Puppet Master (1989)

It’s February, and that can mean only one thing…  It’s Full Moon Fever, bitches!

That’s right, for the month of February, B-Movie Enema is getting the Full Moon treatment – which is probably going to be about the same as being perpetually mooned by some fat asshole.  But why would that be?  What’s with “Full Moon Fever”, anyway?  Am I going to be spending a month talking about the marvelous pieces of filmed art that were the videos shot for Tom Petty’s first solo album, Full Moon Fever?

Fuck you.  I can’t be so lucky.  Instead, I’ll be talking about the films released by direct-to-video powerhouse Full Moon Features.  Full Moon Productions was founded in 1988 when filmmaker, and what some might call a schlock auteur, Charles Band returned home from Europe after his previous film studio, Empire Pictures, collapsed.  He immediately went to work on his newest film, and this week’s feature, Puppet Master.  When it was released, thanks to a team-up with Paramount Pictures, the film hit it big, thus leading to a long marriage between Paramount and Full Moon – mostly by Band being able to produce low budget films, yet keeping a high budget sheen on the finished product.

In a lot of ways, you can credit Charles Band as a modern Roger Corman except where Corman was pumping out dozens of movies quickly and on the cheap to fill drive-ins during the 1950s and 60s, Band was pumping out dozens of movies quickly and on the cheap to fill the shelves of video stores in the 1990s.

But for the one that started it all, what’s the plot of Puppet Master?  From the back of the NINE film DVD set, “The Puppet Master Collection”, the plot listed is: “A demonic crew of puppets unleash their murderous talents on psychics investigating their owner, Andre Toulon.”

Wait…  That’s it?  One sentence?  This movie is summed up in just one, single sentence?  Fuck yeah!  I think we might be in store for some honest-to-goodness, well, goodness!  No over-complicated plots or stories or character motivations.  Just straightforward and cutting right to the motherfucking chase.  Let’s get started and unleash my murderous talents on this movie.

(I don’t know what that means either, guys – just bear with me.)

Okay, so when I put the DVD in, the logo for the home video distributor, Echo Bridge, came up and it read, “The Entertainment Alternative for What the World Wants to See.”  Um…  What does that mean?  I think of myself as being part of the world.  And I certainly want to see quality entertainment.  Are you telling me that you’re giving me the alternative?  Oh fuck.  This is just two DVDs chock full of my father’s colonoscopy videos, isn’t it?  I paid nine bucks to see something I could have seen for free on dadsquirtruns.com.  You sons of bitches.

Seriously…  This is my dad’s anus, isn’t it?  And it apparently has a production designer.

So, despite my earlier concerns, the credits fade to the peaceful Bodega Bay Inn, 1939.  Inside the beautiful seaside hotel, an old man who makes puppets and marionettes works to some classical music.  One of his creations gazes out the window and seemingly communicates silently to the old man, Andre Toulon (William Hickey).  After another puppet is finished, he speaks some sort of spell and it moves on its own as if he’s imbued it with life.  Outside, a tiny point-of-view camera shot runs around the Bodega Bay Inn.  It’s one of Toulon’s puppets, and one of our main puppet stars, who seems to be trying to beat two men who have come to kill Toulon to the old man’s room.  He does seem to pass by many people undetected.  He’s barked at by a dog, and then spotted by an old woman who freaks out, causing him to freak out in a funny, and kinda cute, way.

The two men, who speak German (because all good bad guys should be Germans and/or Nazis) come to assassinate Toulon, but before they enter, he hides all his puppets in the wall, and commits suicide before they can get to him.

Fifty years later, psychics Alex, Dana, Frank, and Clarissa make contact with an old friend of theirs, Neil.  Alex has been plagued with dreams of a man killing a young woman while leaches suck the life from him.  Dana, a fortune teller by trade, has visions of a woman being killed by a tiny blade.  In a “clinical study”, Clarissa and Frank are trying to read the mental image of a young woman’s wildest sex fantasy.  Gross.

These two are dripping with animal magnetism.

The gang gets together and converge on the Bodega Bay Inn.  They are met by Megan, Neil’s wife.  They find out that Neil is dead.  Megan says he shot himself, but why he did is a mystery.  He did leave a note saying to not bury him until the other psychics arrive.  Neil is shown to his room by Megan while Frank, Clarissa, and Dan stay behind to try to find out more about what Neil knew about the “old Puppet Master’s” stuff.

As the four main characters settle in, we learn that Alex can take mental images from still photographs and sees Megan dancing with a masked man who reveals himself to be Neil.  Neil says Alex can’t save Megan.  Frank and Clarissa are sex weirdos – I guess.  They are constantly talking about sex and seeing psychic visions of sex… and rape.  Clarissa “sees” Neil forcing himself on a woman who is not Megan.  When they get to their room, Clarissa begins writhing on the bed and grabbing her tits saying two movie stars fucked in the bed (Clark Gable and Carol Lombard in case you cared) in their room.  Dana has brought her dead dog (which is stuffed and she talks to) to the hotel because I guess it’s not weird enough for her to just be a fortune teller.  In Neil’s coffin, one of Toulon’s puppets, a guy with a teeny head and huge body, and bigger hands named Pinhead, crawls out of the casket.

Bitchface Dana, Not-Quite-Xander-Berkeley Frank, and Sexy McShowshertits Clarissa.  Oh and teets-up Neil.

Megan reveals to the group that she owns the Inn that she inherited from her parents.  She met Neil and was surprised by his proposal.  Dana claims Neil clearly wanted something from her.  Megan says that Neil was obsessed with construction on the hotel.  Then, one day, he suddenly stopped and locked himself away.  Dana continues to antagonize Megan by calling out Neil’s shortcomings.  When Megan storms out, Alex follows and tells Megan that Neil brought them all together in the past to work on his research which centered around how the Egyptians figured out some sort of power to give life to inanimate objects.

Elsewhere, the maid is attacked and knocked out (maybe killed?) by Pinhead.  In another room, Megan faints when she sees Neil sitting in a chair with his eyes open.  Dana confirms that he is indeed dead, but no one knows why his body has moved.  Dana questions whether or not Megan is all she says she is.  When Megan comes to, she asks who could be playing tricks on them.  Alex informs her that they all believe that it was the maid who did it but they can’t find her anywhere in the building.

Clarissa takes a bath and starts straight up fingering herself when she has a vision of two women having sex with each other in the tub.  Frank wants her to focus on Neil and Megan instead – but only after he gets the deets on the two girls who fucked each other.  Dana, who senses danger from Neil’s spirit, casts a protection spell for Alex which does indeed protect him from a little puppet at the beginning, Blade.  Now, let’s get back to Frank and Clarissa who decide to fuck in order to see if they can pick up some energy from Neil.

I think we both know that I’m turned on by this.

I’m gonna be honest here – I have no idea what the fuck is up with these two other than to be real gross.  Just real gross.  Frank looks like a creep and Clarissa, well, I appreciate her, but fucking Christ they are even too much for me – and I’m every bit a weirdo as they are.  Anyway, enough about me…  When Tunneler, a puppet with a drill on his head, is let into the room, he drills Clarissa in the fucking face, killing her.  Not to be outdone, Leech Woman, a foxy little puppet (puppette?) climbs up on the bed and starts kissing Frank’s gross body.  She begins to hork up leeches to suck Frank dry.

Dana returns to her room to find Neil sitting in a chair, seemingly waiting for her.  Again, his eyes are open but she casts a spell which makes his eyes close.  She’s attacked by Pinhead who messes up one of her legs.  She’s able to defend herself briefly and crawls out of her room, but is followed by Pinhead.  He punches her a couple times with his big hands but she, again, defends herself and tosses him down the stairs.  She’s then attacked by Blade and barely escapes him in the elevator.  When she reaches the bottom floor, Pinhead’s waiting for her (like, no duh, right – she tossed him downstairs, of course he’s gonna be there waiting for her).  He punches her a few more times – and if you didn’t think it wouldn’t be funny to watch a puppet repeatedly punching a woman, it really is.  She, again, is able to stop him, but Blade hitched a ride on the top of the elevator and drops in and slashes her throat.

Megan comes to Alex’s door and wakes him up saying she has something to show him.  She tells him that she wasn’t able to sleep and realized there was a connection between Toulon’s death and Neil’s.  She takes him up to a room that is still gutted from the construction that Neil worked on during their marriage.  She unlocks a room to a grand ballroom type room where a masked figure appears and dances with Megan.  Alex watches and it plays out just like in his dream. Neil pulls out a gun and says he can’t save Megan and he wakes up from a dream.  Then, it’s one of those damn dreams within a dream sort of thing when he sees Frank, Clarissa, and Dana’s decapitated heads in his bed.  Then he wakes up from another dream to Megan knocking on his door.

This shit always frustrates me in movies – the scary scene that turns into a dream, then there’s another level of the dream.  Fuck.  Alex being someone who dreams about the future totally lets this sort of shit happen, too.

What makes this shot pretty good are the puppets sitting with their victims.

This time, Megan leads Alex to Toulon’s old room in the Inn.  Here, she reads from Toulon’s diary about how he brought the puppets to life.  With him in command, the puppets are harmless and friendly.  Yet, Toulon fears, in the wrong hands, the puppets could be used to harm others.  Now, Alex is certain that Neil has control of the puppets and using them against him and his colleagues.  Megan and Alex find the bodies of those the puppets have killed thus far, and Neil as well.  Neil explains that he did indeed kill himself, but he used the Egyptian spell on himself to be resurrected to live forever.  He decided that he wants to use the spell on people – the first experiment being Megan’s parents.  He killed them to learn how to do the spell on himself.  He also tosses aside one of the more sensitive puppets, Jester, saying he no longer wants to play with stupid pieces of wood.  When he slaps Megan around and tries to beat Alex to death, Jester seemingly begs his brothers and sisters to stop Neil.  Megan smashes a vase over Neil’s head allowing her and Alex to escape.  They run into the maid who has also apparently been resurrected to serve Neil.

When Alex tosses Neil into the elevator, Pinhead locks him in and attacks.  However, Neil pulls Pinhead’s head off, but is then attacked by Tunneler who drills into Neil’s calf.  Pinhead reattaches his head and, with Tunneler, approach Neil who tries to jump up on top of the elevator to escape them.  However, Blade is waiting for Neil there, and cuts his fingers off causing him to fall into the elevator.  Pinhead holds him in place while Tunneler drills into his neck while Blade holds his mouth open for Leech Woman to vomit leeches down his throat.

Later, Alex leaves the hotel, wishing Megan the best.  She is left with Dana’s stuffed dog which is later re-animated revealing that Megan may also have mastered the Egyptian spell.

It doesn’t take that much imagination to see how this film could be successful.  It’s well made.  The stop motion used for the puppets is top-notch and the idea of old fashioned marionettes being animated and used to kill is a creepy idea.  The film is shot well too.  Charles Band knew what he was doing when putting together this little gem.

However, there are also things that aren’t as out in the open that propel this movie into a little more than just a cult status.  What we may not really see clearly with our own two eyes while watching this is that there are lots of little slasher movie tropes in play.  The couple that are seemingly obsessed with sex are the first to be killed on screen.  The bitchy woman who gets a little too drunk is also killed even though she is the most powerful to fight the magic happening around them.  There’s a body reveal scene that, to us, may seem second nature, but plays upon our expectations for horror movies.

There’s also an old school feel to the movie in terms of the characters being called together by a mysterious invite to a old, dark house on a cliff with waves crashing against it.  The lack of settings also helps the production focus on better effects.  These are all Roger Corman style tricks.

Lastly, the puppets themselves are well crafted little people.  They have their own personalities.  They aren’t truly the bad guys – just the tools of a puppet master.  Huh, that seems like a good title for a movie (or even a series of movies)!  It probably comes as no surprise that these characters range from being the bad guys to the good guys to anti-heroes throughout the course of the series.  I think you can probably say that they are far more interesting than the main cast of this movie.  I mean Clarissa is there to be “sexy”.  Frank is there to be a creep.  Dana is a bitch.  Alex is the most level-headed and seemingly the most likely to be the “hero”.  Megan is the “good girl”.  Neil is just hamming it up in near super villain levels.  The only real interesting human in the entire movie is Toulon, but that’s really only because he seemed to be a magician of sorts.  However, the puppets truly are the most interesting characters in all the movie, and rightfully so.  You can almost root for them even if you’re not supposed to.

That wraps up the start of Full Moon Fever.  If you thought that I was too easy on this movie, or that this was better than what you might expect from a theme month, don’t worry, the next couple of weeks are utter shit.  In fact, I’m going to wish I had watched the next several Puppet Master movies.

Or a couple hours of my dad’s colonoscopy video.

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