Friday, February 26, 2010

'Puppet Master III' is one of series' best

Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge (1991)
Starring: Guy Rolfe, Richard Lynch, Ian Abercrombie, Kristopher Logan, Aron Eisenberg, Sarah Douglas and Walter Gotell
Director: David DeCoteau
Producers: Charles Band and David DeCoteau
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

When a vicious Gestapo commander (Lynch) murders his beloved wife Elsa (Douglas), Andre Toulon (Rolfe), a puppeteer with the ability to bring his puppets to full and independent life, turns his creations from instruments of mirth and entertaiment into tools of hatred and revenge.

"Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge" takes viewers back to a time fifty years before the events of the other films to fill in some of the backstory of the magic puppets that are the main monsters of the film, and to explain why they and their creator is so hate-filled and driven by an urge to destroy.

(It's not quite in step with "Puppet Master II", but then it doesn't seem to fit well with anything else in the series. As a matter of fact, none of the various Puppet Master movies are perfect fits for each other as far as continuity goes.)

The film has a cast that's each perfect in the role that they play, with the classical-featured Guy Rolfe as Andre Toulon and ferret-faced Richard Lynch as the dispicable Major Krause being giving especially noteworthy performances, and a script that actually feels like it could been lifted from a horror movie set during the time the film takes place. (In fact, the pacing of this movie and the style of the dialogue is one of the things that makes this movie so good... it has a classic 1940s-era horror film feel to it, while still delivering all the Full Moon stop animation and creepy puppets that we expect. Leech Woman is as gross here as she ever was. That we witness her tragic origin makes her even grosser in some ways' I wonder if Toulon ever had a lucid moment in which he asked himself, "Why in God's name did I do that to what was supposed to be an immortalization of my wife's beauty?!")

"Puppet Master III" forms a bridge between the horror world inhabited by the likes of Bela Lugosi, George Zucco, and Lionel Atwill, and the modern B-movie horror era of Full Mooon regulars Jeffrey Combs, Tim Thomerson and Robin Sydney. It's a film I think any lover of cheesy horror flicks can find something to like in. (Plus, we get to watch Nazi Ubermenchen be killed by tiny puppets while shreiking like schoolgirls. How can you not love a movie like that?)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

'Jigsaw' is a puzzle with missing pieces

Jigsaw (2002)
Starring: Barret Walz, Arthur Simone, Mia Zifkin, Aimee Bravo, Maren Lindow, James Palmer, Mark Vollmers and David Wesley Cooper
Directors: Don Adams and Harry James Picardi
Producers: Don Adams, Harry James Picardi, Charles Band, and J.R. Bookwalter
Rating: One of Ten Stars

A scupture created from a manniquin by five community college students (Bravo, Lindow, Palmer, Simone and Zifkin) and later crucified and burned as a final project devised by their sleazy professor (Walz) is brought to life by the collective darkness of their souls. It then proceeds to kill and dismember anyone it comes in contact with, using its arm-mounted shotgun and roundsaw.

"Jigsaw" is a bit of awfulness that resulted from the collaboration of Charles Band's Full Moon and J.R. Bookwalter's Tempe Entertainment. This film is almost as bad as "The Killer Eye" (which I review here, in a post titled "Bottom of the Band Barrel?"), but is elevated slightly by some realistic characters and well-crafted dialogue (even if it's impact is lessened by the bad delivery on the part of the actors and the even worse editing of the scenes) and a creepy, somewhat unusual monster.

Unfortunately, nothing else here is worthwhile. From beginning to end, the film feels like only a mininal amount of effort went into making it, or that at least very little planning surrounded the production. This sense starts with the opening scene where the five students are assigned their final project by the professor. From comments made, the viewer is to believe that there is a larger class, but it's obvious that no effort was made to get extras to fill the rest of the seats in the room. This sense continues as the story unfolds with no explanation as to why or how the manniquin animates and one of the worst non-ending endings I've come across in my trips through the dredges of cinematic entertainment. All in all, it feels like a poorly planned production based on a half-finished first draft of a script.

And this is a shame, because the monster (named "Jigsaw" by the sleazy professor, because it was made from plastic limbs and a head modified and decorated by his students) is creepy enough to have deserved a better vehicle than what it got. A couple of the kill scenes are nicely done--and more chilling than one might expect because of the creature involved--and the ending had real potential if it had actually been finished instead of just sort of stopping right when it was getting good. But what chills are here are thanks to the creature, not any particular skills on the part of the actors--most of whom don't seem to have much in the way of film careers before or after this production.

"Jigsaw" is a film that everyone can safely skip. (The current DVD release of it comes with a bonus feature that dates from the final year of Band's use of Romanian production facilities, "Totem". It may be a decent film--although the previews don't give me high hopes--and I'll review it in this space eventually.)

For the preview of "Jigsaw", check out the following video. Courtesy of Full Moon and YouTube.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Playtime has begun for 'Demonic Toys'

Demonic Toys (aka "Dangerous Toys") (1991)
Starring: Tracy Scoggins, Bentley Mitchum, Daniel Cerny, Michael Russo, Peter Schrum, Ellen Dunning, William Thorne, Robert Stoeckle, and Jeff Weston
Director: Peter Manoogian
Producer: Charles Band
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Police Detective Judith Gray (Scroggins) pursues gunmen who have just murdered her partner and father of her unborn child (Weston) into a warehouse full of toys. When a demon (Cerny, voiced by Stoeckle) that has lain dormant for decades under the building's foundation senses her, it decides her baby will be its physical form and it animates toys in warehouse to capture her and kill everyone else inside. Will Judith, together with a teen runaway (Dunning), a hapless fast-food delivery boy (Mitchum), a lazy security guard (Schrum), and a mad-dog killer (Russo) be able to fend off the demon and his cute-but-deadly minions, or will she become the unwilling mother of Hell on Earth?

"Demonic Toys" is another highly entertaining movie from Full Moon's Golden Age of the early 1990s. It offers a perfect blend of horror and comedy, and it's a far creepier movie than the demon-possessed toys that are its main selling point led me to believe.

In fact, while much of the film is definitely played tongue-in-cheek, the concept of a demon seizing a woman so it can possess her unborn child is one that creeps me out just thinking about it. The concept is made even creepier in execution here, as the demon generally presents himself as a little boy (played on screen by child actor Daniel Cerny, but voiced with great effectiveness by Robert Stoeckle). Seeing a child talk about spiritual rape and murder is very, very disturbing.

The whole "demon replacing the sould of an unborn child" plot of the film actually adds some (perhaps inadvertently) depth and controversy to the film. Judith is barely one month pregnant, yet the film makes it clear that her fetus is most definitely aready a baby, complete with a soul that is looking forward to being born and experiencing life on Earth. Fanatical pro-abortioners should stay away from this flick, but those right-wing pro-lifers in the audience should check it out (at least those of you who don't mind foul language used with great comedic effect).

The acting in the film is good all around, with the aforementioned Robert Stoeckle providing a great demon voice, and Bentley Mitchum coming across as a young version of Bruce Campbell's Ash from "Evil Dead 2" as he battles the killer toys. Leading lady Tracy Scroggins has a tendency to chew up the scenery, but in a movie featuring demon-possessed killer toys a touch of overacting isn't that big a deal.

Other noteworthy players in the film are the toys of the title. They are more funny than scary, but that's intentional on the part of the filmmakers. In fact, the knife-weilding, foul-mouthed Baby Oopsie-Daisy (and its uncredited voice actor) has some of the film's funniest moments and best lines. The puppetry and stop-motion animation used to bring the toys to life are very well-done, particularly in the case of Baby Oopsie-Daisy, the killer teddy bear, and the toy soldier who joins the fray late in the film. However, as funny as the toys are, they inflict some very gruesome deaths on some of the characters, and thus give rise to some displays of gore effects that are as impressive as the craftsmanship involved in animating the toys.

This is a fun romp of a movie. If you're looking for some comedy-tinged horror that might even inspire a thought or two as the mayhem unfolds, "Demonic Toys" might just be the film for you.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The man with a doctorate in... the unknown!

Doctor Mordrid, Master of the Unknown (1993)
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Yvette Nipar and Brian Thompson
Directors: Charles Band and Albert Band
Producers: Charles Band and Albert Band
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Anton Mordrid (Combs) is an unaging sorcerer who is lives secretly in the modern world, guarding Earth from demonic invasions. When the evil alchemist Kabal (Thompson) escapes from what was supposed to be his eternal prison, Mordid must turn to mortal woman Samantha Hunt (Nipar) for help if humanity is to survive.

"Doctor Mordrid" is a neat little modern fantasy film that, like a number of other Full Moon releases is surprisngly good for a direct-to-video release that dates from the early 1990s. It's got an interesting hero who acquires a cool woman sidekick in the course of the film, a villain who gives other fantasy film bad guys a run for their money, and hints at a much large, extremely interesting cosmololgy than we only get a small glimpse at in this film.

Actually, getting a small glimpse of something bigger is the way I feel about the whole movie. It feels like it should have been at least 30-45 minutes longer, and with with the scant development that's given to a number of concepts and charactes, it could easily have supported the additional running time. If all the skeletons of nifty ideas and characters that appear in movie had been more fully fleshed out, this could have been a great movie. As it is, it's okay, with decent acting and good special effects. It's worth checking out, particularly if you like movies and books like "Harry Potter" or "The Dresden Files".