When an independent film studio stumbles upon a cult classic, chances are that they’ll milk it for all it’s worth with a barrage of sequels. Full Moon Entertainment (now Full Moon Features) had its opus with Puppet Master, so we dive into the original, the sequels, and the cross-overs to see if the milking was deserved.
Movie: Retro Puppet Master (1999)
Plot: While on the run from the Nazis following Puppet Master 3, Andre Toulon tells his puppets a dinner-time story about how he came to learn the secrets of infusing puppets with life, which doesn’t match up with his flashback in Puppet Master 3.
Instead we learn that a sorcerer named Afzel, on the run from the zombified servants of Sutek, ended up in Paris and passed on the secret of bringing life to inanimate objects to a young puppeteer that happened to use horrifying puppets that could do some damage if brought to life.
Killer: The re-animated servants of Sutek, using their horrifying post-production blurs of death.
Critique: I have to admit, Curse of the Puppet Master would make any die-hard fan of the franchise have second thoughts about wasting another hour-and-a-half of his/her life on this franchise. It did for me. Maybe it was Curse, or maybe it was the PG-13 tag, but it took me until I got the Puppet Master franchise DVD box set to watch Retro Puppet Master. and even then, I ended up watching the others a few times along with Puppet Master Vs. Demonic Toys before deciding to finally give it a shot.
And it was worse than I thought. A lot worse. But let’s get the good out of the way first.
The best idea behind Retro Puppet Master was the introduction of older variants of the puppets we’ve become attached to. It plays into the outlook that evolution isn’t just seeing what organisms can become but what organisms used to be. It’s the driving theme for a prequel film, and Retro Puppet Master does that by introducing us to Retro Pinhead, Retro Blade, Retro Six-Shooter, Drill Sergeant (Retro Tunneler), Doctor Death (Retro Jester?), and Cyclops (um… Leech Woman or Torch?). It may have been the only way a second prequel film that goes further back into the past than the first prequel film of a franchise could be interesting and, in that regard, it succeeded.
The problem is that the application of Retro Puppet Master to the film reel did not succeed.
The story does its best to alienate the last of the die-hard franchise fans that have stuck it out with the films by, once again, changing the canon of the films. We already saw how Young Toulon was introduced to the process of animating the lifeless in Puppet Master 3. Why would old Toulon come up with a totally different story? Retro Puppet Master is also the first and only PG-13 entry for the franchise, making it more for budget science fiction TV than even Curse of the Puppet Master.
The acting? Nonexistent save Guy Rolfe, the Egyptian sorcerer Afzel (played by Jack Donner), a few lines from Isla’s Father (played by Serban Celea) and Isla herself (played by Brigitta Dau), who acts as if she is in a period drama and not a horror film, which is a breath of fresh air from the rest of the cast’s wooden lines. I mean, “I’m reading the cue cards like I’m reading the ingredients on a cereal box” wooden.
Special effects? Well, we have the puppets, who always shine. Other than that, a lot of post production magic laser waves of death and dust in place of blood.
The most important success Retro Puppet Master may have had was to show the franchise that this was not a direction to continue on. But we still need to get through Legacy before that worm really starts to turn.
Scene of Awesomeness: Watching Young Toulon chase Pinhead around the theater. What’s great about this scene is that it shows a glimpse of how the puppetry makes the puppets’ acting abilities shine in comparison to their human counterparts throughout the whole film.
Scene of Ridiculousness: It’s almost impossible to choose just one scene in a movie that is entirely ridiculousness. Is it the wooden acting of 3/4 of the cast mixed with the over the top lines of the other 1/4? Afzel’s reference to the training montage that we never see as he teaches Toulon the theory of life force sorcery in the span of 5 minutes? I think the scene of most ridiculousness is the dead street kid who blinks, showing that Retro Puppet Master was a one-take nod to Ed Wood.
Body Count: The most bland 15 you’ll ever see
11 deaths by rippling magic post-production laser waves (2 off-camera, but it’s a good guess)
1 death to sickness. No really a kill, but we take what we can get in this film.
2 zombie deaths by puppet gang mutilation
1 zombie tossed out of a train (Awesomely Overkill Award due to ridiculous fight scene, for lack of any better kills)
Actors/Actresses of Note: Oh hi Mark.
That’s right, before being part of the blockbuster monstrosity that is Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, Greg Sestero had his first (and only, if you don’t count Wiseau films) starring role as a young Andre Toulon with a bad French accent.
This cast also includes Guy Rolfe reprising his role as Old Andre Toulon and John Hamm stand-in Stephen Blackehart.
Quote: “I bid you good night and good lesson… clown.” – Father (of Ilsa, since character names don’t seem to be as important as puppet names in Retro Puppet Master.)