Retro Puppet Master (1999)

SEPTEMBER 27, 2012


"Wait, is that a mistake?" you might be asking after reading "own collection" as the source of a later Puppet Master film. But it's true - thanks to Echo Bridge I now own all NINE "canon" Puppet Master movies to date (vs Demonic Toys is left out), and I immediately popped in the first in the series I hadn't seen as of yet - the 7th entry: Retro Puppet Master. I don't think I've seen the two after that, either, so this is awesome as I can cross off another "Completely Reviewed Franchise" on the HMAD list. Thanks, EB!

Anyway, for a late period one, it's actually not too bad. It's certainly better than Curse (the worst of the canon lot), and even a slight step up from the underwhelming 5th entry. Most of its problems can be chalked up to budget - there's not a lot of action, the puppets' role is once again minimized (and when they DO move it's via servos and rods and closeup shots to hide them - no stop-motion at all this time), and I don't quite buy the usual Romanian locales as Paris in 1902. Pretty sure this is the first movie that takes place in Paris and yet no one has a view of the Eiffel Tower out of their window. Way to break cinema's grandest tradition, Mr. Band.

It also introduces a few new puppets that are not particularly interesting (though Dr. Death looks pretty cool), given that they, like the "Retro" versions of Six Shooter, Blade, and Tunneler, don't get to do a hell of a lot throughout the movie. In the third act they kill some of the movie's villains (these weird dudes in suits that seem lifted directly from Dark City's Strangers), but these scenes are lackluster and brief, and all play out the same, giving no opportunity for the new guys to really stick out. At the end of the film Toulon promises that he'll explain where they went in another story, but as of yet it seems that hasn't happened (I'm using a chart on Wikipedia that someone actually took the time to put together. Poor bastard). Not that I really care much, but still, don't promise a movie you're not going to make - it'd be one thing if this was the last entry, but they made 2-3 more after this!

But despite the absentee puppets, it was still relatively painless. The script was better than most, telling the story of a young Toulon as he is introduced to the puppet master power for the first time. According to someone who takes these things way too seriously on the IMDb, this contradicts what we were told in Puppet Master II, but I would argue that it doesn't fucking matter in the slightest. The franchise has a general continuity that's actually kind of elaborate and impressive (considering who we're dealing with here), so I can forgive the mishaps with the dates (Toulon supposedly killed himself in the late 30s but he's telling the story of this movie in 1944) and ret-conned explanations. At least they were putting some effort into it - most folks probably wouldn't care if they merely just had the puppets killing a new group of folks in Band's castle each time out.

And it's nice to see Toulon as a full character, instead of just some old dude spouting nonsense. He's played by Greg Sistero in the Paris scenes (Guy Rolfe returns for the framing sequence), and if that name sounds familiar it's because he later went on to play Mark in The Room (the guy that's just on the roof, thinking). You gotta wonder what he was more embarrassed by on his resume - the 6th Puppet Master sequel, or the "worst film of all time". Anyway, he's got some nice chemistry with the love interest, and while I don't believe he'd look like Guy Rolfe in 40 years, he's at least a step or two above the actors they get nowadays. He also looks a bit like the singer from Lifehouse, which I found amusing as they often toured with the band The Calling, whose frontman was Charles Band's son Alex.

Weirdly, the movie is PG-13. The kills are pretty bloodless and there isn't any nudity or even profanity that I can recall, which is puzzling as these are DTV movies that have always been R rated. I know theatrical franchises often soften as they begin to age, in order to ensure a wider possible audience to make up for the original fans jumping ship, but it makes no sense for a video series. Pretty sure they went back to R (or simply "not rated") for the following entries (again, except for vs Demonic Toys, which was a Syfy Original)>, making this a peculiar anomaly.

So it's a mixed bag. On one hand, I liked that they were trying to tell a real story for once, and I enjoyed seeing the "retro" designs of the familiar puppets. But on the other, it's very slow and it lacks the franchise's usually impressive stop-motion work, which is pretty much the only reason to keep watching these damn things. Your call.

What say you?


  1. I enjoyed all of the Puppet Master films, except "The Legacy" because it was mostly a "clip" movie. I'm excited to see another Puppet Master will be released in October!


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