Puppet Master (1989) review

Puppet Master posterDirector: David Schmoeller

Starring: Paul Le Mat, William Hickey, Irene Miracle, Jimmie F Skaggs, Robin Frates, Matt Roe

“Metaphysically speaking, I killed myself.” (Neil, Puppet Master)

Over the past few months many of my reviews have been dedicated to films by Full Moon, one of my favourite B-movie studios.

Full Moon were responsible for a raft of low-budget 80s and 90s horror films and while the majority were as atrocious as you’d expect (hence exhibits A, B, C, D and E here), every so often they’d come up trumps with a gem.

Puppet Master is one such film, one that proved so successful it spawned a total of nine sequels. Naturally, reviews of these will come in time but for now let’s start at the beginning.

It tells the story of Andre Toulon, a puppeteer with the unique ability to make actual living puppets. We first meet Toulon in 1939 where, being pursued by the Nazis, he takes refuge at an inn in Bodega Bay, California, and hides there with his puppets.

The bored puppets make him perform sexual favours on them to pass the time. Okay, not really
The bored puppets make him perform sexual favours on them to pass the time. Okay, not really

When the Nazis finally track him down, Toulon hides the puppets before blowing his own brains out. Because the best way to stop the Nazis killing you is by… um, killing yourself.

Fast forward 50 years and a group of psychics meet at the Bodega Bay Inn after their colleague Neil reveals he’s living at Toulon’s final resting place. Each of the psychics reckons they can figure out what happened to Toulon but none of them are aware his puppets are still alive and well inside the hotel.

It turns out Neil certainly knew something though, because by the time they get to Bodega Bay they’re told by his wife that he’s already dead, having shot himself just like Toulon did back in the day.

Here's Blade (the puppet, not the vampire) and Pinhead (the puppet, not the Hellraiser villain).
Here’s Blade (the puppet, not the vampire) and Pinhead (the puppet, not the Hellraiser villain).

Before long the puppets show up and start offing the psychics one by one, which naturally is both shocking and distressing for our protagonists. You can imagine the surprise on their face, then, when Neil also comes back to life, stating that he’s learned Toulon’s secret to immortality.

I’ll leave it there plot-wise but there are still a couple of fun twists before Puppet Master reaches its conclusion, particularly involving the puppets themselves.

It’s little wonder because they really are the stars of the show. Each puppet is expertly designed and has enough of a personality that everyone watching will have their favourite.

Blade also has tiny drills in his eyes. Just in case the hook and knife he has for hands don't get the job done
Blade also has tiny drills in his eyes. Just in case the hook and knife he has for hands don’t get the job done

Mine is Blade, a skull-faced puppet with a hook for one hand and a knife for another. While this would undoubtedly prove problematic when using toilet paper, this doesn’t appear to be the main reason Blade is a bit peeved off.

The other puppets include Pinhead, an aptly-named chap with a tiny head, massive arms and immense strength.

Then there’s Leech Woman, a ‘sexy’ puppet in a skimpy dress whose party piece is the ability to regurgitate large leeches which stick to her victims’ skin or, preferably, slither down their throat. Yum!

Hey, still, she's worth it, right fella? Fella? Oh, right, you're dead
Hey, bet she was still worth it, right fella? Fella? Oh, right, you’re dead

Finally, there’s Jester – the weak link whose only talent is the ability to spin his face round to show different emotions – and Tunneller, a proper bastard with a drill on the top of his head and a tendency to ram into people.

These five puppets, then, are easily the best thing about the film, and it’s just as well because their live-action co-stars at times seem more wooden than the puppets actually are.

Still, if you’re expecting stunning performances from a Full Moon film then you may as well be expecting Kim Jong Un to become the next CEO of Pizza Hut. The studio’s best known for its daft plots, brilliant villains and surprisingly decent special effects given its films’ low budgets, and in this respect it doesn’t disappoint in the slightest.

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HOW CAN I SEE IT?
In the UK, Puppet Master can be found on either DVD or Blu-Ray, both of which come complete with the original Full Moon Videozone making-of featurette that appeared after the film on the original VHS release.

In the US, it’s been released countless times but your best bet is to get it as part of either this Blu-ray collection of the first three films in the series, or this ridiculous 12-film DVD boxset which features nine Puppet Master films and three Killjoy films for five bucks.

SHOW ME THE TRAILER:

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