Original Release Date (On home video): October 12th 1989
Directed by: David Schmoeller
Starring: Paul Le Mat, Irene Miracle, Matt Roe, Kathryn O’Reilly
Available now on Blu-Ray from- 88 Films (UK)
The 80’s were a time of great creativity in the horror genre. It was during the neon soaked decade that many of the horror legends we still hold dear today were born. As the genre exploded in popularity audiences grew more blood thirsty and the horror genre become fertile ground for filmmakers wanting to explore the surreal and the macabre. Not all this creativity was a good thing however, for every Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers horror fans were also subjected to some pretty awful antagonists as filmmakers scrabbled to find the next big thing in the gore soaked slasher genre.
While many of the films that were released during this time are best left as fond memories, never to be revisited, some of the more unique films still stand up today. Once such example of this is 1989’s Puppet Master, an awesome little horror gem that gets as far away from the ‘big guy with a bigger knife’ template as it can. A truly unique take on the horror genre that has gone on to become close to the hearts of many gore hounds, enough for ten more Puppet Master films to be made at least.
A labour of love for writer and producer Charles Band, Puppet Master tells the story of a group of psychics meeting up in order to contact the spirit of dead friend, who before his death was searching for the last works of a long dead puppeteer. These last works just happen to be a group of murderous, ankle high puppets that were sought after by Nazi’s during World War II. Oh and there’s an ancient Egyptian curse thrown in the mix for good measure. The puppets, which include the brutish Pinhead, the brilliantly named Shredder Kahn and series favourite Blade emerge from the coffin of the dead psychic and begin murdering those hoping to unlock their secrets. It’s a ridiculous premise for a film, and illustrates perfectly the kind of “What can we make scary?” mentality that led to the film being made in the first place.
The plot overall is delivered with enough sincerity that the tale of visions, killer puppets and ludicrous spiritualism always feel genuine about being ridiculous, it’s great fun and thoroughly refreshing.
Puppet Master really does make great use of its ‘Toy Story’ meets ‘Terminator’ gimmick, resulting in some gruesome and hilarious scenes where the puppets work together to murder people easily ten times their size. The brilliant death scenes are made all the more enjoyable by the unique properties each of the Puppets has been given. Seeing Tunneler drill a woman to death with his head or the creatively named Leech Woman cover an unlucky psychic with an army of the bloodsuckers will be great fun for all but the most humourless horror fans.
The special effects are serviceable to this day and while they aren’t going to win any awards Puppet Master does a good job of making its cast of killers seem as believable as possible.In retrospect by making the antagonists of the movie a bunch of dolls it helped the special effects department create a horror nasty that for a change didn’t have to look as ‘real’ as possible.
Although Puppet Master is great fun, it’s not without its problems. The film relies heavily on psychic vision sequences that aren’t implemented well in a few cases, making a lot of the narrative of the film seem disjointed and confusing. This being said even when the plot is making total sense it’s all a bit silly and while for many viewers this will be the entire appeal of the film, some could be put off by how ridiculous the whole thing is.
The acting also leaves a lot to be desired, whilst Irene Miracle gives a decent performance as Dana the rest of the cast feels pretty stale and at times it really comes across like they aren’t too happy about being in a film about killer puppets at all.
It could be argued that the stiff acting and silly storyline help add to Puppet Master’s cult, B movie charm however there are a few times during the films’ 90 minute running time that I felt as though the silliness and fun of the initial premise was almost embarrassing to some of those involved in the films production, and that they were trying to counteract this feeling with a serious performances and approach to the script.
Whichever way you look at it however these people do a brilliant job of being murdered by a vicious pack of ventriloquist dummies.
Special mention also needs to be given to the Blu Ray edition from 88 Films that was used for this review. The visuals have been touched up enough to give clarity to the mayhem and look decent on larger TV’s but it has kept its 80’s almost grainy visual charm as well. The bonus features including a decent making of documentary and introduction by Charles Band are also welcome additions. If you’re a fan of the series already, or looking to see this cult classic in the best way possible then you can do much worse than picking up this Blu Ray version.
At the end of the day Puppet Master is a film that makes a very distinct promise. You can watch a bunch of puppets murder people in funny and bloody ways. It may try its best to do more than this but ultimately fails; it does however succeed in making this puppet murder promise an exciting, memorable and incredibly entertaining one.
If you go into Puppet Master expecting a deep and thought provoking horror film then you’re going to be disappointed, the initial premise, additional storyline and delivery of everything are classic B movie stuff and nothing more. However this is by no means a bad thing, as a B movie it’s one of my personal horror favourites and one that remains entertaining and original to this day.
- UK EXCLUSIVE AUDIO COMMENTARY WITH JUSTIN KERSWELL, AUTHOR OF TEENAGE WASTELAND
- RESTORED HD TRANSFER IN 1.85:1 WIDESCREEN
- NEW DTS-HD MA 5.1 SOUNDTRACK
- ORIGINAL LPCM STERO SOUNSTRACK
- COMMENTARY BY PRODUCER CHARLES BAND
- NO STRINGS ATTACHED ORIGINAL MAKING OF FEATURETTE
- HD INTRODUCTION BY CHARLES BAND
- HD TRAILER
- FULL MOON TRAILER PARK
- REVERSIBLE SLEEVE INCORPORATING ORIGINAL ARTWORK
- COLLECTOR S BOOKLET NOTES BY AUTHOR AND CRITIC CALUM WADDELL