Sunday, October 24, 2010

'Retro Puppet Master' fouled by sequel dreams

Retro Puppet Master (1999)
Starring: Greg Sestero, Brigitta Dau, Stephen Blackehart, Jack Donner and Guy Rolfe
Director: David DeCoteau (as Joesph Tennent)
Producers: Charles Band, Kirk Edward Hansen, and Vlad Paunescu
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

It's 1892 and Andre Toulon (Sestero), the young owner and operator of an avant-garde puppet theater in Paris becomes smitten with Ilsa (Dau), the daughter of the Swiss ambassador, when she attends one of his shows. But before romance can bloom, Toulon and Ilsa become the targets of an ancient cult of demon worshippers attempted to retreive the secret of animating dead matter with the spririt of the living that was stolen from them by an Egyptian mystic (Donner). Even as the minions of the cultists destroy everything Toulon holds dear, they place him on the path to his destiny as the beloved and feared Puppet Master.

"Retro Puppet Master" is the seventh entry in Full Moon's most successful franchise, the Puppet Master series. It's actually a decent movie that offers a level of fright that I haven't seen in the series since the original "Puppet Master" film, as well as featuring a decent script and a talented cast of actors (including Guy Rolfe, in his final role). The gore is low, but the tension and excitement is high, as we witness the creation of Andre Toulon's first set of magical puppets and they go on a rampage in defense of their master and his lady love.

Although the heart of the movie is strong, it still has some fatal flaws.

First, we have the usual Full Moon sloppiness as far as continuity goes. The seventh Puppet Master is a prequel that gives fills in more of Andre Toulon's backstory, but its pieces don't quite fit with what we learned in "Puppet Master", "Puppet Master II" or "Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge". (Of course, ignoring "Puppet Master II" counts in this film's favor, as it doesn't fit with any other film in the series, presenting Toulon and Ilsa both as evil psychos.) I've been been a bit bemused by Charles Band's apparent purposeful disregard for continuity in the movies he produces... it's one thing for Universal or Hammer to not give a rat's ass for continuity in the 1940s and 1950s when movies weren't readily available at the corner drugstore or from, but why Band and Company--whose films have been direct-to-video/DVD for most of his career--can't get with the times where it's easy to watch an entire film series back-to-back is beyond me.

Second, "Retro Puppet Master" offers an incomplete story. It ends without explaining a mystery that was set up in the film's framing sequence--how was Toulon's first set of puppets destroyed?--and it ends on the cusp of what sounds like a far more exciting adventure than the one we have just watched, one that will see Toulon and Ilsa in a showdown with the demon cultists. When I see a movie, I expect it to come to a satisfying close, even if the filmmakers are already planning a sequel. This film comes to a close, but it's far from satisfying. (And, to make matters worse, it's over a decade later now and we still haven't gotten a continuation of the tale in this film.)

If you're a fan of the "Puppet Master" series--particularly as it manifested in "Puppet Master III" and "Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys"--I think you'll enjoy this film, despite its flaws. I also think you'll find it a nice addition to a selection of films to screen during a Halloween party.