John’s Horror Corner: Retro Puppet Master (1999), the seventh installment of a franchise that just doesn’t seem to know when to quit
Saw this poster and thought “meh”
MY CALL: This seventh franchise installment could be described as no fun. Maybe not as “bad” as part 6, but not as entertaining either. At least part 6 had the WTF-factor that made me laugh. IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCH: Puppet Master (1989), Puppet Master II (1991; the most slapstick crazy of the first three), Puppet Master III (1991) and Puppet Master 4 (1993). Also try Ghoulies (1985) and Ghoulies II (1988). SEQUEL SIDEBAR: Puppet Master III (1991; set in 1941 and having the highest production value of the first three franchise installments) is actually a prequel to Puppet Master (1989), which occurs decades later in present day and is seamlessly followed story-wise by Puppet Master II (1991; which was the least serious, most zany installment). Puppet Master 4 (1993) returns us to present day after Puppet Master II. Puppet Master 5 (1994) picks up right where part 4 ended and marks the most noticeable drop in quality of any other franchise installments. Then, after the events of parts 4 and 5, Curse of the Puppet Master randomly happens and is difficult to link to the others.
Director David DeCoteau (Curse of the Puppet Master, Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge) takes the helm again to dig the Puppet Master franchise’s grave a few feet deeper with this unremarkable prequel, which opens as a sequel to Puppet Master III, which itself is a prequel to the first Puppet Master, but most of the story takes place before Puppet Master III, making it, at least in part, an…interquel? Is that even a thing?
In 1944, Toulon (Guy Rolfe; Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge, Puppet Master 4, Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter) was planning to escape Germany with his puppets Blade (Parts 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6), Pinhead (7 movie veteran), Tunneler (7 movie veteran), Jester (7 movie veteran) and Leech Woman (Parts 1, 2, 3 and 6). So naturally, you’d think this movie is about their escape. It’s not. Not at all. Before bedtime, he decides to tell his puppets a story–the origin story of the franchise–and we never return to their escape from Germany. So why even open with them escaping to Germany?
So here’s the story…
In 1902 (Egypt), a man named Afzel is being pursued as a sorcerer by worshippers of Sutec. You remember Sutec, right? The evil Jim Henson demon lord from parts 4 and 5 who sent his antichrist only son to be reborn on Earth to kill Toulon’s puppets and all who knew his secret. When the worshippers fail, the demon God Sutec raises some mummies (that look like dudes in mummy Halloween costumes–way to go, make-up team!) to exact his revenge on the thief of the power of life. Afzel flees to Paris, but is followed by Sutec’s mummies, now made-over to look like goonish G-men with bad skin.
Meanwhile young Toulon (Greg Sestero) is entertaining Parisians with his puppet shows. After coming to the aid of Afzel, who we learn is a 3000 year old Egyptian sorcerer (despite looking like an old white dude–and they never explain how he lived so long since we are told he can only have eternal life if his soul is placed in an inanimate object), he proves his powers of eternal life by animating Toulon’s puppets–which appear as crude (or “retro”) versions of the puppets we know and love today, including Six-shooter (even though he wasn’t in the opening storytelling scene). There are also some new puppets (Dr. Death and Cyclops) which receive no explanation at all…huh?
Young Toulon with retro Pinhead, his first puppet to come to life.
Armed with death magic, Sutec’s acolytes kill Toulon’s puppet show crewmen. But now armed with the power of eternal life, Toulon infuses their souls into his puppets. Well aware that Toulon has bound their souls to these puppets, his crewmen don’t seem to mind and are happy to fight Sutec’s G-man mummies. But let’s just pause for a sec here! What happens if the puppet is destroyed? Is their once-immortal soul now also forever destroyed? Do they still get to go to Heaven? Did this “eternal life” backdoor damn them to Hell? I would have asked a few questions before signing up to fight an angry demon lord’s sorcerous henchmen! CONSEQUENCES OF ETERNAL LIFE FAIL.
Retro Blade etching a protective glyph on Toulon.
The effects team returned to some of their stop-motion roots, which was nice. Sadly, the puppet violence was awful and there were no memorable kills–none. Most deaths are attributed to Sutec’s goons just waving their hands in the air and then people die in a blur of death magic that slowly makes them kneel and lay down…you know…as they’re dying from the anticlimactic evil sorcery. DEATH MAGIC FAIL. No build-up, no scares, no blood…no fun. Worse yet, our two new puppets don’t do anything? I don’t mean they don’t have their own personalities or special ways to kill, which they don’t. I mean they don’t do ANYTHING. NEW PUPPET FAIL!!!
Retro puppets Tunneler, Cyclops, Blade, Pinhead, Six-shooter and Dr. Death, celebrating their boring defeat of Sutec’s mummy G-man.
In the end Toulon fails to reveal anything about the two new puppets. He does, however, make reference to that being for “another story.” So I guess we’ll just have to suffer through another sequel to find out. Although, low and behold, part 8 doesn’t even touch this notion. DOUBLE NEW PUPPET FAIL.
This whole movie could be described as no fun. Maybe not as “bad” as part 6, but not as entertaining either. At least part 6 had the WTF-factor that made me laugh when I wasn’t rolling my eyes.
In case you were wondering why there was no retro Leech Woman, it’s because Leech Woman didn’t come about until Toulon’s wife Ilsa died. We meet young Ilsa here. And her face pretty much sums up how I felt after watching this movie.
Dare we move on to part 8…