Sunday, November 21, 2010

Puppet Master

As a surprise gift to the horror community, Full Moon Entertainment recently released a new boxed set of all nine of the Puppet Master films for under $40, just in time for our post-Halloween horror shopping. The main benefit of this was that I could now casually purchase one of the last semi-major horror franchises that I’d been missing up to now (due in large part to how the last set they released had the slightly less competitive price of about $100). Just as importantly as the pricing, though (well, almost as importantly), is that I’ve never previously seen any of them beyond the occasional clip in a horror documentary, so I’m now getting to go in fresh to see just how good (or more likely bad -- it is Full Moon here) all of them are.

And having said that, I can now affirm that the first film is not very good. It starts off pretty impressively -- we get a POV shot of a tiny figure running across the floor of an Olde Tymey hotel, spying on what looks like gangsters in the lobby, and then running upstairs to warn the Puppet Master, played by William Hickey. I’ve had an undying love for Hickey ever since he fully branded himself into my childhood with his roles in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and My Blue Heaven, so it’s always nice to see him in a movie. Sadly, he doesn’t last past the opening of the film, as we jump from the 40s to the present day of the late 80s, when a group of psychics starts having dreams about the hotel and the old Puppet Master, and decide to head out to the hotel to investigate the matter. I have to say, as a fan of completely stupid movie plots, the setup here is rather impressive.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film isn’t all that impressive. The psychics just wander around the hotel, triggering terribly filmed flashbacks and showing why their combined paychecks for the film were about $100. And occasionally a puppet shows up and kills one of them, though not often enough, or soon enough. The puppet attacks are decent enough for what they are -- visibly low budget, with a minimum of blood since this was made in the late 80s when the MPAA was taking a hatchet to all horror movies -- but while they’re generally different from the standard slasher fare of the time, they still aren’t really exciting enough to make up for the general dullness that makes up the bulk of the film.

Okay, there is one nice, horribly mean-spirited sequence. A woman gets attacked by Pinhead, who breaks her ankle before she can throw him down several flights of stairs. Then Blade comes at her (the other puppets in the movie, as helpfully named in the Wikipedia page, are Jester, Leech Woman, and Tunneler, though apparently there were also Indian and Oriental puppets that I missed), and she’s barely able to crawl into the nearby elevator before he can get her with his hook hand. She manages to take the elevator down to the lobby, where of course Pinhead is waiting, and starts punching her square in the face a few times (with sound effects like she was in the ring with LaMotta) before she can finally fling him off of her. She then makes the key mistake of pausing for a moment to catch her breath, which naturally gives Blade time to jump down the elevator shaft and cut her throat with his knife hand. The poor woman was getting it from all sides, it was like trying to take on Freddy and Jason at the same time here.

This isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen this month by any means, and is certainly able to rise to a general level of mediocrity, but it’s hardly the sort of effort one would expect to be transformed into a franchise beyond how cool the puppets look. Director David Schmoeller does a pretty drab job here, much like he did in his late 70s slasher Tourist Trap (which remains popular among slasher fans for reasons that escape me). If you’re big on evil doll movies, you should probably check this out (though you most likely already have), but everyone else may want to give this one a pass.

Rating: * ½

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