OCTOBER 22, 2012
Most folks agree that Puppet Master III is one of or even THE best in the series, so to return to that time period with that film's director (David DeCoteau) should have been a good sign for die-hard fans of the series when Puppet Master: Axis Of Evil was released a couple years back. Sadly, it's still a modern Full Moon production, so whatever effort the writer or director (or cast, or key grip, or caterer...) puts into the thing is largely wasted, as producer Charles Band refuses to give his productions the money they deserve.
I mean, seriously. The series is the company's bread and butter, and the merchandising and constant DVD releases must have made them SOME money over the years, right? So why are these films getting short-changed? It's one thing to shit out another Gingerdead Man movie for a couple thousand bucks, but come on! I don't even like the movies that much and even I am kind of upset at the way the latter entries are treated - I can't imagine how painful it is for the long time fans whose support is what brought the film to life in the first place.
The main issue, again, is that they don't actually animate the puppets anymore, despite the fact that that should be the top priority for a Puppet Master production. Long gone are David Allen's awesome stop-motion creations, replaced by what appears to be a guy wiggling the things around just below camera, as they are almost exclusively shot in close-up. There might be some minor rod or even animatronic work for the occasional wider shot, but it's akin to re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic, really.
Not that it matters HOW they're animated much, since they barely appear. The actual film has an admittedly decent (for Full Moon) story about the Japanese and an undercover Nazi (posing as an American) teaming up to destroy a weapons plant, while our hero tries to convince his girlfriend (being used by the undercover Nazi) that her new pal is up to no good. In fact, he's one of the agents who were coming to kill Toulon (who killed himself before they arrived), something we see in a not entirely successful but serviceable (again, for Full Moon) attempt to blend footage from the first film with this one. The puppets are sidelined until the very end, when our hero's brother is killed and the girl taken, prompting him to put his brother's soul (or whatever) into one of the new puppets (Ninja) using Toulon's formula, and then gather the rest for a rescue attempt.
With one or two other big scenes for the puppets, this actually could have been tied with III as its most successful entry. It's got a better story than any of the movies in between, and it's thankfully not as convoluted as some of the others (though I was kind of baffled why they spent the previous movie laying out all of the chronology to date only to follow it up by shoehorning another previously unmentioned prequel story in there). Plus, DeCoteau actually knows how to direct, unlike Band, so there's a sense of effort on-screen - the lighting is decent, the sets look real enough, etc. Yes, these are things that most folks would take for granted in a professional movie they were watching, but you'd be surprised at how many Full Moon productions can't even get that much right. Hell, it's even in widescreen! It was actually kind of jarring when it started and the black bars on my monitor were on the top and bottom instead of the sides for once - this looked like a real movie!
But alas, we're not here for any of that. We want puppet action, and the film offers next to none - Jason appears in Jason Goes To Hell more than the puppets do here, and that's just unforgivable (especially in a film that runs longer than most of them). I don't need wall to wall puppet action to enjoy it, but I certainly need to have occasional reminders that I am indeed watching a Puppet Master film and not some low budget war/tragic romance thing featuring a lot of terrible accents (the Japanese woman in particular manages to sound more offensive than a bad comedian saying "Me love you long time"). Had Band given this production the money he wasted on other films from the same year (such as the atrocious Demonic Toys: Personal Demons), he might have actually had something that was better than merely "an improvement on the last couple". Oh well.
What say you?