Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Puppet Master 4 (1993)

Warning: if you’re an adherent of the mighty Sutekh (though I’m not convinced the film doesn’t actually mean Sobek), this’ll probably piss you off royally.

Wunderkind scientist Rick Myers (Gordon Currie) has retired to Puppet Master Toulon’s old hotel to develop true artificial intelligence. He doesn’t realize it, but he is actually sitting on the mother load in that regard, what with Toulon’s living puppets and his magical serum (consisting of whatever the hell the franchise entry at hand wants) just stashed away in various corners there. For some reason, Egyptian god Sutekh has already started to kill off Rick’s colleagues working in other labs with some rather impressive magical puppets of his own because Toulon’s secret was stolen from said godhood this time around (wherever will it come from in film number six?), and he seems to be too impatient to wait with killing people until he actually has a reason to. Or something.

Rick doesn’t know that at this point of proceedings, though. In fact, he only stumbles upon Toulon’s puppets and the mysterious serum once his love interest Susie (Chandra West), her friend, channeler Lauren (Teresa Hill) and Lauren’s boyfriend, Rick’s old university enemy Cameron (Ash Adams and his truly frightening hair) arrive and Lauren throws a mediumistic hissy fit when confronted with Toulon’s doll depository. Soon enough, Rick plays laser tag with some of Toulon’s puppets, and Sutekh’s killer dolls arrive. Fortunately, Toulon has calmed down a bit in his time being dead since the last few films, and so his helpful ghost provides Rick with his own little puppet army including a secret weapon known as Decapitron.

For some bizarre reason this had an R rating in the good old US of A at the time when it was thrown into video stores, but to my eyes, Jeff Burr’s Puppet Master 4 is something like the family friendly rebirth of the little franchise that could (make horrible films of high entertainment value for ages), where the puppets now – for a time – really turn into the good guys (even the film’s tag line says so), and the Big Bad is basically a less frightening Skeletor and his actually somewhat creepy puppet representatives. There’s bodily harm involved, but the body count is astonishingly low (and even lower as you might have thought once you pop the sequel in) and the tone is generally more in tune with the Sunday matinee gee-whiz idea of horror filmmaking. This isn’t a complaint, mind you, for Burr does exactly this sort thing rather well.

This Puppet Master being directed by a generally competent (and often more) guy this time around, the film isn’t as bug fuck crazy as some of the other films in the franchise. At least in comparison – we still get Guy Rolfe’s head projected onto a doll, the embarrassingly cramped and shoddy place where Sutekh lives (being a god obviously doesn’t pay) and a main character whose reaction to a bunch of living puppets with creepily sadistic weapons is pretty much the opposite of being creeped out.

Thanks to Burr – as well as acting that’s just a bit bad instead of astonishingly horrible – Puppet Master 4 actually is a high point of the franchise, with a plot that actually has a decent amount of dramatic pull, direction that’s not by David DeCoteau and therefore actually invested in making a film that’s somewhat entertaining to watch. Why the film even has a sense of pacing that works out quite well for it! Sure, it’s not the greatest horror film ever made, but it’s entertaining, and for once in the franchise, the general silliness does not seem to be caused by nobody involved giving much of a crap about doing anything beyond providing the basis on which to sell doll-shaped merchandise.

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