Curse of the Puppet Master; aka, Puppet Master 6: The Human Experiment (1998) was the sixth Puppet Master film, but is a prequel to the sixth. The order of the films time-wise would thus be 3, 1, 2, 4, 6, 5.
The loss of Andre Toulan as of the fifth film was definitely no improvement. And with the sixth film the puppets are not as well animated, not that they were ever all that articulated.
So when David DeCoteau elected to use his directorial pseudonym Victoria Sloan on this one, one can't help but suppose he was a little ashamed of himself & didn't want his name bannered up front.
The puppets' new master is Dr. Magrew (George Peck). The absense of the character of Rick Myers involved with the puppets in the fourth & fifth film is never explained, which makes the time-line of the films all the more muddled.
Blade, Pinhead, Leech Woman, Jester, Tunneler, & Six-Shooter are all present. Although in new footage they are not as well manipulated as previously, the film is heavily padded out with recycled footage from past Puppet Master films, so they don't always match up very well.
Magrew uses the living puppets for a mission of revenge for his daughter's honor. Why the puppets obey him we've no clue. Everyone's motivations are thin & boring, & the whole story kind of stupid.
One odd side-issue, however, could've been remarkable: Pinhead turns out to have a real capacity for love, & stranger still, Dr. Magrew's daughter Jane (Emily Harrison) appears to reciprocate, with love for the chivalrous little Pinhead. The perverse potential in that subplot was sadly left undeveloped.
None of the puppets but Pinhead get much to do if you discount the recycled footage. The film is overall rather short, so the biggest cost-saving perpetrated by Full Moon was in not creating much new puppet footage at all.
One more reel must've been planned but the miniscule budget ran out, as there's no climax to speak of, as the film ends abruptly.
At the hands of the mad scientist, two human characters get turned into puppets along the way, but they're not much to boast about.
The film is overall a disappointment, if not quite the nail in the coffin for the series, as the eighth installment was so much worse, as it consisted mostly of clips from previous installments. If all anyone had seen was the sixth & eighth films in the series, they couldn't possibly understand the popularity.
Fortunately, or unexpectedly at least, there was an seventh installment between the terrible sixth & eighth, which was the most original of the whole series, proof that the series might still have life in it if anyone would only try.
Retro Puppet Master (1998) is quite likely the best films in the series, & certainly the most adult in sophistication. The presence in the prelude of elderly Andre Toulan (Guy Rolfe), the master of puppets, is a plus. His absence is some of the films of the series is invariably a hard-felt lack.
It's 1944. Toulan expresses genuine affection for his weird living puppets -- Blade, Pinhead, Jester, Tunneler & Leach Woman -- & they for him. He warns them, in a grandfatherly way, that they've fallen on hard times, but they'll get through it.
Blade finds the damaged head of an old puppet of which Toulan says, "Cyclops. He was one of the first of the family. It all began with...."
And off we go into a flashback to Cairo, on the origins of Toulan's mystic puppetry. Now what we are about to learn contradicts some of the other films, & the dates don't quite match up either. But history is full of apparent contradictions; fantasy the more so.
So long as the film is thrilling, & this one is, lapses become fun for devoted fans to spot, rather than a condemnable fault.
Within a labyrinthine pyramid -- a marvelous set -- the ancient sorcerer Afzel (superb character actor Jack Donner, who confusingly looks too much like the elder Toulan) is being pursued by fellow Egyptian sorcerers.
Afzel's pursuers are eager to get back from him the stolen papyrus with the "secret of the gods." His own powers exceed theirs, & the secrets are his.
The god of the pyramid awakens three mummies (Stephen Blackehart, Robert Rodoveanu, & Vitalie Bantas) with instructions to regain the stolen formula containing the secrets of life. The mummies look great.
In Paris, in 1902, a very young Andre Toulan has created an array of puppets, including Cyclops, Drill Sargeant (aka, Retro Tunneler), Retro Six-Shooter (not yet a cowboy), Retro Blade (with knife-sharp fingers rather than the hook & knife for hands), Dr. Death, & Retro Pinhead.
The young magician & puppeteer does not as yet possess the secret of bringing his puppets to life. He additionally seems to lack the secret of interesting theater pieces, as the show he puts on for the public is quite rightly not very popular.
The puppets, however, are nicely designed. They are slightly more gothic & primitive than the puppets we know from the rest of the series; they are gruesome-looking forerunners of grand macabre beauty.
They're the creations of Christopher Bergschneider & Jeffrey S. Farley, who have exceeded all other doll horror design on the purely aesthetic level.
In other films they worked on, neither Bergschneider nor Farley have done much to equal this in design, so it's a mystery how they did such extraordinary work for this one movie.
So, Toulan the young Parisian magician & puppeteer Andre Toulan meets & falls in love with Elsa (Brigitta Dau), whom he will later have to rescue from danger, & who in Puppet Master III: Toulan's Revenge (1991) through tragedy will become the puppet Leech Woman.
Greg Sestero young Toulan is an elegantly handsome blond in claret waistcoat, & he does an adequate job of projecting the romantic hero type, even if his puppet show is rather retarded.
Meanwhile the old sorcerer who looks like old Toulan is in Paris still pursued by the mummies, who are badly disguised as regular underworld criminals with echoey voices, hiring assassins to help track down & kill the thief of their God's secrets.
In their bowlers, sunglasses, pallorous complexions & long coats, they actually come off like goth punk rockers for a band called Matisse in Shades.
Injured in the snowcovered street, the old sorcerer is aided by soft-hearted Elsa, who bangs on the door of Theatre Magique bringing young Toulan to assist the unconscious old man.
Before the sorcerer dies, he passes on the secret of life to Toulan, which will be the only thing that can save mankind when in the future the elder gods rise to destroy humanity.
When the puppets are first given independent movement, it's a great sequence, but Afzel notes that the true secret of life is more precious than this, as each puppet can be given the soul of a human being.
But already, though not yet ensouled, they feel protective toward Toulan, & set about making amulets to put on the doors of the theater, to keep the agents of the Egyptian god at bay.
The first soul found is that of a street beggar (Dan Fintescu) who Toulan had befriended & tried to help, but who nevertheless froze to death that snowy night. Afzel teaches Toulan how to extract the soul from the corpse, placing it in Retro Pinhead. Damned cool.
As the plot unfolds, Toulan falls temporarily victim to Elsa's menacingly overprotective father. While he's away from the theater, the three mummy servants of Sutekh launch an assault against Theatre Magique, killing everyone associated with Toulan, though old Afzel commits suicide rather than fall victim to the mummies.
When Toulan returns & finds so much carnage, he hastens to extract the souls of his slain friends with which to give life & feeling to his puppets.
The moment he tells his newly resurged wards, "Ve shall be ah-ven-geers!" it's a really nice bit of melodrama. From this moment to the end, the puppets take over as the real stars.
The mummies realize Afzel had already passed on the secret, so set out against Toulan. Their bait will be Elsa, whom Toulan will have to rescue aided by his faithful troupe of little wooden guys.
In the coda, returning to elder Toulan in 1944, he has finished telling this tale to his puppets, & can see that they wonder what became of the Retro Puppets. Toulan promises someday to tell that tale.
Puppet Master 8 (2003) & Puppet Master 9 (2004)
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