Sunday, September 23, 2012

Blu-ray Review: PUPPET MASTER III: TOULON'S REVENGE (1991)



PUPPET MASTER III: TOULON'S REVENGE (1991)

Label: Full Moon Features

Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 86 Minutes
Video: 16x9 Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Director: David DeCoteau
Cast: Guy Rolfe, Ian Abercrombie, Sarah Douglas, Walter Gotel, Kristopher Logan, Matthew Faison, Aaron Eisenberg, Richard Lynch

Tagline: When good puppets go bad.

Synopsis: After learning that Andre Toulon's puppets have no strings and seem to have a life of their own, Dr. Hess, a WWII Gestapo henchman, sends his officers to kidnap them. During the melee, Toulon's wife Elsa is killed, but the puppets fight back and escape with their leader. Toulon creates a new puppet, Six Shooter, models Blade after a pasty-faced Nazi and uses Elsa's essence to create Leech Woman. The army is ready. Body part by body part, revenge will be theirs…

Flm: The third installment of the Puppet Master franchise is a period-piece, a prequel taking place three years after the start of Puppet Master ...huh? Whatever. The year is 1941 in Berlin during WW2. Dr. Hess (Ian Abercrombie, Army of Darkness) is a Nazi scientist in the service of the Third Reich. He's been tasked to create a serum that will create an army of undead zombie soldiers. He's had a modicum of success but the serum is too unstable and in an early scene we see a corpse jump off the operating table Re-Animator style and wreak havoc. Hess is overseen my Major Kraus (Richard Lynch, Bad Dreams) from the Gestapo. Kraus's driver Lt. Stein (Kristopher Logan, The Rocketeer) is an amateur puppeteer and attends a puppet show for children presented by Andre Toulon and his wife Elsa (Sarah Douglass, Superman 2). During the puppet show a marionette of Adolf Hitler is fired upon by a new puppet called Six Shooter, modeled after the American gunslingers. He's got six arms and six guns, it's a great character design and he has a great Jack Nicholson laugh that I just love. The Lt. who sounds a lot like Marvin the Martian sneaks around after the show and witness the puppets being fed their serum by Toulon and that they seem to be alive, unassisted by strings. When he reports this to Krauss and Hess the next day Kraus immediately takes an SS squad to Toulon's residence to arrest the puppeteer for treasonous acts. Hess convinces Kraus that he must speak with Toulon to gain his secrets of reanimation. Kraus agrees but then kills Toulon's wife Elsa after she spits in his face in defiance. As Toulon is being transported away the two soldiers guarding him are killed by Tunneler and Pinhead allowing him to escape and plot his revenge. It's a great shot when Tunneler drills his way through the back of the driver's seat and through his chest, quite bloody. 


This film has a lot going for it. Setting it during WW2 in Berlin is a good choice and it's a great backdrop for the film with some excellent sets and dressings. The acting is superb from the key players. Richard Lynch (Bad Dreams, Laid to Rest) as the despicable Major Kraus is inspired, he's a wicked villain. Ian Abercrombie as the Nazi scientist Hess is also great casting. You get the feeling he's being forced into working for the Reich and he seems genuinely amazed by the work of Toulon, in fact, he redeems himself towards the end of the film. You may recall Abercrombie as Mr. Pitt, Elaine's boss from the TV 's Seinfeld. Then there is Guy Rolfe (Dolls, Mr. Sardonicus) as Andre Toulon, easily the best Toulon I've seen so far in the series, no disrespect to the venerable and beloved William Hickey from the first entry. Also noteworthy is the appearance of Walter Gotell as the Nazi General Mueller who played "General Gogol" in several 007 entries, his character loves frequenting Nazi whores and his scene in a tub being bathed by topless Nazi tramps is just wonderful. 

There's very little I did not enjoy here. The setting, the acting, the special effects - all great stuff. Highlight for me include the origins of Blade and Ms. Leech and the rest of the puppets, great stuff. Let's not forget the awesome introduction of Six Shooter and that we find out why the Nazi's are pursuing Toulon at the start of the first film. A goof of sorts would be the inclusion of Jester in the film whom we saw Toulon create in the first film which the ending of this entry more or less sets up.

Blu-ray: While previous Puppet Master III VHS and DVD editions did not suffer quite as much as earlier Puppet Master II releases they were not great either; cropped images that were dark, murky and standard-definition with artifacting. Much like the new Puppet Master II Blu-ray the film is 
presented in it's original anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) aspect ratio with an MPEG-4 encoded image transferred from the original negative and remastered in high-definition with all new color timing and color correction. The results are revealing, like seeing the film for the first time. I've seen this film several times in it's many VHS and DVD incarnations and it's always been the same fullframe standard-definition transfer, cropped, soft, murky and lacking any fine detail. What we get with this Blu-ray release is a pleasingly crisp anamorphic presentation with a pleasant amount of natural grain left intact, with that though we also get a fair amount of digital noise but overall this is quite wonderful stomps previous SD transfers with vivid saturated colors, natural skin tones, decent black an acceptable amount of fine detail.


On the audio front we get a newly created 5.1 sound surround mix but it's Dolby Digital and not lossless audio. That said while it's not overly dynamic it is not lamented by the same compression issues and the dialogue, score and effects sound quite good. Still the lack of a lossless audio option is a disappointing oversight.

Some of the bonus content is mirrored from the Puppet Master II Blu-ray beginning with the  Introduction (2:35) from creator Charles Band filmed on the set of the forthcoming Puppet Master 10 in which the  auteur discusses the difficulty getting the early Full Moon films on Blu-ray and what's coming next in 1080p. There's the same Killer Puppet Montage (1:52),  a Rare Puppet Master Toy Promo (1:30) and same eight Full Moon trailers in HD widescreen. New content(sorta) is a vintage episode of Full Moon's video magazine VideoZone.

The center-piece of the bonus features is a newly recorded audio commentary with director David Decoteau and writer C. Courtney Joyner that's informative and entertaining - these guys are movie fiends and happily recollect their time on the Universal back lot and the classic film that were also brought to life there, it makes for some good listening. A lot of the commentary is scene specific and follows what's transpiring onscreen but they also veer off with fun production anecdotes, DeCoteau talks a bit about arguing with Charlie Band over the opening scene being a bit too graphic, remembering that Band is actually a bit squeamish, at least back in the day. The two also offer fond remembrances of Lynch, Abercrombie, Rolf, and Gotel all of whom have since shuffled off this mortal coil. They also discuss Lynch not being the first choice of actor to portray Kraus, originally the part was intended for Ralph Bates (Taste the Blood of Dracula)  but he died before production. They also discuss Lynch disfigurement which occurred during a 'Nam protest in Central Park during a "controlled" burn with rubbing alcohol but it got out of control, they also dismiss that the incident had stemmed from a drug-induced state which is what I had always been told. It's a good commentary and really adds to the enjoyment of the film, good stuff. 

Special Features: 
- Brand new Introduction by Puppet Master creator Charles Band (2:35)
- Brand new 2012 Audio Commentary by writer C. Courtney Joyner director David DeCoteau
- VideoZone (25:30) 14x3 

- Killer Puppet Master Montage (1:52) 4x3
-Rare Puppet Master Toy Promo (1:30) 4x3
-HD Full Moon trailers:
Puppet Master (1:38) 16x9
Castle Freak 2:15) 16x9
Zombies vs Strippers (1:19) 16x9
Demonic Toys 2 (1:15) 16x9
Evil Bong 3 (1:00) 16x9
Gingerdead Man 3 (1:02) 16x9
Killjoy's Revenge (1:39) 16x9
Puppet Master: Axis of Evil (2:06) 16x9 


Verdict: Of the the first three installments of the Puppet Master series Toulon's Revenge inches out Puppet Master as my favorite. The acting is just really superb from a seasoned cast. Guy Rolf's portrayal of Toulon is the best of the bunch, I cannot imagine anyone else capturing the essence of Andre Toulon the way he did here. Despite the films modest budget the WW2 era sets are well rendered and shooting on Universal's back lot didn't hurt either, the film definitely has a sense of time and place. The stop-motion effects are really good though I think they may have been a bit better in Puppet Master II which I would attribute to special effects wizard David Allen directing that film. Full Moon's new remastered high-definition transfer is great stuff, it's amazing to see this film in widescreen for the first and I am definitely looking forward to more Puppet Master entries as well as Stuart Gordon's Castle Freak and The Pit and the Pendulum in 1080p widescreen. 

4 Outta 5

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