Puppetmaster (1989)

FEBRUARY 27, 2010


I didn’t care much for Puppetmaster when I saw it at the age of 10 or 11, but I could say the same for a few other movies, so I decided to give it another go, especially since I couldn’t even recall a single thing about it. Indeed, I spent half the movie wondering where the Jester puppet was (I guess he was added later). However, I spent the other half marveling at the fact that as a kid I was probably just bored by the film, as I was now, but as an adult, I also dislike it for technical reasons.

And no it’s not the stop motion/effects work. Actually for the most part it’s pretty good. It’s easy to see their tricks (such as keeping the back of Leech Woman’s head offscreen in order to push the leeches through), but the compositing is decent and at least its not all CG horseshit like in Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys (the only film of the series I have seen since hitting puberty, though I never caught most of them anyway; I think 4 is the only other one I have seen in its entirety). No, the problem with the film is the garish lighting that makes it look like the movie is constantly set at high noon. Shadows, depth... none of these things appear in a single shot of the film, best as I can recall. I don’t know if DP Sergio Salvati was high, or he’s just a terrible DP (I don't recall Zombi being poorly shot...), but I’ve seen more interesting lighting in high school public access shows. I’m not saying all horror movies have to take place in the usual dark locales, but I don’t think they should potentially hurt your eyes to watch either. And even if so, no one involved with the production is talented enough to pull something like that off.

Full Moon gets a lot of shit for their cheapie modern productions, and rightfully so, but it’s funny to see how a 20+ year old film, one that was once destined for a theatrical release (!) in fact, suffers from pretty much the same problems that the newer ones do. The actors are a horridly amateur lot, with only brief appearances by William Hickey and Barbara Crampton sparing the film from boasting a completely unrecognizable (then and now) cast. The lead in particular is a vacuum of charisma; his ridiculous hair is about the only thing that kept him from being part of the overlit scenery.

And like a lot of their films, it only provides the bare minimum of scenes with their titular “draws”. I’d say puppet action makes up 10-15 minutes tops (being generous with that range) of the 90 minute movie. The rest just concerns a bunch of unlikable characters yammering on and roaming about the hotel. They each have psychic powers of some sort, but like Full Moon itself, they must have been bottom of the barrel. One woman, for example, can sense what happened in rooms just by walking into them, but all she sees are people making love. Maybe see one of the goddamn killer puppets? Then again, seeing the puppets even without psychic powers seems to be a problem - during the film’s opening sequence, Blade runs around the place, jumping over suitcases, darting through people’s feet, etc, and no one seems to notice him. Granted he’s not very big, but still, a mostly black figure that seems to be about a foot tall, running around a well-lit area? I think he would draw some attention.

The story also tumbles by making some random dude the big villain, with the puppets more or less turned into heroes by the end of the film. If it was Hickey’s character maybe it would be OK, as a sort of bookend for the film (especially since both characters commit suicide - I suspect the character WAS supposed to be Hickey and they couldn’t get him to film for enough days, forcing a hasty, somewhat confusing re-write. Just my guess). But it’s some guy who just appears in 2-3 quick flashbacks, and he looks like the singer from a Killers tribute band, so fuck him.

It’s also a surprisingly tame movie. Without the random nudity, this movie would easily get a PG-13; some of the kills are off-screen entirely and the ones we do see are incredibly light on crimson. Pinhead has these giant hands, I wanted to see him clamp them together and smash a guy’s head! Instead he just punches people.

Charles Band has threatened a 3D remake. I would be all for it, if he had any money (or, I should say, if he put what little money he did have on the screen instead of paying himself and funding his stupid roadshow tours) to do it right. The concept could be turned into a terrifically fun movie. Stuart Gordon did it with Dolls, no reason Band and co. can’t do the same, especially since tiny terrors are their bread and butter.

I lost count of how many different movies there are in the series; I think Vs. Demonic Toys was the 9th? Netflix and Blockbuster wisely opted not to stock the sequels (BB I don’t even think has the first one), so I’m not sure if seeing them anytime soon is possible - I sure as hell won’t buy them. I hear 3 is pretty good (they fight the Nazis!), but I’ll have to slog through the 2nd film (which no one singles out for any reason, good OR bad) before I get there anyway. I’m in no rush. I’m all for the concept, but if they couldn’t even manage to make an entertaining original, which probably had more money behind it, how much promise can the sequels hold?

What say you?

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. i'm sorry, but PM is one of my favorite movies. they're killer dolls, but they're good in a way, because really they're just anti- nazi. plus, jeff named his dog after one of them (though, admittedly, Blade is the best, not Jester). this through #3 are really pretty good movies, for what they are (cheaply made killer doll movies).

  2. I think movies like Zombi tend to seem better shot because they're so grimy and the transfers usually suck. When you see a really clean one sometimes they look terribly shot.

  3. Great movie! Part 2 - not so much (but o.k. for what it is) ... but Part 3 is probably the best of the bunch! Love Full Moon Movies!

  4. The first two sequels are worth seeing. I'd even suggest you'd enjoy Part 3 considerably more than the first.

  5. I really have to disagree with you in regards to Puppet Master and the entire series (by series...I'm referring to 1-5). The gradually were fading away into the crappy abyss.

    Regardless for the technical aspects, the film series helped to start a massage cult following of Puppet Master as well as Charles Band. These are all great films and are important to the history of horror films.


  6. "I suspect the character WAS supposed to be Hickey and they couldn’t get him to film for enough days, forcing a hasty, somewhat confusing re-write."

    Are you fucking kidding me? The entire film revolved around what an utter shit the guy was before he died and built up to his resurrection, and made it somewhat blatant(like the wife mentioning he didn't want to be put six feet under until his former colleagues arrived).


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