Wednesday, June 7, 2017

RETRO PUPPET MASTER (1999) (Blu-ray Review)


Label: Full Moon Features

Rating: PG-13
Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 90 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen 
Director: David DeCoteau
Cast: Greg Sestero, Brigitta Dau, Stephen Blackehart, Jack Donner, Guy Rolfe

For the seventh film in the Puppet Master series Charles Band and company took it all back to the beginning with an origin story, as we learn how it came to be that puppeteer Andre Toulon (Guy Rolfe, Mr. Sardonicus) came to be in possession of the secret of re-animation at the turn of the century. The film opens in Switzerland in 1944, the older Toulon is on the run from the Nazi's follwoing the events of Puppet Master III, he's having a chat with his puppets when they discover the carved wooden head of an old puppet named Cyclops in his trunk, this spurs Toulon to regale us with the tale of how he came to be in possession of the secret of re-animation. 

Flashing back to the turn of the century actor Greg Sestero (The Room) plays the young Toulon living in Paris, France. One night he comes to the aid of an old man outside his theater, in thanks he is gifted the secret of re-animation by the old man, who turns out to be a dying Egyptian sorcerer named Afzel (Jack Donner, Stigmata), who himself stole the secret from an Egyptian god called Sutekh, who you might remember from Puppet Master 4, though you don't actually see him here, you just hear him, yeah, that's sort of a let down. In an effort to reclaim the secret Sutekh resurrects three Egyptian mummies who pursue Afzel to Paris. 

Afzel animates Toulon's cadre of marionette puppets, amazing the puppeteer, who at the same time is falling in love with one of his patrons, the pretty Ilsa (Brigitta Dau) who in turn becomes entangled in the whole affair, putting herself in danger amidst the ancient Egyptian intrigue. The movie is very capably directed  David DeCoteau, who directed my favorite in the whole franchise, Puppet Master III, and who is one of the most prolific of the Full Moon directors, also having directed Creepozoids, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama. The movie is handsomely shot,  filmed in Bucharest, Romania at Charles Band's studio, it has some excellent production value and loads of fog-drenched atmosphere, and cool vintage set pieces, more so than your average 90's Full Moon production. 

As an origin story it allowed for a re-design of the iconic puppets we've come to love in the prior films, we have early "retro" versions of Blade, Pinhead, Tunneler and Six-Shooter, who look more like turn of the century marionettes, but we also get two new puppets, the sinister Dr. Death and Cyclops, the former of which looked cool, if a bit too advanced compared to the other retro puppets. Truth be told, the Puppet Master series suffered quite a setback when we lost the talents of special effects man David Allen back in '99, his stop-motion magic was part and parcel of the charm of the early films, and many other Full Moon/empire Pictures movies, and as such we've lost some of the cool articulation and character of the earlier films, that said, the puppeteering here is decent, but I didn't care much for the redesign of classic characters. Also missing is the music of Richard Band, this time around we get the music of composer John Massari (Killer Klowns from Outer Space), it's good, but it's not the Richard Band accompaniment we're used to with the Puppet Master movies, I think this might be the only film in the franchise not to feature his music. Also taking a few points away would be this low-budget entry doesn't even show us the ancient God 
Sutekh which we've already seen in the previous films, and that actor Greg Sestero is only slightly less wooden than his marionette dolls. 

Audio/Video: Retro Puppet Master (1999) arrives on Blu-ray from Full Moon Features remastered from the original 35mm camera negative and looking quite good, offering solid black levels and vibrant colors, and while grain can be a bit messy at times overall this looks great on Blu-ray. The lossy Dolby Digital surround audio does the job just fine, there are no subtitle options. 

Onto the extras we have a few more than your standard Full Moon Blu-ray, beginning with an audio commentary from prolific director David DeCoteau and actor Greg Sister, DeCoteau is always a great commentator, he loves his work, is a wealth of knowledge and lays the truth bare when he needs to, this track is no different. There's also the original Videozone feature with an introduction from Band, who of course also pimps the then new action figures to go with the new retro Puppet Master characters! There are also vintage on-camera interviews from special effects artists Chris Bergschneider and Jeff Farley speak about the fun f re-inventing already established characters, plus input from actors Jack Donner, Stephen Blackheart, and Bridgett Dau. There's also over two hours of behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the movie, great stuff from the studio in Romania, there's also an option to watch it with commentary from DeCoteau. 

Special Features:

- New director’s commentary with director David DeCoteau and actor Greg Sister
-2 hours of rare behind-the-scenes footage with optional Director’s commentary (126 min) 
- Original Videozone (20 min) 
- Full Moon Trailers: Ravenwolf Towers (2 min) HD, Killjoy Psycho Circus (2 min) HD, Puppet Master 2 (2 min) HD, Puppet Master 3 (2 min) HD, Puppet Master X (2 min) HD, and Specters (2 min) HD

Retro Puppet Master (1999) will certainly have appeal for fans who love the series, however, for the uninitiated this might be a hard sell, I feel like you have to already be into the series, at least till Puppet Master III, to really dive into this one and walk away with anything, if you have not seen the previous films I say hold off till you have. That said, this looks great on Blu-ray and is a good, not great, entry in the series, and as a fan of the iconic series I enjoyed it quite a bit, but understand it might have a limited draw for the walking in cold. 2.5/5