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Retro Puppet Master (1999)

Starring Greg Sestero, Brigitta Dau, Stephen Blackehart, Jack Donner, Guy Rolfe, Robert Radoveanu, Vitalie Bantas, Sando Teodor, George Calin, Juliano Doman, Vlad Dulea, Dan Fintescu

Puppet Cast: Blade, Jester, Pinhead, Tunneler, Leech Woman, Doctor Death, Drill Sergeant, Cyclops, Retro Blade, Retro Pinhead, Retro Six Shooter

Directed by David DeCoteau (as Joseph Tennent)

Expectations: Low, this is Puppet Master 7…if I have high expectations I’m just setting myself up for disaster.

On the general scale:

On the B-Movie scale:

“Let’s begin!”

After an extended prologue, it is with this line that Retro Puppet Master truly begins and boy I never could have predicted just what an incredible journey it turned out to be. Followers of truly awful cinema know that Troll 2 holds the distinction of having some of the worst line delivery in film history. Retro Puppet Master comes close to that level of quality here, specifically the actors dubbing some of the character’s lines.

Lots of movie utilize ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording) to fix a flubbed line or make a key change to a sentence. Perhaps the actor’s voice wasn’t quite captured on the recording. ADR is used in virtually every movie but in the case of Retro Puppet Master, it’s more of a first line of defense instead of a fine tuning post-production tool. The finished film ends up being something of a midway point between a traditional film and a spaghetti western, which were shot without sound and later had everything dubbed in after photography. The work here is so bad and careless that I’m positive I could do a better job despite never working a single day doing ADR. Not only do the actor’s deliver the lines stilted and without emotion, all the ambient noise drops out of the soundtrack when a dubbed voice speaks. It’s really quite comical and actually adds lots of enjoyment to what is otherwise a very slow-moving and boring film.

The film serves as something of a prequel to Puppet Master III, that’s the one where the puppets kill and then flee the Nazis for those with short memories. While on the Swiss border, Guy Rolfe (in his last appearance as the puppet master André Toulon) reminisces with his creations about his early days in Paris and how he came upon the formula to create life from inanimate objects. Nevermind that this has been explained in at least two previous films, because this version of the formula’s acquisition is all new! Well, mostly new. In any case, this is probably the worst of the origins so far, but I didn’t pay too much attention to the story. I was too busy adding my own MST3K-style jokes and making fun of the dubbed actor’s delivery. Desperate films call for desperate measures.

In any case, most of the film features a young twenty-something Toulon, who has luscious blonde hair, a thick (and hilarious) French accent and the wardrobe of Liberace. Giving him chase are three mummy minions of Sutekh, the demon from Puppet Master 4 & 5, who the formula was supposedly stolen from. These mummies aren’t the scariest of villains, who ditch their tattered wrappings after their first scene and quickly don nearly the exact same get-up as Christopher Lloyd in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Together they hunt Toulon and his ancient sorcerer friend (don’t ask…if you care that much you should have seen the film by now), walking around like the strangers in Dark City. The lead mummy even waves his hand at one point while telling the human in front of him to sleep. If there was any doubt of the thievery going on, that sealed the deal.

But really, who cares about these assholes? We’re here for the puppets, right? Your usual friends are confined to the book-ending scenes so Retro Puppet Master features a complete new cast of characters! Sort of. Some of them are prototype versions of the popular puppets, while others are completely new designs. in any case the new wooden puppets are pretty cool looking for the most part, but a couple of them are so funny looking that I can’t imagine they were designed for anything other than jovial fun. Blade’s face is especially funny, caught in an eternal pained growl. I was cracking up at every tight close-up of it. Tunneler has a wide-eyed cheery face and is called the Drill Sergent, but like most of the puppets he doesn’t get to do too much. I can’t complain too much though, there’s a scene with Blade giving Toulon a tattoo, so after that it’s all gravy.

Taken at face value, Retro Puppet Master is fucking abysmal and is easily the most boring Puppet Master film yet. I hate it less than Puppet Master 5 but it’s still pretty bad. That being said though, there’s so much over-the-top bad filmmaking and things to laugh at during this film that, like Troll 2, elevate the film to heights a more serious approach would have never yielded. If you like to laugh at bad movies, Retro Puppet Master is a fine example of the genre.

Next week, I’ll be forging ahead into murky, stock-footage filled waters with the next film in the series, Puppet Master: The Legacy!

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