From the man who brought us the gritty western Bone Tomahawk and the even grittier and deliciously gory Brawl in Cell Block 99 comes a movie about puppets. Killer puppets. Killer puppets who also happen to be Nazis (because hey, why not?). Welcome to the gory and blood drenched world of Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. Writing duties for this soft reboot of the venerable series fell to S. Craig Zahler (of the aforementioned Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cellblock 99) and while this new version of the Puppet Master world has been met with a fair amount of criticism by former fans (many reviews compare it unfavourably to previous instalments), it does provide a good jumping on point for those new to the series.
We are briefly introduced to the main character from most of the films – Andre Toulon, the creator of the puppets, played this time by a heavily made-up Udo Kier who has the sleaze factor cranked as high as it will go. One police raid later and we jump forward in time to pick up the story of the three main characters Edgar (Thomas Lennon), Ashley (Jenny Pellicer) and Markowitz (Nelson Franklin), who decide to go and attend a convention/auction dedicated to the now deceased Andre Toulon and his puppets. After a brief bit of backstory on Toulon the movie gets down to business.
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What business? Oh, gore. Gore by the bucketload, by the truckload even. Decapitation, evisceration, dismemberment, with pretty much all of it seeming to be accomplished with glorious, glorious practical effects. Heads bounce, blood sprays, puppets cheerfully go about their evil puppety business and our characters do what they can to survive the night and make it out of the hotel in one piece. Here though, is perhaps the biggest complaint about the film and one that has been voiced by fans of the series: there is not a great deal of time or focus given to the puppets themselves. Other than the one that Edgar finds in the box, the rest are given no real explanation and there’s nothing that really makes them stand out from one another, and that’s a bit of a shame. There is a spin-off planned that will focus exclusively on one of the puppets – Blade: The Iron Cross – which is slated for release in 2020.
The soundtrack, provided here by veteran composer Fabio Frizzi (City of the Living Dead, Zombi 2), is a glorious slice of 80’s themed nostalgia with heavy use of ominous synths, wistful strings which stands surprisingly well as a piece to listen on its own. Standout tracks here include ‘Third Floor Hallway’, ‘Edgar, a Comic Book Guy’, and ‘Carnage Hotel’.
The acting is in general very good, with special praise needing to be given to the writing for our three leads; they bounce off each other very well and come across as being very relatable, their banter very natural sounding rather than a forced attempt at camaraderie. The only real exception to this is Detective Brown (Michael Paré), who is normally a very decent actor but in this he comes across as heavy and wooden, with very little emotion given to his delivery. He often sounds like he is addressing a class of unruly children rather than a hotel full of panicked people.
While this film may not please every fan of the original Charles Band series, it is still a thoroughly entertaining movie in its own right, walking that fine line between horror and comedy, between believability and absurdity. All it really asks is that audiences get on board with the idea of killer puppets, and if you can get behind that then you’re going to have a great time with this film.
Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich will be available on UK DVD from 8th July 2019.