Monday, July 10, 2017

CURSE OF THE PUPPET MASTER (1998) (Blu-ray Review)


Label: Full Moon Features

Region Code: A
Duration: 78 Minutes 
Rating: R
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: David DeCoteau 
Cast: George Peck, Emily Harrison, Josh Green

You just can't keep a good puppet down, and though Charles Band seemingly retired the franchise with Puppet Master 5 (1994) the series was resurrected four years later with the sixth installment Curse of the Puppet Master (1998). Director Jeff Burr (Night of the Scarecrow) who helmed the previous two entries did not return for this one, David DeCoteau (Nightmare Sisters) who directed my favorite entry in the series, the WW2 prequel Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge (1991) returned to the series, though notably he originally chose to use the directorial pseudonym Victoria Sloan on the film, perhaps a reflection of how he felt about the finished movie, but his name is back on the Blu-ray now. Also not returning is former puppet master Rick Meyers (Gordon Currie) from parts four and five, and there's no mention of what has become of his character either. The puppet master this time out is Dr. Magrew (George Peck, Deathtrap), an older gentleman who runs a puppet sideshow of sorts called The House of Marvels, on the side he's also experimenting with transferring the soul of a human into a puppet, trying to replicate the autonomy of the puppets he purchased at an auction years earlier, though we don't get any information about how he came into possession of the puppets other than he purchased them at auction. As for the returning puppets we have Six Shooter, Jester, Tunneler, Pinhead, Blade and Leech Woman, the latter of whom is back despite having been killed off in Puppetmaster 2 as I recall. The puppets Blowtorch and Decapitator are nowhere to be found, though we do get a new member to the pint-sized puppet team by the end of this movie.

Magrew is assisted by his daughter Jane (Emily Harrison, Dangerous Intentions) who is home from college, on a trip to the local gas station they meet the gentle giant Robert "Tank" Winsley (Josh Green, Pearl Harbor), a dimwitted gas station attendant with a knack for creating ornate wood carvings. Dr. Magrew hires Robert on the spot to work for him, tasked with carving intricate pieces of wood for what Magrew hopes to be a new animated puppet. Upon arrival at The House of Marvels Robert is introduced to the puppets, he's immediately mystified by how they are "alive", Magrew tells him that the secret is to put a soul into them. Not so coincidentally Magrew's previous assistant Matt has disappeared under mysterious circumstances, drawing the attention of Sheriff Garvey (Robert Donovan, Murdercycle) and Deputy Wayburn (Jason-Shane Scott, Deadland), whom pay the doc a visit after Matt's worried family files a missing person's report.  

In his lab Magrew attempts to replicate Toulon's creations have thus far been unsuccessful and it seems his former assistant Matt may have been an unwitting victim of said experiments. Jane takes a liking to Robert and the two develop a sweetly romantic relationship which upsets her father, he knows Robert won't be around too long, and he doesn't want his daughter too involved with is next victim. At the same time Robert begins having strange nightmares, including one where his legs have been replaced by carved wooden appendages, an effectively creepy visual and a nice nod to Pinocchio, which is appropriate in a reverse sort of way. 

The movie comes to an all too abrupt end when Magrew sends Jane on a fool's errand to keep her occupied while he attempts to place Robert's soul inside a metallic-robotic puppet, which is strange when you consider that for the whole damn movie he's been carving a wooden puppet! Unfortunately for Magrew the puppets, who have always been inherently good, turn on him when they realize he's hurt Robert whom they've bonded with, the final scenes are fun, but come on fast and end quickly.

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 long time Puppet Master effects man David Allen, in fact many of the shots in this film are pulled directly from the previous five entries of the Puppet Master series. On the plus side this is one of the more gruesome Puppet Master entries with some nice moments of bloodshed, Tunneler and Blade both get some gruesome kills, but there's no nudity, so there's some good and bad about this one, but there's some decent pint-sized puppet fun to be had. 

The film is too much a departure from the series for my tastes and is definitely the weakest of the six up to this point, but not nearly the worst of what would come, which is not too surprising considering that Puppet Master four and five were already running on fumes. It's hard to deny the influence of the drive-in shocker Sssssss (1973) on this production, 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? There's even a shot of a statue of the snake-creature from Sssssss in this movie at the House of Marvels, and if you listen to the commentary director DeCoteau makes some very thinly veiled comments about the influence of that film on this one, I love how honest he is about it. 

Audio/Video:  Curse of The Puppet Master (1998) arrives on Blu-ray for the first time from Full Moon, presented uncut in HD using a composite of the original 35mm negative, original SD release and Digi-Beta videotape master, which makes for some uneven viewing. Apparently not all the original negative were available to Band and company while assembling this Blu-ray, some of it lost to time, and Full Moon have been very transparent about that with this release, what they've done is make a composite cut of HD elements and upscaled standard-def video elements, the video master shots look atrocious to be straight, fuzzy, artifacted and just an eyesore all the way around, but it is the fully uncut version, and this is the best the movie has looked or will ever look, unless the rest of the negative is found in some dusty movie vault. The HD images transferred in 2K from the negatives look great, with the exception of some minor scratches appearing at times. There's a nice depth, vibrant colors, film grain is intact, with some good color timing having been applied, but the viewing experience is uneven. The disc includes both lossy dolby digital 2.0 and 5.1 audio options, it's clean and free of defects, nicely balanced and the Jeffrey Walton (Shrieker) score is well mixed. 

Onto the extras we have a great commentary from David DeCoteau who speaks at length about the nature of film archiving, the trouble bringing this one to Blu-ray without the complete cut negative, and making this movie with the goal of creating an ad of sorts for the Puppet Master toys, and pretty much stealing the story structure for the movie from the drive-in classic Ssssssss (1973), which I've always suspected to be the case. He also speaks about the cast and crew for the movie, working with George Peck and how his back problems lead to a stand-in on the first few days of filming, working with cinematographer Howard Wexler, and linking working in special effects to the cancer deaths of David Allen and others. I love DeCoteau's commentaries, he's the ultimate Full Moon insider and her always gives us a mini-history lesson of Full Moon behind-the-scenes stuff.  There's also a 20-min vintage Videozone, and a selection of Full Moon Trailers. 

Special Features:

- Brand New Audio Commentary with director David DeCoteau
- Videozone Featurette (20 min) 
- Trailers: 

If you're a fan of the Puppet Master series this new Blu-ray of Curse of The Puppet Master might be worth a double-dip for the right price, the HD image is spotty at best due to the composite construction from various, sometimes inferior, elements, but it's is probably the best we're gonna see for this particular entry. The commentary on the disc from DeCoteau is top-notch and a must listen for fans of the film and the series, and I sort of dig how they're knocking off the drive-in classic Sssssss (1973), it's a fun entry, but i think you'd have to be a hardcore Puppet Master fan to need this one in your collection, for all others you can stream it via the official Full Moon Amazon channel and