Tuesday, June 21, 2022

#2,772. Puppet Master (1989) - Full Moon Features


This is the movie that started it all, both the long-running Puppet Master film series (thus far there have been 14 entries) and Charles Band’s Full Moon Features (this was the studio’s very first production).

1989’s Puppet Master gets off to a great start; flashing back to 1939, we’re introduced to an elderly puppeteer named Andre Toulon (William Hickey), who, with the help of ancient Egyptian magic, has found a way to bring his beloved puppets to life. With a pair of Nazi spies closing in on him, anxious to get their hands on his secrets, Toulon places his creations in a chest, hides it in the wall of his hotel room, and commits suicide.

Alas, this opening proves to be the best sequence in the entire movie. Once the story switches to present day, Puppet Master is more hit and miss.

Jumping forward to 1989, several psychics, including Professor Alex Whitaker (Paul Le Mat), fortune teller Dana Hadley (Irene Miracle), and researchers Frank Forrester (Matt Roe) and Clarissa Stamford (Kathryn O’Reilly) are contacted by their old partner Neil Gallagher (Jimmie F. Skaggs), who invites them to join him at the Bodega Bay Inn, the very hotel where Toulon hid his puppets all those years ago.

When Alex, Dana and the others arrive there, however, they are surprised to discover that Neil is dead, and his widow Megan (Robin Frates) is the hotel’s current owner. The confused psychics do their best to figure out what’s going on, never realizing that Toulon’s puppets have somehow returned, and are determined to kill each and every one of them!

Directed by David Schmoeller (who also penned the screenplay), Puppet Master has several weaknesses, chief among them it’s story. After discovering their old partner is dead, Dana, Frank, and Clarissa just sort of meander around the hotel, wasting time, while Alex tries his best to cozy up to Megan. Also lackluster are the performances of its main cast; even Paul Le Mat, who was quite good in American Graffiti and Melvin and Howard, is flat. The lone exception is William Hickey, who does a remarkable job in his brief appearance as Andre Toulon.

Fortunately, Toulon’s puppets are themselves worth the price of admission, and the scenes in which they’re featured are far and away the movie’s strongest. Among the puppets who make their presence known are Blade (thus named because he walks around with a knife), Pinhead, Tunneler, and Leach Woman (who regurgitates leeches, resulting in some of the movie’s most uncomfortable moments). I also liked how director Schmoeller occasionally shot from the puppet’s POV (which, seeing that they are about a foot tall, means his camera was very close to the ground), and while the final scene (twist and all) was only so-so, the fact that it featured all of the puppets, each doing what they do best, was a definite plus.
Rating: 6 out of 10

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