Puppet Master (1989)
Andre Toulon, a puppet maker, discovers an ancient Egyptian potion and uses it to bring his creations to life but than kills himself in his hotel room before the Nazis can force him to give up his secrets. Decades later, psychics visiting the now-abandoned hotel tune into the existence of the monstrous marionettes and set off to discover the secrets that the hotel holds.
REVIEW: Having recently obtained Puppet Master X: Axis Rising and in preparation of watching that entry for the first time, I've started my re-watch of the complete Puppet Master series, where I plan on doing up a review of each one. I actually wanted to have some of these done sooner but, as anybody who lives in Canada will already know, we here in Newfoundland have been going through quite a 'not a crisis' (as our political leaders would like us to believe, despite the opposite being true) which included week-long power outages, little to no heat, rotating blackouts, devastating snowstorms, and just all around one of the worst winters on record for us. Suffice to say having unreliable to no power made it difficult to get much watched or reviewed, but it's been a whole 12 hours now with power (a huge feat for this last week), so I squeezed this one in.
Now obviously this is the infamous and classic first movie in Puppet Master series, and one of few Full Moon movies to get a theatrical release.
And to be 100% honest, this is nowhere near my favorite in the series. Sure, it's better then some of the other ones by a long shot (Puppet Master Legacy, I'm looking at you...), and for such a low budget movie from the 1980's, the stop motion of the puppets is amazing (more on that below), but overall I just wasn't too impressed by the freshman effort in this long-lasting horror series.
To start, absolutely nobody in this movie is likable and therefore there's no character to latch onto and care about, so you just don't care about anything that's happening when they're front and center, which is the majority of the time. To make matters worse, it certainly doesn't help that the acting is so wooden and stiff, it's not even in the so-bad-its-laughable arena, it's just in the not-enjoyable-to-spend-time-with-these-people arena, which adds further disdain onto already-unlikable characters. I also didn't care for the fact that everyone was pretty hardcore psychic to totally unrealistic levels - there was just no need for that addition as it didn't really bring anything to the table other than a couple weird dream-like scenes, and it completely removed that feeling that most horror movies strive for to make it feel like what's going on in the movie could happen to anybody, including you. With that door shut, it removes the majority of the fear factor. I would have been fine with one character, maybe two, having that characteristic, but not every single one.
But if you can manage to overlook those things, there is indeed an enjoyable movie waiting for you. Perfect? Very far from it, obviously, but still enjoyable. For starters, the musical score on display in this movie and (even more specifically) the main theme itself is hauntingly beautiful and is sure to stick around in your head for a very long time after you've already finished watching. How this theme hasn't gone down in history alongside the Halloween theme and Psycho theme as one of the Greats is beyond me. In addition, the evil living puppets themselves are the other main catch to this movie and are without a doubt the single best excuse to watch the movie and sit through all that other crap I complained about above, because these fellas make it all worth it: They look good, they move realistically and, as mentioned at the start, the stop motion effects used to bring them to life are nothing short of fantastic work that you'd be hard pressed to find a finer example of even this day in age. It helps give them all all their own unique personalities, and even though none of the puppets even speak they still manage to have more character within them than any of the humans do.
While the majority of the fear factor is missing from this movie due to the unrealistic addition to the human characters, what little bit remains totally belongs to these little evil puppets when they're stalking or killing someone. The problem is, they so often take second-stage, hell, even third-stage at parts, to everything else going on in the movie, that it at times it tends to go very long stretches in between their appearances and its easy to forget they're even in the movie; you tend to find yourself getting bored, and its during those moments that the stuff complained about in the first couple paragraphs of this review come in the strongest.
Luckily, while the movie may not be as scary or creepy as it should be, it does do all the other classic 80's horror movie tropes very well – inventive death scenes, lots of blood and icky gore, gratuitous nudity, sex scenes, and of course sex scenes with gratuitous nudity that lead to inventive death scenes filled with lots of blood and icky gore. So there's still plenty of stuff here for horror hounds to get their fix with. I also really liked the setting of an empty closed hotel, and really liked how they juxtaposed the intro where the hotel was still open and doing great business with present (ish) day where it's empty and abandoned. It was a great contrast to attempt (and slightly succeed) at giving the setting itself a really uneasy atmosphere, and even though I didn't enjoy spending the runtime of the movie with this cast of characters, I did enjoy spending the runtime at this location quite a bit.
Add on top of that the quirky killer puppets and fun death scenes, and while Puppet Master may not be a knock-em-outta-the-park-winner, nor even the best this series has to offer, it's still a must-see for any fan of the genre and one I don't mind re-watching from time to time when I'm in the right mood for it.
6/10 rooms in the Psych Ward