Saturday, 21 December 2013

Puppet Master (1989)

Not many movie series get to the double digits, probably as a result of the steadily increasing costs of producing each film (rare indeed is the sequel that is cheaper than the original). One such franchise, however, is the Puppet Master series, which began its direct-to-video odyssey in over 20 years ago and saw its tenth release (or 11th if you count the 'non-canon' Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys) in 2012.

The original film was a major success on the home video market, which led the the slew of sequels. Production company Full Moon actually attempted to end the series after the 5th film, but video rental companies apparently harangued them until they started making them again. Now there's no doubt that part of the secret to the series' success was keeping the budgets low, but do they have anything more going for them? Well, given that I was able to pick up the first 9 movies in a cheapie boxed set, we're going to find out. :)

So, the original Puppet Master kicks off in 1939, with master puppeteer Andre Toulon killing himself rather than allowing the Nazis to capture the ancient mystic secret he has discovered: how to give life to the unliving. Toulon's decision to use this incredible power to make living puppets suggests he was a bit of an odd chap, but anyone who hates Nazis is OK by me. The film then picks up 50 years later, with a group of psychics each experiencing visions relating to their mutual acquaintance, Neil Gallagher. None of the four could be considered friendly to Gallagher, but such simultaneous visions merit investigation. They seek out Gallagher, only to learn that he has killed himself in much the same manner as Toulon.

Of course, Toulon's puppets soon make an appearance, and they seem to have become quite the macabre and murderous bunch. Maybe 50 years hidden in a wall space made them cranky. Or maybe something more sinister is afoot?

I was pleasantly surprised by this film. The puppet effects are solid, especially given the age of the film and its budget, and their designs quite inventive and evocative. The kill scenes are a bit uneven, but the last couple work very well. The acting is serviceable, though I imagine top-billed Paul Le Mat - a two time Golden Globe winner - was wondering where his career went wrong. The script's solid, too. The opening scene shows a likeably silly sense of humour and does a good job of conveying Toulon's affection for this creations. Later on, the humour turns more malicious, but that's in keeping with the tonal shift. Finally, the film's major twist is a pretty good one, I think.

Fundamentally however, you're either the kind of person who likes the idea of a horror movie featuring 2 foot high killer dolls, or you're not. And whether you are or not is pretty much the determining factor on whether you should check this out.

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