"They're little. They're fast. ...If Anne Frank was hiding in your attic a puppet could find her".
This absurd line is reasoned out by Edgar, played by Thomas Lennon (RENO 911), as he tries to figure out how he and his friends got trapped inside of a hotel surrounded by murderous Nazi toys in the new horror film, PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH. The scene is played mostly straight-faced by Lennon who lets the absurdity of the situation create the tension breaking humor. The hotel they are trapped in is the location of a convention based around a series of infamous murders committed by Nazi and titular puppet enthusiast Andre Toulon, played by Udo Kier (BLADE), 30 years prior. Toulon used his puppets to perform these crimes until his death but unbeknownst to the macabre memorabilia collectors at the convention who are obsessed with his creations, Toulon used occult magic to bring the puppets to life to do his hateful bidding and his power has lasted well beyond his demise.
Wow. Where to begin talking about this one? The PUPPET MASTER series has never been held in particularly high regard, even by diehard horror fans. Charles Band's low budget opus about Nazi-killing toys has spawned numerous sequels, mostly of diminishing quality. The series has fans as most horror franchises do but it's always been viewed as a lesser series. So, I think everyone was surprised when S. Craig Zahler (BONE TOMAHAWK) was announced as the screenwriter for a new PUPPET MASTER "reimagining" intended to launch a whole new set of films. What seems like an odd choice at first makes more sense as you mull it over. Zahler's filmography is nothing but, admittedly excellent, genre homages that all feature a moment or two of jaw-dropping, gooey, practical effects-based carnage.
So Zahler along with the directing duo of Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wikilund (WITHER) have created a new version of the PUPPET MASTER mythos where the puppets are now tools of Nazi violence instead of Nazi killers and the result is one of the most gleefully offensive and violent films you'll ever see released by an American studio. PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH feels like a piece of outsider art disguising itself as a mid-budget horror film.
The film is generally unconcerned with aspects that don't directly play into its violent and weird tendencies. Lennon's character is a recently divorced comic book artist who develops a relationship with his neighbor, played by Jenny Pellicer (FX’s THE BRIDGE), after moving back to his childhood home. It's during this time at his parents’ home that he finds one of Toulon's puppets that sets the plot into motion. The discovery of the puppet and his budding romantic relationship is given the bare minimum of screen time with almost no development to flesh out the relationships of the characters or plot points. The film actually feels like it is missing several minutes of connective tissue. It simply wants to get all the players into the path of the evil toys as quickly as possible so that we can marvel at all the creative and gleeful violence. Most of the supporting cast is introduced just moments before they are massacred in inventive and shockingly gory ways. They exist simply to show off gore effects and keep the body count rising.
This is the first film put out under the banner of the new FANGORIA and it really feels like an attempt to appeal to that gore loving crowd by having an over top death scene occur every few minutes and when I say 'over the top', I mean there are multiple gore scenes that left my jaw hanging open in utter disbelief at what I was seeing. The fact that a lot of the supporting cast is played by genre mainstays like Michael Pare (STREETS OF FIRE), Barbara Crampton (FROM BEYOND), and Matthias Hues (I COME IN PEACE) only adds to the surreal feeling of the film. Combine that with a haunting new score by Italian master Fabio Frizzo (THE BEYOND) and the film feels like the fever dream of a horror obsessed film geek after too much junk food and a B-movie marathon.
.... And maybe that's exactly what was intended; a film intent on giving you exactly what you want from these type of films, while treating everything beyond that as filler with the hope that the talented cast will carry you through the film's rough spots until you get to the gory highlights.
PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH is not a 'good' film in the traditional sense. The violence is savage and liberally spread throughout the film. It also has a deep-rooted un-PC quality that is hard to ignore and the actual filmmaking is VERY rough in spots. If you love gory movies though or even just really strange ones, PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH will scratch that itch and in the downtime between outrageous kills, you'll be staring at the screen in fascination, wondering how a film this mean-spirited and unabashedly weird ever got greenlit, let alone released.
PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLE REICH will be released in theaters and on VOD and Digital HD this Friday, August 17th.