Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich
All hell breaks loose when a strange force animates the puppets up for auction at a convention, setting them on a bloody killing spree that's motivated by an evil as old as time.
S. Craig Zahler
Charles Band (based on characters created by)
Kenneth J. Hall (based on characters created by)
Other than a one-time screening of the original Puppet Master, back in the late ‘80s – I’ve very little experience with/exposure to this extensive and ongoing franchise, originated by Full Moon Features.
And if you were to ask me about the details from that 1989 flick, I’d have to look at you with a blank face and simply shrug my shoulders.
So how exactly does Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, the new film in the franchise (the last film debuted in 2017) tie in with the rest of the stories told?
I’ve no idea.
But that doesn’t keep me from enjoying this brand new gore-lover’s paradise, including all of the over-the-top special effects, crazy puppets and completely offensive (in a Family Guy-type way) jokes.
Comic book artist and comic book shop employee, Edgar (Reno 911’s Thomas Lennon) returns to his parents’ home, following a bitter divorce. He meets up with childhood friend Ashley (Jenny Pellicer) and develops a love affair. At the same time, he rediscovers a creepy puppet, once owned by his late brother. Along with Ashley and his boss/friend Markowitz (Nelson Franklin), he attends a convention/auction celebrating the death anniversary of puppet-maker and Nazi Andre Toulon (Udo Kier). With so many puppets in attendance (meant to be auctioned), things turn bloody and violent for our trio and the other convention guests – trapped in the convention’s hotel location.
What was most surprising (and what I feel could have been used to better advantage), was the honest-to-goodness intriguing and well thought out backstory of Edgar. Again, with little to no history in these stories, I can only imagine that most of the previous installments were short on story and heavy on violence, effects and comedy.
With Edgar’s history, current situation, family life and blossoming relationship with Ashley, the film really gets it right – in a serious way. It’s a character which the audience can attach themselves to. And then we get boobs, gore and wackiness, once the puppets start to really come out and play.
It’s been my complaint on such things before (and with my limited knowledge of this franchise, perhaps this multi-tonality is par for the course) that unless the filmmakers/writers are quite adept at mixing things up – as far as tone – they should pick one and go whole-hog in that one direction.
The introduction to Edgar’s situation has weight. And then to put that character and the seriousness of his difficult life into a blood-soaked comedy – feels like a misstep.
And that’s my big problem with the film, (and my avid readers of 4 will know how this irks me) the lack of cohesion as far as overall tone.
The dialogue is all great – notably Edgar’s early conversation with his estranged father, and later – the fabulous one-liners from Markowitz.
Thomas Lennon brings a very deadpan quality to Edgar (highlighting his comic chops) – while still offering some actual sympathy. And had the film stayed true to the depth and authenticity of Edgar’s situation – rather than taking the film to its (admittedly enjoyable) comic heights, I think it would have been a greater success. It’s widely believed that comic actors have access to a deeper pathos for their characters, and I think Lennon is no exception. I would have loved to see Edgar’s journey continue in a more serious manner. The ending does bring him back to a more weighted place in his life, but getting through the wacky humor – sorta offsets (not in a good way) the well-established (and interesting) Edgar character. It’s a great performance from Lennon.
However, my favorite performance/character is Nelson Franklin as Markowitz. As I mentioned above, he gets the best dialogue. And Markowitz’ notable failure with the ladies and constant rejection is perfectly played by Franklin. For a secondary character, with a snarky attitude, there’s actually a great deal of sympathy for Markowitz – which means the character is well-written and perfectly acted.
Horror icon Barbara Crampton makes her return to the Puppet Master world, having appeared in the 1989 original. In this latest film, she’s Officer Carol Doreski. Her fantastic tour through Doulon’s home (which in the present day is a museum) is a thing of beauty – notably the character’s wonderfully weird body language as she explains the history of Doulon and his Nazi connections. Love it!
The film is exceptionally gory – never anything beyond cartoonish (appropriate considering the comic book story). And the puppetry work is a great deal of fun. Of note is the death of one character (don’t worry, he’s basically a nameless secondary personality) – surrounding a (grossly detailed) hotel room toilet. This sequence will have you wincing in disgust, while cheering for the impressively gory death.
Politically incorrect is the name of the game as far as the film’s humor. Obviously, by the subtitle (“The Littlest Reich”), Nazism is at the core of the story. And the characters will quickly learn that minorities such as Jews and gays – are the puppets’ targets. And there is no shortage of bad jokes at the expense of these minority groups. Some jokes are obvious, while others are simply ridiculous. At one point, Markowitz and Edgar agree to leave the relative safety of a hotel room, to help out someone screaming for assistance in the hallway. Markowitz (a Jew) is asked what reason he has to help someone out. He replies with, “I’ve got about six million reasons.” And that’s pretty much the “on-the-nose” tasteless jokes you can expect all throughout this film.
A fun bit of trivia – the score for the film comes from Fabio Frizzi, probably most well known as the composer for such Lucio Fulci classics as Zombie, The Beyond and City of the Living Dead.
While this film didn’t necessarily latch on to me (a la the tiny weapons of so many of the puppets) and prod me to check out the other dozen films in the franchise, it stands on its own as a pretty good time, worthy of a watch, even if you have no prior connection to the franchise’s previous outings.
And that in and of itself is quite a recommendation – if something with a long history of prior stories, still manages to entertain a relative newbie.
It’s always been my belief that sequels in any franchise, should be able to stand on their own. Sure, prior knowledge of other stories might make for a richer screening experience, but ultimately – the filmmakers need to make a self-contained journey.
And the folks behind this latest Puppet Master, managed to do just that.
Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is now playing in a limited theatrical run and is available on VOD. It will be available on DVD/Bluray on September 25th, 2018.