You are currently viewing At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Puppet Master “89”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Puppet Master “89”

MPAA Rating: NR/Genre: Horror/ Stars: William Hickey, Paul Le Mat, Irene Miracle, Jimmie F. Skaggs, Robin Frates, Matt Roe, Kathryn O’Reilly, Mews Small, Barbara Crampton, David Boyd, Peter Frankland, Andrew Kimbrough;  Featured Puppets: Blade, Jester, Pinhead, Tunneler, Leech Woman, Shredder Khan, Gengie/ Runtime: 88 minutes

I think it can be said that in terms of slasher movies that we as movie goers received from that iconic decade known as the 80s there is not only something for everyone, but there is also a vast array in terms of quality as well. Indeed contained within this collection one will find a few great films, a few good films, and quite a few that are either ripe for the proverbial dumpster fire or just so bad they’re actually entertaining in their own way. Yet there are also some that manage to, against all odds, exist in their own little bubble and live out their existence nearly free from critical nitpicking. Nearly. The reason I bring this last category up is because it is in this last category that one can find the movie I am reviewing today, 1989’s Puppet Master. Indeed make no mistake this is not a slasher in the same vein as say the Halloween films, but the confines that the two possess are fairly similar. Yet more than that, this is also one that tries to actually inject some fairly thought-provoking ideas into its narrative rather than just seeing how many people it can slice and dice before it’s over. Yes it doesn’t quite succeed on that front, but where it does succeed is both in just how much fun and wonderfully campy the film is to say nothing of its squad of antagonists who are truly special additions to the pantheon of slasher villains. Suffice it to say then that Puppet Master really truly is a distinct little contribution to horror cinema that, flaws aside, I can’t say I am that astonished to learn was not only able to find its audience when it released on VHS/DVD, but also has managed to give birth to one of the more unique franchises for a slasher film I have had the pleasure of watching.

The plot is as follows: Starting off at a distinct little inn in the locale of Bodega Bay in the long gone year of 1939, our slice of horror cinema gets underway as we see a guy by the name of Andre Toulon who is in possession of the distinct and particularly noteworthy talent of creating and then giving the “gift” of life to incredibly beautifully designed but also fairly alive puppets take his own life before a pair of men dressed all in black can capture him and take him away to parts unknown. Flash forward to what was, at that time, present day 1989 and we see that a professor teaching at Yale by the name of Alex Whitaker has a horrific dream of a squad of leaches deciding to make a meal out of the blood in his body (must have been around the time of an upcoming sports match between Yale and Harvard I guess). While all of this is going on, we see a carnival medium by the name of Dana Hadley has a similar dream of her own demise where she has her throat viciously and horrifically cut. Being understandably unnerved and freaked out by these dreams, we see this pair along with 2 other psychics named Frank Forrester and Carlissa Stamford respectively are summoned in a sense to the long since deserted inn from the beginning of the film by a colleague of sorts named Neil Gallagher. Upon their arrival, we see that the quartet are treated to no less than a dynamic duo of quite out of left field surprises. These being that not only has Neil taken a young woman named Megan as his bride, but also that he too recently has decided to take his own life (surprise, surprise). Thus as the group of assembled colleagues and the widow of the dearly deceased attempt to come to terms with what has occurred, they all soon find that things might be more serious when the long-dormant puppets wake up and begin trying to kill them off one by one. Thus can our intrepid heroes survive these murderous Pinocchios and uncover the source of the power that has summoned them to this quaint inn in the community of Bodega Bay? Gee….what the heck do you think?

Now miniscule budget, tiny villains, and small-scale outcomes. That in a nut shell is this film that has still managed to acquire quite the legion of fans due to its tiny mischievous murderers. Yet when you venture into the film proper, you might be astonished to discover that this movie is one that actually has a fairly novel idea at its heart besides the obvious slasher components only for this novel idea to be let down due to the film failing to flesh it out in any comprehensible manner. A tragedy really since this narrative is one that is quite ambitious from a thematic perspective for a tiny little film dealing primarily with a squad of homicidal and living puppets. Yet instead of supporting this ambitious narrative, the movie is very crudely built so it can incorporate the more typical slasher elements with the more thought-provoking elements on display. As such, we get a film equipped with a narrative that not once seems completely constructed and with character behaviors and choices that are incredibly head-scratching in their level of confusing.

Be that as it may be, I can’t help but respect this film’s fairly commendable stab (pun intended) at trying to be more than just another run of the mill slasher flick. Indeed this is one slice and dice of horror cinema that chooses to play with nuances that are psychological-rooted, science-grounded, and even religious-based and which are exactly fairly riveting ideas for a movie to explore. Sadly, it is not easy to take this movie as seriously as it would like when running amok throughout the film are a group of puppets running around killing people in a variety of sickening ways. No it’s not impossible for a slice of cinematic pie to construct a thought-provoking analysis on some of the more hard to answer questions whilst disguising the whole affair as a visceral horror film, but such movies (Se7en and Silence of the Lambs) are as great as they are because their narratives are better constructed, their performers more invested, and their helmers more experienced among other items of interest. Heck even the Saw movies, to however shrinking of a degree as the franchise went on, found ways to tie in some fairly intriguing ideas to go alongside the buckets of blood. Sadly for Puppet Master these ideas seem like they are meant to distract you from the slice and dice components that make up the majority of the film.

Yet even with that in mind, if you choose to watch this movie just off the blood, sexual content, and comedic components, I suppose that Puppet Master does manage to show it’s not a bad little cinematic way to make the most of an otherwise boring hour and a half. I mean let’s face it: the puppets at the heart of this film are actually really cool and, if nothing else, are worth watching this movie all on their own even if you still wish the screen time they’re given was more despite being given a fairly substantial amount in the first place. Sure they might prove to be a stumbling block in terms of you, the viewer possibly appreciating what the creative minds behind this film tried to showcase besides a sense of mischievous fun and a fair bit of gore, but they’re still quite engaging and surprisingly well-constructed despite not possessing a single word of dialogue. Even with that in mind however, Puppet Master still limps its way through some sequences that are pretty lifeless as well as some frights and narrative threads that are way too slow in their construction. Worse yet, there are a few scenes that might appear like they were stretched for the sake of giving this movie a longer runtime, but thankfully the resolution to these scenes are by and large worth it. Indeed if there is one component to this film that I can’t really make any kind of excuse for, it would be in regards to the group of human performers in this who really appear at a loss as to not only what they’re supposed to be doing, but as to what in the world they are doing in this film in the first place. As a result, we get a group of performances that seem extremely unsure to say nothing of appearing like they are reading their lines off a hidden teleprompter.

All in all I think all you, the movie goer, needs to do when taking the time to look at the legacy of the PuppetMaster franchise, a franchise that includes distinct characters as well as (at the time of this writing) no more and no less than nine follow-up films, is see just how much impact the very first one from all the way back in 1989 managed to have both on under the radar horror as well as cult classic cinema in general and that should give you some idea of what to expect. Yes I suppose it goes without saying that this slice and dice of horror cinema does have a few moments here and there worthy of praise and I suppose the killer puppets are really cool-looking as well as a novel approach for a horror film to utilize, but this film’s narrative is quite the mess and, if I am being honest, way too ambitious for a slice of horror cinema that is the result not of any more immersive ingredients, but instead because someone thought the sentence “homicidal and sentient puppets with a craving for carnage” might make for a fairly profitable escapist slice of horror cinema. Yet besides playing to that idea, this slice of horror cinema seems like it wants to immersive itself in some fairly advanced spiritual and psychological concepts that would work if not t-boned by the film’s slasher component which is quite fun when left to run the movie on its own. Be that as it may be, this slice of horror cinema is the kind of cinema that you think it is and it cannot be denied at the end of the day that this series not only is in possession of a legion of fans all its own, but does have a status as one of the odder yet no less intriguing horror films that I have had the pleasure of seeing in quite some time. Make of that therefore what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Puppet Master “89” a solid 2.5 out of 5.

*Once more, this is normally where the trailer would go, but upon viewing the trailer I have determined that it is tragically fairly spoiler-heavy. As a result, I have elected not to place it here in case this movie is one you would like to check out. Thank you all for your support, have a Happy Halloween, and I’ll see you guys….at the movies! Ag*