Puppet Master (1989): Movie Review

IMDB rated this movie: 5.6/10

Wikipedia states:

“Puppet Master is an American horror film series which focuses on a group of anthropomorphic puppets animated by an Egyptian spell, each equipped with its own unique and dangerous device (although not in all installments of the series are the puppets portrayed as threatening) and are represented as heroes, antiheroes and antagonists.

Produced by Full Moon Features, the series was established in 1989 with the eponymous first installment, which has since been followed by ten sequels, a crossover with the characters of Demonic Toys, a 2018 reboot entitled The Littlest Reich, a spin-off film about the puppet Blade, an upcoming spin-off about Retro Puppet Master’s Doktor Death, two comic book mini-series, an ongoing comic book series, a Multiplayer video game released in 2014 endorsed by Full Moon themselves and numerous other collector’s items.”

The trailer for Puppet Master

Puppet Master has become somewhat of a cult classic movie. I first had the pleasure of watching a few of the films as a child, back then the whole concept was exciting, frightening and lovable. Sadly, it didn’t receive critical praise. However, it has spawned many sequels, some arguably better than others.

So where to begin. Andre Toulon, the puppet master, uses an ancient Egyptian spell to animate the puppets, he also uses a green liquid (the formula) to animate them and sustain their lives! The film opens with two men in black, nazis, who are entering the Bodego Bay Inn, Toulon’s residence. The camera follows the little pattering footsteps as Blade – the lead puppet – is running his way through the hotel to warn Toulon of the nazis, of which he is already aware. Toulon commits suicide before the nazis can get into his room and kill him. Not before he can store Blade, and the other puppets into his now infamous puppet case.

A dramatic and overwhelming scene, a movie moment, but this movie moment doesn’t come with no surprises. Of course, to learn the background of Toulon one must watch the other puppet master films. Toulon has been on the run from the nazis for a while and they want the magical formula and secrets that Toulon uses to animate the puppets. The location, a hotel right on the edge of a cliff to the sea, is perfect. A seemingly claustrophobic nightmare, with the addition of the intriguing nazi back story which is further explored in the other movies.

50 years later in 1989, the secret is discovered by Neil Gallagher. Soon he sends messages to his psychic friends Alex Whitaker, Dana Hadley, Frank Forrester and Carissa Stamford – who posses both supernatural and psychic abilities – who arrive to find his wife Megan.

Each uses their power whilst simultaneously being unaware or glimpsing the animated puppets and the chaos they bring. Somewhat vengeful of Toulon’s suicide 50 years prior (I’d guess) they unleash themselves and one by one, they begin to hunt down and kill the new guests. *Note: the hotel is closed to normal guests.*

The Puppets: Blade, Pinhead, Tunneler, Leech woman and Jester. Although small, are well animated in terms of production value which is low for a first movie. (expected). Overall at this point just prior to the puppets killing people, it has been a slow build up, with good acting, good lighting and audio, the scene and sets are good and consistent and the story does somewhat hold itself together.

The puppets do though pose a threat, they are small and sometimes the shots of them waiting to do something do drag out and it makes you wonder why not just kick them away. I guess this is part of the make-believe aspect and the movie magic. We have some great characters but the action is a let down.

Mike and Megan seemingly being the only survivors are confronted by Neil, who has used the ‘magic formula’ to reanimate himself. Much more to the dismay of the puppets than anything else. They seem to be instructed to kill him, and to protect the secret.

Megan is seen at the end of the movie reanimating the stuffed dog, and we know at this point that she has learned the method too.

At the end of the day, this has some good suspense, acting, plot and overall movie magic that you would expect from a lower budget movie. It does still hold up well in terms of animation and cgi, but the puppets are exactly that, they are controlled by puppeteers, and no amount of filming method can change that.

I have managed to watch 5 of them, so something must be working. Personal highlights for me are the rare characters Torch and the common Blade. They have become screen legends much the same as Freddy (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Jason (Friday the 13th). Film 3 and 5 are quite good in developing a proven method beyond what you might anticpate.

Will I continue to watch these films until I have seen all 12 movies? (Possibly more to come) The answer is yes. Despite our Toulon puppets wanting to kill people, they are also in certain movies, the heroes. They are a form of anti-hero and a much needed variation in todays over loaded cinema world full of remakes and cgi buffs.

Overall score: 4 stars – potentially an overlooked but hidden gem.

Rating: 4 out of 5.