban swamp chattering to himself.

Note: lens hood visible in upper-left corner:

There isn’t even an attempt at action – everyone just saunters around, even the supposed ninja, although she does have some high-kicking nunchuck moves. Oh wait, this isn’t the ninja, its the “karate instructor” – my mistake. Her motivation: “I’m gonna return [the gator] to Mr. Dennis, who’s gonna turn him over to the police.” Is Mr. Dennis supposed to be Joe Estevez (of Koreatown, Mexican American and Spanish Fly)? I thought his name was Chi Chi. Chi Chi Dennis? Oh, now the karate lady has turned on her boss and joined PJ and the gator. That was easy.

Our team is joined by another rollerblading girl, this one with a slingshot, who says things like “this is so fly!” The ensuing chase scene is the most exciting bit of the movie so far, seeming to move at more of a light jog than the usual aimless, depressed stroll – I credit the blaring surf guitar on the soundtrack for energizing things. Back at the office, Joe Estevez (of PrimeMates, No Dogs Allowed and Toad Warrior) is not amused that the karate instructor has defected.

Is the cameraman three feet tall? There are telephone lines in every shot:

After a painfully long conversation between slingshot gal and a “friend of pj” who turns out to be the ninja in disguise (or is it out of disguise), the ninja gets away with a decoy backpack and Slingshot tries her best to come up with an appropriate facial expression. Joe Estevez (of Pacino Is Missing, Not Another B Movie and 14 Ways to Wear Lipstick) has an uncomfortable chat with the ninja, then the gator & girl discuss how to find the Swamp Farmer (have I mentioned him lately? Looks like he’s now roaming around abandoned movie sets). A tearful reunion between Farmer and Gator follows.

Finally, after an attempt at a beautiful sunset coda (it’s daylight again a minute later), Joe Estevez (of Green Diggity Dog, Motorcycle Cheering Mommas and Blood Slaves of the Vampire Wolf) has somehow received the “curse of the gator.”

A piss-poor movie which even makes Curse of the Puppet Master look good by comparison. Hardly anyone seems to be trying at all, and the attempts at comedy, drama, entertainment and “rap” music are laughable (except the comedy – that’d be unlaughable).

Rollergator theme song by Elizabeth Mehr (whose band Baby Alive won some MTV award in 1994, claimed she “would like to enlighten the world, and hopefully bring change, peace, and unity through music”) and performed by Magic Man (google suggests this could be a 2009 French electronica duo, a hit rock song by Heart, a Billy Zane movie, or a member of the United States Men’s National soccer team – each seems equally likely).

Fortunately, this dark prophecy has not yet come to pass:

Shanks (1974)

“The town drunk with a shrew for a wife and a deaf mute for a brother-in-law”

The movie has silly, cartoonish music by Alex North which belongs in a goofy porno comedy, just a few years before North’s lowest low point in Wise Blood. He was oscar-nominated by the tin-eared academy, but fortunately they awarded the great Nino Rota the honors instead.

Shanks (Marcel Marceau) is a ridiculed mute puppeteer hired by rich Mr. Walker (also Marceau!) to control dead people using a three-button remote? I don’t remember why. Honestly, it was late at night and it was a very silly movie and I watched it while assembling Ikea furniture. But here are some notes I took:

The miracle of bringing dead animals to life is achieved cinematically by using live animals
Suddenly an underage love interest named Celia.
The drunk gets killed by a reanimated chicken in slow motion
Flowery intertitles

Wife is hit by a car – I’m not giving murderous Marceau credit for that one
TV laugh track during sinister scenes
He makes them do an awful lot with just three buttons

Mr & Mrs Barton is the couple, mute is Malcolm
Perverse to star a celebrated mime but have all the other actors play fun reanimated dead people [this was before I realized Marceau also played Mr. Walker, the first to be hilaiously reanimated]

Silly-ass music

“The outside world of evil,” says a title card which burns away revealing… youth on motorcycles. Still the greatest threat to society in 1972: mustache dudes on motorcycles.

Mata Hari is the bad girl
Good girl is killed and, let’s face it, probably raped. Typical 70’s.

Closing title card unsubtly tells us “Good versus Evil,” but I wouldn’t exactly call Marceau “good,” just maybe in comparison with the others in this movie. He’s also shown to be a better fighter than the leader of the bike gang. Needless to say, he reanimates the dead girl at the end and makes her dance with him, because he is a dangerous creep. Mata Hari never wakes up and calls the cops, like she should.
First rom-zom-com? Look out, Shaun of the Dead.


Mr. Sardonicus (1961)

“London, 1880”
Castle doesn’t really look like John Goodman, but he is just as cheesy.

What was this about? Robert goes to Sardonicus’ castle to surgically fix his death-grimace face, supernaturally obtained when Dr. S tried to rob a winning lotto ticket from his own father’s grave, but Robert’s science is unsuccessful. There is intrigue involving Dr. S’s wife, I believe. I’m pretty sure I liked it better than Shanks, or maybe I’d just been drinking more.

Sir Robert is a handsome physical therapist with right-hand man Wainwright
Much is made of the invention of the hypodermic needle
He has a photo-locket that speaks to him in flashback-voiceover
One-eyed hunchy Krull [Oskar Homolka of Ball of Fire and Sabotage]

A scene ripped off from Dracula when he arrives in eastern europe
Also no mirrors in the castle
Ana has leeches on her!

Nice to see a castle servant who’s intelligent and well-spoken
Maybe Sardonicus is meant to sound like sarcophagus, but it looks more like sardonic
Toulon! [Sardonicus is played by Guy Rolfe, Andre Toulon in Puppet Masters 3-7]

Henryk [Vladimir Sokoloff of Baron of Arizona] was his dad. I actually thought it was Oskar playing a different character. Elenka is his first wife
Comically over-explainy, like in MANT

Puppet Master 4

“Full Moon Entertainment presents”

FM was on fire since the last Puppet Master sequel. They’ve got a Jeffrey Combs sci-fi pic, the aforementioned Netherworld, more Trancers and Dollman and Subspecies movies, at least two dinosaur pictures, two kids movies, four or five more sci-fi movies, and Charles Band involved himself in a castle horror starring Adam Ant.

“starring Gordon Currie”

“THE Gordon Currie,” you might be asking, “twelfth-billed in Friday The 13th Part 8?” That’s the guy. He’d go on to appear in the intriguing but disappointing Waydowntown and play opposite Kirk Cameron in the Left Behind movies.

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“Screenplay by…”

Holy crap, five writers! This is gonna be great! Among them, four are mainly known from this and part five, but Douglas Aarniokoski broke out into directing, assisting Robert Rodriguez and Terry Gilliam before helming his own Highlander sequel.

“directed by Jeff Burr”

Experienced horror director Burr had recently helmed Stepfather II and Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. IMDB reviewers rave: “Okay!” “Worth a look!” “Good enough!”

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Judging from the glowing metal box during the credits, it seems Puppet Master might be trying to rip off props from the Hellraiser series. Oh and now they’re stealing the short glowing-eyed druids from Phantasm. “It is known that those in the upworld are close to discovering our secret, the secret Andre Toulon stole from us those many years ago.” You can tell we’ve got supernatural underground beasties here, and an attempt to get all mythological and use fancy english. Should be no trouble with five writers.

A girl in a lab is working on “The Omega Project” (not the jazz jam band, the “hot nude babes” website or the Japanese film production company – it’s something involving robot arms and colored blocks), receives a package containing a murderous alien puppet, then gets clawed to death. This is one of those movies where every time something happens, we’re gonna see the druids watching it in their magic pool of liquid. Same thing happens ten minutes later to her colleage in another lab. Are subterranean aliens hoping to harness the power of robotic arms moving colored blocks??

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Enter our star Rick, a laser-tag-playing robot programmer prone to talking into a microcassette-corder who lives in the ol’ hotel with his doll Hook, until a visit from his girlfriend Susie, her hot psychic friend Lauren and some asshole named Cameron, Rick’s robotics rival. The artificial-intelligence thing is a nice addition, but come on movie, another psychic in the same hotel? And did they shoot this through a mirror? What is all this glare on the lens? A Bob Vila joke right next to a SCUD missile joke – timely.

Cameron, R.I.P.
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The kids happen upon Toulon’s trunk as Puppet-Toulon lurks outside. They resurrect the killer puppets with Toulon’s formula, marvel at them for a minute, then go off to bed when lightning knocks out the power. Good idea! C&L pull out the series’ first ouija board while Rick plays laser tag (no shit) with Tiny and Drill. The ouija opens a gateway through which more alien demons appear and mangle Cameron to death.

Laser Puppet Master would have been a great title:
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Guy who plays a security guard appeared the following year in crappy Donald Sutherland flick The Puppet Masters – no relation!

The “magic to create life” is in a numeric formula on Rick’s computer. Decapitron’s head turns into a cameo by Toulon. Apparently the puppets are no longer mad at him from the events of Puppet Masters 1 & 2. I think at this point we’ve “rebooted” and are pretending those two didn’t exist. I think when Toulon, speaking through the unconscious third girl, says “you must transcend linearity,” he is telling us to forget about parts 1 & 2 and just go with it. Physics according to the movie: laser tag guns can wound alien puppets, light travels at around one foot per second, and even though puppets are made of cloth and wood they can still make kung-fu punching sounds when they collide

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Toulon dubs Rick the new puppet master, the evil alien is defeated (but not destroyed), and we proceed to part five, which I’m guessing was shot right around the same time.


Puppet Master 5

“Full Moon Entertainment presents”

In between parts 4 and 5: a Lovecraft adaptation, some sexy business, more sequels, and Shrunken Heads from Richard Elfman, director of Forbidden Zone.

Aaand we’ve got the same director and stars as part 4. Confirmed, shot at the same time.

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“Kind of a queer doll for a grown boy to have.” That’s Duane Whitaker, who appeared the same year in Pulp Fiction as one of the dudes who ties up Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames. Since then he’s been in both Rob Zombie sequels. A real movie star in a Puppet Master flick!

Dreeeeam seeeeequence:
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We join Rick at the police station where he’s being arrested for all the deaths from part 4, then it’s on to the first recap of the series, greatest hits from part 4 (there’s some laser tag, of course).

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Some dullsville setup: the new head of Rick’s robotics company is pulling some weapons-dealing trickery, hires the lamest thugs to break into the hotel and steal the puppets. Meanwhile, with no Phantasm monk assistants left, the giant underground puppet transfers his soul into a demon puppet in a drawn-out bit of hammery, saying junk like “drink deep from the fountain of evil, my child.”

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Ever since trying to gain some goodwill by fighting nazis in part III, the series has been going out of its way to bring Bad Guys into the series to become puppet victims, not just innocent psychics. It’s okay for Jester to nail one of the petty thieves in the balls with a meat hammer, but the demon puppet does all the real killing. These guys aren’t evil enough to deserve Death By Jester, just some slapstick. Hey, it’s Torch! Was he even in part 4? The Demon shoots ghost lasers at Torch until Six-Shooter wounds it. Aaaand Rick talks to his computer which is channeling the now-hospitalized psychic girl from part 4.

The filmmakers apparently confused computer code with German:
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Timely references: a gross country guy uses the phrase “achy-breaky”

Up to the 65-minute mark it’s kind of boring. The thieves’ deaths are all demon-scratches and red lighting, and as before, everyone makes a huge deal of Decapitron, who doesn’t even seem all that cool to me. Oh wait, I looked down to type this and now Doctor Whoever, the weaponry robotics bigwig, is fighting Rick with a giant wrench in the elevator. Oh good, Torch is unharmed from the laser hit, and he and his buddies don’t take kindly to the bespectacled man who just konked out their friend.

Decapitron is not cool:
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Epic (well, three-minute) puppet battle follows. All puppets survive, the demon doesn’t, happy epilogue. The movies are becoming disappointingly tame and formulaic. Fortunately they changed things up in the next movie, but unfortunately it’s the worst-rated in the series.

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Puppet Master 6

“Full Moon Pictures presents”

Our six favorite puppets are in cages while a new fake Toulon runs off and burn/buries another cage on a cool-looking night-and-fog set. Hope he buried Decapitron (update: no, it was the deformed puppet body of his former assistant, but Decap isn’t in this sequel anyhow). Lots of editing and fancy angles… we may be in the hands of a Raimi disciple.

The poster is for a mid-60’s Italian swords-and-sandals flick:
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“Curse of the Puppet Master”

So we’re done with the sequel numbering. A montage of puppet scenes from earlier movies plays over the credits, and it’s not for recap purposes like in part five – just good ol’ footage recycling.

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“directed by Victoria Sloan”

This is actually David DeCoteau from part III. Why would the guy who has only ever made bad movies use an alias for a bad movie? In fact, his previous Puppet Master entry was one of the good ones – you’d think he’d want some fan recognition. Maybe the DeCoteau table at the conventions was getting too hot. From the writer of Hellraiser Deader, ugh.

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“Another Magoo goes to college” says the fake Toulon to his daughter. So the lead’s name is gonna be Magoo, huh? And now a guy named Tank whom I recognize from the video box. Picked-on sensitive Tank (Josh Green, who made it to 42nd-billed-in-Pearl-Harbor before throwing in the towel) makes fancy wood figurines, gets hired by puppet-crazy Mr. Magoo, introduced to our gang, who are let out of their cages for dinner. Movie doesn’t look so bad but this is some clumsy-ass dialogue.

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Magoo bought the puppets at auction? So much for the long careful setup stringing the sequels together. Oh um Magoo (George Peck – best known as “man with luggage” in a Susan Sarandon flick) is being questioned by the cops about the disappearance of his previous assistant in an extremely drawn-out scene. Come to think of it, 30 minutes have passed and nothing has happened (pre-credits foggy mystery doesn’t count).

Magoo wants the boy to make a 444-piece puppet – that’s 2/3rds of the devil. Maybe it comes with a 222-piece accessory pack. One piece is the size of his hand – the puppet will be as big as the house!

“What is man except a being at war with himself.”
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Jane Magoo (Emily Harrison – the best actor here – who went on to play “girl” in a David Spade film) is back and there’s some kissing and what not. Tank roughhouses with hooligans. Mr. Magoo pep-talks Tank. The last 30 minutes of this movie had better be pretty cool.

A hooligan broke Tiny! Puppets are sent after the hooligan and we have our first groin-drilling of the series. I am liking the drunkenly tilting camera. An investigation follows and our puppet friends become cop killers. The effects in this movie ain’t worth a damn – no stop-motion or cleverness, just out-of-frame hands waving puppets around, and sometimes strings I can see.

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Magoo turns Tank into a way silly Max Headroom robot and the puppets, who were totally cool with all this a second ago, decide to kill him. Roll credits? I like the bonkers ending and the short runtime, but let’s face it, I’m just trying to stay positive over a turd of a movie.

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I am Puppet Master’d out, so there will be a very long delay before I move on to part 7…