Full Moon Features were established in the very late 80s and Mr. Band was already a veteran in the independent movie business, which had the Empire Pictures in his legacy of producing primarily low-budget horror/fantasy films spewed out for the blooming VHS market. Most of which are cheap schlocks aimed at a niche audience. Some notable titles from that era includes The Dungeonmaster, Troll, Ghoulies I and II, Trancers, Crawlspace, Rawhead Rex, TerrorVision, Re-Animator, From Beyond, Cellar Dweller and the list goes to the moon and back.
But with its brand new company after the financial collapse of Empire Pictures, it needed to get more serious and create a flagship film series to kickstart a new era where VHS was still king (and very expensive to buy). With Charles Band’s deep obsession with puppets and dolls, The Puppet Master became a long-lived franchise which, at the time being, has spawned over 14 sequels over the course of the 90s and 2000s. The last entry was released in 2022 with Puppet Master: Doktor Death and more are likely to come. An online video game based on the films was also launched this year.
All films are available on streaming at fullmoonfeatures.com, except for Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys (2004) because it’s owned by SyFy for some reason and Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018) for whatever reason. They’re available on other streaming sites though for those who have regional bullshit access.
Puppet Master starts back in 1939 at Bodega Bay Inn, a hotel on the Californian seacoast and the main location in most of the films in the series. The old puppeteer, André Toulon, is in his room surrounded by his dolls and puppets as he’s adding some colorpaint on his latest creation. He also has a mysterious elixir that brings the puppets to life, and no other than Hitler himself wants that elixir. Of course. Two Nazi spies enter the hotel as they are on the way to capture Toulon. Before they enter his room, Toulon has hidden the puppets away in a suitcase and committed suicide by a bullet in the skull.
We then jump to present time where four psychics are spiritually contacted by Neil Galahger. He’s the current owner of Bodega Bay Inn, and when they arrive they find out that he committed suicide. Why? Who really cares. The more important thing here is that there are murderous puppets creeping around and they don’t like these psychics, and understandably so when they have the nerve to trespass on their domain. So go kill’em, puppets!
The film has its flaws and rough edges but my biggest gripe here is the characters (the humans to be more specific) which drags the film to utter boredom on several places. There’s absolutely nothing to them as they have as much screen presence like a dead potato. They seem completely tuned out, bored out of their minds and there’s clearly no one home behind their eyes. Even the puppets look more alive. And yes, my ghoulish walnut-sized brain gets that they’re supposed to dip in-and-out of trances and whatnot like the weird psychics they are, but still… WAKE THE FUCK UP! SNAP-SNAP! One of the psychics, played by Paul Le Mat, looks like a young H.R. Giger, by the way.
Then we have the puppets which are just cute and adorable and always amusing to watch. They also have their own skills and weapons. Here we meet Jester the Clown with possibly the largest weapon pack that includes a knife, a handgun, razor-sharped scissors, exploding cigars filled with nitroglycerin, candy bazooka, smiling heart–shaped laughing gas bomb, flesh–eating bubble gum blower, explosive cyanide– acid stuffed Ice Cream pies, and even much more. Even John Wick would struggle here.
Leech Woman is the one with the gross-factor as she spews out leeches from her mouth upon her victims. Tunneller is an asian-looking puppet with a cone-shaped power drill on his head which speaks for itself. Blade is the leader of the puppets and pretty much the mascot for the whole Full Moon brand and which his name suggest, slashes his victims with his knife. My personal favorite is Pinhead, the one with the small head and the big knuckles. He’s just simple and a pure old-schooler who sucker-punches his victims into oblivion and oozes good old toxic masculinity. And the reason Pinhead’s fists looks more real in the elevator scene where he punches a woman is because it’s the fists of a dwarf stunt woman. In one of the sequels Pinhead also manages to rip someone’s head off with his hands. Savage!
The castle-style hotel of Bodega Bay Inn with its gothic surroundings mixed with POV shots from the puppets perspective creates an eerie atmosphere. There’s certainly some great production value here, despite its flaws, and it’s overall a decent-looking film with some clever camera work and steady directing from David Schmoeller (who also made the cult film Tourist Trap and Crawlspace with Klaus Kinski). The gore is minimal but we have at least some throat slashing, fingers that gets chopped off like small sausages and some other ghoulishness for dessert. Nothing too special but the fact that all kills are performed by a mix of stop-motion and puppets on strings surely adds to the charm.
Director: David Schmoeller
Writers: Charles Band, Kenneth J. Hall, David Schmoeller
Country & year: USA, 1989
Actors: Blade, Pinhead, Jester, Tunneler, Leech Woman, Gengie, Shreddar Khan, Paul Le Mat, William Hickey, Irene Miracle, Jimmie F. Skaggs, Robin Frates, Matt Roe, Kathryn O’Reilly