Curse of the Puppet Master
Dr. Magrew runs a tiny sideshow in a small town. His top attraction is a show where a handful of string-less puppets perform for the audience. Most everyone thinks the puppets are just some sort of neat trick, but the truth is Magrew has somehow managed to come into possession of Andre Toulon’s collection of animated puppets. Magrew wants to create more puppets like the ones Toulon made, but he lacks any sort of mechanical or creative skill. So to do this he recruits Robert Winsley, a mentally challenged man with an exquisite talent for wood carving. Robert puts his heart and soul into the carvings, intent on helping Magrew create a new, living puppet. But despite his dedication, Robert’s new boss has continued to be cagey about just HOW the puppets come to life, and by the time Robert figures out the secret it’ll be too late for him to do anything to stop it.
After a nice, long break, I’ve finally decided to come back to this wonky and oddly prolific series by notorious B-movie producer Charles Band. The previous film from four years earlier, Puppet Master 5, was initially meant to be the series’ final installment, but as every good, cheap producer knows, you can’t keep a good (or even mediocre) series down, especially when demand from the rental market remained high and it still miraculously had the potential to continue to make some money. But unfortunately you can really tell that this film was little more than a quick effort that was crapped out to placate distributors and net some fast cash. It’s also the point in the series where the franchise started to take a serious downward spiral and would stay there for, well, a long friggin’ time.
For starters, the plot is absolutely absurd. I know, I know.… This is a series about puppets who kill people after being brought back to life by some ancient Egyptian spell. All of the movies are absurd. I get that. But this one manages to somehow be worse. Part of the problem is that we’re not 100% sure where this film fits into the pre-established story. These movies have always been plagued by a series of horrible continuity errors, but at least prior to this film an attempt had been made to fit them all into a single narrative. A convoluted and confusing narrative, maybe, but a narrative nonetheless. Curse of the Puppet Master doesn’t bother with even attempting to do any of that. It’s essentially a stand-alone story, and regardless of Wikipedia’s insistence that it takes place some time between the first and second films, it still doesn’t manage to fit into any time-frame properly. Torch is featured heavily in clips from the opening credits, but not in the film itself, because he technically hasn’t even been created yet. Sixshooter is shown briefly during the film, but he wasn’t even in Puppet Master or Puppet Master II, so who knows where the hell he came from or what he’s doing there. He’s a cowboy, maybe he just comes and goes as he pleases, I don’t know. And if the story does indeed take place between the first and second films, it’s never explained how the puppets got to this hokey little town from the Bodega Bay Inn, how they’ll get back again, or how Magrew even came into possession of them in the first place. Well, that’s not entirely true. They do explain it, it’s just that their explanation doesn’t make any sense. So in short, we have no idea what’s going on and nobody seems to care. We’ve just been thrown into a random story for funsies. Yay.
Why does no one seem to know what’s going on? Well, probably because this story isn’t even from an original script. That’s right. Full Moon couldn’t even give a struggling writer a tenner to shat out an original story. The entire movie is essentially a point-for-point retread of the film Sssssss from 1973. I’m not kidding. They reused a 20+ year-old script for this movie, and barely changed a lick of it. Beyond switching out the creatures involved from snakes to puppets, and the forced inclusion of an unrepentant bully and a power hungry sheriff so that the movie could have some slaughter fodder, the plots are exactly the same. You’ve got a mysterious doctor getting rid of a crate with some unidentifiable thing in it. He then hires a new assistant, claiming that the last one left. The new assistant helps him diligently despite having suspicions that something isn’t quite right. The assistant and the doctor’s daughter begin a relationship. The doctor doesn’t approve and sends his daughter on a BS errand to get her out of the house. Daughter figures out what her father is up to at the last second, and races back home to stop his dastardly plan except, Oops!, too late. She screams, the movie ends, credits roll and nobody has any idea what TF just happened, just like in 1973.
Though there were probably less crappy lightning effects in the 70s.
One could try to argue that the inclusion of the killer puppets should at least marginally make this movie more entertaining, but that hope is quickly dashed when you realize that the puppets are A) not nearly as animated as they used to be, and B) that around 80% or more of the puppet footage is actually just recycled footage from the previous five films. In fact, you barely even see any of the puppets at all. Most of the film’s time inexplicably ends up dedicated to the awkward and slightly disturbing budding romance between Robert and the doctor’s daughter that the audience couldn’t care less about. The most you actually see of the puppets comes from the opening credit sequence, which is why Torch is in there despite him being absent from the movie proper. And what you see of them during the movie isn’t much better either. The only new footage of them you get is a couple shots of them killing the new, loathsome characters. But if the shot they were in didn’t require them being visible alongside one of the new human characters? Then you can all but guarantee that the footage you see is from an earlier film. I’m pretty sure most, if not all of it, comes from Toulon’s Revenge, but I’m not about to subject myself to the hell of going back and re-watching all five films again just to double check.
Curse of the Puppet Master does have a couple of nice, bloody deaths to its name, and I’m glad that this film returned to a nice core group of puppets after the introduction of all the new ones that the series seems to like to introduce and disappear on a whim. But that doesn’t help make up for the terrible dialogue, dumb characters, poor acting, reused plot, or forcing the viewer to spend so much time watching Robert walk around in his tighty whities (though it’s nice to know director David DeCoteau’s artistic vision hasn’t changed much in over a decade). Nor does it explain why we spent so much time watching Robert carve wooden feet for a puppet, only for the finished puppet to inexplicably wind up on wheels and end up being made out of metal. I mean, seriously movie, we SAW him carving the feet. WTF happened to them!?
Even by Puppet Master standards this is obnoxious.
But it especially doesn’t make up for the mountains of reused footage of all the puppets, when the whole reason that people wanted a new movie in the first place was because they wanted to see NEW footage of murderous puppets. I can only imagine the levels of disappointment the hardcore (that seems weird to say with this series) Puppet Master fans felt when this film came out, and sadly that feeling would stick around for a while. We’re going downhill at this point, and if you in any way enjoyed the earlier Puppet Master movies, then you’re not gonna like the direction the series is headed. And there’s still 8 more films left in this series (9 if that new one ever comes out), so strap in folks.
Someone pray for me…
Curse of the Puppet Master is available on a variety of streaming services.
Curse of the Puppet Master is also available on DVD and Bluray.
2 thoughts on “Curse of the Puppet Master (1998)”
EIGHT more??? Oooooooohhhhhh lord. OMFG! Right? Yes!
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I honestly don’t know if I’ll make it all the way through to the end. I mean, I’ll try, but, (UGH!), this movie does not bode well AT ALL.
But either way I have a feeling it’s going to be a hellish month.
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