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'Puppet Master' franchise review: 'Puppet Master'

Evil comes in all sizes
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Full Moon Entertainment

The purpose of this series of articles will be to review each of the movies of the “Puppet Master” franchise and contrast these movies against the overarching storyline. The premise of these movies is interesting and hopefully, reviewing movies covering a quarter of a century will lend insight into changes in film making and overall shifts in the horror genre of movies.

In 1989, a film company called Full Moon Entertainment partnered with Paramount Pictures and released their first feature film, “Puppet Master”. This movie was released directly to video and was a huge hit for this growing company. “Puppet Master” has spawned 10 sequels over the last 25 years.

The first film in the franchise, “Puppet Master”, introduces the audience to Andre Toulon (William Hickey), a maker of puppets. The story begins with the creation of Jester, a puppet with a head in three sections that can spin to give different facial expressions. The love and care that he puts into his creations is very obvious. What is also very interesting is that his puppets are alive.

Through some magical ability, he is able to bring Jester to life just in time to put him away with the rest of his brethren in order to hide the secret that he has protected. His final act of defiance against the Nazis is to kill himself, leaving his “children” hidden in the wall of the hotel where he had been staying.

The audience is then introduced to each of four individuals with powerful psychic abilities ranging from fortune telling, to “reading” an object, to dreams that tell the future. Each of this group has worked together on some project and has an episode that leads them to track down another of their group. As they travel to meet him, none are prepared for what they find.

Each character has their own idiosyncrasies. Frank Forester (Matt Roe) and Carissa Stamford (Kathryn O'Reilly) work together to try to find the secrets of Andre Toulon. Their working and personal relationships are focused on sex and control. This ends up being their downfall in the end.

Dana Hadley (Irene Miracle) is first shown working as a psychic in a tent, telling people what they want to hear in order to make a living. She comes off as very eccentric. Her initial vision is one of fear and death and a foreshadowing of her own demise at the hands of the puppets who are trying to protect Toulon’s secret.

The last non-dead member of this group of psychics is Alex Whitaker (Paul Le Mat). His specialty is dreams. He falls asleep and sees things, whether about the future or about events that have happened. His powers are more subtle, but they also seem to show more truth than any other powers. The scenes where Alex drops into his psychic dream states are interesting in that certain truths come through while still being cryptic. He is also the only one who sees other people’s deaths and not his own, mainly because he survives this ordeal.

As the team finds out, Neil Gallagher (Jimmie F. Skaggs), the former colleague they all thought dead, was really dead but had brought himself back to life using the ancient Egyptian rituals that Andre Toulon had kept so closely guarded. His overall plan seems to be to have each of his friends killed so he can do the same with them, but this plan never comes to fruition. In the end, the puppets remove Neil from the equation and save the formula.

One of the interesting scenes in this movie is the initial showing of Neil in the casket. The lid of the casket has Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” painted within. This is very symbolic as two scenes of this film take place around a dinner table, one the first night as the team is having dinner, laughing, and reminiscing, and the second after each victim has succumbed to the attacks of the puppets, each corpse is arrayed around the table wearing various expressions.

The puppets are the true stars of this entire series. This first movie introduces five of the main puppets that play recurring roles. Jester was described earlier. Pinhead is a bruiser with a very tiny head. Blade is a trench coat wearing puppet designed after a Nazi colonel, and has a hook on one hand and blade on the other. Tunneler is a puppet with a drill for a head. And finally, Leech Woman is a puppet with the ability to vomit leeches on her victims.

As a classic horror movie from the 1980s, “Puppet Master” had all the camp and scares one would expect. The puppets really make this movie and add a level of humor and even whimsy to certain scenes. Thank you for reading this first installment of the full franchise review of “Puppet Master”. Please subscribe to be on the list for future installments, and leave your comments below about the movies.

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