Posted by: Andy | October 17, 2010

Andy’s Halloween Trailer Park: Puppet Master (1989)

I stumbled upon my first video store job in 1989.

It was a thankless shift that spanned from Midnight until 8:00am.  Fittingly, the desolate, nomadic, graveyard shift rewarded me by offering minimal human interaction except for a few inebriated zombies stumbling their way up from their downtown haunts.  As an added bonus, the  store had a spooky prefab fiberglass Horror section which resembled an S&M dungeon if it was designed by Home Depot. It housed all the movies I’d ever need to satiate my growing habit for genre films.

Ultimately, when a job boils down to calling cabs for drunks and ensuring my seedy co-worker at the time didn’t watch porn in the kids section, you soon realize that you’re not long for living the Vampire lifestyle (this was years before Twilight made it cool and then lame). Rocket Science this was not.

Didn’t do much for my tan either but it was an acceptable  trade off to spending time with the likes of Romero, King, Craven and Carpenter.  I mercifully made the jump to day shifts just in time to avoid my Dad organizing some type of Goth Intervention.

That was a pretty fun Summer though…

1989 was also the year Pupper Master arrived to home video thanks to “Direct to Video” auteur Charles Bands and his B flick empire Full Moon Entertainment. Full Moon was making a name for itself in the genre world, even managing to find home video distribution through Paramount Studios.  As most movies Band produced, much like the already legendary Roger Corman, Full Moon’s stable of releases were primarily knock-offs that capitalized on bigger budget studio hits that had cashed in at the theaters.

So when Chucky became a household name at the cineplexes in 1988 after Child’s Play was released, it was only a matter of time before more Toys run amok would happen.

Imitation was not so much flattery as it was guaranteed money in the bank. Full Moon productions were made on the cheap, didn’t have to pay for expensive theatrical print runs but instead tapped into the lucrative and rapidly expanding  home entertainment market, which could reach plenty more store fronts/consumers rather than a few scant screens across North America.

Andre Toulan, a legendary puppeteer and craftsman has somehow discovered via an Egyptian spell the ability to give his adopted family of wooden children life. No fairies or talking crickets here kids. Seeing how beneficial this power could be in swaying the ongoing war between Hitler and everybody else, undercover Nazi agents are dispatched to the  an oceanfront inn overloooking Bodega Bay in California. However before the Krauts can lay their mitts on Toulon he French kisses a revolver and ensuring one unfortunate cleaning lady’s going to require extra Oxiclean.

50 years pass and a gaggle of psychics are commisioned to revisit the now very much abandoned Bodega Bay Inn. However instead of Ouijaing up the joint proper, they unleash Toulans pint size puppets, who considering how long they’ve been trapped inside a large crate holed up in a wall – don’t seem too grateful. Cranky enough to begin offing said psychics (who really, if bonafide psychics – couldn’t they have seen this coming?) in deliciously inventive manners.

Each puppet has a distinct personality and if to quote Mortal Kombat properly “Finishing Moves”. Blade is an albino Klaus Kinski looking little fellow with interchangeable weapons for hands making throat and tendon slashing his specialty. He’s actually decked out in an outfit that reminds me of the Fisherman killer in “I Know What You Did Last Summer” Pinhead is a burly puppet with a miniscule noggin. He’s the grunt of the team, using his meaty maws to strangle his victims and use brute force when necessary. Tunneler looks a tad like Peter Lorre, the bug eyed thespian from the Silver Age of Hollywood. He has a giant drill atop his head. I don’t think I need to explain how he takes care of business. Suffice to say his handy work is the most juicy. Leech Woman is a sultry lass who wears slutty, loose fitting clothes and likes to regurgitate live leeches onto her host. Finally there is Jester, the conscience of the team, whose spinning head works much like Batman villain Two-Face’s coin when flipped in the air. Sometimes he is the deciding factor as to who lives and who doesn’t check out of the Inn.

Stop Motion animation is what truly brings the Puppets in this movie to life. Sure there are many scenes where regular hand operated puppets and marionettes are used for specific logistical reasons. However, when stop motion is utilized, the fact these creatures are originally inanimate toys that shouldn’t be moving around independently, let alone dispatching their freaked out victims. Computer Generated graphics can give us an entire planet of blue aliens with mind blowing visuals but I somehow doubt that the technology could ever capture the soul that lies within stop-motion.

The Puppet Master gang remains the quintessential killer toy group of all time. Additional puppets would be introduced as the series would spawn nine sequels, all of which devolved quickly from the fun and polish of the original. But the core five in this film are and always will be the Menudo of tiny terrors in film.

How big of a franchise did Puppet Master become for Full Moon? Take a look at the toy line they were pitching.

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