Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018)

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.

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The Evil Clergyman (1988)

Starring Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, David Warner, David Gale, Una Brandon-Jones

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: Very high. There’s no way it can live up.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


The Full Moon archive is home to many unreleased films. Back in the VHS days (and earlier), sometimes low-budget studios needed to create a killer poster before they shot the movie in order to secure the necessary funding. Many of these advertised Full Moon films were never produced, or were later assimilated into other Full Moon projects in some altered form. But in the case of Pulsepounders, Full Moon’s 1988 unreleased anthology film, the film was actually done shooting and in the can. Its legend had grown so large that it seemed that it would never see the light of day. But if it was done shooting, why was it never released? I always assumed it was some sort of rights issue, but apparently the negative was lost, never to be found. But hark! In 2011 a workprint VHS was uncovered deep in the dark recesses of the Full Moon archive, and Band’s team went to work to ready it for release.

As an anthology film, Pulsepounders consisted of three 30-minute segments: a sequel to Trancers (now affectionately known as Trancers 1.5), a sequel to Ragewar (which is the most interesting to me because Ragewar itself was kind of an anthology film), and, of course, The Evil Clergyman. This film was to be a spiritual successor to Re-Animator, a highly successful H.P. Lovecraft adaptation directed by Stuart Gordon (as if Re-Animator needs an introduction). There were times when I thought this ambitious project was lost to time, and there were other, more hopeful times when I imagined its illustrious, remastered release, but I honestly never thought it would actually happen.

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Robot Wars (1993)

Robot Wars (1993)
AKA Robot Jox 2, Robot Jox 2: Robot Wars

Starring Don Michael Paul, Barbara Crampton, James Staley, Lisa Rinna, Danny Kamekona, Yuji Okumoto, J. Downing, Peter Haskell, Sam Scarber, Steve Eastin

Directed by Albert Band

Expectations: Moderate. I loved Robot Jox, but Crash and Burn really soured me on other Full Moon movies trying to recapture some of that glory.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Many moons ago, Uncle Jasper and I tag-teamed two of Full Moon’s three giant robot movies. Robot Jox, the first of these, was incredible. It was so incredible in fact that it bankrupted Empire International, and directly led to the genesis of Full Moon as a company. A few months later, Full Moon came out with Crash and Burn, to decidedly less satisfying results. Due to that film’s paltry offerings in the way of giant robots duking it out, I shelved Robot Wars for a later date; I just couldn’t bear to be disappointed again so soon. While Robot Wars definitely doesn’t live up to the incredible, hulking battles of Robot Jox, it does follow in its footsteps enough to be called something of a sequel.

But don’t get too excited: the “robot wars” are really only one battle at the end of the movie. Instead, I think the robot wars of the title are more a reference to the battles in Robot Jox than anything else, because in this timeline there’s only one remaining giant robot. I guess all those political struggles hashed out through robots bashing their fists into each other ended up working themselves out, as this sole remaining robot is now used as a tourist attraction ferrying tourists back and forth between a 1993 ghost town.

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Castle Freak (1995)

Starring Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Jonathan Fuller, Jessica Dollarhide, Massimo Sarchielli, Elisabeth Kaza, Luca Zingaretti, Helen Stirling, Alessandro Sebastian Satta, Raffaella Offidani, Marco Stefanelli

Directed by Stuart Gordon

Expectations: Super high. I’ve loved every other Stuart Gordon film I’ve seen.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-Movie scale:
threestar


Well, it was inevitable. There was no way that Stuart Gordon could continually impress me without letting me down at some point. Unfortunately Castle Freak is that point, but make no mistake, it does have its merits. In fact, it has a lot of great things going for it, but where Gordon’s other Lovecraft adaptations have been characterized by inventive plot twists and tension-filled moments of dread, Castle Freak is fairly straight-forward and standard in the plot department.

Upon the death of an elderly Duchess living in a massive castle, Jeffrey Combs inherits the estate and moves to Italy with his wife (Barbara Crampton) and their blind daughter. What they don’t know is that the Duchess held a dark secret in the depths of the castle’s dungeons, a deformed man chained to the wall! Even if you’ve never seen another horror film, I’m sure you can guess where this is headed. And for the most part, that’s where it goes. It’s a shame that Castle Freak should be so predictable, but perhaps with a fairly standard plot framework like this, it is to be expected.

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Puppet Master (1989)

Starring Paul Le Mat, William Hickey, Irene Miracle, Jimmie F. Skaggs, Robin Frates, Matt Roe, Kathryn O’Reilly, Mews Small, Barbara Crampton

Puppet Cast: Blade, Jester, Pinhead, Tunneler, Leech Woman

Directed by David Schmoeller

Expectations: High. It’s THE Full Moon movie.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-Movie scale:
threestar


The film that launched an empire! After the fall of Charles Band’s Empire International company he quickly regrouped and released Puppet Master, which was to be their next film, direct-to-video under the newly formed Full Moon Pictures banner. It’s a landmark film in the history of low-budget independent horror, but also one that divides me right down the middle. I love the premise. I love the puppets. I don’t love most of the human characters. This logic can be applied to many horror films with inhuman murderer protagonists, but there’s just something about Puppet Master that makes it hard to believe that this is the one the entire Full Moon company is built upon. Regardless, Puppet Master did gangbuster business at video shops across the country and just judging off of the box art and my love for the premise, it’s easy to see why. And to be fair, while this may be a lesser film in scope compared to most of the Empire films, it does deliver a lot a fun stuff in a much better way than a good portion of the direct-to-video fare I’ve seen over the years.

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Uncle Jasper reviews: Chopping Mall (1986)

Chopping Mall (1986)

Starring Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, John Terlesky, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson, Barbara Crampton, Suzee Slater, Dick Miller

Directed by Jim Wynorski


As much as I’d like to tell you that Chopping Mall contains some great subtext about rabid consumerism, it really doesn’t. Search deep and you may drag out a few sketchy hints at social commentary, but apart from a short opening credit montage featuring fast food trays, bikini clad models, and other rudimentary symbols of American tawdriness and convenience-worship, it’s really just a fantastic little movie about a bunch of (mostly) unlikable young store workers being hunted down by killer robots. And by golly, that’s all you really need. A lot of potentially great films have been ruined by ambition. Chopping Mall takes ambition and shoots it in the back of the fucking neck with a mini harpoon claw.

Whereas some films come off as slaves to convention, Chopping Mall seems to revel in it. This is a veritable masterpiece of contrived cinema right here folks, and because of this it soars. Who gives a fuck if the plot is more or less directly ripped off from Dawn of the Dead? Who cares if the mall’s sporting goods store seems to only be stocked with high-powered assault rifles and tactical-edge 12 gauge shotguns? The lesson here is a simple one, people trapped in shopping malls fighting shit that wants to kill them is awesome. No need to shy away from that fact. There really is no end to the zany fun to be had here. Testosterone-addled characters spit out goofy one-liners like “Let’s go send those fuckers a Rambogram” while posturing all macho and shit. A pursued heroine has nowhere to hide except for an ill-lighted pet shop… Trying hard to remain silent, escaped snakes and hairy tarantulas climb all over her. About two-thirds of the way through, with the odds stacked against our survivors and no escape in sight, one of them conveniently gets an idea about shutting down “the main computer”. Oh man, THE MAIN COMPUTER! …of course!! Why didn’t we think about that sooner?!

Why the hell not? Allow yourself to be whisked away by convention here. This is the world of Chopping Mall. A world where a few gallons of spilled paint and a road flare can level an entire hardware store. A world where antiquated security drones vaporize a screaming woman’s head into red watermelon spray, raw hamburger, and bone splinters within the blink of an eye. I don’t even think they mention why the robots go apeshit and begin indiscriminately killing people in the first place. I don’t care. I love this movie.

From Beyond (1986)

Starring Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ted Sorel, Ken Foree, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Bunny Summers, Bruce McGuire

Directed by Stuart Gordon

Expectations: High. I enjoyed Gordon’s first film Re-Animator a lot.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-Movie scale:
threehalfstar


To get right to the point, if you enjoyed Re-Animator and you haven’t seen this, then you’ve got one more movie to add to your queue. From Beyond is a worthy follow-up to what director Stuart Gordon achieved in Re-Animator and features the same over-the-top, gross-out hilarity. It doesn’t equal the previous film, but it gets pretty close. Like Re-Animator, this is another H.P. Lovecraft adaptation. I must admit that I’ve never read any of his work, so I don’t know how faithful this is to the original tale. If his original story is truly this whacked out though, then I definitely need to check out some of his work to fill my insatiable hunger for this kind of twisted filth. The story here has Jeffrey Combs in a similar role to his character from Re-Animator, Herbert West. Combs plays Crawford who is an assistant to a scientist creating a Resonator machine that stimulates the pineal gland in the human brain through sound waves, allowing those affected to see another layer of reality where eels and jellyfish swim in the air. It’s also highly dangerous, on one hand due to its addictiveness and on the other hand because this realm is inhabited by a no-bullshit monster that promptly twists the head off of Combs’ mentor. Combs is accused of the murder and taken to a mental hospital, where he intrigues a psychologist (Barbara Crampton) enough to talk the hospital into releasing him into her custody. They venture back to the house along with Ken Foree and attempt to recreate the event in order to prove that Combs is sane. Don’t question it, just enjoy it.

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