Title: Puppet Master
Director: David Schmoeller
Writers: Charles Band and Kenneth J. Hall
Starring: Paul Le Mat, William Hickey and Irene Miracle
Since the birth of the the film industry, puppetry has continuously loaned its magic of entertaining people to the screen, particularly in the horror genre. Several horror franchises featuring puppets have been met with great financial success, including ‘Saw’ and ‘Child’s Play.’ While these series certainly have their flaws, the cult classic ‘Puppet Master,’ which was released this past summer on Blu-ray in honor of its twentieth anniversary, will certainly leave many horror fans wondering why they’ve become so enticed with the dolls.
‘Puppet Master,’ which was co-written by Charles Band, the head of the film’s production company, Full Moon Features, had a promising and seemingly interesting plot-line. The movie follows psychic Alex Whittaker (played by Paul Le Mat) as he travels to the Bodega Bay Inn in California to meet with three of his telepathic friends. The four psychics are receiving visions of death, and assume the apparitions are coming from their colleague Neil Gallagher (portrayed by Jimmie F. Skaggs).
At the inn, the four psychics are introduced to Neil’s wife Megan (played by Robin Frates). They find out that Neil had recently shot himself. While trying to determine why, the psychics encounter living puppets, including Tunneler, who drills holes in people; Ms. Leech, who regurgitates killer leeches onto her victims; and Blade, who has a hook and a knife for hands. The psychics soon find out that the puppets were crafted by puppeteer Andre Toulon in 1939 to help create eternal life.
Bringing in the supernatural psychic element seemed like it it would create an interesting twist to an otherwise typical slasher horror film. However, ‘Puppet Master’ ultimately turned out to be a true representative of the B movie genre. While fans normally embrace B films for their campy acting and inferior character development, the actors and writing for ‘Puppet Master’ were even more horrific than most cult classics.
Le Mat, who is billed as the movie’s main actor, seemed to serve more as a figurehead, telling the other characters what to do, instead of guiding them to defend themselves against the elusive puppets. He also seemed so unattached to Alex that when his colleagues began getting hurt, he didn’t seem upset. Le Mat acted as though the entire story was so unbelievable that he couldn’t relate to any of it. As a result, viewers will most likely not care about what happens to Alex.
If Band and his co-writer Kenneth J. Hall more thoroughly explained Alex’s background and how he became a psychic, Le Mat may have connected to his character more. Instead, director David Schmoeller followed true B-movie form and focused more so on the puppets and the film’s sets than the characters’ background. Since the characters are dispensable, as they care more about verbally fighting and their own self-worth, viewers will most likely want to see more of the puppets attacking them just to see additional action.
Characteristic of the B-genre of the 1980s, ‘Puppet Master’ was a low-budget, prurient-themed film that became a cult classic for trying something different from more expensive, serious movies. But ‘Puppet Master’ is still a true B movie overall, as it lacks artistic ambition from Band, Hall, Schmoeller, and the actors. But the public’s love of puppets and being able to control things led to Full Moon producing eight sequels, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for the murdering dolls.
Written by: Karen Benardello