Having first appeared in 1989’s PUPPETMASTER Andre Toulon and his animated puppets have been the focus of a dozen films from Charles Band’s Full Moon Features. Now Cinestate has rebooted the franchise, (confusingly Full Moon will apparently continue with their films as well). The result, PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH bears almost no similarity to the long-running franchise. Which can be a good or bad thing depending on who you ask.
Recently divorced and moved back in with his parents Edgar (Thomas Lennon RENO 911!) finds one of Toulon’s dolls among the belongings of his brother, (who died years ago under odd circumstances of course). Accompanied by his new girlfriend Ashley (Jenny Pellicer) and Markowitz (Nelson Franklin TONE DEAF, SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD) the owner of the comic shop he works at He heads to a convention of Toulon collectors hoping to sell it. But a strange power brings the dolls back to murderous life and they, along with the rest of the convention-goers have to fight for their lives.
With a script by S. Craig Zahler (BONE TOMAHAWK, BRAWL IN CELLBLOCK 99) and directed by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund, the directors of WITHER and ANIMALISTIC you know the results are going to be impressively violent. And while it delivers in that regard, the rest of it is a bit of a mess, however.
The reboot flips things and makes Toulon and his creations Nazis. At one point it’s put out that the dolls are targeting everyone who isn’t a straight, white, Christian. The prologue’s victims are a pair of lesbians, the first victim at the convention is a yarmulke-wearing Jewish man, etc. But the film stuffs in so many victims at times it seems they’re killing indiscriminately. So many of the victims are introduced minutes before they die we don’t know anything about them, or really care either. Of course, that won’t matter to this film’s target audience who are just there for the kills. I’d have been happy to trade a couple of random kills for a bit more character development.
And the kills deliver on the gore and inventiveness. There’s plenty of new puppets, (though some franchise regulars are missing), in PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH, which means plenty of new ways to die. The puppets and the mayhem they cause are all well done, unlike most of the originals. A decapitated body peeing on its severed head is one of the more notable examples.
Genre fans will enjoy picking out some familiar faces, Udo Kier (BLADE, FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN) makes a cameo as Toulon, Barbara Crampton, (REPLACE, DEAD NIGHT) and Michael Paré (ONCE UPON A TIME IN DEADWOOD, ASTRO) show up as cops. And Matthias Hues even makes an appearance, sadly Dolph Lundgren, his nemesis from I COME IN PEACE doesn’t. Veteran composers Richard Band (THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, RE-ANIMATOR) and Fabio Frizzi (HOUSE OF FORBIDDEN SECRETS, THE BEYOND), provide the score.
PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH is certainly the best film in the franchise in a long time and is a natural first release for the resurrected Fangoria Films. While it certainly could have been better, it’s still a very enjoyable film.
PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH premieres in selected theaters and on VOD August 17th. See it with an audience if possible.