Pinocchio's Revenge (1996)

AUGUST 8, 2010


Kevin Tenney should have had a bigger career, in my opinion. He made a number of solid low budget horror films, many of which still have fans (Witchboard and Night of the Demons being the most prolific, though I'm not a fan of the latter). And even his later DTV stuff, like Pinocchio’s Revenge, has more intelligence and genuine skill than even some films that played in theaters during the woeful mid 90s. None of the films may be perfect, but I bet if he was given a big budget and some resources, he could have made something really special.

Because this movie is actually pretty decent, despite the fact that there is no reason for it to be so. It’s got a terribly hokey title, a number of bad actors (the girl playing the daughter is particularly painful), and due to a particular story point, an almost total lack of action. But yet it works, as we spend the whole movie never being sure if the puppet is killing or if it’s someone else, and damned if they don’t keep you guessing (with plausible explanations for both scenarios) until the end of the film.

Also, it offers the rare shot of two little girls smacking each other around. Not that I condone violence against children (well, outside of horror movies anyway), but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen two 8 or 9 year old girls throwing down. And that is why you see movies – to see something new that you perhaps wouldn’t want to see in real life. But it’s also pretty much the only time in the movie where you see both the attacker and the victim at once. Due to the mystery of whether or not it’s the puppet, everything is sort of vague – we see a weapon and then contact, all framed in a manner that prevents you from seeing who is holding it and from how high (though there is a shot near the end that’s either a huge mistake or spoiling the surprise).

And even though the kid that gets hit by the bus doesn’t die, the movie still has some balls (spoilers ahead!). We eventually discover that the puppet is just a puppet and it’s really the little girl killing everyone. Now, it would have been more commercially viable to have a killer puppet (a la Chucky) than say “Nope, it’s a little girl causing all of these horrific murders”, but that would have been a lowest common denominator approach. In fact, I guarantee if this movie was remade today, it would really be the puppet. Why? Because it’s “cool”, regardless of the fact that it’s kind of stupid. I mean, hell, even *I* would back an actual killer puppet movie (as anyone who followed my twitter today can attest), but I appreciate one that goes for something a little more “grown up”, especially when I can almost guarantee that Tenney (or someone) had to fight to keep an ending that’s a major downer, even for a DTV film.

As for the doll – he’s pretty creepy looking, though I think the one in Triloquist was far more unnerving. And (back to spoiler territory here!) they never quite explain if he actually IS possessing people to do bad things or if it’s just coincidence. See, the doll is found buried with a child as part of a serial murder case (the heroine is a defense attorney), and later in the film we are told that the serial killer was actually the little kid (!), and his father had killed him to stop his crimes (and then took the blame himself). But the father seems sort of apprehensive about Pinocchio as well, so it’s sort of vague as to what purpose the thing served in these crimes, if any. Maybe this could have been explored in Pinocchio’s Revenge 2, had it ever come to pass (p.s. the title makes absolutely no sense. Revenge for what?).

Tenney also gives it some directorial flair that you don’t often see in this sort of junk. He gets some good use out of a diopter lens for a few shots with Pinocchio sitting there doing nothing (or IS he?), and there’s a cool moment where most of a scene plays out on the reflection of a TV screen. And apart from the mishap I mentioned earlier, the kill scenes are impressive without ever cheating – either the girl or the puppet could have done everything we see. I hate in killer toy (or kid) movies where a grown man is taken out by something that couldn’t possibly have had any force behind it, but all of these make sense to me (though how long was that rake handle in the bus scene?).

It’s a shame Lion’s Gate didn’t put that sort of effort into their DVD. Not only is it as featureless as they come (not even trailers, for it or other releases), but the sound is terrible – it clips out whenever something loud happens, making the next few seconds hard to hear. It’s also full-frame, though the film might have been shot that way since it was never intended for anything but a VHS tape. But I would have liked to have heard Tenney talk about the film (either via commentary or interview), and a look at the puppet’s creation. I did find the trailer on Youtube (below), and I’m sort of baffled at their approach – it basically goes out of its way to make the little girl look like the killer, even having her voice saying Pinocchio’s lines (it’s professional actor Dick Beals – Davey from Davey and Goliath! – in the movie itself). Weird.

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