Movie Review: “Puppet Master”

   Considering this is Full Moon Magic Mondays!, something anyone loosely familiar with Full Moon Features had to know is that we’d find ourselves talking about the Puppet Master series. Puppet Master is where everything started for Full Moon. After the closure of Charles Bands’ Empire Productions, Puppet Master was his premiere film as he embarked on his latest venture and would become his most popular film franchise, serving as many people’s gateway drug into his wacky cinematic world.

   I can remember when I first discovered Full Moon Features, not through a singular film or box-art at a video-store, but from a horror compilation video released in 2001 by FlixMix called Boogeyman: The Killer Compilation. The release comprised itself of short scenes from popular horror movies, statistics, and trivia. The compilation wasn’t very well received from what I’ve gathered (I was only 5 years old), but, without it, I might not have ever discovered horror fare like Puppet Master or the New Zealand horror film The Ugly.

   Puppet Master is a 1989 horror film written by Charles Band and Kenneth J. Hall, and was directed by David Schmoeller. The Mashers Club has already discussed Charles Band at length in previous entries in Full Moon Magic Mondays, but this will be the first time we’ve reviewed a film directed by David Schmoeller. It won’t be the last, however, as the director has worked with Full Moon Features on projects like Netherworld and Catacombs, and has worked with Charles Band before that on the 1979 slasher film Tourist Trap. The film was originally prepped for a theatrical release in the Summer, but was released direct-to-video instead in the Halloween season. According to Charles Band, he believed he would make more money with this tactic than the theatrical market. Considering how many Puppet Master films have been created, his assessment might’ve been correct.

   The film sees a cast comprised of Paul Le Mat, Irene Miracle, Matt Roe, and Kathryn O’Reily, as well as a small (but emphasized) appearance by Barbara Crampton. The music was created by Richard Band. The film was distributed by Full Moon Features and Paramount Pictures, an important affiliated to Full Moon in the 80s and 90s.

   It barely warrants stating if you’ve followed me this far in my series of Full Moon reviews – but Puppet Master is a strange film. The reason it’s strange isn’t for a reason you might expect, however. Although the cover-work and reputation might lead you to suspect a simple, casual concept about killer-dolls wreaking havoc, there’s actually more to Puppet Master than that. Basically, in 1939, a man named Andre Toulon has found a way to animate puppets through the use of an Egyptian spell. Onto him and desiring you weaponize his Puppets, the Nazis breakdown his bedroom door to find that Toulon has committed suicide and has hid the serum. Fifty years later, a group of psychics have reason to believe an old colleague has found Toulon’s secret hiding spot. When they arrive, however, they soon find themselves killed off, one-by-one, by the mischievous Puppets.

   I was hesitant about reviewing Puppet Master for many reasons. The first and foremost being how I didn’t have the fondest memories of the film. That, and while I’ve seen every Puppet Master film, I can count the number of Puppet Master films I particularly enjoyed on one-hand and have fingers still left to spare. I have a certain admiration for the intricacies of Puppet Masters’ narrative. They could have went with a simpler, less convoluted story for why The Puppets exist and why their victims find themselves at Toulon’s estate. Instead, they brought Nazis and Egyptian magic and other over-the-top facets. What I also admire is how these aren’t presented as over-the-top or ridiculous, but dead-serious elements in the Puppet Master lore. I feel like it’s too often modern horror does outlandish things for you to laugh at the badness, so I appreciate when a filmmaker does outlandish things and actually tries to make something out of it beyond the surface-level audacity of what’s happening on screen.

   Unfortunately, I have to admit how tedious I found the first forty-five minutes of this film. The psychic story-line and the characters themselves are uninteresting and unlikable, concocting a narrative that’s uninteresting and bland. This is a fact I’ve found imperative to whether a lot of Full Moon Features work or not. The best of the crop thus far, Head of the Family and The Creeps both benefited directly from their colorful cast of characters, despite a story-line that, like Puppet Master, was peculiar and outlandish. Scenes plod, unable to cohesively build in one general direction, and it’s difficult to buy into the suspense or drama happening among each character. It isn’t a bad film, so much as it is a very dull and tedious film. Which is worse can depend on your perspective.

   For “The List,” it’s somewhere in the middle. Although it might’ve been easier to sit through Weedjies: Halloweed Night (Full Moon’s latest film), given its carefree nature and audacity, Puppet Master had higher ambition and more effort. I struggled on whether I wanted to categorize this as a “Bad” film or a lower-tier “Decent” film, considering all its merits. In the end, I found my answer. While there’s something to be said about the original Puppet Master’s relevance for introducing me to the Full Moon catalog, I have to admit my early apprehension about re-watching the film was warranted. Perhaps they hadn’t perfect the recipe for that Full Moon magic just yet …

Rating: – 1.5 out of 5.0