DVD Review: Puppetmaster (1989)
Review by Stephanie Scaife
The original VHS sleeve of Puppetmaster is seared into my brain. It was one of those garish and enticing horror sleeves guaranteed to lure you in, and as an 8 year-old it was one I particularly remember desperately wanting to see. So, flash-forward 20 odd years and last night I finally got to see Puppetmaster for the first time, and unfortunately with over 20 years worth of expectations pilled on top of this DTV B-movie I was guaranteed disappointment, which is exactly what I got.
Puppetmaster was the first film released through Charles Band’s newly formed Full Moon Features in 1989 and remains its most well known property, perhaps due on part to the 9, yes 9, sequels that it inspired. Although Full Moon is also responsible for such gems as Gingerdead Man (Evil Never Tasted So Good!) and Killjoy (He’s Not Clowning Around!) and other such memorable DTV classics that has kept eager viewers in schlock ever since.
Puppetmaster starts in 1939 at the Bodega Bay Inn, California where we’re introduced to an elderly puppet maker named Toulon (William Hickey) who painstakingly handcrafts all of his work giving it a great deal of love and attention; but that’s not all, because an ancient Egyptian manuscript has come into his possession enabling him the power to give life to his creations, and live he gives them, murderous, psychotic life that is. Something that those pesky Nazis have cottoned on to, and soon they are knocking down Toulon’s door in a bid to get their filthy mitts on the manuscript, no doubt to use for some sort of evil doings. To stop this from happening Toulon packs away and hides his beloved puppets before blowing his brains out.
Fast forward to the “Present Day” (although quite obviously the late 80s) and we’re introduced to a gang of professional psychics, including Alex (Paul Le Mat) and Dana (Irene Miracle) who all suffer from terrible visions that they believe to have been sent to them by a former colleague, Neil. They travel to the Bodega Bay Inn only to find that Neil has killed himself leaving behind his mysterious wife Megan. It soon transpires that Neil had uncovered Toulon’s secret and his murderous puppets have come to life once again, only to wreak havoc upon our bewildered psychics.
The puppets of course are perhaps the only reason to watch this film and they are still fantastic even today. As a fan of in camera special effects and stop motion I absolutely loved these creepy little creations, particularly Leech Woman who spits blood sucking leeches onto her victims, and Blade, a trench coat wearing puppet with a hook for one hand and a knife for the other. If this film had consisted entirely of the puppets alone then perhaps it would have been considerably more watchable that the final result that is bogged down by an atrocious script delivered by even worse actors and a plot that I found to be pretty incoherent at times. Perhaps I needed to have seen Puppetmaster as a wide-eyed child wooed by the garish VHS cover and be wearing the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia to fully appreciate this film but as a newcomer to the franchise I found it pretty unremarkable and whenever the puppets weren’t on screen just plan dull. Judging by the number of sequels and spin-offs though there is undoubtedly an audience out there somewhere for these films and this decent DVD transfer with a host of special features will definitely appeal.
The DVD comes with a number of special features including audio commentary by Charles Band, making of featurette, and a selection of Full Moon trailers.
Puppetmaster is available now on both DVD and Blu-ray from 88 Films.