Monday, September 24, 2018

When Good Puppets Go Vengeful: Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge (1991)

Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge (1991)
Rating: ****
Starring:  Guy Rolfe, Richard Lynch, Ian Abercrombie

Some people sees Puppet Master II as the sequel to top the original, but I beg to differ. For me, this is not only how you top an original, but also do the Puppet Master title justice!

Taking place in 1941 World War II Berlin, where a gentle puppeteer named Andre Toulon and his wife Elsa entertain children with marionette shows satirizing Adolf as a coward, much to the disgust of a Nazi lieutenant disguised as a civilian. However, the soldier's disgust soon turns into intrigue when, while snooping around after the show, he discovers that Toulon's puppets are in fact alive, fed with a strange serum that animates them into sentience.

This discovery eventually reaches a Gestapo officer named Major Kraus and excites a scientist named Dr. Hess, who is forced by the Nazis to find a way to reanimate corpses to use as living shields for the war. It isn't long before the Gestapo raids Toulon's theater and attempts to take the puppeteer away for his secrets, even killing his wife in the process, but Toulon isn't gonna back down. Not with his trusted small friends armed to the teeth and willing to fight back.

Impressively shot and released eight months after the last sequel, Toulon's Revenge is less of a slasher movie, or horror for that matter, and instead plays itself more as a mash of fantasy, macabre and scifi themes under the structure of a revenge thriller with a good dash of splatter. With this shift, it re-introduces the murderous puppets of the two prior films in a more anti-heroic light, fighting off a greater evil under the orders of a master who would never used them for killing until tragedy forced him to. It's undoubtedly a far cry from what started as a set of bodycount films, but the movie's direction, solid writing and even stellar acting made it workable not just as an entry to a movie franchise, but also as a standalone film of sorts.

In fact, the movie basically took a jab at "comic book continuity" and either missed or retconned the matter that at the beginning of Puppet Master (1989), Andre not killed himself at 1939 in America while trying to escape the Nazis, thus making this a possible detailed re-telling of his and his "friends" story, coinciding with a plot concerning Nazi occult science and suicidal zombies.

The movie's mythos also strongly help hammer down this new moral turn for the puppets as it established that each puppet contains the will of Toulon's friends and loved ones, all victims of Nazi cruelty. It could have all looked cheap and shoehorned in an attempt to humanize the puppets and empathize with them as now they're given a reason to kill, but this was mostly handled with subtlety and the puppeteering and screen effects did most of the fleshing out for each puppet's personalities considering how more screentime they're given in this entry along side of our titular puppet master.

"Hands up, pardner!"

Adding to this cavalcade of tiny terrors is Six-Shooter, a six-armed cowboy with a devilish grin, originally conceived as early the first movie, though instead of a Western gunslinger he was a multi-armed ninja. The character's inventive design fits perfectly with the movie's theme and proves to be a fan favorite as he would later become a more prominent member of the puppet crew as the series progresses.

In terms of production, Toulon's Revenge made the most out of its estimated eight hundred grand budget and verily defines the big budget look. The sets look impressive and, again, the special effects used here are some of the best this franchise had to offer. While the background actors can be a bit distracting (is that a bad German accent I hear?), Toulon's Revenge also fixed the problem of the first two film by improving the human actors and their scenes. Seeing this is an origin film of the puppet master, it would have been more fitting to match Toulon's personality with that found with the version of this character seen at the beginning of Puppet Master (1989), which meant a humble fatherly figure to root for. Thankfully, not only does actor Guy Rolfe fits the look, but his soft yet anguished performance is as sympathetic as it can be and it works perfectly.

On the side of the Nazis, Richard Lynch plays a decent bad guy as Kraus and, much like Rolfe, he has the look and the cold presence his character needed to intimidate. To be fair, though, he didn't really do much apart from bark orders and be impatient (oh, and shoot Toulon's wife dead), but he made it workable on some level. In between this battle of good and evil is a curious scientist played by Ian Abercrombie, whose character tries hard to uncover Toulon’s formulas not only because the Nazis order him to, but also for his own quench for knowledge and, soon, understanding as he (all too quickly) made friends with Toulon. James Bond's Major Gogol actor Walter Gotell also makes a rather raunchy appearance here as General Mueller, who's supposed to be the head of the Nazi's reanimation project but best remembered for his sexcapades in a brothel and being the victim of one of Six Shooter's awesome kills.

For me, this is Puppet Master. As much as I love the slasher-esque take of the first movie, it's nothing compared to the defined and developed story this sequel brought upon its fans. It's also here where the puppets start being seen as the good guys and Full Moon Entertainment, which produces this films, decided to cash in on this by (mostly) ditching the idea of the puppets being killers in the franchise's following sequels and have them side with a master who's good, thus using them for heroics (or anti-heroics). Can't say if this is a good turn for the series, but as far as I can tell, most of the films that followed weren't that entertaining for me (or well made for that matter. To be fair, the fourth and fifth movie was supposed to be the last) so, suffice to say, I think it'll be for the best to end my Puppet Master reviews with just the first three movies. Whether you agree with me in this or not, Toulon's Revenge deserves all the praise it can get and more.

1 male shot dead
1 female shot dead
1 male strangled to death
1 male drilled through the back
1 male garroted
1 male had his face bashed with a wrench, fed to leeches
1 male repeatedly shot, falls off a building
1 male gets a thrown brick to the face
1 male choked on a live leech
1 male shot
1 male shot dead
1 male knifed on the gut
1 male snared with hooks, dropped unto a halberd
Total: 13

 Bonus Review

Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Charlyne Yi, Thomas Lennon, Michael Paré

Well, not gonna say this was a bad idea. But it could have been a lot better.

So, over the years, Full Moon Pictures has been sucking ass on the horror business (see Exhibit A) so I kinda stopped caring for their movies around the 2010s, this including their Puppet Master Axis Trilogy which tried too hard to recapture the glory days of the franchise but only succeeded on making it kinda lame. (Well, mostly lame. I'm still saving up to get me a replica of Kamikaze, one of the coolest evil puppets from that trilogy. (And no, it's not racist of me seeing that I, too, am Asian! I think. Are Filipinos still considered Asian?))

Nevertheless, there's a part of me that still cares for the Puppet Master movies and I am willing to try whatever shtick they'll come up with, even if it now includes a parallel world where Andre Toulon is an evil Nazi and the entire production is being released by RLJE Films, which already brought forth some decent titles like Nobody Gets Out Alive (2012) and My Name is Bruce (2007). If only the resulting product is anywhere as watchable as those two examples...

So, we start the movie in 1989, as a heavily scarred Toulon tries to pick up a potential one night stand at a bar, only to leave disgusted as he finds out the lady bartender is lesbians for a waitress. It isn't long before the two lovers are killed on the road by a thin-wire trap and the cops quickly piece together that Andre Toulon is responsible. After raiding his hotel and catching him with a gun, a pair of cops (one of them being B-movie staple Barbara Crampton) gun Toulon dead, thus ending his reign of terror. For now.

Cut to the present, we now follow Edgar (Thomas Lennon), a comic book artist returning to his home town to live with his folks after a devastating divorce. Digging through his old junk, he discovers his late brother owned one of Toulon’s puppets and decided to sell it at an upcoming Toulon convention, where other Toulon enthusiasts gather to discuss the macabre infamy of the puppet master's creations. Hopping along the ride is Edgar's new girlfriend Ashley (Jenny Pellicer) and proudly Jewish boss Markowitz (Nelson Franklin), the trio journeys to the estate and gets into a exposition trip tour hosted by the very cop who shot Toulon.

After all of that jazz and the convention goers settling within the hotel, the puppets, both old and new, start coming to life and murdering the guests in a seemingly supremacist fashion. The massacre is quickly realized and those still surviving are now forced to find ways stop the littlest Nazi army before all of them are minced meat by morning.

Now, the gorehound inside of me should be happy about this direction; not only are we going back to the franchise's horror roots, but with we are also getting updated gore and a more villainous take on the fan favorite killer puppets, as well as some new additions to create a literal puppet army. I would have been fine with these changes if only they did more with this twisted jab on the film series.

As much as I love the splatter and bloodshed, there is such as thing as too much and this is the problem with Littlest Reich. It's nothing but death porn, one kill jumping to the next in a pace that seems rushing, thus concepts and plot points got introduced and dropped at a moment's notice, numerous supporting characters simply exist to be killed off, the tone shifts back and forth from dumb to misplaced serious, and it all the ends with a twist that makes little sense and simply drops us one of them annoying "to be continued..." farce. 

Worse yet is that our puppets are reduced to mass-produced weapons brought to life by ancient magic, which is the last thing I expected a Puppet Master movie to do. While I understand that this is supposed to be a reboot of sorts where the puppets are as evil as the Fuhrer's determination for world conquest, they could have at least gave the tiny terrors some shred of personality which made them memorable to begin with, whether as killers or anti-heroes. But, nope. The movie favored the massacre approach so much that they made sure there's enough copies and variations of each puppet to slaughter a building full of people, letting go of the very things that made them stand out among other killer toy villains. A real shame.

Nonetheless, if you're just in it for the gore then The Littlest Reich won't disappoint. Two kills really stood out the most among the carnage, one involves a pregnant lady getting attacked by a racially insensitive new creation called "Money Lender" (guess what he looks like), while the other had a large fellow getting the whirly bladed end of another new killer toy. The rest varies from classic stabbings and slashings, to upfront burnings and messy car engine crushings, all done mostly in glorious practical effects with some CG enhancements as well as a few slices of dark humor in which the victims are supposedly gays, gypsies, Jews, and other individuals intolerants love to hate. Could have worked well if, again, they stick to this idea since in the end, it looked like they're just killing off everything that breathes regardless of skin color and preferences.

Sure, it will shock and offend but the execution comes with little to no effort. Real shock and offensiveness comes from build up and purpose, and this movie simplifies that to the point character and story hardly matters in the end, which in turn made this movie hardly matters in existence. The Littlest Reich may find new fans for its dumbness and chunky gore, but I sincerely can't find any life nor joy out of the point A-to-B style mayhem it embraces and its absence of a real conclusion.

1 female decapitated with a thin wire
1 female murdered offcamera
1 male shot dead
1 male seen set ablaze (opening credit)
1 male stabbed on the neck (opening credit)
1 male, 1 female, 1 boy and 1 girl slaughtered (opening credit)
1 male seen shot (opening credit)
1 female thrown off a ship (opening credit)
A number of victims seen slaughtered (opening credit)
1 male and 1 female set on fire
1 male and 1 female stabbed to death
1 male had his head sliced off
1 male disemboweled, throat sliced
1 female found murdered
1 pregnant female had her baby ripped out from her own womb
1 female had her throat cut
1 male had his back ripped open
1 female disemboweled
1 female had her head crushed
1 male had his face repeatedly stabbed, head crushed with a car engine
A number of victims massacred in a parking lot
1 female seen murdered
1 boy had his hands sliced off, killed offcamera
1 male had an arm ripped off
1 male shot on the head
1 female shot on the head
A number of victims seen murdered in a hallway
1 female found burnt and drained of blood
1 male stabbed on the throat
1 female hits her head against a dumpster
1 male found mauled to death
1 female hit with a brick, throat sliced
2 males presumably killed
1 victim seen killed
1 victim seen killed
1 victim seen killed
1 male found mauled to death
1 female shot on the head
Total: 41+


  1. It's nice to see a different opinion on The Littlest Reich. I'm kindda disappointed though, I was really looking forward to your reviews of the rest of the sequels!

    1. Well, the rest of the sequels no longer have that slasher horror vibe to them (well, except, maybe, Curse but I hated that one so much that I'm not gonna bother) so it'll look weird being reviewed in a blog covering slashers and bodycount thrillers.

      Also, yeah, I can try to be shallow but, no. Litlest Reich might be gory, but it fails to be anything else but that.

  2. I didn't know about the other ones not being slasher-lite. Still excited to watch them thought!