Label: Full Moon Features
Region Code: Region-Free
Duration: 79 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Diolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Video: 1080p HD Widecsreen
Director: Jeff Burr
Cast: Chandra West, Jason Adams, Teresa Hill, Gordon Currie, Guy Rolfe
The fourth installment of the Puppet Master series is directed by Jeff Burr whom a few years earlier directed the maligned Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 (1990) which I actually quite enjoy quite a lot, but the man also directed Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1994) which has grown on me in recent years, still not great, but not straight-up awful wither. The film opens in an other dimensional netherworld where we are introduced to a rubbery Egyptian demon Lord named Sutekh and his trio of jawas looking minions adorned in robes with glowing red eyes. The demon Lord has declared war on those whom have stolen his secret of animation, namely Andrew Toulon who died in the first movie, but in the years since others have carried on his work, namely Rick Meyers (Gordon Currie, The Woods), a genius level researcher working for the Phoenix Division of the Omega Project which aims to develop military applications A.I.. Coincidentally he just so happens to work as the off season curator of the very familiar Bodega Bay Inn, Toulon's old stomping grounds, and is on the verge discovering Toulon's puppets and life giving elixir.
Sutekh sends his trio of Gremlin-like creatures called Totems to the Earthly plane, the pint-sized terrors 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 pays homage to the Zulu fetish doll segment of Trilogy of Terror (1975) and then of Cat's Eye (1985) when the creature sucks the life from her mouth and eyes with wispy Army of Darkness opening credit style animations, not the most original stuff but pretty entertaining.
Similarly Dr. Baker received a Totem dies soon after.
Back at Bodega Bay young prodigy Rick spends his time playing laser tag with experimental 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). Turns out that Cameron is a former schoolmate 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 fun and steeped in the now familiar Full Moon atmosphere that I seem to have an affinity for. The new widescreen presentation looks damn good, quite a step up from previous standard def versions I own. Extras on the disc include a vintage Videozone and an audio commentary with director Jeff Burr, if you are a fan of the marionette-horror series this is a no-brainer, get at it. 3/5