Saturday, August 10, 2013
Evil Comes In All Sizes
In 1989's PUPPETMASTER, four psychics show up at a palatial but empty hotel off the coast of northern California to pay homage to Neil Gallagher (Jimmie F. Skaggs), a deceased colleague. One is a Yale professor, Alex Whitaker, played by MELVIN AND HOWARD’s Paul LeMat, whose giant head is especially accentuated by his crazy hair.
Fifty years earlier, the hotel played host to Andre Toulon (PRIZZI'S HONOR's William Hickey), an elderly puppet maker who committed suicide before he could be captured by Nazis. He left behind his special toys—animated puppets that move about, climb on furniture, and kill the psychics and skeleton hotel crew in various creative and bloody ways.
But not in very exciting ways, which is PUPPETMASTER’s big problem. It’s boring and very slowly paced by director David Schmoeller, who did a better job bringing mannequins to life in TOURIST TRAP. Schmoeller, who also wrote the film, seems unaware how unlikable his human characters are, wasting valuable screen time on uninteresting flashbacks and dream sequences that could have been given to David Allen’s unusual killer puppets. One appears to be a Japanese kabuki girl who regurgitates leeches. Even given the fantastic nature of the creations, that one doesn’t seem to hold water. Others include a fat puppet with a tiny pinhead that punches women in the face and a sublimely creepy white-faced doll with blades for hands. David Allen (THE HOWLING) uses a deft mixture of stop-motion animation and regular rod puppets with decent success.
It isn’t really until the last half-hour or so, when Schmoeller (THE SEDUCTION) finally gives the puppets (and Allen) license to go crazy, that PUPPETMASTER starts to get lively. Even then, it’s difficult to take the little fellas too seriously as threats, as illustrated during Irene Miracle’s repeated defense against the punching puppet by grabbing it and throwing it against the wall or down stairs.
Given a few exclusive theatrical playdates by executive producer Charles Band, PUPPETMASTER was the first of Band’s Full Moon productions to be released. As unworthy as it is, it has spawned ten (!) sequels, including one that Band has disowned: PUPPET MASTER VS. DEMONIC TOYS.