I’ve a fondness for comedy horrors as anyone who’s read the reviews of Shaun of the Dead, One Cut of the Dead and Freddy Vs Jason will know, and I also find trashy tongue in cheek slashers to be quite fun too, so it’s all a bit bizarre that I’ve never seen any of the Puppet Master films considering there’s been twelve of them featuring the various characters who have featured in the franchise and I’m not quite sure how I missed them. Fortunately for me this latest film is a reboot though, so seeing any of the preceding films isn’t required in the slightest, which judging by their imdb ratings is probably a good thing.
The reason I hoped that this would be worth watching and not predictable and bland was due to two factors, the first being that it had a script from S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99) and the second was that it had Thomas Lennon in the lead role. Lennon’s one of my favourite comic actors and has delivered time and time again in shows like Reno 911!, The State, Bajillion Dollar Properties and Another Period in amongst about 100 other things so I presumed he would do so here too. And though bland is probably one of the last words you’d ever use to describe such a film the plot only really goes from A to B and there aren’t many deviations along the way while the acting is fine but not sadly not that memorable.
The film opens with a scene set thirty years ago with Udo Kier’s Andre Toulon indirectly murdering a couple of barmaids via the use of some his puppets before he’s shot dead by a police officer. We then skip to the present day where Edgar Easton (Lennon) has moved back in with his parents after his divorce and is working in a comic book store run by his friend Markowitz (Nelson Franklin). Soon enough he meets romantic interest Ashley Summers (Jenny Pellicer) and it’s all standard fare, the dialogue is vaguely amusing but nothing that special. Edgar has a bunch of old toys he’s selling at a convention about the murders 30 years ago, and you will no doubt be shocked and amazed to discover that the dolls are evil and were responsible for the deaths back then. And now they’re back and all kinds of murderous once again, but is Toulon still alive? Or is their a new puppet master in town?
After the pre-credits sequence we get a whole bunch of exposition about Toulon and a tour around his mansion, including the library which contains books by Adolf Eichmann, the orchestrator of the final solution, and for a supposed comedy horror it’s light on laughs and the first half hour is a tad dull. But then the dolls go missing, the gore kicks off and everything goes batshit crazy. So there’s deaths by flame thrower, demise due to decapitation, annihilation after evisceration, homicide by Hitler (a plastic baby one at least) and fatality thanks to farting (fine, I made that last one up, but it’s the kind of movie where such a scene wouldn’t be a surprise) and that’s only about a tenth of the various killings.
On the downside there’s some pointless nudity, it doesn’t do anything new with the genre and it follows most of your standard horror movie rules, so if you have sex you’re dead, god forbid if you’re a person of colour, and if you drink alcohol or do drugs expect to be grave bound soon, etc, etc, though the slight twist here is that they’re all hate crimes and those bastard puppets are racist. Also an issue is that the characterisation outside of the three leads is pretty flimsy, and given his pedigree it’s surprising that the dialogue from Zahler is rarely that interesting.
Ultimately it depends on what you want from comedy horrors as to whether you’ll enjoy it or not. If you’re looking for a smart and witty script with an intriguing storyline then you’ll leave disappointed, but if you enjoy lots of over the top bloody horribleness and silly little puppets being the cause of such misery then it delivers in spades. Well, actually, death by spade is about the only cause of demise not featured in the film, but you get what I mean. Given the talent involved I can’t help but feel that it’s a shame it’s not a bit better, but if you’re a fan of the genre and go in with low expectations you might enjoy it well enough.