So. Puppet Master eh? It’s one of those straight-to-video films that a surprising number of people seem to remember, though many wouldn’t be able to tell you why.
To it’s credit, and unlike any number of video nasties and cheap slasher monstrosities, Puppet Master doesn’t stick in the mind because of relentless gore or a bevy of bare-breasted babes. No, folks remember this film for two reasons: the awesome puppets, and the straight outta weirdsville plot.
So let’s take a look.
Starting with the arrival of some very conspicuous Nazi’s in California, out to kill a magic man who brings puppets to life, we witness the old magician hiding his dolls, then blowing his own brains out. Throw in some puppets-eye view running around, and it’s POW! Take that Nazis!
Anyhoo, then it’s straight back to the future/present/1989, where we meet a whole bunch of mentalists including a cynical fortune-telling witch, a saucy thought-experiment-doing science couple, and a guy with amazing hair who works at Yale and dreams about stuff. Are you with me? Of course you are.
And why wouldn’t you be? Especially when I tell you that all these freaky-deakys know each other, and they’re linked to a dead guy called Neil who, despite being dead, has summoned all his old pals together to learn the true secrets of puppet mastery?! I mean come on! This is a real bonanza moment!
Naturally they all start to die and, needless to say, Neil has a hot wife who the haircut guy kind of fancies, the saucy science couple have some sexy sex, blah, blah, blah, then it’s time for an Aerosmith style dénouement in an elevator, and we’re done. 90 minutes of miniature mirth.
Stars-wise, Puppet Master is one of those great movies that gives some TV actors/bit players a real bite of the apple for a change. Here we see a whole host of people we haven’t seen before or since, and they cope admirably.
Considering lots of them can’t act very well. But still, the haircut guy was in American Graffiti, the Twilight Zone and Murder, She wrote; the ‘Puppet Master’ himself provided the voice for Dr Finklestein in The Nightmare Before Christmas; Neil was in Buffy, Diagnosis Murder and Lethal Weapon; Mrs Neil was in an episode of Quantum Leap; and ‘the woman who should’ve stayed away from the fireplace’ (she really should’ve) played Jack Nicholson’s bit of scrumpy in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest! Stellar or what?
But as I said, aside from the bizarro plot, the real reason people remember this little gem is because of the puppets. Members of the special/visual
effects teams that worked on Puppet Master have, variously, had a hand in films such as Ghostbusters 2, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, the Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and 300, though it should be stated for the record that the budget for Puppet Master probably wouldn’t buy you a pot of mustard these days, let alone finance even thirty seconds of a modern blockbuster.
Nevertheless, the guys and dolls in the FX departments acquitted themselves admirably to bring us Pinhead, the murderous tough guy puppet with the big arms the tiny head; Tunneler, the drill-bit General; Jester, the puppet who doesn’t do much; Leech Woman, who gags leeches from out of her mouth and into/into her victims (she’s disgusting); and of course Blade, the stabby one who was allegedly based on Klaus Kinski.
So. Throw together a bunch of “actors”, some creepy puppets, a cheese-holed plot with a surprisingly touching ending, and, of course, a sprinkling of Nazis, and what do you get? Well, I’m damned if I know, but it’s pretty neat if you ask me.