Starring: Gordon Currie, Chandra West, Ash Adams, Guy Rolfe
“The magic that gives my puppets life was stolen from a tribe of ancient Egyptian sorcerers, who pledged their allegiance to the demon lord Sutek.” (Andre Toulon, Puppet Master 4)
Although Full Moon Pictures had decided by Puppet Master III that its titular terrors were better as protagonists than antagonists, there was still a problem: they still killed humans.
Granted, these humans were evil Nazis, but even so: if only there was a way to have them killing something else rather than people to ensure their moral standards were of the utmost quality.
In fact what if, instead of humans, they could fight other little puppet-sized creatures? Ones that had maybe, I don’t know, been sent to Earth by a demon who looked like a Power Rangers reject?
Enter Puppet Master 4.
Our story begins once again at the Bodega Bay Inn, the setting for the first two Puppet Master films. With the previous events seemingly completely forgotten the hotel is now empty, save for new caretaker Rick Myers.
Rick is a nerdy scientist (but a photogenic one, naturally) who is using his time in isolation to work on a special project. He’s trying to develop smarter artificial intelligence in robots, you see.
As such, Rick spends his time at Bodega Bay playing laser tag with his robot chums, trying to teach them how to identify and react to him as he engages them in zappy combat.
Little does he know, however, that there’s an even better alternative to artificial intelligence skulking around the hotel: Blade, one of now-deceased puppet master Andre Toulon’s reanimated puppets, who’s been left on his lonesome while his buddies lie lifeless in a hidden trunk.
Eventually Rick discovers the trunk, breaks it open and finds Toulon’s other puppets, along with a journal explaining how to bring them back to life. He does so and they all have a little party, with balloons and everything. End credits roll.
Okay, I lied about the party. But what actually happens next is far less sensible.
Sutek is a demon from another dimension (yes, we’re still talking about the same film here). Not impressed that Rick’s fellow scientists – working in a lab elsewhere – are coming close to discovering the secret to life, Sutek sends little puppet-sized demons called Totems to fuck them up.
Brilliantly, these Totems turn up in packages mailed to their research lab. It’s pricey enough sending a parcel to America from Britain, so fuck knows how much it cost Sutek to send one from another dimension.
Sutek’s two mini-demons kill Rick’s scientist pals, but they’re at the lab: what about Rick and his puppets in Bodega Bay?
Well, conveniently Rick has two pals visiting him at the inn. Deciding to use Andre Toulon’s Ouija board, they somehow manage to summon the two demons and teleport them to the inn. No, I don’t get it either.
And, just to be safe, Sutek’s mailed a third, stronger Totem directly to Bodega Bay because the guy clearly has fucking shares in DHL or something.
Cue a big scrap between Sutek’s trio of demons and Toulon’s puppets, with Rick and chums trying to help the puppets out from the sidelines.
Say what you will about Puppet Master (which I’d imagine isn’t very much), but no other horror series reinvented itself so drastically in the space of four films.
Granted, Child’s Play went from horror to comedy by its fourth film Bride Of Chucky, but the basic premise was still the same: doll possessed by serial killer murders lots of people while trying to transfer his soul into another body.
With Puppet Master, though, it feels almost as if every new film is written by someone who’s never seen the previous entries before.
How did we go from a bunch of reanimated puppets killing unsuspecting arseholes to those same puppets teaming up with humans to fight pint-sized creatures controlled by a demon from another dimension?
Regardless of how we got here, the result is at least what was the best-looking Puppet Master in the series at that point.
David Allen’s stop-motion puppet effects are even more impressive than before given the slight increase in budget (though obviously we’re still very much talking small figures here… so to speak).
You get to see a lot more of the puppets in action this time around, especially in the final act where they get properly stuck into the demons.
There are some odd omissions though, as some of the puppets that featured in previous films are missing this time around for seemingly no reason.
Leech Woman, the grim lady puppet that vomits enormous leeches into her victim’s mouth, is conspicuous by her absence.
Stranger is the lack of Torch, the puppet armed with a flamethrower: he’s not in the film, but he’s on the poster.
The oddest part of Puppet Master 4, however, is the ending. Struggling to defeat the strongest of the Totems, our tiny heroes are addressed by Toulon’s spirit, who tells them to summon a new, far more powerful puppet.
This new puppet, Decapitron, has interchangeable heads. One is a weird smooth black one that can morph into Toulon’s head, whereas the other has a large pylon on it which lets him fire electricity at demons. Guess what happens.
Of all the films in the Puppet Master series, the fourth is far from the best. You’ll still get some fun out of its hokey plot, but you’d definitely be better off watching the earlier entries instead if you can.
Puppet Master 4 was shot back-to-back with the fifth film in the series, so naturally it’s left more open-ended than a Pringles tube. Expect a review of the sequel to follow soon, then.
HOW CAN I SEE IT?
Puppet Master 4 isn’t currently available in the UK. Americans can get it on DVD, either as a standalone film or as part of one of two box sets. The Charles Band’s Puppet Master Collection contains all nine films, whereas the Puppet Master & Killjoy Complete Collection also features Full Moon’s three Killjoy films. Oddly, the latter is cheaper, which says a lot about the quality of Killjoy (as my review testifies).
SHOW ME THE TRAILER: