Genre : Horror
Rating : Not Rated
Director: Sonny Laguna & Tommy Wiklund
Few horror franchises are as well-known as Puppet Master. What started as a cheesy slasher movie in 1989 has gone on to be one of the most prolific franchises in horror history. For nearly 30 years audiences have seen Andre Toulon’s killer puppets as villains that kill teens, heroes that fight Nazis and everything in between. And yet the franchise is almost completely foreign to me. Despite being a horror fan and growing up in the genre’s VHS heyday for whatever reason I managed to avoid these tiny terrors. The most I’ve seen have been bits on television and the ads for replicas in the back of ToyFare magazine. It doesn’t seem like I’m the only one either. After 12 movies (including two clip shows and a Syfy channel crossover with Demonic Toys) the Puppet Master franchise is the latest series to get a reboot with Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich.
Forced to move in with his parents after his divorce, Edgar (Thomas Lennon) discovers a hideous puppet buried in his closet. Discovering its worth he travels across the state to sell it with girlfriend Ashley and comic shop owner Markowitz. Arriving at a convention commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Toulon Murders these three friends are in for a gruesome surprise when their puppet goes missing.
Now before anything else perhaps the biggest question is how do the puppets look? As expected in a reboot the puppets were redesigned. I’m happy to say that for they look pretty good. For the most part creature effects creator Wayne Anderson (Stranger Things) stuck with the original designs and just upgraded fan favorites Blade, Torch, Pinhead and Tunneler. Each of them coming with a more modern look. New puppets include a mechanical elephant, an evil grasshopper and a flying robot just to name a few. With each having their own unique look they make for good villains. And they are clearly villains.
Unlike the bits of the movies I have seen before these puppets are obviously the bad guys. The inherent silliness of killer puppets will always be there but the creators do a good job making them as brutal as possible. Each of their scenes is spent cutting through the extras in a variety of shockingly vicious ways. Whether it’s Torch’s fire breath or newcomer Mechaniker’s firepower each puppet gets a chance to show off their gimmick in the bloodiest way possible.
That isn’t to say that their human counterparts aren’t interesting either. Interestingly enough the majority of the cast is made up of comedians with Thomas Lennon (Reno 911!) as the lead. Despite mostly known as Lieutenant Dangle he makes for a good final girl (final guy?) in a horror movie. He is able to come off as capable without feeling like eh is overpowered. And while Lennon is certainly funny it rarely feels like he’s going for an outright comedic character; instead delivering a fairly straight-laced performance and letting the bonkers scenario carry the comedy. With girlfriend Ashley, portrayed by Jenny Pellicer, the two do a good job keeping the film grounded. For the most part comic relief is handled by comedian Nelson Franklin. Best known for his supporting work on The Office and Black-ish, Franklin’s signature cynicism makes for a perfect audience surrogate. Rounding out the cast are genre film veterans Barbara Crampton (You’re Next) and Michael Pare (Streets of Fire) as Officer Carol and Detective Brown, respectively. Playing the no nonsense authority figures the two do a good job as the movie’s straight man. As much talent as there is in front of the camera the most notable is working behind it.
Swedish directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund are the latest to tackle the Puppet Master franchise. Best known for splatter films Madness and Wither what the two lack in innovation is made up for in some of the bloodiest slasher kills I’ve seen in some time. Whether it’s a child or a pregnant woman nobody is safe against the Littlest Reich. On writing duties is S. Craig Zahler, the writer-director of genre throwbacks Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99. Like his other movies he pulls off the valiant task of establishing character in between blood soaked scenes of mayhem. If there are any complaints it’s that it follows the slasher formula a bit too close. Aside from not copying the plot from the original film it hits all the expected beats with exposition feeling more like a reason to get to the next massacre than anything else. I can also see the movie’s envelope pushing being too much for some. While I was personally fine with it parts felt more like shock for shock’s sake and trying to offend as many people as possible. For those looking for a fun, low budget slasher like the rest of the series The Littlest Reich may be a bit too much to swallow.
For my first full Puppet Master experience I was pleasantly surprised. Losing the cheaper vibe of the Full Moon produced Puppet Master films, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is the kind of gruesome, mean spirited scary movie we don’t typically get. It might be too harsh for some but for those that can stomach Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich has a talented cast, a fun script and gory practical effects. With a tease for the next movie I am excited to see what comes next.