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Puppet Master was the film that put Full Moon Entertainment -- Charles Band's independent exploitation film company -- on the map. It was successful on its release (especially for an independent horror film) and spawned seven sequels in due course. Mainstream audiences may even have heard of it.

In many ways Puppet Master is the archetypal Full Moon horror film: existing at the cheap end of the production scale, colourful and absurd in approach, narrowly contained in terms of setting, and featuring monsters, in-your-face gore and breast-focused nudity. Of course not all Full Moon productions would prove to be as entertaining as this one. But there is a distinctive quality to the B-grade fun of Full Moon at its best that appeals to many horror fans, and in this respect Puppet Master is a prime example.

The plot evolves from a back-story concerning famous puppet master Andre Toulon (Hickey), who, in a big, fancy hotel at Bodega Bay toward the end of the War, hides his animated puppets and shoots himself minutes before Nazi agents arrive to wrest his 'secret of life' from him. In the present, a motley group of acquaintances turn up at the hotel. It is being renovated by the attractive widow of the previous owner, who had summoned them before he karked it. Why? Well, therein lies the rub. Needless to say, there is a nefarious conspiracy bubbling away underneath events and the end result of the group's arrival is murderous puppets, bloody death and dire revelations.

Puppet Master is actually much less straightforward than many films of its ilk and it manages to generate some stylishness in unravelling its body-count plot. I liked the puppet-cam opening sequence, for instance. The puppets, of course, are the highlight. These were the stop-motion work of Dave Allen, whose proto-Harryhausen effects are more than workable and turn an ordinary horror fantasy into something more special. Even Leech Woman -- whose particular talent makes little sense in terms of puppetry (she vomits up over-sized leeches) and who, as a killer, is hindered by the fact that leeches kill very very slooooowly -- is quite an unnerving creation. That grotesquely stretching face on an otherwise glamour-fem puppet body!

Our first sight of Pinhead (no relation to the demon from Hellraiser) is an effective one, as his over-sized hands pull him from an occupied coffin -- and his pounding attack, especially in the lift, carries some impact (no pun intended). I found the Jester effective, too, though he does little except to unsettle the atmosphere with his rotating face and thus provide a sort of mute commentary on events. And of course Tunneler drills nice bloody holes in the forehead. But the best is Blade, who is characterised in a more complex way to the others, becoming, subtly, more than merely a special effect. He does indeed seem to come alive.

There are problems with the film. Sometimes, for example, it moves too slowly, concentrating on a drawn-out anticipation of violence for its effect. The narrative seems to stall from time to time and some of the characters' reactions are dubious, if convenient. But overall, this is a good film and a worthy start to a series designed to be a sort of comicbook horror serial, with a gradually developing background and exploration of franchise possibility. Though it may not be the pinnacle of its genre, if you like "Evil Doll" movies, this is worth a look.






Country: USA

Language: English


Ratio: 4:3 (?)

Production date: 1990

Director: David Schmoeller

Charles Band and Kenneth J. Hall (story)
David Schmoeller (screenplay) (as Joseph G. Collodi)

Paul Le Mat (Alex Whitaker)
William Hickey (Andre Toulon)
Irene Miracle (Dana Hadley)
Jimmie F. Skaggs (Neil Gallagher)
Robin Frates (Megan Gallagher)
Matt Roe (Frank Forrester)
Kathryn O'Reilly (Carissa Stamford)
Mews Small (Theresa)
Barbara Crampton (Woman at Carnival)

Executive Producer: Charles Band

Producer: Hope Perello

Original Music: Richard Band

Special Effects:
Mark Rappaport (animatronics engineer)
Patrick Simmons (special effects makeup)

Visual Effects:
Dave Allen (puppet animator and visual effects supervisor)
Justin Kohn (puppet animator)

Rating: 6.5/10


IMDB entry

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