Puppet Master (1989 - 2010)
Puppet Master (1989)
Probably Charles Band's best known film and franchise and probably his most lucrative. I remember seeing these old horror flicks on the top shelves at my local videoshop when I was a kid hehe the covers always looked really evil and intriguing, quite scary.
In reality this film is pretty dire to be honest, yes I know its a bit of a classic and cult horror but really...its pretty crappy. The first of Band's films and possibly the beginning of his killer doll obsession and I was surprised how bad it is.
Most of his later puppet films are much better looking than this of course but they are also much more spooky than this too. The cast are unknowns (to me) with pretty ropey acting skills, the way these people fall over and pretend to escape the psycho dolls is quite amusing really, but I guess its hard to make it look really threatening.
The location isn't particularly scary looking with zero atmosphere and there isn't too much blood n gore either really, what there is you don't see. The only two things going for the film are the cool looking puppets which have always looked good in all the killer doll films made by Band. There is some stop motion animation used throughout but to be fair it looks quite solid, I've seen worse. The other is the lovely kooky circus-like musical score which plays ominously in the background from time to time, a real funhouse of horror's type of tune, very effective.
Other than that its pretty poor and not in the least bit scary or sinister. Plot is simply an excuse for a group of people to be killed in a big empty hotel one by one by the puppets, that's all you need to know. I'm sure back in the day it was more eerie and impressive looking than now but I'm still hard pressed to believe any adult would find this scary.
Puppet Master II: His Unholy Creations (1991)
Its hard to think how this franchise took off really as the first two films are so poor, the imagination and originality is there sure but they really aren't given the treatment they need.
This sequel is pretty much exactly the same as the first film, another group of young folk term up at the creepy old hotel and get killed off one by one by the killer dolls. The only difference is the dolls manage to resurrect 'Toulon' to add a touch of spice...if you can call it that.
That's pretty much the plot right there, 'Toulon' doesn't really don much accept walk around looking like Claude Rains from 'The Invisible Man'. That's the only intriguing part in the film really, you know the guy looks nasty underneath his bandages and your curious to see, but that's it.
There are plot holes throughout which hinders the story in places, the very ending for instance doesn't really make much sense unless you read up on it. Characters are unimportant and you don't care about them...hell lets face it its all about the dolls and how they kill people.
The dolls/puppets do look as good as ever and there is some nice makeup on 'Toulon' once he is exposed, apart from that its pretty poor stuff.
Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge (1991)
Third film and this time the puppets are up against the Nazi's as we go back into the past in what appears to be a prequel. There is one big problem though and that's the fact Mr Band has screwed up the franchises continuity already by setting this film in 1941 when 'Toulon' died in 1939 according to the original film, oh dear.
OK so we over look that little itchy problem and focus on the film. To be fair this film is much more enjoyable than the first two, we watch and learn how the puppets assist 'Toulon', how and why he creates his 'Leech Woman' puppet and we see what happens to his wife...ergo a prequel.
Again there isn't much blood n gore on show for a horror film but the puppets are quite active in this one which is good plus we get introduced to 'Six Shooter' who is by far one of the better puppets. 'Six Shooter' kills one Nazi trooper with his quick draw six shot fire and it actually looks pretty cool, some well done squib effects there.
Band also reuses some cast from his early films, as he always does, Richard Lynch of 'Trancers II' for this film.
Like the other two films you don't expect decent effects or acting or horror really but the quirky stop motion dolls accompanied by the ever present haunting score all add to the charm. This film also benefits from some reasonable production by the looks of things, a step up the ladder for location and atmosphere.
Puppet Master 4 (1993)
Number four and this time the puppets are up against some demon and his little naughty spawn minions. The film continues with the idea that the evil puppets are fighting for good now, assisting the humans with each cause.
As we are back in the present day 'Toulon' is of course dead yet his spirit helps a duo of plucky young teens (once again inside the creepy old hotel) to fight 'Sutekh' the demon and his 'Totems' (minions).
As before you get what you expect with this franchise but this offering is a little more fantasy based. The demon 'Sutekh' seems to be a slight take on 'Darkness' from 'Legend' if you ask me. Not in terms of visual design but the way he struts around commanding his servants and spouting lots of fairytale-like ramblings about the downfall of good.
I must add that the design, makeup and prosthetic work for 'Sutekh' and his netherworld priest-like minions are all really good. You can tell its all people in rubber suits of course but they actually are quite effective, not scary or gross but more of a quirky halloween-ish villainous feel that could almost be out of a kids film like 'TMNT' or 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'.
The 'Totems' that run around and do battle with 'Toulon's' puppets are little hell spawns but made and animated in the same way the classic killer puppets have been. They don't look quite as cool as the classic puppets, more a cross of reptilian with alien, but its fun to watch them kill the dodgy actors haha.
There is some continuity here as Guy Rolfe reprises his role as 'Toulon' from the third film. Stacie Randall is another Band regular here that has been seen in 'Trancers 4' 'Trancers 5' and 'Ghoulies 4'.
There has never been any real continuity with the puppets in these film unfortunately. Some of them come and go without reason, only 'Blade' 'Tunneller' 'Pin Head' and 'Jester' seem to be regulars. 'Six Shooter' comes back for more in this one and we are introduced to 'Decapitron' whose name kinda gives the impression he's gonna cut folks heads off, that's not the case I'm afraid. He looks quite cool though.
One of the better sequels in the franchise which offers a lot more bang for your buck with plenty of doll action, some decent visuals and good imagination. Gotta give kudos to Band and his team for their continuous remote control puppetry skills and determination.
Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter (1994)
This is a direct sequel to the fourth film and by the looks of things it may have been made back to back with the fourth film.
Obviously this film was a little short with its run time as we are given a rather long-ish prologue at the start to explain virtually the entire story from the previous film *groan*.
Basically there are suits and thugs after 'Toulon's' secret, 'Sutekh' is back and pissed off so he puts his own life essence into another 'Totem' and the plucky teen duo are back to try and save the day by stopping 'Sutekh' with the help of the puppets.
The plot takes it time to get moving with this one and you wonder if anything will actually happen. Sure enough we are back in the creepy old hotel with puppets and hell spawns running amok. The puppets are again on the friendly bandwagon as they again help their new master (plucky teen male) and fight 'Sutekh' the demon in 'Totem' form. Along the way are three thugs and a suit who want 'Toulon's' secret but we all know they are there for puppet/Totem fodder.
This film was suppose to be the last one and it does show as the idea is tiring fast. The whole film is almost the same as the fourth film to be honest, nothing new really. Action, puppet fighting and outcome are a bit too similar.
On the plus side the continuity stands firm with Gordon Currie reprising his main role from the third film as the puppets new master. Guy Rolfe is also still here as the spirit of 'Toulon' and the two female characters 'Suzie' and 'Lauren' are also played by the same actresses from the fourth film. This fifth film does also manage a few well known character actors in the form of Willard E. Pugh, Ian Ogilvy, Nicholas Guest and Duane Whitaker.
A fair crack at the whip but the whole idea, setting, atmosphere, tone etc...is becoming old hat now. The franchise had to either stop here or try another direction.
Curse of the Puppet Master (1998, aka Puppet Master 6)
Finally a new direction for the franchise, a new plot line which isn't stuck within the creepy old hotel. Lets not get too carried away here its still exactly what you come to expect from these films.
Its actually a neat little story involving a man who owns a weird carnival freak museum type place and our favourite killer puppets. He is trying to transform living people into puppets/dolls for some reason. He comes across this lonely boy who is great at carving wood (who isn't), hires him, gets him to carve the perfect puppet then tries to transform him into the puppet for some reason...as you do.
So despite some plot holes and no real explanations for his motives the plot is still a fresh departure from the last five films. The killer puppets are still on hand to help the museum owner guy and his new worker from bullies, the law and assist in his project but in the end he upsets them and....well you can guess.
So the puppets are friendly for the most part again in this film, the effects are just more of the same and as you would expect, nothing mind blowing. Not much blood n gore, maybe a touch at the end, some reasonable acting from the cast and a bleak ending which is a nice change.
Overall a better offering and again supersedes the first two films but not quite as fun as the fifth film. Think of this as a 'Twilight Zone' type installment.
Retro Puppet Master (1999, aka Puppet Master 7)
Well here we go again as this franchise jumps around its own timeline, this film is a prequel to the third film (if you can remember that far back) and showcases a young 'Toulon' in Paris and how he acquires the secret of life.
Believe it or not but this film actually starts off as a sequel to the third film! yes that's right, this film carries on from where the third film left off...kind of.
There are more continuity issues here (again) as according to the original film 'Toulon' actually blows his brains out in 1939, yet this is set in 1944? I mentioned this in the review for the third film as this error seems to have been ignored, so what the hell eh, lets carry on past this fudge up and pretend it never happened.
This film again does seem to have slightly better production values than previous films. Supposedly set in Paris (obviously not) and they have done well to create an early 1902 feel merely with shadows and a lot of subtle hints, good use of props, mist and lighting I must say. The Cairo set attempts are less effective with the crude use of some archive footage hehe.
Again I must also give kudos to the costumes, I'm unsure how accurate they might be but to the average Joe they do the job and sell the effect.
Of course the plot is ludicrous with ancient mummies resurrected and marching about the place trying to be cool as if they just walked off 'The Matrix' set. Nice idea but the director has foolishly made them into something out of character for this type of flick. We do discover that the demon 'Sutkh' from 'Puppet Master IV/V' is or was an Egyptian God it seems so that's interesting I guess. Some fun acting from old 'Star Trek' actor Jack Donner and again Guy Rolfe briefly.
As usual its the nice work on the puppets that help the film along. The 'retro' designs are just as cool as the regular puppet designs but stop motion is a bit shaky in this one. No blood or gore what so ever, not much real tension or excitement but its an easy going adventure...can't really call this a horror franchise anymore.
Puppet Master: The Legacy (2003, aka Puppet Master 8)
Don't hold your breath here folks, this is what Mr Band does in his spare time, rip people off from time to time. This is basically a compilation of clips from all the previous Puppet Master films put together in a very loose plot and palmed off as a feature film.
The plot is simply about a mercenary searching the creepy old hotel for the secret of 'Toulon'. She finds a man in the basement (convenient) who seems to be working on the same search. This man turns out to be the little boy from 'Puppet Master III' all grown up and taking care of 'Toulon's' work. This is all played out with lots of segments from the previous films in flashbacks. It all ends with the puppets U-turning and becoming killers again I think, I'm not sure really as the ending is so bizarre and abrupt so I'm assuming.
What is really weak here is the fact they try to tie all the loose ends together with many characters of the previous films. They seem to try and fix the continuity error with 'Toulon's' death (I think) although I don't think they really can and we find out this merc has killed many previous characters for info on the secret. So that solves any loose ends now huh.
Pretty much a complete waste of your time and not a proper film. I dunno why Band does this as its the worst example of milking an idea and really gives him a bad name in my opinion (he has done this before a few times).
Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys (2004)
The first and only film which has nothing to do with Charles Band! thusly it has been said to not be canon within the franchise.
You can see the difference with this film straight away with the production values clearly a lot higher. There is an obvious glossy shine to this which is well above the usual low budget look. This doesn't mean its any good though, sure its not a bad film and it is better than some of the earlier Band films but there is nothing special here.
Corey Feldman is the great grand nephew of 'Toulon' ('Robert Toulon') in this which is a neat bit of casting but why on earth they dyed his hair greyish and introduced a daughter that's clearly the same age as him I don't know. I realise this isn't a serious film but but at least be somewhat sensible.
Vanessa Angel is the villain who is after the secret of 'Toulon' and the puppets which serve his great grand nephew. She also has to please a demon called 'Bael' who she has made a deal with to make all toys come to life and be evil in exchange for 'Robert Toulon's' life and soul. Oh and she has the Demonic Toys on her side also.
The plot is quite well thought out and does cover a lot more which I can't be bothered to mention here, but it does of course conflict with the Puppet Master franchise from Band I believe.
Its not bloody or gory and of course not very scary, more an off the wall 'Tales from the Crypt' type film. Some reasonable effects and makeup but nothing outstanding and some fun colourful puppet vs toys battles which look cheesy, all part of the charm. One thing I noticed and that was the puppets of 'Puppet Master' didn't look quite as good as usual. Clearly a minor difference in quality seeing as this wasn't anything to do with Band so the puppets weren't the originals or made by the same people. The Demonic Toys looked pretty good though.
Puppet Master: Axis of Evil (2010 aka Puppet Master 9)
So the canon franchise continues still with this new entry into a now completely overdone idea. Again this is yet another prequel and digs around with what happened right after 'Toulon' committed suicide. We still have the continuity problem as this film is set in 1939 yet previous films were set in the early 1940's and 'Toulon' was alive. So Band is still ignoring this it seems.
So this film has a young boy getting a hold of the puppets right after 'Toulon' killed himself. From there on the plot revolves around the war effort and how this young boy must stop some Nazi's and a Japanese woman from destroying a US bomb manufacturing plant, of course the puppets assist.
This is easily one of the dullest films in the series and has hardly any puppet action until the very final showdown and then its pretty poor really. The film looks quite good with decent costumes and some reasonable sets but its just boring, not scary and not very interesting.
I really can't understand how Band can continue making these films as he is just rehashing the same stuff over and over, how many prequels can you do?!. I'm not really sure what these films are now, certainly not horror. Nothing new here accept one ninja puppet.
I actually never was too into the original PM...for me - 3 thru 5 are where its at!
Loved the 4th & 5th, best when viewed back to back. Jeff Burr is a real underrated director. The third was boatloads of fun too.
As for the rest, can't say I ever enjoyed them, although for the 2nd, it HAS been a while. Can't describe how big of a letdown PM vs. DT was...
They are actually working on ANOTHER one as we speak. Shame the legacy is getting crapped on more and more for Band's baby project more or less. Since the 5th one, its been awful.
Puppet Master X: Axis Rising (2012)
So here we go again with the tenth sequel in this killer doll franchise, how or why this goes on? beats the shit outta me. But anyway the plot carries on from the previous entry and yet again involves the naughty Nazi's and their evil plots. This time around the killer dolls appear to be fighting for good again and are helping a young man and woman stop the dastardly Nazi's from creating a breed of undead soldiers and errrr making more tiny killer dolls...indeed.
So that's the basic plot, what about the rest of it?. Well its pretty much business as usual from Mr Band, everything is rather tacky looking, cheesy acting, hokey sets and props altogether making you wonder if this is an actual horror film anymore.
I'm not saying I didn't enjoy this film I must add, its actually quite amusing and enjoyable as a low grade B-movie. The thing is I'm not so sure Mr Band is aiming it to be an amusing B-movie, I tend to think he still kinda believes these are serious horror flicks. Anyhoo the film is completely ridiculous yet thoroughly fun in an Ed Wood kinda of way.
The effects are very basic but as before the dolls all look pretty neat and well made, still obvious care and attention to the main characters of this horror franchise. Sure they hardly move apart from waving their little arms, which somehow is translatable to the human characters as they talk to them, but there is a certain charm to the little guys. They are classic 80's creations and almost part of cinematic history if you get me, despite being in a cheap ass franchise. Love the terribly racial stereotyped Japanese doll called 'Kamikaze' haha...jesus Mr Band!!.
The few human characters in this are utterly cliched and generic yet again fun to watch. The frail old mad German genius scientist, the crazy sadistic Nazi officer, the two goodie goodie heroes that are American as apple pie and the gruff all American buzz cut Sgt. Last but certainly not least is the most over sexualized in your face, boys only villainess character complete with flowing blonde hair, full red lips and an eye busting cleavage to die for. The main bad guy's female sidekick is possibly the best guilty pleasure in this film as she pouts, teases, arches and purrrrs her way through the film, letting out the most sexual evil laughs as innocents are slain before her *phew! wipes the sweat from his eyes*. Truly for the male graphic novel/comic book/manga liking demographic.
The hideously bad German accents make this all the more fun to be honest, lots of 've's' 'vords' 'vasts' 'veapons' and 'vants' plus some of the most excellent dialog since...well Ed Wood. 'thank you for being such a fine American', 'you just earned your ticket into the United States army', 'over my dead body Hans', 'I'll make those Nazi's pay', 'come and get me kraut', 'never screw with America!'.
So yes this is a bad film, a film so bad and cliched its fun to watch. Whether or not Mr Band is taking this seriously still I'm not so sure but its so so sooooo dumb and corny its brilliant. Not in the least bit scary and so basic a child could follow...and not be scared either. Anyone who has seen all the previous films will know what to expect but this film is much more comic book than the rest, almost a panto judging by the characters.
I still don't get the point of 'Leech Woman'. Why throw up small leeches into a victims mouth? apart from tasting horrible what's the point of it?? haha what do they do to the victim?? I don't think we've ever seen the result of this little attack pattern, oh well.