Puppet Master II takes place not long after the first. On a dark and stormy night, the puppets descend on Shady Oaks Cemetery. After the fiasco with their last master from the first movie, the puppets seek the guidance of their original mentor, Andre Toulon (who died in 1941 now, instead of 1939). The puppets reach the grave, dig up the coffin and pour a glowing green liquid on the corpse. The puppets hover around the grave as the rotten arms of their previous master rise towards the heavens….cut to opening credits.
It was actually an impressive opening.
We then cut back to the Bodega Bay Inn where, instead of psychics, we have a group of psychic investigators descend on the building. Seems one of the survivors of the previous film was killed at the inn by having their brain extracted through their nose, while the other was institutionalized. So the paranormal researchers and middle-age psychic Camille have been sent by the government to investigate. Things proceed to go downhill as the visitors are killed off, one by one, and have their brains extracted, not by ghosts, but by angry puppets (The fate of Dana’s stuffed dog sadly goes unmentioned.)
Turns out ‘brain removal’ is not a painless process. Go figure.
With this movie we get a little more history around the franchise. Toulon was running from the Nazis who wanted his secret about how to bring dolls to life. Toulon’s wife, Elsa, was killed by the Nazi’s before he went on the run. The Inn was founded by a mystic who was drawn to the area’s spiritual energies…. Typical sequel stuff.
Also, as with Puppet Master, the script drops little hints at characters deeper backstories without really going into them. Two of the researchers are obviously boning and it’s suggested that one of them is married with a young kid. The tagalong brother of the head researcher seems to have criminal issues, but we’re never told what they are or if his presence is state sanctioned or not. They’re little tidbits of info, but it does help to flesh people out more than your typical slasher’s jock, brain and final girl tropes.
The people seen here also seem more capable than the last movies random rabble of victims. They may all be doomed to suffer a horrible fate, but they do manage to dispatch not one, but two of Toulon’s evil little minions. Leach Woman is incinerated by one of the resident local rednecks and Tunneler gets taken out by a…floor lamp? Sad dude.
Don’t’ feel bad for Leach Woman. Once you’ve seen one death by leach, you’ve seen them all.
Don’t’ worry, though. They are replaced by a new addition, Torch, whose special skill is….well, that should go without saying.
Little guy is mad efficient.
And I know I mentioned it in the last write-up, but the designs of these guys are really fantastic. It’s obvious where most of the creativity of these projects went into. I mean, look at this guy, he’s like WWII wrapped up in a teeny, tiny, deadly little package. Even his teeth are itty-bitty bullets.
It’s just adorably demented.
Toulon’s character takes a very front and center part in this installment. But at some point between his death and resurrections he went from a mild-mannered father figure, to demented crazy person. Since his resurrection, he’s been holed up with his creations in the Inn’s attic, shambling around covered in bandages, gloves, goggles in order to hide his decayed form, and demanding more brains so he can produce the potion that will keep them all alive. How he masks what has to be the deplorable accompanying smell is unclear.
He doesn’t stay up there forever, though. At some point he makes an appearance to the crew and introduces himself as Eriquee Chaneé (Chaney, get it?). It’s immediately apparent that he takes a quick liking to the head investigator, Carolyn. This is the point in the story when elements of The Mummy start to come into play and the story’s focus shifts from slasher and more towards awkward romance triangle. Toulon is convinced that Carolyn is the reincarnation of his dead wife, Elsa, and becomes obsessed about turning her into a doll so they can live an immortal life together and blah, blah, blah…
It’s never actually made clear whether or not any of the reincarnation story is true, or if Toulon’s brain has been rotting in the ground a bit too long. Carolyn certainly has no memory or interest in him. She’s more interest in Michael, the son of their missing psychic, Camille. Michael comes across as stiffer than the puppets, but at least he’s better than the bandaged-wrapped, stalking, attic dweller.
Meanwhile the puppets are still out killing people and sucking their brains out. While out searching for victims, Torch comes across his most terrifying nemesis: a small, sadistic child.
I must give props to any horror movie bold enough not only for knocking off a child, but also showing one with a sadomasochistic streak. I know kids aren’t known for being gentle with their toys, but this kid rips the shirt off his GI Joe and starts whipping it, demanding he ‘talk.’ When he tries the same on Torch…Yeah, that was a bad move. I don’t’ know if I should be disturbed that Torch fried his freckled face, or thankful he rid the world of a blossoming serial killer.
Puppet Master II is gifted with a more coherent story than its predecessor. The new actors don’t really fare any better than the previous ones, but the new puppet is pretty sweet, and the film also continues its tradition of excellent stop-motion scenes. The bandaged crazy-man angle is classic horror movie stuff, but Michael’s abrupt appearance and the addition of the love-triangle feel out of place. It’s not a bad follow-up, but parts of it definitely could have used some ironing out.
Puppet Master II is available to rent on Amazon.
It is also available on DVD and Bluray.