Monday, November 22, 2010

Puppet Master 2

The first two Puppet Masters work well as a study in how two different directors can make two movies of pretty noticeably different quality despite having nearly identical plots. Not only did the original film follow a bit of a slasher formula, with a group of people going to an isolated location and getting picked off one by one in various elaborate ways, this follows in the tradition of a slasher sequel by basically being the same movie all over again. Also, like the best slasher sequels, it improves upon the original in almost every way (the exception: no William Hickey).

Set a few years after the first one, the hotel, once filled with psychics, is now filling up with paranormal investigators who are trying to figure out what the hell happened with the psychics getting killed by puppets and soon find themselves getting killed by puppets, which somehow takes them by surprise. They also find out that the hotel isn’t quite as uninhabited as they had believed: a man (Steve Welles) who dresses like Claude Rains and talks with a thick German accent is living there, and while he befriends them all, he couldn’t be anymore obvious as the villain if he had a moustache to twirl attached to the outside of his bandages.

The directing, by visual effects artist Dave Allen (who also did the puppet effects for the first five films in the series), shows that it’s not always a bad thing to give a directing gig to someone from a different field. The visual feel of the film is definitely improved, with the hotel looking more gothic and creepy than it did in the original film, when it looked more like…well, like a standard hotel. We also get a nice new puppet in Torch, who wears a Nazi storm trooper outfit, a black metal head (complete with metallic fangs), and a flamethrower, and our head villain, who has chosen to look like the Invisible Man for reasons that seem like they were mostly invented just so he can dress like that. The pacing is also much faster, with the first kill coming shortly after they arrive at the hotel, and the rest of the investigators actually catching the killer puppet in question (Tunneler) and dissecting him to figure out how he works, and both the kills and the nudity come more frequently here.

The only thing that’s really not an improvement, really, is the acting. The original, as I may have mentioned, had one of my childhood icons in Hickey, and Welles is a pretty shabby replacement, even if he once played Lab Tech # 1 in Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. The only really entertaining actor in the whole thing was the woman who played the farmer’s wife, and I unfortunately didn’t write down either her name or her character’s, but she was pretty entertaining all the same. Still, one hardly watches a DTV horror movie made for under a million dollars because they’re expecting actual good acting, so it’s hardly a major flaw.

While I’m beginning to suspect that the Puppet Master series is never going to actually become good, this was at least a decent effort, and a clear improvement over its predecessor. If this winds up being the peak of the series (IMDB assures me the third one is best, but we’ll see), then it’s at least not the worst horror franchise out there (yes Amityville, I’m looking your way), and had enough fun moments to justify a watch. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Rating: **

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