aka, PUPPET MASTER 1. 1989
Director: David Schmoeller

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Puppetmaster The primary puppets of the Puppetmaster film series are Blade the slasher, Jester the evil medieval clown, Pinhead the tiny-headed thug, Tunneler with his drill head, & Leech Woman who vomits leeches, plus Six Shooter who became an important addition as of the third film.

More puppets are added throughout the series, most appearing only once each, not counting the lamentable "clips" episode Puppet Master 8: The Legacy (2003). Additional puppets who had two appearances each were the Egyptian Goblin, Decapitron, Torch, & Mephisto.

As an ad hoc series that seems never to have had an overriding vision behind it, Full Moon Productions couldn't even decide on one word or two for Puppet Master or Puppetmaster, their own promotions going back & forth.

So too some later films had subtitles, some had only numbers, & some had subtitles once or twice but not religiously used on the great variety of packages & formats in multiple releases over the years.

PuppetmasterIt all began with David Schmoeller's Puppetmaster; aka, Puppet Master 1 (1989). To say Puppet Master is a good film would overstate the situation.

But the puppets have such a perfect balance of cuteness & creepiness, they're fun to watch despite any decrepitude about the screenplay. And Schmoeller as director is nothing short of brilliant in making the most of what Full Moon company allowed.

We won't really get a handle on who these puppets are until the third feature film about them. For the first two films the puppets are pretty much just evil beings, & their creator, Andre Toulon (William Hickey), almost as incomprehensible as the puppets as to motive.

Toulon's screen presence, however brief, is intensely mysterious, & it was undoubtedly a grave error to write him out of the story all too soon, an error that would be recitified in sequels.

Before the tale opens (in 1939), Toulon has fled Nazi Germany, living a furtive life in California. He has with him a travel-trunk with five puppets on which he has used an ancient Egyptian potion to give them, a pivotal plot device inspired by the tanaa-leaf tea that brings mummies to life in Universal mummy movies.

PuppetmasterToulon might not have expected the living puppets to be evil little bastards who kill people, but they were after all macabre creatures in their design.

Their leader, Blade, is a skull-visaged, black-cloaked maniac with a knife instead of right hand, based on Klaus Kinsky (with whom Schmoeller worked on his 1986 film Crawlspace) crossed with Jack the Ripper.

The Leech Woman spits up hideous leeches. Tunneler has a drill for a hat & can drill right through peoples; butting heads with him is a bad idea. Pinhead is a musclebound brute with a teeny-tiny head. And motley-clad Jester has a multiple-part face that can spin around to be either pleasant or malicious. Surely Toulon couldn't've expected them, brought to life, to behave like kindly sugarplum fairies.

Apparently depressed that his puppet pals are evil, & fearful that he will reveal his dreadful formula to some Nazis who've tracked him down in America, Toulon commits suicide. Five decades later, the existence of the puppets is discovered by a group of psychics, who may not survive the awakening of the puppets.

PuppetmasterThe bulk of the film is set in the modern-day with a series of colorful gore-gags. For atmospherics, this is probably the best of the Puppetmaster films, as other directors helmed the sequels, unable to duplicate David Schmoeller's style.

As a director he was a cut above what one usually gets from the generally shoddy Full Moon assembly line of B-horrors. Schmoeller was also intimately involved with the choice & design of the puppets, so really the success of the whole series rests on him.

The weaknesses of Charles Band's screenplay is well-patched-over by Schmoeller's slight-of-hand direction, which combines perfectly with the excellent design of the minamally articulated puppets, making for a cult classic that would give rise to a very long-running franchise.

We can only dream of the series that might've been had Schmoeller gotten the respect from Full Moon that he deserved. But considering the haste, lack of budget, shifting crew, & inartistic requirements Full Moon imposes, the first film & several of the sequels are just shy of miraculous.

Continue to:
Puppet Master 2 & 3

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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