There were key movies in my life that helped to make me who I am today. Movies that I have loved from the moment the opening credit rolled and still love now. This blog series is about those, My guilty pleasures, my favorites, my escapes. Some were very popular, others not so much. Some of these will have some real life take-aways, others are just for fun. Today we discuss one of my guilty pleasure, the Full Moon Video franchise, Puppet Master.
Today’s Key Movie:
Starring Paul Le Mat, Irene Miracle, Jimmie F Skaggs, Matt Roe, Kathryn O’Reilly and William Hickey as Andre Toulon, Puppet Master is the story of the search for immortality through the use of an ancient Egyptian rite last performed by Andre Toulon before his suicidal death. Driven to discover his secrets, a group of psychics find their way to an old hotel where they discover one of their own has died leaving behind a dark and ominous secret. This is the Full Moon Classic, Puppet Master.
Why this movie?
In the late 80’s we were a world away from instant streaming and the plethora of films available to us at the touch of a button. If we wanted to watch a movie we would either have to go to the theater, catch it on HBO or one of the other cable networks if you were lucky, or rent it on Video Tape. The latter was our go-to for nearly every film we watched and this opened us up to an incredible world of direct to vhs films that ranged from family films to some of the best horror I could ever hope for.
One of the direct to video companies we discovered was a company known as Full Moon Video. In September of 1992 we ran across a video tape that demanded that we bring it home. With a title Puppet Master and the promise of murderous miniature dolls, my father and I were excited to watch it that night after my sisters were put to bed. What we did not realize is that this would be the start of an addiction to a tremendous new direct to video company that would not only continue the Puppet Master franchise, but also introduce films such as Trancers, Dollman, Subspecies and more.
My memories of Puppet Master and many of the later films are some of my favorite. While I never finished watching the entire franchise, these original movies hold a special place in my heart as films that remind me of the better times, sitting on the couch with popcorn watching the latest VHS haul from Blockbuster or Family Video. So, revisiting these for this blog is an absolute joy, plus I get a chance to watch many of them that I missed out on! However, sometimes the past can be tinted in nostalgia, so, of course, we ask the question,
You like it, but is it really a ‘good’ movie?
Amazingly, Puppet Master holds up through and through although I am a little shocked on how innocent the puppets really are despite being killing machines.
What I love about this initial film is that it does not completely focus on the Puppets themselves, but uses them as a catalyst for the characters quest for immortality. You see, Toulon was the last to discover and use an ancient power that could bring inanimate objects to life. Using this power on Puppets, for some reason, Toulon was forced to kill himself before his secret could fall into the hands of the Nazis. Fast forward forty plus years, it seems his secret has been rediscovered, but as expected, power corrupts.
Puppet Master is a slow burn horror. Much of Puppet Master is setup and anticipation, which honestly is not a bad thing. We are introduced to the world of living dolls at the start of the film but do not see their murderous rampage until over halfway through the film. However, their rampage is not exactly as you expect as they are surprisingly not the evil beings that they have become known to be.
Using a tremendous combination of stop motion and forced perspective, the puppets instantly feel like loving breathing beings. Whether it’s the hook handed Blade or the disturbing strongman Pinhead, each of the puppets have a unique personality and look to them that, while their appearances are fleeting, their impact is undeniable. This personality that they are given only enhances what I love about their story itself. While they are a murderous bunch, it is not because they are evil, in fact they are more like misguided children than anything else. Their creator, Toulon, never had a chance to teach them right from wrong so they use their physical attributes for the one thing they can do… murder. Until that is, they realize they have been being used.
Although the film was given a direct to Video fate, the cast in this film really do a tremendous job in their roles ensuring that Puppet Master never feels like a complete B-Horror film. Sure, there are some rather melodramatic moments but, overall everyone brings their ‘A’ game from the start. While much of the cast were relatively unknown, There are a few actors in the film you may recognize however. Starting with William Hickey who, during the 80’s and 90’s had become somewhat of a household name even voicing a puppet himself in A Nightmare’s Before Christmas. Hickey makes a brief appearance as the Puppet Master himself Andre Toulon at the start of the film establishing him in my mind as Toulon from that day forward. Included in the cast is well known 80’s film and television actor Paul Le Mat who you might recognize from American Graffiti as well as a significant role in Lonesome Dove. The villain of the film, Neil Gallagher, is played by none other than well known bit player Jimmie F Skaggs who has been in everything from Lethal Weapon to Catch Me If You Can. I would also be remiss to mentioned the Star Trek connection with actor Matt Roe who also appeared on Deep Space Nine as Latha Mabrin during it’s fifth season.
In addition to the great cast and wonderful effects, I have have always loved the score of this particular film. Composed by Richard Band, the score for Puppet Master provokes a dark terror that brings about the deep rooted fears of circus’ and carnivals while giving us a simultaneous moment of respite. It’s playful dark tones lend perfectly to the film making the theme song one of my all time favorites of any horror franchise. In addition to much of the Full Moon catalogue, his IMDB credits include series such as Stargate SG-1, the film Re-Animator and, most interestingly a Star Trek Pinball game! See, everything comes back to Trek at some point!
Overall, While it is not as nightmarish as I remembered it, Puppet Master is a dark and delightful film that perfectly captures a time in direct to video that has been lost over time. Produced by Charles Band, who is responsible for much of the Full Moon library, Puppet Master remains a favorite to this day and is one that I highly recommend for any horror fan. It’s good and thankfully, there were plenty more to come…which you can bet we will discuss in the coming weeks.
OK, where do I get this movie?
You can pick up the first three films here directly from Full Moon Video on a nice remastered Bluray set. Additionally, Full Moon has a channel on Amazon Prime that has pretty much everything they ever produced. So, I don’t have to tell you, you don’t have any excuse for not watching these.
Until next week,
Late To The Game 8/12/2021
If you would like to read more reviews please check out the rest of the Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Thursday.
For more retro TV goodness check out the rest of the Retro TV Reviews here. and, If you dig Music, I have a semi regular series called Stand Out Albums that covers some of my favorite records I have come across in life.
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