AUGUST 1, 2011
You know, I might actually keep this one. Echo Bridge has been sending me a bunch of their new acquisitions, and as you can tell by the reviews most of them aren’t even worth a single viewing let alone keeping in an already overstuffed collection. But Puppet Master 4 (sans the “When Bad Puppets Turn Good!” tagline promised at the end of PM3) is actually pretty fun in a cheesy way, and features the series best puppet work to date.
As I’ve mentioned several times, I’m a sucker for stop-motion, and for once they actually utilize it properly. While the other movies rarely ever showed more than one puppet on-screen at any given time, the lot of them have a bunch of interaction here, including some (admittedly clunky) fight scenes against the puppet-sized alien demon things that serve as this movie’s villain. They also DO more things; there’s a lengthy laser battle with hero Gordon Currie (the new Puppet Master - don’t ask) where Tunneler and Pinhead run around shooting lasers and having a grand old time, and also an amazing bit where Blade helpfully cleans off Tunneler’s drill after he kills something! Awesome!
Plus there’s a general sense of director Jeff Burr and his crew actually giving a shit. A shot of Blade doing something will have a soft focus Pinhead in the background, “watching” Blade and making minor gestures or walking around carrying on his own personal business. The other films would never bother having any sort of animation on a background puppet, if they even bothered to put him in the shot at all. Hell there’s even a few reaction shots of Pinhead and the others watching in amazement as the human folk (and Six Shooter, for some reason) help bring another puppet to life. It took four films, but they finally figured out that the puppets are the main characters, and in turn actually turned them into fully animated beings for the first time – there are no lazy shots of them simply standing there with a minor head bob or something (though Jester just sits around most of the time, not sure what the deal is with that – the facial expressions/arms are quite animated but he just sits there).
And, heavens yes, there’s some shadow and scenes set at night! Hallelujah! I mean, you won’t be clamoring for a high def version to fully appreciate the cinematography (I’m pretty sure this was shot full-frame, in fact), but it actually LOOKS like a horror movie for once, with lightning and rainy exteriors and people creeping around dark rooms and what not. I think the whole thing takes place in one night, so we are spared the blinding “it’s always noon” look of the other movies.
Also: Teresa Hill. I actually watched this one when I was 13 or so because I had a crush on her due to Models, Inc, but had no recollective memory of the movie whatsoever, including the fact that Hill is A. in it quite a bit (she’s the douchey sort-of human villain’s girlfriend, traditionally a goner role) and B. every bit as pretty as I remember. Wonder what she’s up to these days. She’s unfortunately saddled with some of the silliest moments in the movie, such as when she is possessed by - and has the voice of – Toulon (still hot with old man voice, for the record), but her presence was most welcome.
Unlike the presence of the alien overlord thing that I guess was supposed to be the big bad (and presumably fought in the following installment, which was shot back to back with this one). Like pretty much all Full Moon movies of this period, there’s a bunch of nonsense about other dimensions and aliens and such, and these are particularly goofy. For starters, there’s no sense of scale in their scenes, so I couldn’t figure out if they were human size or puppet, but either way it’s just a ridiculous looking thing that we’re supposed to be afraid of on some level. And since they never pay off in this movie, it just makes these scenes all the more annoying. There’s one cool bit though – I like that the little puppet sized demons were just sort of vessels for demons in the other dimension, so when one of them died in our world, his “host” would sort of melt in theirs. Sort of like when someone dies in the Matrix – hey wait a minute, they shot those movies back to back too! I knew the Wachowskis were ripping off Dark City, but Puppet Master too?
And after a good showing last time, Richard Band returns to his lazy ways here, recycling the same basic score he’s used a million times, with the editor or Charles or someone laying it over far too much of the movie. I like the main Puppet Master theme; I like it less after hearing it 596 times over 75 minutes. Plus, while the puppet stuff is fun, the plot is very thin (even for one of these movies) and practically PG rated; the body count here is like, two. There’s also a lot of padding; the aforementioned laser battle goes on forever, and it’s actually the second scene of its type – before the puppets are resurrected, Currie has a battle with a few robots. It’s a 45 minute movie stuffed into 80 minutes of footage, with only a few lines as howlingly terrible/awesome as “You must transcend linearity!” to keep my interest whenever the puppets weren’t on-screen (yet, it took at least 6 different writers to come up with this screenplay).
So they finally got all the technical stuff right, and delivered on the animation, but dropped the ball on the story. It’s a shame that Burr and everyone else involved with this one turning out pretty good couldn’t have been the team that put together the previous film; it would have been the definitive Puppet Master movie for sure. But again, I’ll probably hold on to this one just to enjoy the animation. And Ms. Hill, obviously.
What say you?