I guess a better man would have watched Amazon’s $4.71 DVD which has all 9 Puppetmaster films on it. Thank God that ain’t me.
Puppetmaster (no The) immediately gets off to a good start. It has a bouncy score that seems perfect for the puppetmaster’s workshop, but also maintains a dreamy slightly dark and dangerous vibe.
The fun-meter takes a dip when the first face we see is William Hickey who can be incredibly grating. He is working in the Bodega Bay Inn in 1939, on his puppets, which already show signs of life.
We get a nice low-level puppet-POV tracking shot as one of his creations returns to his hotel to warn him that Nazis were looking for him. Much like Gingerdead Man, he seems to be able to roam around with impunity, none of the hotel guests noticing this 15 inch freak running around. At least GD Man could turn 90 degrees, and be only 1/4 inch thick. I don’t know what the puppet’s secret is. Just before the Nazis bust in, Hickey hides his puppets in a secret compartment and kills himself.
Back in the present day, or at least 1989, professor Paul LeMat is having visions. Although, being a professor at Yale, his grasp of reality was already tenuous at best. Elsewhere, a carnival fortune-teller also begins experiencing visions. Actually, she has a vision sitting right in front of her in the form of the lovely Barbara Crampton. It is actually a pretty funny scene, well played by both. Her mullet-headed boy-friend doesn’t contribute much, but the girls are great. In a research lab, a Peter Stormare doppleganger and his hot assistant both get the visions.
Neil Gallagher has been researching Egyptian methods of giving life to inanimate objects. His psychic outreach has summoned all of these people to the Bodega Inn where Hickey did his original puppet animation. When they get there, he is already dead and they are welcomed by his wife Megan. The puppets then begin picking off the psychics.
When Paul LeMat figures out what is going on, it turns out that Neil was only mostly dead, and has used the Egyptian secrets to give himself eternal life. Two problems with that: I don’t see any ancient Egyptians walking around today, and he’ll be dead in a few minutes.
In the course of giving the standard Goldfinger / 007 exposition speech, he tosses aside one of the puppets. That’s all it takes to drive them into a murderous rage. Well, they were already killers, this just put a target on Gallagher’s ankles.
The puppets are excellent. There is a cheese factor, but it only adds to the movie’s charms. The transfer is so terrible on the disk, that screen-caps do not do them justice. Google Tunneler, Pinhead, Jester and Leech Woman to see the great designs.
The human cast does not equal their wooden co-stars. Paul LeMat always seems like a good guy, but he’s not much of an actor. He has only one IMDb credit in the last 10 years, so I hope he is doing well. Neil Gallagher’s wife who is set up to carry on the tradition in the sequel (but does not) is terribly miscast, having no screen presence at all. not-Stormare just distracted me with his resemblance. And I kept thinking that his assistant, while certainly cute, should have been played by Barbara Crampton. Hickey’s role is small enough that he is tolerable.
The stand-out for me was Irene Miracle as Dana the fortune telling psychic. Her scene with Crampton was charming, and she was intriguing throughout the film. 10 years before Puppetmaster, she won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year in Midnight Express. No idea how her career got derailed, but she deserved better — no IMDb credits after 1997.
- I was disappointed to find I misread IMDb and Megan Gallagher was a character name, not the hot 80’s actress.
- I see Paul LeMat has a few books available at Amazon. Not many reviews, but suspiciously, every review is 5 stars.
- Shockingly, he won 2 Golden Globes. One was for New Star of the Year, same as Irene Miracle’s award. This award must be like the Sports Illustrated Curse. It was retired in 1983.
- Story credit to Charles Band who was a producer on the Gingerdead Man movies. He also directed Trancers, making him the 1st 3-peater in this ignominious collection. On the plus side, he directed the movie with the best title in history, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn.