The Film (4/5)
As a kid Puppet Master was a film I frequently kicked myself for missing in theaters. Even at a young age, I was able to see good horror in theaters, and I always wondered how such an awesome movie got passed me. 20 years after the Puppet Master’s original release I discover through Charles Band’s introduction to the film, that Puppet Master, like all other Full Moon films from the era were all released direct to video.
Puppet Master, he explains, was a film that established what Full Moon was, good lucking, yet cheap horror films aimed at the bourgeoning video market. It was a film that gained its success through the word of mouth of fans, such as myself. I personally always put the early Puppet Master films at the top tier of the killer doll genre, narrowly beating out Stuart Gordon’s Dolls, and beating the Child’s Play films by miles (I was never a fan of the Chuckster).
The film utilizes stop motion puppet effects mixed with live action footage in a Harryhausen-esque sort of way. The effects were handled by effects legend David Allen whose other work includes such notable films as Joe Dante’s The Howling, Larry Cohen’s The Stuff, Ron Howard’s Willow, and other Full Moon efforts such as Dr. Mordrid and the original Subspecies.
The film opens at California’s Bodega Bay Inn in 1939. A European Puppet maker Andre Toulon is working on his latest wooden puppet. Toulon’s puppets are no ordinary puppets, he has found the secret of making inanimate objects live, and uses that to make his puppets move on their own. The Nazis have discovered that Toulon can do this, and have been tracking him around the world so that they can discover his secret for their own evil purposes. As the film begins they have found him, and he is alerted to the fact by one of his living puppets, the now famous Blade. Rather than allow the Nazis to get access to his secret, Toulon hides the puppets in one of the Inn’s walls and then proceeds to end his own life.
The film then jumps ahead 50 or so years, and concentrates on 4 psychics that are brought together at the Bodega Bay Inn to mourn a recently fallen colleague Neil Gallagher. Gallagher, like so many madmen in genre cinema was trying to discover the secret to immortality, and was using these psychics to help him in the process. Upon arrival they discover the very shallow Neil had recently gotten married to Megan, the owner of the Bodega Bay Inn. This makes a few of them suspicious, as in their eyes Neil was only out for himself, and never cared for anyone else. They don’t have a lot of time to consider it, as the bodies of the maid, and the other psychics begin piling up increasingly grizzly fashions.
The killers are, or course, Toulon’s puppets which include the aforementioned Blade who has a knife for one hand, and a hook for the other. Also, featured are the Tunneller who was a drill for a head, Pinhead who was a tiny head, but extra large (and strong) hands, and the Leech Woman who has the ability to spit leeches from her mouth and onto the bodies of her victims. These puppets aren’t working alone as all puppets have a puppet master.
Puppet Master was released direct to video in the late 80’s, and as such has always been presented in a full frame 1:33:1 transfer. All DVD editions have come from this original transfer, and I had always assumed that this is the aspect ratio Band and director David Schmoeller originally intended the film to have.
This DVD, however, is presented in a 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, that opens up the frame quite a bit, and offers much more visual information than ever before. That being said the transfer is not as strong as it could be, and there are quite a few instances of print damage throughout, and a few softer spots in brighter outdoor scenes such as the exteriors of the Bodega Bay Inn.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital Stereo, like the film itself the audio is fairly average. Everything from the music, to the effects and dialogue are audible, but things sound a bit flat, and nothing truly stands out.
There are a few decent extras here, but nothing to make his special edition truly special. My favorite extra was the introduction by producer Charles Band who goes into detail about the films history, and its place in the Full Moon filmography. This is followed by No Strings Attach a making-of featurette, that predates Full Moon’s Videozones that would accompany later releases. It is short, and interesting, however it has been included with all the films releases to date. There is also a short promo for the latest Puppet Master film Axis of Evil, and the original trailers for the first 12 Full Moon features.
A good fun film from Full Moon, that is not quite a classic, but comes pretty close. The film holds up pretty well after 20 years, and is a nice breezy fun horror romp. The transfer is a pretty substantial upgrade from prior editions of the film, but could have been cleaned up a bit more. The audio is about on par with the video, not outstanding, but serviceable. The extras don’t really include much new material except for the quite interesting introduction by producer Charles Band. This film comes highly recommended to fans of Full Moon Films, and B horror movies in general.