Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Puppet Master 4

I wrote in my last review that I hoped the Puppet Master series would manage to continue with its efforts to slightly improve with each successive film, in the hopes that by the end of this massive nine-film set I’ll have reached a film that could rank right up there with The Exorcist or Halloween. Rather unsurprisingly, director Jeff Burr (Leatherface, Pumpkinhead 2) had other ideas, bringing the series instead into a blissful state of deeply retarded madness.

I twigged to this pretty early on in the film, when a miniature gremlin (sent by his evil master Sutec that lives in some small cave filled with human bones) kills a scientist in a lab. That in itself isn’t that mad, but when it starts off with her having her finger ripped off, complete with her clutching her ruined hand to her chest in a camera shot long enough to clearly show her finger is still fully intact, and then rather than showing the kill it quickly flashes red and cuts to the master, who cries out “Yes, take her power. Draw her energy into us,” as ridiculous early 90s CG fog suddenly swirls out of her eyes and into the gremlin, that’s when I knew this film was going to be something special.

The film follows Rick (Gordon Currie), a robotics guy that’s become caretaker to an old hotel while trying to perfect his A.I. programs (which basically amount to creating robots to play laser tag with). He lets his friends visit him there, and soon they’ve all uncovered an old box that (after a tediously long sequence of them hammering away at the lock while one of the girls flips the fuck out and screams about the evil forces in the house) is filled with the puppets, Toulon’s journal explaining them, and the formula that gives them life. This is just in time, too, since the evil gremlins have also found the hotel, and they do not want anyone else having the secret of life.

There are so many things wrong with this movie that I hardly know where to begin. The acting is of course beyond awful, as is normally the case with these films, but when you’re handed gems like “You don’t know the forces we’d be summoning here” then you’d have your work cut out for you even if you were Brando. The kills are also largely nonexistent, as Burr has chosen to keep them all off-camera, frequently having a sudden red flash to mark for the audience when someone is killed. I can only assume this was Burr’s over-reaction to his film Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 being so butchered by the MPAA, but when you’re making a film DTV you really don’t need to worry about that sort of thing.

The pacing is also pretty bad, with lots of padding going on to try to reach that crucial 80 minute mark, from the ponderously long sequence of them hammering on the lock to the opening credits being placed on an otherwise black screen to what feels like ten minutes’ worth of just Rick playing laser tag with Pinhead and Tunneler while a generic rock song plays. It’s strange, really. Laser tag is actually quite fun to play, it really shouldn’t be so damned dull to watch someone playing it with robots and puppets in a movie.

Really worst of all, though, is that after a story that finally helped us escape the damn hotel in Puppet Master 3, we get brought right back to it one movie later. It’s as though all of my earlier enthusiasm was just completely misplaced somehow. While this movie does get some points for just sheer brassy ridiculousness -- really, you’re making a movie in a franchise about killer puppets and you include two lengthy laser tag fights? -- it’s a pretty major step backwards for the franchise, and going by the IMDB ratings, the franchise never really recovered. This was apparently filmed back to back with Puppet Master 5 (also by Burr -- yay), so apparently I’m going to hate tomorrow’s movie too. I can’t wait.

Rating: *

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