Starring: Paul Le Mat, Robin Frates, Irene Miracle, Barbara Crampton, Kathryn O'Reilly, Matt Roe and William Hickey
Director: David Schmoeller
Producers: Charles Band and Hope Perello
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars
After their friend commits suicide following his discover of a supernatural secret possessed by WW2-era puppeteer and toymaker Andre Toulon (Hickey). four psychics travel to the mansion he killed himself in to investigate. They soon regret launching their investigation, as Toulon's greatest creations--a group of singularly twisted dolls--come to life in order to stalk and kill them in gory ways.
There are some films that one should allow to live in memory. For me, "Puppet Master" is one of those. I first saw this movie in 1990 or so, and I remembered the general story, and the cool stop-motion killer puppets. However, I had absolutely no memory of how awful the acting is, nor how bad much of the dialogue is.
This is probably still one of the best movies to ever emerge from Full Moon Entertainment, and while that may sound like I'm damning with faint praise, I'm not intending to do so. The stop-motion photography and the design of the very creepy killer toys in the film are top-notch, as is the use of sound throughout the film (especially where the toys are concerned). Leech Woman is every bit as disturbing as a I remembered!
Aside from the puppets, the only other thing that works here is the villain (whose nature I won't comment on for fear of ruining the film for those who may not have seen it). He is a truly monstrous character and the final act of the film, where he is revealed along with the full monstrousness of his actions--making the killer puppets look like the toys they are by comparison--is some of the very best movie making that Charles Band has ever presided over.
Although crippled by the bad acting, the creativity of the story and the deadly toys go a long way to making up for that shortcoming. The stop-motion animation is extremely well done, and it's worth seeing this creepy movie for that alone.
Puppet Master II (1991)
Starring: Elizabeth Maclellan, Charlie Spradling, Jeff Celentano, Collin Bernsen, Steve Welles, and Gregory Webb
Director: Dave Allen
Producers: Charles Band, David DeCoteau and John Schouweiler
Rating: Four of Ten Stars
Paranormal researchers (Celentano, Maclellan, Spradling, and Webb) charged with figuring out what drove the sole surviving psychic from the first "Puppet Master" movie insane discover that not only do Andre Toulon's living puppets haunt the old hotel on Bodega Bay, but Toulon himself (Welles) has returned from the dead!
"Puppet Master II" is a creepy and atmospheric direct sequel to the first "Puppet Master" film, but it is also one of the weakest entries in the entire series. It's fairly poorly acted, it's got an illogical script--yes, even taking into account that it's a movie about killer puppets--and Toulon and his puppets are out of character when taking into account the original film and other sequels into account.
Every other "Puppet Master" movie I've seen but this one shows that Andre Toulon was a fairly decent guy who perhaps loved his creations more than he did himself. That is not the Andre Toulon we have here. What we have here is a twisted maniac who makes the villain from the first movie look like a saint. The puppets are also out of character, in-so-far-as they are doing evil for the sake of doing evil, something which they've not done in any of the other "Puppet Master" films I've seen. Worse, the behavior of the puppets doesn't even make sense in the context of this film alone. (Without spoiling too much, I can reveal that the puppets are helping Toulon and doing what they do in order to secure a recharge of magic to keep themselves going. They ultimately turn on their creator when they discover that they're not going to get what they want... but they should have turned on him long before. If there isn't much "magic juice" available, what's Toulon doing making a new puppet?)
And the puppets aren't the only ones behaving in illogical fashion because if they did things that made sense, the film would come to a screeching halt. Early in the film, the researchers get one of the puppets on video tape just before it murders one of their numbers. Another member of the team had already mysteriously vanished. These are researchers hired by the federal government to check out the place, but do they call upon the resources that implies? Do they even contact the local cops? Even after some freakish guy they think might be dangerous appears and claims to own the hotel? Nope, because this script is so badly thought out that EVERYONE (even magic puppets) has to exhibit Stupid Character Syndrome or the story simply won't work.
The film is further weakened by the fact that the Bodega Bay Inn as featured here doesn't look at all like the interiors of the Bodega Bay Inn from "Puppet Master". The filmmakers took enough care to give the impression that the characters here were seen mostly in a different part of the hotel, but why were the rooms and the hallways leading to them so much smaller and cheaper looking? This is especially evident in the room that is destroyed by the new flame-throwing puppet Torch.
Speaking of Torch, the film is at its best during the scenes involving this new addition to the Toulon menagerie--a puppet dressed like a Prussian officer that shoots gouts of fire that incinerates anything in his path. And I think that's the main problem with this film. Full Moon head-honcho Charles Band has never made any bones about the fact that he is looking for merchandising synergies with the movies he produces. He wants to sell dolls and resin models and other knickknacks based on the films, so a new puppet means a new piece of merchandise to sell. I don't begrudge him that, but I wish more care had been taken with the rest of the movie and the characters within it.
"Puppet Master II" has some neat moments, and it's got more spookiness in it than other films in the series, save the original, but it is an odd-man out among them. I think all but the biggest fans can safely skip it.