Thursday, January 14, 2016

Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991)

Welcome to backlot Berlin in 1941. Mild-mannered maker of living puppets Toulon (Guy Rolfe) and his beloved wife Elsa (Sarah Douglas) are putting on anti-fascist puppet plays for the little ones. Note: if your brain already starts to dribble out of your ears now because of historical idiocy, do not continue with the film.

Not surprisingly, this does awaken a degree of interest in the Toulons from Nazi circles, who also quickly cop to Toulon’s puppets actually being alive by virtue of Toulon haven’t mastered the skill of hanging up curtains. Toulon’s puppet science is exactly what one Dr Hess (Ian Abercrombie) needs to perhaps lead his project of creating viable Nazi zombie soldiers to success, so Hess would really rather get Toulon alive; GESTAPO Major Kraus (Richard Lynch) on the other hand – in the film’s most historically accurate element - just wants to kill everyone. During the resulting Dramatic Developments™, Elsa is killed by the Nazis.
Toulon manages to escape and starts on a plan to murder as many of the Nazis with the help of his puppet buddies.

Puppet Master III is a much more entertaining film than it has any right to be, more often than not managing to surmount a cornucopia of flaws by the sheer power of dubious yet awesome ideas. The main strike against it is of course that it is directed by David DeCoteau, a guy who could not and still can not shoot anything decently, like the living return of William Beaudine. There’s the expected aura of vague disinterest surrounding every scene that is certainly not helped by the fact DeCoteau can’t even squeeze in any of his trademark as-much-as-possible nudity of extremely vapid looking young men, which usually are the only times when his films come alive. Not ideal for a purported director of horror films.

As is his wont, DeCoteau does his best to drag down even the most exciting bits of the film through the sheer power of visual blandness, an impossible number of needlessly cramped shots (as if this thing were exclusively filmed on one meter by one meter sets), no clue about atmosphere and so on, and so forth. Just imagine a film made by someone without any visual imagination or much of a sense for drama or fun, and you get the drift.

Additionally, there are also flaws DeCoteau isn’t responsible for: the budget of a Full Moon production of 1991 just isn’t one that could provide for a decent period piece, so everything looks even cheaper and shoddier than a comparable Full Moon film taking place in the then and there would have; the script neglects to truly capitalize on some of its great ideas and tends to add meandering to the direction’s dragging; I’ll grant the thing its historical stupidity for being made by Americans and only aiming for a pulp Nazi thing anyhow.
After this list, I’m rather surprised by how much I did in fact enjoy this thing. But then, what the film’s got going for it is easily understood. For one, it’s the sheer pulpy fun of the killer puppet versus Nazis plot, something whose basic weird energy even DeCoteau’s direction can never completely sabotage – too huge is the power of seeing our favourite killer dolls shooting, slicing, leeching, drilling and so on and so forth Nazis, too ridiculously over the top is Richard Lynch doing the naziest of all Nazis. There’s a delightful sense of the weird and the perverse running through many of the film’s details (which ironically are also the parts of the film I wish the script had done more with, but you take what you can get). This does, after all, feature a scene where our perhaps ever so slightly mad hero uses the life force (soul?) of his dead wife to turn the doll he gave to her to commemorate their love into a leech vomiting (while making sex noises) killer puppet with a much better hairstyle and dress sense than before. That isn’t just Weird but also the kind of potent metaphor for the failings of the human heart you can only do in films as this which are absolutely not beholden to good taste, sense, or sensibility. Toulon’s explanation of the origin of his other dolls as housing the souls of his Nazi-murdered friends fits nicely in there too, and even though the film is too dumb to ever realize how horrible and sad this idea actually is, it’s still there, and for my taste strong enough to make up for many of the film’s failings.

Your mileage may of course vary, but I find myself drawn to the film’s shameless – and at this point in the Full Moon puppet world still blessedly untouched by irony – strangeness, its pulpy nature (even if it is pulp with hugely reduced energy thanks to its director), and perhaps even the all-around tackiness of much of the production.

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