Puppet Master (1989-2012) Series Review

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So it is Halloween 2016 and time to review a franchise. Why Puppet Master? Well I wasn’t going to choose The Gingerdead Man series…

…yet

First up is the original and if history tells us anything it is that is probably going to be the high point of the series.
Possible the only high point but lets see.

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puppet-masterPuppet Master (1989)

“I’m the master, and you’re the puppet!”

Full Moon Entertainment seem like the sort of studio that can’t say no to any idea and providing the idea was pitched in the 80’s they knew how to make it work.

Starting with an appearance from William Hickey, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) and a hundred other minor roles, at a hotel who is putting the final touches to a puppet when he is killed by two Nazi spies.
Years later a group of psychics that include a woman who’s sole psychic ability seems to be the ability to sense if someone has had sex by touching an object attend the funeral of a friend that committed suicide at the same hotel.

It turns out he first gathered the group years ago in order to discover the ability to give life to inanimate figures.
Over the course of the night the psychics start to be killed off one by one.

I guess they didn’t predict that happening except for the most part they did.

Here we are introduced to most of the series stalwarts,

  • Jester – His head is split into three sections that spin rapidly only to stop revealing a different facial expression
  • Tunneller – the top of his head is a big drill
  • Pinhead – He has a small head and big hands and is the powerhouse
  • Leech Woman – She looks a bit anaemic so it is a good thing she can regurgitate leeches
  • Blade – My favourite, his eyes are blades and instead of hands he has a hook and a blade and just looks cool

Being a Full Moon film means lots of lovely stop-motion animation and the quality is very good with it blending into the live action parts very well especially when you consider this is a low budget straight-to-video.

The pacing is typical for a Full Moon film from the 80’s so it is slow at first but does pick up and end well.
A positive I liked was the use of first person to simulate the puppets running about.
Yes it was because of budget constraints but it works very well. In fact the use of the puppets overall was well done and the scene where they realise they need to turn on their master highlights this.

Overall I enjoyed this more than when I first watched it 20 years ago.

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puppet-master-2Puppet Master II:
His Unholy Creations(1990)

A direct sequel to the original the film starts with the tried and tested classic digging up a grave complete with wiping the dirt away to reveal the deceased’s name and then they bring Toulon (the puppets creator from Puppet Master) back to life.

I loved how seeing tiny puppets recreating this and it is filmed so seriously so at least it starts of well.

Almost mirroring the first film we have a group of parapsychologists who having interviewed the survivor from the first film, now insane, to find out what happened to the hotel owner and other survivor after she is murdered.

Very quickly they record actual video proof of the dolls which should come in handy at the end given how they need an alibi to explain all the murders there are going to be over the next few days.

Toulon makes his appearance in his best Darkman (1990) homage and is quite annoying every time he talks right up to the finale when he suddenly he is a lot of fun to watch. He is also evil here.
In Puppet Master he came across as a kindly old man but here he is about as generic Nazi mad scientist as you can get.

Starting off at a nice pace the film starts to drag its feet a lot almost two thirds in before picking itself up plus the music is repetitive and like Toulon when he speaks annoying as well.

The puppets however seem to have benefited from the increased budget of the film. The stop-motion animation seems to be better but the puppets are more animated in the other scenes whether through puppetry or animatronics.
I would say they are used to greater effect than the previous film and we get a new puppet.
Torch resembling a Nazi with eyes that glow red and bullets for teeth with a flamethrower for one hand.

Still a good watch despite the flaws but not up to the standard of the original.

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puppet-master-3Puppet Master 3:
Toulon’s Revenge (1991)

During world war 2 in Berlin Toulon along with his wife put on travelling puppet shows part of which mock Hitler.

Well that isn’t going to go unnoticed.

Oddly that isn’t what brings him to the attention of a Nazi Leutnant that is more interested in how one of the puppets, Six Shooter who is modelled on a cowboy with six arms, doesn’t have any stings controlling him.

Coincidentally he is working for Major Kraus a Gestapo working with Dr. Hess on a project to re-animate the dead for the sole purpose, at least for Major Kraus, to be used as cannon fodder and human shields on the battlefield.

After Toulon’s wife is murdered by Kraus he goes on the run seeking revenge abd sending his puppets out to kill only those who wronged him or are a threat.

The problem is in Puppet Master 2 Toulon is simply evil but both part 1 and 3 set before part 2 show Toulon in a positive light.
Given how there are a few inconsistencies in the series this can probably be overlooked but to create the puppets he needs the life essence of someone who wants to live so when creating Leech Woman he uses his wife’s.

But in part 2 Leech Woman is killed and Toulon is convinced one of the women in the parapsychologists team is his wife reincarnated.

I think we are supposed to overlook this too.

Overall I would say this is a stronger entry that part 2. The stop-motion animation is again very good especially with Six Shooter and shows no signs that they have skimped on probably the most important aspect of the series and that is the puppets.

Wish the same could be said of the music.

Far better pacing than the previous two with enough going on to keep you interested but the best, sorry most shocking aspect of the film…

Sarah Douglas, who is best known as playing bitchy evil characters like Ursa in Superman I&II finally plays someone good and it is about time.

But the music is still crap

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puppet-master-4Puppet Master 4:
The Demon (1993)

Back at the Bodega Bay Inn which was the setting for Puppet Master 1&2 is where a young man called Rick is conveniently working there as a caretaker during the off season where he can conveniently work in peace on his scientific research which is conveniently based around creating A.I. and conveniently finds the puppets and their elixir which is the final piece he needs to complete his work.

All too convenient if you ask me.

The film starts in a demon lords lair that is angry at Toulon for stealing the secret elixir that gave the puppets life as well anyone else that might inadvertently uncover the same secret.

At first I thought that the demon lord had some nice stop-motion animation but as the camera moved closer I realised it was a man in a ridiculous costume.

While Rick works alone at the Inn his colleagues are back at the lab including Felton Perry who we all remember as Robocop’s Johnson, so the demon lord Sutekh sends his minions that are reanimated totems and around the same size as the puppets after them to kill them before heading off to Rick, who conveniently happens to have some friends drop by, for a showdown with the puppets.

By some accounts this was supposed to Demonic Toys vs Puppet Master but that was changed when the idea for a new puppet called Decapitron came up.

For the first time we see a drop in quality with the animation of the puppets at times. Maybe this is due to a smaller budget or time constraints.
These issues could also be because part 4 and part 5 were supposed to be one film but split into two and filmed back to back yet whatever the reason the film suffers in places especially the fight at the end between Blade and one of the totems.

I hope Demonic Toys vs Puppet Master doesn’t have fights like this.

I hope Dollman vs Demonic Toys doesn’t either.

That isn’t to say the animation or animatronics is bad throughout. Overall it is still very good but you will notice those moments.

The story is a bit silly at times (yes I know I’m currently up to the fourth film in a series about killer puppets) and while the performances are not that bad too I did cringe just a tad during the last fight.
It had the human actors giving it their best only to cut back to what they are supposed to be reacting too and you are watching something you could mistake as children play-fighting with their toys.

Also how has Toulon lost his German accent for an English one? It is the same actor playing him from the last film.

I am being a tad harsh here. I did enjoy it and would watch it again but the music.
Please sort out the music.

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puppet-master-5Puppet Master 5:
The Final Chapter (1994)

Staring off with what I expect to happen in the aftermath of all the films so far with Rick in the police station being questioned about the deaths in the previous film.

This is an 82 minute film and the first 11 minutes are used up with the opening credits and a re-cap.

That’s one way to stretch the budget.

So The Final Chapter follows immediately on from Puppet Master 4 and Rick explains or rather gives up the secret about the puppets far too quickly to Dr. Jennings who is the new director for Ricks project.

While Rick goes to his girlfriends Dr. Jennings hires some goons to go to Bodega Bay Inn and capture the puppets.
Well the film needs some cannon fodder.

Sutekh who still looks like a Power Ranger villain as someone aptly described him still has one totem hidden away to stop the puppets and kill Rick to keep the secret of the reanimation process hidden.

This totem though is a more powerful one than the last film which begs the question why not send it along with the others in part 4.

So we have the usual cat and mouse between the puppets and Dr. Jennings gang and the totem and Rick.

All standard fare that we have seen before. In fact just like Puppet Master two was really a rehash of Puppet Master 1, the Final Chapter ends up doing something similar again.

I would say this one is really only for fans of the series. It isn’t that long and doesn’t do what it does that badly but it doesn’t do them with any originality.

It is still watchable and the animatronics in the puppets does get an upgrade but sadly the stop-motion is sparingly used though done well.

So that’s it for Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter.
Look below for the next chapter in the series.

And the music is still bland and doesn’t fit with what’s happening on screen.

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curse-of-the-puppet-masterCurse of the Puppet Master (1998)

In Curse of the Puppet Master a quiet simple man known as Tank is working at a petrol station when Dr. Magrew and his daughter turn up as Tank is being harassed.

His daughter steps in to help and notices that Tank has whittled a small statue and shows it to her father.
Impressed he offers Tank a place to stay and a job carving a new puppet to which Dr. Magrew will give it life just like the rest of the puppets.

Naturally Tank and Dr. Magrew’s daughter falls afoul of the gang that harassed him at the petrol station, deaths ensue and there’s a twist at the end.

I’m hoping this isn’t the start of the end for the series because it really wouldn’t have far to fall from here.
Think of falling of a small step ladder to reach rock bottom instead of the top of Bodega Bay Inn.

The film does start of interestingly enough for a film that is now the fifth sequel in a straight-to-video horror series but quickly turns into how you expect the fifth sequel in a straight-to-video horror series to be.

The puppets receive hardly any screen time with more of it going to director David DeCoteau’s fetish for having young men in tight white briefs but when the puppets are used don’t expect any fancy robotics or animation.
Anything more than the puppet being moved by someone holding their legs off-screen and you’ve been spoiled.
In fact most of the shots that focus on them is grainy footage taken from the previous films with little to no effort put into at least getting the scenery to match up.

Same ending as a few of the other films mixed together where the puppets turn on the Dr. because they didn’t want Tank to die but Tanks consciousness is put into a puppet named Tank that kills Magrew.

How bad is this mess? Well the music is the best bit of it and it is no different to the previous films.

The trailer makes it look better than it is.

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retro-puppet-masterRetro Puppet Master (1999)

So if you thought Curse of the Puppet Master ignored the rest of the series and the established rules then this one manages to to do the same whilst making you think it is a continuation from Puppet Master 3.

Andre Toulon is on the run from Nazi’s and still being played by the wonderfully charming Guy Rolfe when the puppets find the head of Andre’s first puppet Cyclops.

Andre decides to tell them the story of how he became the puppet master which we already knew from five of the previous 6 films.
Well here it is again only ignoring those films and with everything now different.

So Andre is a young man and if accents are anything to go by we know he is no longer German as that accent was dropped a long time ago so while Young Andre is French, elder Andre is English.

An easy mistake given that the same actor has appeared in 4 of the previous films.

Anyway Young Andre has his own puppet show complete with “retro” versions of most of the classic puppets along with Cyclops and a doctor\surgeon themed one called Dr. Death as well as his troupe of helpers.
So his future wife Elsa, who was German but is now English despite her father being Swiss, was in the audience and witnesses two men hired by Sutekh’s minions to kill Afzel (the Egyptian who it has been established taught a middle-aged Toulon and his middle-aged wife Elsa the secrets of reanimation in Puppet Master 2) so promptly calls for help to which Andre answers and here we have the first time she meets Toulon and Toulon meets Afzel.

Just like in none of the earlier films.

Afzel teaches Andre the secret to reanimation in a process that does not involve the green elixir.

So the minions turn up, kill Andre’s troupe, kidnap Elsa and then are killed by poorly animated puppets.
But at least David DeCoteau didn’t re-use footage from old films or have young Andre in tight white briefs.

If you can’t gather enough finance to adequately do the special effects in a film where the main selling point involves something that needs special effects then don’t make it.

The sets and costumes on the other hand are really nice and the filming locations are also fantastic but I’m here for the puppets.

The acting is a bit weak apart from Guy Wolfe and Brigitta Dau who plays Elsa and is far too good an actress compared to all but Guy.

Not a bad film but it ignores far too much of the established lore and furthers throws the continuity out of the window when there is no need for it.
I also think this has finally reached a point where where I can safely say that the only effort put into the puppets is the odd arm or head movement.
In fact at one point you see a mans hand holding the legs of a puppet as he moves it whereas before this would’ve been animated.

At least the music is a lot better and Sutekh no longer reminds you of a Power Ranger villain.

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puppet-master-the-legacyPuppet Master:
The Legacy (2003)

Rarely is it a good idea to start a film showing clips from superior films but to make one that is almost completely comprised of such clips doesn’t hide its or the series’ shortcomings.

The film starts with the young boy from Puppet Master 3 in his twilight years working on the puppets when a hired gun enters and forces him to give her the secret of the puppets.

From here we have a recap of the series (which oddly almost completely ignores the first film) told in flashbacks.

I’ll give Legacy credit for trying to make the timeline coherent by leaving out as best it can the bits that are inconsistent but to be honest this only works if you haven’t already seen all the films so far.

A valiant effort, I’ll give it that and the performances from the two leads in the 20 or fewer minutes of new footage filmed is better than most we’ve been subjected to in some during this series but what we have here is a flashback episode like you have seen before in shows such as Friends.

It does answer a few questions and is good to watch a lot of the deaths otherwise this isn’t the thank you ending the film pretends to be especially when the twist in the end pisses all over the puppet master\puppet relationship.

Still better than Curse of the Puppet Master.

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puppet-master-vs-demonic-toysPuppet Master vs Demonic Toys (2004)

A stand alone made-for-TV movie that combines the puppets and toys from The Puppet Master and Demonic Toys series which succeeds in more areas than some of the main series does.

Starring Cory Feldman who statistically is from at least two of your favourite 80’s films as the Great-Grandnephew of Andrew Toulon complete with talcum powder in his hair as an attempt to make him look old enough to be the father of his screen daughter.

Also starring Vanessa Angel as the bratty evil Erica Sharpe, the owner of a toy manufacturer that has made a deal with a demon known as Bael, and she is a lot of fun to watch as she hams it up.

So Erica wants the Toulon family secret as part of her plan for world domination and it is up to Cory, his daughter and a local police officer to stop her before Christmas Day.

The usual puppets are back but with new models made just for this TV movie which are close enough yet just not as good as the originals.
Directed by Subspecies directer Ted Nicolaou (my review of that series can be read HERE) at least puts more effort into animating the puppets and toys even though the quality also isn’t as good as the earliest films.

The acting is cheesy going to bad and some of the dubbing is simply bad but the fights between the puppets and toys are much better than between the puppets in parts 4&5.

If it wasn’t for how bad 5 up til Legacy were (Retro being the best of a bad bunch) I would’ve been harsher but this for me falls into the so-bad-its-good category.

After all it does star Cory Feldman and the music is better.

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puppet-master-axis-of-evilPuppet Master:
Axis of Evil (2010)

I’ll start by saying this isn’t that bad. Beginning moments before the first scene in the original where Toulon kills himself we meet young carpenter named Danny who is going about his job at the Bodega Bay Inn.

As he has become a friend to Toulon, Toulon has told him about the secret of the puppets and Danny whilst on his way to visit his room is knocked over by the Nazi’s that have just murdered the puppet master.

Danny finds the puppets that the Nazis were looking for and takes them home and figures out how to bring them back to life.
When visiting his girlfriend he discovers the fake identity of one of the killers that has now entered into an alliance with Japanese agents and uncovers their nefarious scheme.

This was by nowhere near as bad nor as cheap in quality as I was expecting.
So some of the acting is not the best and the script tries to hard to be smarter than it is.
Honestly it seems as if it was written at times by someone knows a few facts about WW2 and wants to shoe horn them into the film.

It would have helped them though if they had done some fact checking first. According to the writer both the Americans and Japanese are already in WW2 in 1939, Dachau is in use as are Kamikaze attacks.

The story does what it does and the actors do what they have to do and the puppets are under utilised yet again but one area this film gets right is not fucking up the continuity.
That is providing the puppets and their box can get back to Bodega Bay Inn in time for Puppet Master 2.

For one it gives a suitable explanation as to why Six-Shooter wasn’t in the first film

Was it so hard to remember a previous film and the background of the puppets?

Obviously it was too hard to find enough research material on WW2 but unlike WW2 the Puppet Master series has a lot of research material previous writers could have studied.

Overall I liked it. The music was better again and this could bring the series back to form.

Am i getting my hopes up too soon?

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puppet-master-axis-risingPuppet Master:
Axis Rising

It turns out I didn’t get my hopes up too soon. Axis Rising is another step up for the series and directly follows Axis of Evil with Tunneller having been kidnapped by the Japanese agent before being double crossed by our new antagonist Kommandant Moebius.
Conveniently he is running experiments into reanimating the dead for the war effort and the puppets might be the final piece of the puzzle.

Accompanying him is Uschi, Think a caricature of Ilsa, who ends up as one of Docter Freuhoffer’s puppets.

So Danny and his girlfriend are joined by a US army soldier Sergeant Stone and try to stop them.

The single most important aspect of the puppet master films are the puppets who thankfully here are actually used throughout the film.
Amazing what an impact that can have when you include them.
Only now the Nazi’s have their own.

  • Blitzkrieg – Basically a tank but with the head of a Nazi soldier
  • Bombshell – A puppet form of Uschi who has a metal bra that opens up to reveal to guns she uses to kill people
  • Weremacht – A Nazi werewolf
  • Kamikaze – Based on a Japanese kamikaze pilot who has strapped to his back a bomb

Better acting, better script, better effects and just more fun than Axis of Evil. They can’t mess up from here can they?

Conclusion

Despite how the series takes a nosedive around part 5 it does end better. Really after the original it is only for fans or lovers of odd film series like this.

Some fans suggest viewing them in chronological order as follows

Retro Puppet Master
Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge
Puppet Master: Axis of Evil
Puppet Master X: Axis Rising
Puppet Master: Axis Termination
Puppetmaster
Puppet Master II: His Unholy Creation
Puppet Master 4: The Demon
Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter
Curse of the Puppet Master
Puppet Master: The Legacy
Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys

This makes sense but as there are so many changes to backstory and established rules it doesn’t matter what order you watch them in as the makers did an amazing job of messing up their own continuity.

If after watching these you still want more there is a new film coming out in 2017 called Puppet Master: Axis Termination with a trailer you can see here

There is also possibly a fan game coming out set in the Bodega Bay Inn at some point too.