Friday, August 17, 2018
PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH (2018)
Directed By: Sonny Laguna, Tommy Wiklund
Written By: S. Craig Zahler
Starring: Thomas Lennon, Jenny Pellicer, Nelson Franklin
On VOD and Digital HD August 17
In a small Texas town in 1989 a German puppet maker is killed by police after his puppets commit a pair of murders. The puppet maker was Andre Toulon (Udo Kier), a Nazi who left Germany for America shortly after the end of World War II. Toulon used all forms of science and the occult to engineer his puppets to be deadly killing machines with a psychic link to do him to do his bidding. Now thirty years after his death a convention is being held in the town he died in and collectors from all over have come to buy and sell the puppets of Andre Toulon ignorant to the danger their valuable possessions pose.
Edgar (Thomas Lennon) along with his new girlfriend Ashley (Jenny Pellicer) and boss and best friend Markowitz (Nelson Franklin) attend the Andre Toulon convention to sell his deceased brother's old Andre Toulon puppet but after returning to his hotel room he finds the puppet missing. When the police arrive to investigate they find that many other guests' puppets have also gone missing and that missing puppets is the least of their concern as many guests have been brutally murdered. The puppets have returned to life and with their implements of death they are carrying out the wishes of their Nazi creator.
PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH follows in the footsteps of Full Moon Features' flagship franchise that began in 1989 with creator and director's Charles Band's horror film concerning an old hotel full of psychics who are investigating the death of a colleague who discovered murderous World War II era puppets. The film spawned ten sequels many of which retaining the WWII setting or theme and were video store era staples. Fans fell in love with Blade, Torch, Pinhead and all of Andre Toulon's other creations that split their time between being villains and antiheroes but there's no mistake that Andre Toulon and his puppets have never been nastier than they are in THE LITTLEST REICH. This reboot from writer S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk) and directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund who previously directed the Swedish horror film Wither together gives a fresh start to the series but honors its Full Moon roots and history.
I have a love/hate relationship with the franchise. I think the first three films are pretty great and the fourth and fifth entries take a more supernatural turn and are entertaining. Then the bottom fall out and the quality of the films takes a steep decline eventually turning in to nothing but a clip show before returning to its WWII roots with some rather poor and obviously low budget affairs in the "Axis Trilogy". The series was long overdue for a fresh voice and I put faith in S. Craig Zahler immediate upon hearing of his involvement. He has become a name to watch after his western horror film Bone Tomahawk and his ultra violent prison thriller Brawl In Cell Block 99 both of which have been well received by genre film critics and fans alike. Add in the duo of Laguna and Wiklund helming the film and you have a team that has recent horror success under their belt to try and breathe new life to a franchise that has been drowning for several entries.
And that they did. PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH is the Puppet Master film fans have been waiting for over 20 years. The story is mean spirited as the puppets target Jews, gypsies and homosexuals and kill anyone else that just plain gets in their way. This ethnic cleansing attempted by the puppets can be a bit uncomfortable at times but in the same way that a rape/revenge film is uncomfortable and eventually satisfying when the attacker(s) get their comeuppance. And they deserve everything they get and more. The puppets slice, burn, decapitate and disembowel their victims with blood, limbs and innards flying everywhere. This is easily the goriest Puppet Master film to date, and it isn't even close. The extreme violence is presented in a way that lightens the tone of the film so that it is easily digestible. Plus any movie with Udo Kier and Barbara Crampton gets a little bonus.
I felt like a kid again getting excited over a decapitated head falling into a toilet and a pile of guts falling out of a sliced stomach. The special effects from Tate Steinsiek are not only plentiful but well done as well. Something that plagued the Puppet Master franchise as the series went on was the puppeteering and the look and movement of the puppets. At their worst it looked as if they were dolls being held and shaken around by a hand just off screen until they jumped toward a victim and I use the term "jump" very loosely. It was more of being randomly tossed in the direction of a victim. That was one fear I had that would carry over to this entry and in some instances the movement of the puppets isn't so hot but more often than not the puppets have really decent looking movement and animation which pleased the hell out of me. The music also pleased the hell out of me. Richard Band provided the score and theme for the original franchise and provides a theme here as well but the majority of the music was handled by Italian maestro and frequent Lucio Fulci collaborator Fabio Frizzi and his score adds a foreboding atmosphere that I'd never felt in a Puppet Master film before. Frizzi's work really is top notch and along with the ultra gory moments it was reminiscent of some of the classic Fulci moments.
PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH does have its flaws and setbacks. While I think the set up of the story is fine the writing has holes in it that are frustrating such as Andre Toulon's connection with the puppets and how he is manipulating them after his apparent death and why he has waited 30 years to bring them back to life. The film does end with a "to be continued" which could eventually lead to some insight and fill in some gaps but it was frustrating at times. The puppets themselves have several distinct styles and designs but each of those has different versions running around simply to create a higher number of puppets. This feels like a cop out to me but when I get to see Torch (or in this case Kaiser) totally melt the flesh from a few faces I'll let some things slide like minor continuity errors and some sporadically awkward editing.
PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH might be unnecessarily mean and could have easily left the Nazi theme out this time around but they made it work. The film's positives vastly outweigh the negatives and along with easily being the best entry in two decades it is also the most entertaining and I'm fully on board for another.