Saturday, May 10, 2014

In short: Puppetmaster (1989)

Four psychics of varying type – even the stuffed dog owning one – (Paul Le Mat and his lucious hair, Irene Miracle and said stuffed dog, Matt Roe and his leer, and Kathryn O’Reilly and her breasts) are drawn by dreams of their deaths to a closed down hotel somewhere at the coast of California. There, they learn their old partner in psychical research Neil Gallagher (Jimmie F. Skaggs) has committed suicide, leaving an unexpected wife (Robin Frates) behind.

When they were still a team, the group was after the ancient Egyptian secret of bringing inanimate objects to life. They traced this secret to the old puppet master Toulon (William Hickey), whose death the audience gets to see before the main plot starts up. Things seem to have stopped there for our psychics for some reason, though. But wouldn’t you know it? The hotel just happens to be the place where Toulon killed himself in 1939. Not surprisingly, Toulon’s coterie of living puppets is roaming the place, and quite a few psychics will end their stay just as dead as Neil.

David Schmoeller’s Puppetmaster is, of course, a milestone in producer Charles Band’s rule of an increasingly decaying empire of direct to video movies featuring some kind of living dolls as their monsters or heroes. However, it was made when Band still had a modicum of money reserved for the act of actual filmmaking, and when people with a degree of talent and experience like Schmoeller hadn’t jumped ship for less doll-obsessed and impoverished shores yet. So, depending on your tolerance for cheese and utter silliness, Puppetmaster is quite a bit of fun.

Of course, if you shy away from killer dolls who puke leeches while moaning lasciviously, or those who have a drill built into their head, you’ll hate this one as much as later, crappy, outings in the mighty franchise. I can’t say I’d blame anyone for that, but I also think it means missing out on a well-shot movie that just wants to have a bit of fun dancing on the line where the grotesque, the silly, and the gruesome meet.

I for my part find it difficult to resist a film containing said killer dolls, or a cynical female psychic who travels with an unexplained (and probably inexplicable) stuffed dog, or a psychometric who uses her powers mostly for kinky sex with her lecherous husband. It’s as if everyone involved had thought: well, we might not have much money, and we don’t have much of an idea what our film’s actually about, but by Cthulhu, we have a pretty imaginative special effects crew, and we know our ways around a movie set, so we’ll have as much fun with this thing as possible, and just hope our audience will have some too.

Which is pretty much what happened.

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