Sunday, September 4, 2011

DVD Review: THE MIDNIGHT HORROR COLLECTION: PUPPET MASTER V.2

THE MIDNIGHT HORROR COLLECTION: PUPPET MASTER V.2
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
PUPPET MASTER IV (1993)
Rating: R
Duration: 79 mins
Director: Jeff Burr
Cast: Chandra West, Ash Adams, Gordon Currie, Guy Rolfe
Tagline: When Bad Puppets Turn Good


PUPPET MASTER IV is directed by director Jeff Burr whom a few years earlier directed the much maligned LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3 (1990) which I actually quite enjoy but he also directed PUMPKINHEAD II: BLOOD WINGS (1994) which I have no love for so I wasn't sure what to expect when Burr took on the franchise, so let's see what we have here. The film opens in an other dimensional netherworld where we are introduced to a rubbery looking Egyptian demon named Sutekh and his trio of jawas looking minions adorned in robes with glowing red eyes. Sutekh declaring war on those who have stolen his secret of animation, namely Andrew Toulon who we all know died in the first film, but others are carrying on his work. Rick Meyers (Gordon Currie, THE WOODS) is a genius level researcher working for the Phoenix Division of the Omega Project which aims to develop artificial intelligence for presumably military applications. Coincidentally he just so happens to work as the off season curator of the Bodega Bay Inn, Toulon's old stomping grounds and is on the verge discovering Toulon's puppets and life giving elixir. 
Sutekh sends his forth a trio of Gremlin-like creatures called Totems to the Earthly plane which are controlled by his jawa-esque minions, each delivered in a wooden case to the three researchers involved with the project, Dr. Piper (Stacie Randall, GHOULIES IV), Dr. Baker (Felton Perry, ROBOCOP) and Rick at the Bodega Bay Inn. Dr. Piper is the first unlucky recipient of the deadly package and is terrorized by the Totem in a manner that specifically recalled the Zulu fetish doll segment of TRILOGY OF TERROR and then of CAT'S EYE when the creature sucks the life from her mouth and eyes with wispy ARMY OF DARKNESS opening credit style animations, not original but pretty entertaining at least.

Similarly Dr. Baker received a Totem and meets a grisly end meanwhile back at the Inn Rick spends his time playing laser tag with two experimental pint-sized robots in an attempt to gauge and encourage them to react autonomously, to transcend their programming an exhibit true A.I. His war-games are interrupted when his girlfriend Susan (Chandra West, THE SALTON SEA) shows up with her red-haired psychic friend Lauren (Teresa Hill, BIO-DOME) in tow alongside her moussed-up 80's asshole boyfriend Cameron (Ash Adams, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) who as it turns out is a former colleague of Rick's as well as a current member of the Phoenix Division, he's previously unaware that Rick is the lead researcher on the very project he works for.
 
After dinner that night Lauren notices the puppet Blade which Rick has previously discovered at the Inn, she stares at the puppet intensely, definitely getting a psychic vibe from the still secretly animated puppet. Later that night the group discover Toulon's trunk and open it despite Lauren's protests. Inside they find Toulon's journals, the remaining puppets Six-Shooter, Jester, Tunneler and Pinhead plus the animating serum. Reading through the journals they decide to attempt to reanimate the puppets, and do so successfully. Both researchers quickly realize that the serum could prove to be the key to A.I. and Cameron immediately begins to devise a plan steal the serum and take credit for the discover. He and Lauren use a mystical wiiji board of sorts found in Toulon's drunk to reach out to the spirit of former puppet master but instead open a gate to the netherworld summoning two Totems. Not long after the third Totem is mysteriously delivered at the Inn's doorstep and it's game on as the four battle for their lives against the creatures with the help of the puppets who in the grand Frankenstein tradition bring to life one of Toulon's unfinished creations, the new puppet Decapitator!
 
I rather enjoyed this installment of the franchise which kind of reads like a reboot of the series with the addition of the demonic Sutekh and his minions, it's all fun stuff and the more occult elements reminded me a bit of BEASTMASTER. The spirit of Toulon (Guy Rolfe, DOLLS) appears to both the Puppets and Rick throughout the film, often morphing with the head of Decapitator, that I didn't enjoy quite so much. The puppet animations this time around weren't on par with a few of the earlier films but there are some very cool action sequences involving the puppets working together to destroy the Totems including a lassoing and electrocution of a creature, the tag team of Six-Shooter and Pinhead holding down one of the creatures while Tunneler burrows into it's chest cavity, and the awakening of the Decapitator who exchanges his silver featureless head for a electron discharging sci-fi ensemble which he uses to destroy the final minion.

The fourth installment of the franchise is good cheesy fun with some decent low-budget effects work and decent acting and while it's not a great film I found it passably entertaining, fun and steeped in the now familiar Full Moon atmosphere that I seem to have an affinity for.

PUPPET MASTER V: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1994)
Rating: R
Duration: 82 mins
Director: Jeff Burr
Cast: Chandra West, Ash Adams, Ian Oglivy, Guy Rolfe
Tagline: Puppets Vs. An All New Evil!

The fifth film in the series is also directed by Jeff Burr and was filmed back-to-back with it's predecessor taking place immediately following the events of PM4 as we find Rick charged with the murders of Cameron, Dr. Piper and Dr. Baker. The cops obviously balk when he lays the blame on pint-sized killer creatures and h prospects look grim until he is bailed of jail out by the Director of the Phoenix Project, Dr. Jennings (Ian Oglivy, WITCHFINDER GENERAL). Ricks spills the beans about the events of the previous night to Jennings who is only slightly more believing of the story and much like Cameron from the previous film he hatches a scheme to acquire the puppets with the help of three hired thugs.


When Jennings and the thugs search the Inn for the puppets  they are attacked not only by the puppets but by Sutekh in the form of another more powerful Totem. The thugs falls easy prey to the demon and puppets and when Rick and Suzy make their way back to the hotel they find themselves aligned with Jennings in a battle with the Totem Sutekh who proves to be a more formidable  adversary than his minions. The humans are again aided by Blade, Six Shooter, Tunneler Pinhead, and Jester plus a surprise appearance from Torch who was conspicuously absent the last film.

Rick and the puppets toil to resurrect the Decapitator who once again is called upon to assist them against the powerful Sutekh. The film again features an appearance by the spirit of Toulon plus the psychic Lauren who lies comatose in a hospital bed after the events of PM4 but who's spirit somehow inhabits a computer this time around. Again, the Toulon elements of the film and the rather lame possessed computer bits were the film's weakest aspects. Somehow the film still manages to offer cheese-tastic entertainment to a degree but I found this entry less enjoyable than the last by some margin, and the quality of the puppeteering and animation is proportionately worse as well though the final battle is pretty cool. It was nice to see Gordon Currie back as the new puppet master and the addition of Ian Oglivy as the evil Dr. Jennings but only a recommend to Puppet Master die-hards. What was meant to be the last film in the series while offering some thrills definitely feels like a series on it's last leg.  
CURSE OF THE PUPPET MASTER (1998)
Rating: R
Duration: 78 mins
Director: Victoroa Sloan
Cast: George Peck Emily Harrison
Tagline: The Human Experiment


You just can't keep a good puppet down, though Charles Band retired the franchise with PM5 the series was resurrected four years later with CURSE OF THE PUPPET MASTER. This time out director Jeff Burr does not return to helm the film but David DeCoteau who directed my favorite entry in the series, PUPPET MASTER III: TOULON'S REVENGE (1991), does, though it should be noted he chose to use his directorial pseudonym Victoria Sloan on the film, perhaps a reflection of how he felt about the final result. Also not returning is puppet master Rick Meyers and there's no mention of what has become of him. The defacto puppet master this time out is Dr. Magrew (George Peck, DEATHTRAP) who runs a puppet sideshow of sorts called The House of Marvels. He's also experimenting with transferring the soul of a human into puppets trying to replicate the autonomy of the puppets he purchased at an auction years earlier; Six Shooter, Jester. Tunneler, Pinhead, Blade and Leech Woman who is back despite having been killed off in PM2 and Blowtorch and Decapitator are nowhere to be found.

His daughter Jane (Emily Harrison, DANGEROUS INTENTIONS) is home from college and a trip to the local gas station with her father introduces them both to the gentle giant Robert "Tank" Winsley (Josh Green, PEARL HARBOR) who has a talent for creating ornate wood carvings. Dr. Magrew enlists Robert to work for him, carving intricate pieces of wood, for what he hopes to be a living animated puppet. Upon arrival at The House of Marvel's Robert is introduced to the puppets, he's mystified by how they are "alive" and Magrew tells him that the secret to animating the the inanimate is to put a soul into it. Not so coincidentally Magrew's previous assistant Matt has mysteriously disappeared drawing the attention of the Sherriff Garvey (Robert Donovan, MURDERCYCLE) and Deputy Wayburn (Jason-Shane Scott, DEADLAND) who pay the doc a visit after Matt's worried mother files a missing person's report. Magrew attempts to replicate Toulon's creations have thus far been unsuccessful and it seems that his previous assistant Matt may have been an unwitting victim.

His first night at the house Robert has a nightmare that his legs have been replaced by carved wooden appendages, it's a very effective visual and perhaps a bit of a nod to Pinocchio as well. Jane and Robert develop a romantic relationship which upsets her father, at first it's not clear if it's because the young man is a bit dim witted or if he has ulterior motives, but it's not a mystery for too much longer when he sends Jane of a fool's errand to keep her occupied while he attempts to place Robert's soul inside a robotic puppet. Unfortunately for him the puppets, who are inherently good, turn on him when they realize he's hurt Robert whom they've bonded with.

Unfortunately the puppets take second billing to the mad scientist storyline and the puppet animation is at an all time low, probably owing to the absence of longtime PM effects man David Allen.  The film is too much a departure from the series for my tastes and is defintely the weakest of the six up to this point, not surprising given that PM5 four years previously was already running on fumes. It occurred to me that the film has a strong resemblance to SSSSSSS (1973) a film featuring a scientist who operates a snake-themed roadside attraction and is diabolically perfecting a serpent-human hybrid and whose daughter is romantically entangled with his doomed assistant, sounds familiar, no?

DVD: All three film are presented in 4x3 fullframe with Dolby Digital stereo audio with no subtitle options. It's a single flipper disc DVD with pt.4  on side one and pts. 5,6 on side two. Not a grand presentation, in fact it's perhaps only slightly better than VHS quality with rampant video artifacting and noise coupled with the fact that there are no special features to be found for any of the films, it's a bare bones disc.

Verdict: So, these are not great films, duh, but they are definitely entertaining in a b-movie schlocky sorta way so I do give this a recommend to PUPPET MASTER and Full Moon enthusiasts, for you guys this is gonna be awesomely nostalgic trip. Some of these films haven't been easy to find in recent years outside of the out-of-print Puppet Master boxset and now you can pick-up the first six films on two discs for a little over $10 at WalMart and that's just very cool plus I would imagine at some point we'll see THE MIDNIGHT COLLECTION: PUPPET MASTER V.3 from Echo Bridge Entertainment collecting PUPPET MASTER RETRO, PUPPET MASTER: THE LEGACY and PUPPETS MASTER VS. DEMONIC TOYS, another win for fans of the series.



2 comments:

  1. If a V.3 does come out, which is probably likely, it would most likely have Retro, Legacy and the most recent Puppet Master film, Axis of Evil, since PMvsDT is owned by Anchor Bay.

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  2. Thanks for thast bit o' info, much appreciated. I know many Anchor Bay titles are forthcoming from Image Ent. like Slugs, House, House 2 etc perhaps the PM Vs. DT rights have fallen to someone else recently, I guess we'll see. FYI, if you are a Full Moon fan Echo Bridge have also released a triple feature DVD of Charles Band's WORRY DOLLS, DEMONIC TOYS 2 and DOLL GRAVEYRAD that I'll be looking at soon. Thanks for the feedback. - McBASTARD

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