Starring Thomas Lennon, Jenny Pellicer, Nelson Franklin, Charlyne Yi, Michael Paré, Barbara Crampton, Udo Kier, Alex Beh, Matthias Hues, Skeeta Jenkins, Anne Beyer, Victoria Hande, Betsy Holt
Puppet Cast: Blade, Pinhead, Tunneler, Torch (as Kaiser), Amphibian, Mechaniker, Grasshüpfer, Mr. Pumper, Junior Fuhrer, Autogyro, Money Lender
Directed by Sonny Laguna & Tommy Wiklund
Expectations: Low, but it’s getting some good reviews.
The idea of a Puppet Master movie without the input of Charles Band was probably great news to many fans. Band’s films have always been low-budget, but Full Moon’s recent output is noticeably more threadbare and trashy than anything from their ’90s heyday. Their last Puppet Master film, 2017’s Puppet Master: Axis Termination, was a great step in the right direction, but I can’t argue that anyone other than die-hard fans will get much out of it. That being said, a Puppet Master film without Band seems weird to me, as Band’s wacko sense of lighthearted macabre is an integral part of the foundation to nearly every Full Moon film. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich has its own style and tone, which introduces its own problems and shortcomings, and as such it is likely to split both fans and newcomers alike.
Edgar (Thomas Lennon) is a 40-something comic book creator returning to live at his parents’ home after his recent divorce. Nearby a puppet auction is set to happen at the Toulon Mansion, once home to the Nazi puppet maker who died in a stand-off with the police. Edgar still has a Blade puppet found by his brother when they were kids, so he decides to go sell it at the auction. There’s a bit more to it, but that’s all that matters for my purposes here. It’s a ridiculously simple set-up, and not a very elegant one. The film is truly not concerned with telling a story, though; it’s nothing more than an excuse to bring a bunch of people to one location so the puppets can wreak havoc on them. If that’s all you want out of a Puppet Master movie, then this one definitely delivers. That has never been the focus of Band’s Puppet Master movies, but this is a parallel series so that’s not entirely surprising.
I love gore in horror movies, and I love practical FX. I love that the FX work in Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is largely practical. The problem is that the tone and the context of the gore in this particular film is incredibly nihilistic and sadistic, and I’m just not interested in that. This is a large part of my problem with modern horror’s shift towards more realistic, torture-focused gore, and this film is one of the more potent examples that I’ve seen (not that I make a habit of watching stuff like this). The film takes the series into slasher territory, but it has little of the charm offered in the genre’s best. Characters are introduced and a minute later they’re graphically gored, at one point one after another in a lengthy sequence. It’s more sickening than anything else, like watching a snuff film. Making it worse, it plays like the filmmakers’ intent is to delight the audience with the depravity and how “fucked up” some of the kills are. This is the kind of stuff that gives horror fans a bad reputation within society. 😀
There’s no point to the extreme gore other than to please gorehounds, but to enjoy it you have to be on-board with the sadistic slant to it all. I’ve seen reviews that liken the level of gore to the films of Troma, and in terms of content I somewhat agree, but the tone and context of Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich are absolutely not in line with the joyous, juvenile, hilarious films of Lloyd Kaufman. As different as Charles Band and Lloyd Kaufman are as producer/directors, their films share a goofiness and an offbeat, outsider element that is rarely captured in the modern horror films I’ve seen, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich included. Objectively, the FX work is solid and very well-done, but for me it hits in all the wrong ways. And as an aside, if you’re going to make the puppets insanely powerful — Pinhead literally rips a guy’s arm off in one second — then you should follow your own rules. Later in the film, Pinhead punches one of the leads in the head multiple times and somehow he’s barely fazed. Shouldn’t Pinhead have just punched through his head if he’s as powerful as they’ve shown him to be? Why would he hold back on this dude? I don’t like to nitpick, but dumb details like this are hard to ignore when you’re not otherwise engaged.
Beyond the gore, the most disappointing thing is the main character’s arc. He is introduced as a divorced guy down on his luck and he basically ends as the same guy. The script is written well enough to have evolved him some, but it just never does. I like Thomas Lennon, and there’s nothing wrong with his portrayal; they just don’t give him anything to work with. The movie is more concerned with throwing bodies at the puppets to kill, so there’s always way too much going on. I think The Evil Dead could have been a good template for his character, in the sense that Ash is similarly a normal guy who goes through chaos and steps up to face it. Edgar is just sorta present throughout the movie. Without a story, a main character to care about, or any sort of legitimate horror tension, there’s not much to really hang on to except for the gore. It’s a shame because I do think a serious Puppet Master remake could work, but this just isn’t it for me.
I suppose I should also note that the film attempts to be a dark comedy throughout, but I did not connect at all with the sense of humor. If you happen to share the film’s sense of humor, though, you’d probably have a very different experience with Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. So I guess watch the trailer and decide for yourself! As for me, I will await the next installment in Band’s series.
Also, I missed Leech Woman. 🙁
Next time I get around to a Full Moon movie, I’ll be checking in with another David DeCoteau film: 2000’s Voodoo Academy! See ya then!