In some ways, Lisa Ovies’ first full-length movie Puppet Killer reminds me of Brendan Steere’s gloriously dreadful VelociPastor. Both had a moment where I went from a casual viewer to an active one, the moment where I sat up and went “Okay movie. You had my interest, NOW you have my attention.”
In The VelociPastor it was where the lead character’s parents are killed by some missing VFX. For Puppet Killer, it was when I realised that, yes, this movie was indeed attempting to portray then-49 year old lead actor, Aleks Paunovic (Snowpiercer, Van Helsing) as a 17 year old teenager. In fact, the entire main cast were blatantly far, far too old for the roles they were portraying, but the movie just leaned right into it and I respect that. Taking that tired old trope of casting twenty plus year olds as teens and making it all the more absurd? Okay, movie. I’m game. What else you got?
Well, it turns out that Puppet Killer is a tale of childhood tragedy, drugs, booze, demonic bargains, blood, gore, mayhem and so, so many references to other franchises that you could make a drinking game out of spotting them. Lead character Jamie (Aleks Paunovic, as mentioned above) and a group of friends go out to his father’s cabin in the woods, conveniently far away from both the nearest town and cellphone service, to ensure that help won’t be coming anytime soon.
They plan to spend the weekend doing what all 40 year-old teenagers do in films like this – smoking weed, drinking beer, engaging in premarital sex, and getting brutally murdered by Jamie’s childhood friend, a pink puppet called Simon (voiced by Lee Majdoub – Sonic The Hedgehog, The 100) who has real issues with anyone trying to replace him as the single most important thing in Jamie’s life.
Soon the cast are whittled down, the snow is splattered with blood and Jamie has to come to terms with exactly what happened that night, ten years prior, when his evil stepmother mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again. Along the way the film will cram in nods, winks and knowing looks to camera as it references almost every major horror franchise it can possibly think of.
I could list them, but honestly half the fun is in going “I understood that reference” like you’re Steve Rogers just thawed out from the Arctic. There’s even a surprise cameo from a certain pair of well known horror twins around the halfway mark of the movie. They’re not in the credits, or even on the IMDB page, they’re just suddenly part of the story.
Puppet Killer does a whole lot right. It’s a very KNOWING film. It knows its source material, it knows its genre, it knows what people will want and what they might expect, and it has fun playing around with those expectations. It walks the fine line between seriousness and absurdity, managing to make Simon into that one thing that horror films need – a genuine threat. The characters manage to come across as both those familiar teen stereotypes we’ve seen in so many other films, but without being so unlikeable that we don’t care when horrible things befall them.
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There are some things that don’t work quite so well, there’s no escaping that. The dialogue for Jamie has been written as if he’s still the same child we saw at the start of the film, so to hear it coming from the mouth of a six foot tall, nearly fifty year old man leaves you wondering if the character is meant to be suffering from some sort of mental illness or disability. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. The film also drags a little, before it really finds its feet as Simon gets to work on trimming down the cast. There are only so many conversations about drugs and Jamie’s tragic past you can hear before it gets a bit wearing.
All in all, this film is a genuine treat, and if there’s any justice in the world it will go on to become the cult classic it deserves to be. I’m already looking forward to Lisa’s next film – Vineyard, which is also being made with Puppet Killer screenwriter Kevin Mosley (Savage Island, Dead of Night). They did a hell of a job here and, if we’re lucky, horror fans will get to enjoy more of their work for years to come.
Puppet Killer will be available on Digital Download from 29th November.