Puppet Master

Evil comes in all sizes.

Year of Release: 1989
Genre: Horror
Rated: R
Running Time: 90 minutes (1:30)
Director: David Schmoeller


Paul Le Mat ... Alex Whitaker
Robin Frates ... Megan Gallagher
Irene Miracle ... Dana Hadley
Matt Roe ... Frank Forrester
Kathryn O'Reilly ... Carlissa Stamford
Jimmie F. Skaggs ... Neil Gallagher
William Hickey ... Andre Toulon
Barbara Crampton ... Woman at Carnival


Alex Whitaker and three other gifted psychics are investigating rumors that the secret of life has been discovered by master puppeteer Andre Toulon.

But the psychics quickly discover Toulon's secret of death in the form of five killer puppets - each one uniquely qualified for murder and mayhem.

Tunneler has a nasty habit of boring holes in people with his drill bit head. Ms. Leech regurgitates killer leeches that suck her victims dry. Pin Head strangles his enemies with his powerful vice-like hands. Blade has a gleaming hook for one hand and a razor-sharp knife for the other. And Jester, the ruthless brains of the bunch, is absolutely merciless.

Together, they're an army of skilled assassins, diabolically programmed to guard the deadly secrets of the Puppet Master.


Puppet Master, remindin' us that despite Charles Band's best efforts, leeches're prolly never gonna become the next big sexual aid. Sure, they'll prolly always have a place in the bathroom stalls at Ma'ampire's Midnight Cravings gothic bar an glitter depot down in Trannyvania, California, but they'll prolly never make it much further'n that. Although, I did attend this one club up in Casketoon, Canada, one time called Clam Stroker's House of Succudri that almost made a believer outta me, so maybe there's hope after all. I really just went in there to get directions to the nearest steakhouse, but everybody was so dang friendly that I decided to stay awhile an debate the merits of Bela Lugosi over Max Schreck an pretty quick there wasn't enough garlic in downtown Florence to keep those pasty white ladies away. But anyway, speakin' of people who can't seem to figure out when enough is enough, this movie's got some real classy folks that ain't even got respect for the the bodies of the recently deceased. I mean, desecratin' a body is absolutely uncalled for. Even if the person was a complete dick pimple that never cleaned out the shower drain an who once unzipped your pillow an pooped inside it to get back at you for givin' their phone number to some nasty scab they hooked up with in the backseat of their Datsun hatchback. It's even understandable to think that a person like that might try to fake their own death to get outta emptyin' the septic tank, but that's still no reason to go stabbin' 'em while they're havin' a starin' contest with the mausoleum ceilin'. On the other hand, lettin' somebody get away with that kinda thing only encourages 'em to push their luck. So what I've always done in these situations was to wait til all the grievin' patrons from over at Cooters (for those of you that don't get out much, this's like a Hooters where all the waitresses're actually in your league) leave the room so you can prop the body up in the coffin an get aholda one of them big greasy zits on their back an start usin' your finger nails as a guillotine to bust that thing open. If they're fakin' it that'll both bring an end to the charade an cause permanent psychological trauma for anybody visitin' an entombed relative who's stashed in a drawer in the nearby dead shed. Serves 'em right for storin' bodies in drawers like that anyway, that's just beggin' to start out at a terrible disadvantage once the zombie apocalypse hits.

I hope that didn't sound too harsh. I don't want it to look like I'm disrespectin' the dead or anything, I mean, heck, a lot of my favorite people're dead. In any event, this here's one of Charlie Band's best efforts from just after he ditched Empire Pictures but before he went crazy an started makin' up more garbage than Sean Hannity preparin' an Obamacare dissection piece. We're talkin' classic Full Moon pictures, back before everything went to heck in a hand cart an they started lookin' more like Troma movies, only not on purpose. But I don't wanna dwell on that. What I wanna talk about is the greatest tiny terrors movie ever made to feature a sequence involving sex, mouth screwin', an fully exposed suckage that made it past the MPAA ratins board without gettin' saddled with an X ratin'. Ya know, you guys're alright sometimes, it's moments like this that make me proud to be an American. But on a more serious note, there was this one scene where I think some people may've gotten the wrong idea, an so I wanna explain why it is that Matt Roe an Kathryn O'Reilly were adamant that the patient involved in their mind readin' sessions needed to be thinkin' sexy thoughts for it to work. See, when you're havin' to make like a pair of rabbit ears wrapped in tin foil to pick up psychic brainwaves, it's just a whole lot easier when the transmitter's a hot young blonde number named Brandi who thinks Women's Lib is about fightin' for the right to run around in a tube top with your knockers unshackled. Reason bein' that havin' all that blood in your brain works like a psycho-wave shield that blocks alla the incomin' signals from gettin' to your Recipital Lobe an so you've gotta drain alla that blockage down to your cockage before the picture'll come in clear. It's just like when you used to screw around with the antenna an the knobs on your Sylvania E48 tryin' to unscramble the porno channel, cept here you need the boner/wide-on *before* you can get tuned into the person's freakuency. It's really just a simple reversal of cause an effect, is all, an it sounds a lot more complicated than it is. I just didn't want anybody gettin' the idea that Full Moon would do somethin' so gratuitous as that, unless it was necessary to the plot. You really gotta watch what you're doin' an sayin' these days, otherwise the feminazis start comin' outta the woodwork with their belt sander stubble an flannel shirts tellin' ya what a sexist pig you are for "objectifyin" Brandi, when they can't even seem to grasp the concept of a lady's razor. I think they just want Brandi for 'emselves, if you follow me.

The movie begins in 1939 with this old coot (Andre Toulon) camped out in a swanky motel on the California coastline touchin' up the paint on a puppet (Jester) til its head starts swivelin' around a mile a minute like Linda Blair after seven hits of speed. Meanwhile, outside, somethin' (Blade) that's runnin' around at about Verne Troyer level's bustin' its hump tryin' to outpace these two guys who're dressed in black an doin' the goose-step back into the motel til it gets brain panned by a swingin' door harder'n E.T. when Dee Wallace was puttin' away the groceries. Then it takes the elevator an scares the bejezus outta this fat broad an runs over to Toulon's room an starts frantically tappin' at the door like a Jehovah's Witness who's only one step ahead of a doberman. Eventually, the guy opens up an tells 'im not to worry cause he hides treasures a lot better than the Nazis, an that he an all the others'll be safe an sound at Barbie's Dreamhouse til everything blows over. So Toulon makes like Frazier Cross an stuffs his little friends into this trunk an then puts 'em all in the closet so nobody'll find out about 'em an has just enough time to sit down an blow his brains out as "Here come the Men in Black" hits an the two Krauts kick the door in. Apparently, they did Nazi that coming. Or maybe they did, but Toulon was just one goose-step ahead. Next thing, we're in the present day lookin' at this guy (Alex) catchin' a nap at a desk, only the nap starts losin' some of its serenity once he starts dreamin' about havin' leeches the size of Saint Bernard turds suckin' on his gut bucket like a lobbyist on an ExonMobil executive's schlonker an completely destroyin' his new shirt. Meanwhile, this proto Miss Cleo's in the midst of a Carnival Ruse Gyp with these two rubes who figure she can see the future cause she's got one of those beaded doorway curtains leadin' into 'er circus tent. But after a while the fortune teller (Dana) starts grabbin' 'er neck an sayin' "Gallagher", like you'd have to be psychic to know his career's dyin' a slow, painful death or somethin'. And for a third elsewhere, we head over to New York, where these weirdos (Crissy an Frank) in lab coats're sittin' at mission control tellin' this Kelly Bundy look-alike to imagine 'er wildest sexy time fantasy so they can try readin' 'er mind an sell 'er ideas to Harlequin Enterprises. Unfortunately, the dials at the command post get all desynced an they can't tell whether the subject's ridin' a horse or vice versa an pretty quick Alex calls 'em up on the phone an tells 'em about the vision he had an they tell 'im they've also had one an that they think it means Gallagher's found the Puppet Master's secret. Which I presume involves a method of smashin' a watermelon that doesn't result in a round of free glaucoma tests when the seeds fly into the crowd an start impactin' corneas.

So now all the mixed nuts fly out to Gallagher's place (which is also the motel where Toulon painted the walls with his cerebral goretex), where they're greeted by this mousey little dame (Megan) that looks like a grown up version of Angela Baker from Sleepaway Camp who tells 'em she's been expectin' 'em an that Gallagher's deader'n net neutrality. Then she takes 'em all inside to see the body an once Megan's outta sight Dana pulls the world's scariest acupuncture needle out of 'er coat an jams it into Gallagher's man boob til it pokes out the other side just to make sure nobody's filmin' an episode of Punk'd. Then the maid (Teresa) shows Dana to 'er room an about that time Dana starts fannin' this hippy incense all over 'er til she smells like one of those shops that sell tye dye t-shirts an Janis Joplin memorabilia an tells 'er not to go near the fireplace. Then she unpacks 'er stuffed dog, Maxidermy, an starts talkin' to it to see if it knows where she left 'er Alzheimer's medication. Elsewhere, Teresa, Crissy, an Frank're all headin' upstairs in the elevator til Crissy gets this look on 'er face like that truck stop heat lamp burrito she had earlier ain't sittin' right an pretty quick she starts havin' a vision of Gallagher in the elevator with a bimbo, tearin' off 'er bra-strap to get to the groceries. Never play clue with this woman, just don't even bother. Then they go upstairs to their room an Crissy starts squirmin' around on the bed like a constipated boa constrictor clutchin' 'er honeydews an starts tellin' Frank about all the hot action that's gone on in the bed til Frank gets this "this is why I don't take you anywhere" look on his face. Really can't blame the guy, the Maitre d' gets all bent outta shape when this sorta thing happens in front of the lobster tank at Chez Douche. A little later that evenin', everybody comes down to the dinin' room to get some vittles while Megan regales 'em with unbearably borin' stories about how she met their motherfu... err, friend Gallagher, while Dana gets completely Merlowned an hides 'er contempt for 'im about as well as Pat Sajak conceals his stupid til Megan ends up headin' outside so she won't have to tear Dana's mustache off an give everybody the impression that she's a bad host. Alex ends up followin' 'er so he can explain to 'er that Dana's just been in a lousy mood ever since the carnival told 'er she was too saggy to work the girly show an busted 'er down to charlatan. He also tells 'er they're all psychics that Gallagher brought together to try an figure out where the Puppet Master ran off to without leavin' a forwardin' address, an what everybody majored in at Voodoo U. Meanwhile, Teresa's doin' exactly what the paranoid spritzophrenic expressly warned 'er not to over in the den an sure enough, Claude Rains shows up an starts playin' Chopsticks on the piano til she gets so preoccupied with it that she doesn't notice Lou Ferrigno's marionette equivalent (Pinhead) sneakin' up on 'er an pretty quick he busts 'er head open like Joe Arpaio at an Occupy Wallstreet protest.

Then Megan heads back inside an starts screamin' like she just found out Highway to Heaven got cancelled an by the time everybody gets to the den she's fainted like a myotonic goat with diabetes, cause Gallagher's corpse apparently got possessed by the holy spirit an Dem Bones had to walk around an stretch their legs for a minute an try to work out a cramp before takin' a seat in an armchair. So once they put the ungrateful dead back in the casket, Crissy an Frank head upstairs so she can hop in the bathtub an start reminiscin' about these two women gettin' jiggy with the showerhead til Frank puts the pantyhose he got at Tim Curry's garage sale over his head an scares the bejezus out of 'er. Elsewhere, Alex is headin' back to his own room, only when he gets there he finds Dana puttin' protective voodoo wards on his door an ritually torchin' the check out policy so Tom Bodett can't show up an try throwin' 'im out on his butt at 10am. By this point, Crissy's tied Frank to the bedpost like a Guatemalan mail order bride to a radiator an starts doin' squat thrusts on 'im til he's pretty well thigh mastered. Only about that time, Blade an Tunneler show up at the door solicitin' donations for the Little People of America an start watchin' through the keyhole an bettin' on whether or not Crissy's gonna snap off Frank's beans an weenie til they get tired of waitin' an Tunneler heads inside. Eventually, Crissy notices the orgasm echos're bouncin' off the walls a little different'n before an turns around to realize that she's not the only thing hangin' wide open an hops offa the dipstick to look for whatever the heck opened it, til she looks under the bed an gets 'er mouth drilled harder'n the Yukon Territory. Does it have to be simultaneous tunneling at both ends before it constitutes as an Eiffel Tower? I'll have to look into that. Anyway, once Crissy's been thoroughly shish-kabobed, she's replaced almost immediately by a smaller, younger, plastic woman (Leech Woman) who climbs all over Frank til she starts gettin' evenin' sickness an proceeds to hork up enough leeches onto Frank that he could start his own bait shop if he weren't gettin' sucked dry like Paul McCartney in a divorce settlement. Meanwhile, Dana's walkin' 'er hollowed out dog around like a ghoulish Paris Hilton til she runs into Alex an offers to polish his crystal balls. Of course, he declines, an tries to wander off without drawin' too much attention to his swollen trouser dowser while Dana heads back to 'er room an finds Gallagher all Archie Bunkered into 'er armchair, leavin' 'er no choice but to shake these wicker tambourines in his face til she's pretty sure he won't start tryin' to eat 'er brains.

But about that time Pinhead shows up an twists 'er ankle til it swivels around like the Round Up ride at the county fair an then makes like Rowdy Roddy Piper an puts the sleeper hold on 'er til she can get ahold of his argyle sweater an throw 'im across the room like Tommy Lee did to Pam when she got offended at the idea of performin' on tape. She tries crawlin' down the hallway for help, only by then Pinhead's gotten his second wind an proceeds to pound 'er face like Ivan Drago til she finally pitches 'im down a stairwell, much like what'd happen to Stephen Hawking if he were ever left alone with Pat Robertson. Then Blade pokes his head around the corner an breaks Carl Lewis' record for the 100 meter dash down to the elevator she's escapin' into, only to be shut out like a coupla lesbians at the high school prom in Topeka, Kansas. Unfortunately, when she reaches the ground floor, Pinhead yanks the door open an stares at 'er with this look on his face like the one your mom always got when you came home an hour late after stompin' in mud puddles, which keeps 'er distracted long enough for Blade to drop down through the ceilin' compartment an slash 'er throat worse'n the food stamp an VA budgets combined. Elsewhere, Megan shows up at Alex's room an takes 'im up to this ballroom where she starts doin' the hour waltz with some guy wearin' a Phantom of the Opera mask til he pulls it down an reveals 'imself to be Gallagher, who then promptly whips out a Luger an splatters Megan's brains to the four winds. Then Alex wakes up sweatier'n Chuck Norris after shootin' two explodin' bamboo movies back to back an about that time Megan shows up at his door an takes 'im to Gallagher's study an pulls Andre Toulon's diary out from under the mattress an thumbs past all the pages about his schoolgirl crush on The New Kids on the Block til she comes to the good stuff. The diary discusses, in detail, Toulon's usage of super secret Egyptian voodoo magic to bring his puppets to life, an his deep concern about what might happen if they were to fall into the hands of someone less scrupulous than 'imself, like that that Stromboli asshole or Shari Lewis. Then Alex starts havin' a psychic seizure til they run down to the dinin' room where they find the supportin' cast propped up an mangled at the table leakin' their last supper all over the fancy tablecloth with Gallagher in tow lookin' at least as alive as Kristen Stewart an rather pleased with 'imself. Will cut here for the folks that haven't had the pleasure.

This one, though there've been many other highly enjoyable Empire/Full Moon movies, will always be Charles Band's claim to fame. Even though, in my opinion, parts 2 and 3 are superior to it, Puppet Master is the movie that got Band the respect he deserved, and was the catalyst that propelled Full Moon Pictures to heights previously unmatched by his former company, Empire Pictures. Although, while Band has stated that he started Full Moon so he could essentially do his own thing, I feel that Empire was the better company. While it's true that the first three Puppet Master movies are some of the best titles that Band has ever made, Empire has more titles that I really enjoyed than Full Moon does. And you'd probably even have to give the best title of the lot to Empire as well, which was, of course, Re-Animator. I'll admit that I haven't watched any Full Moon movies since they employed that terrible production strategy of pumping out titles as cheaply as possible in the late 90s (Curse of the Puppet Master is one of the most gut-punchingly disappointing things I've ever seen), I do have some of their newer titles. And though I don't have much hope for them, and will eventually get around to looking at them. Maybe even watching them. If nothing else, Full Moon movies always give me a feeling of nostalgia that a lot of other superior movies don't, if for no better reason than, in the early to mid 90s, Full Moon relied entirely upon the home video market to ply their wares, and for that reason, all the video rental stops I frequented had tons of their movies. So, while they eventually went off the rail and took their eyes off the prize, Full Moon is probably the company that really kept me interested in the horror genre during that time frame. All of their movies had heart, and a great deal of charm, which you could likely attribute to the fact that they had to have an aura of uniqueness about them to keep people interested, amid the tide of bigger budget theatrical releases that were coming out at the time. Although, if we're talking about horror films made strictly between 1990 and 1995, I think the vast majority of my personal favorites were these type of direct to video releases, and films that maybe got a very small theatrical run before hitting VHS. I mean, think about it, how many great horror titles can you name from that time period that got a real theatrical release? Army of Darkness (if you wanna count that as horror), Candyman, Night of the Living Dead (1990), and maybe Tremors, though that's a bit of a stretch too. There're certainly other titles that *I* think are great, from that era, but if we're talking big time titles that everyone knows and loves? Pretty slim pickins. I suppose most normal people love Misery, too. So yeah, the early 90s were probably the only era I can think of where the direct to video product was better than the theatrical, and Full Moon was a big part of that.

Alright, that's enough mushy stuff. Lets peel the leeches offa this thing an see what it sounds like, when slugs cry. The plot is pretty decent, and since the movie isn't as similar to Child's Play as say, Dolly Dearest, you won't hear quite so many people squallin' like starvin' alley cats about how it's terribly unoriginal. It also helps that most people like it a whole lot better than Dolly Dearest, and for that reason, they're often able to miraculously overlook a lack of originality. Though, the method used to get spirits into the dolls isn't really explained until the third movie, it probably draws more inspiration from Re-Animator than Child's Play. In any event, interesting story, well written, without a bunch of ridiculous dialog. The acting is pretty decent as well, with Jimmie Skaggs completely stealing the show (once he gets to talk) as the over the top smarmy jerkoff, Gallagher. Robin Frates is admittedly a bit wooden, but the rest of the supporting cast are very entertaining and likeable. Major props for Skaggs too in that scene where he's having to keep his eyes open for so long (though you can see him blink just a little late as Irene Miracle's arm passes in front of his face), and for being able to hold as still as he did for all the scenes where he's pretending to be a corpse. If you've ever watched any old Twilight Zone episodes where people're supposed to be frozen or mannequins, you'll know how difficult it is to pull off. Gonna say that Barbara Crampton should be recognizable enough as a horror regular that listing her works is unnecessary. Besides, listing all those roles from her daytime soap operas kinda depresses me. Here's who matters and why: Paul Le Mat (Strange Invaders, Death Valley 1982), William Hickey (Knocking on Death's Door, The Runestone, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, The Sentinel 1977), Irene Miracle (Watchers II, In the Shadow of Kilimanjaro, Inferno 1980, Night Train Murders), Jimmie F. Skaggs (Dead End 2003, Hollow Man, Oblivion 2: Backlash, Solar Crisis, Ghost Town 1988), Robin Frates (Man's Best Friend, The Arrival 1991), Matt Roe (The Unborn, Child's Play 2), Kathryn O'Reilly (Jack's Back, Saturday the 14th Strikes Back), David Boyd (White Out 2006), Peter Frankland (Saturday the 13th Strikes Back, Assault on Precinct 13), Linda O. Cook (The Arrival 1991), Tim Dornberg (Dollman vs. Demonic Toys), Bert Rosario (The Arrival 1991, Maniac Cop 2).

The special effects are of course, the high point. If you've ever seen Curse of the Puppet Master, you understand completely how lousy puppeteering is a deal-breaker with a movie like this. The plot's strange enough as it is, but if you can't even believe that the puppets are moving on their own, it's all over. I don't think the puppeteering here is in any way bad, but it's not as polished as it is in parts 2 and 3, after they'd gotten some practice at it. The movie also employes some stop motion animation as well, and however you feel about that, just know that David Allen was the guy in charge of it. So, even though stop motion animation is sort of like the proto CGI in terms of how it looks, this is some of the best stop motion you'll ever see, and they don't use it just to be using it, as is often the case with CG. In my opinion, good stop motion is on par with fair CG, though I'm probably in the minority with that position. Both can be completely terrible, of course. Just look at Basket Case and The Mummy Returns. But the conventional gore effects should always be the highlight of a movie like this, and Puppet Master offers some great looking leeches, a great mouth drilling sequence with Tunneler D.D.S., a Mauser lobotomy, and a slashed throat. That may seem a little low, volume wise, but that's because they balance the movie pretty well between story and gore. The shooting location is excellent, the old hotel on the California coastline (which was actually just an apartment building) is a great setting in that it's confined, and yet, the exterior shots make it clear that it's actually a pretty good sized building. It's also got these great, old fashioned elevators that really give it the feeling of having been around in Andre Toulon's time. Of course, the lighting in the hallways causes the occasional shadow from the camera dollys to show up in shots now and then, but it's still a really great old building, and one of my favorite settings for a movie that's shot entirely, or almost entirely, inside one structure. The soundtrack is nothing short of brilliant, and probably Richard Band's best, which is saying a lot. All the tracks are suspenseful, eerie, and have an aura of classical music about them that fits in perfectly with the look and feel of the hotel. The movie as a whole, is actually rather suspenseful, and works that angle to a much higher degree than just using jolts to create its scares, and for that reason, it's one of the most effective horror soundtracks ever produced. It's so good, in fact, that most of the sequels didn't even add many new tracks. Rather, they just continued to reuse the original tracks, and they never get old. Probably in the top 5 best horror soundtracks ever. Overall, it's a classic that holds up pretty well with the passing of time, and has more charm than anything produced within the last decade. A must see for horror fans, check it out.

Rating: 85%