Friday, January 3, 2014

Worth Mentioning - Everywhere Is Hell, For We Are the Damned

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody looks into the Full Moon illuminated past.


As the seventh installment in Full Moon Features' Puppet Master series begins, the setting is 1944 and elderly puppeteer Andre Toulon is on the run from the Nazis, stopping to rest for the night in an abandoned inn four miles from the Swiss border. He plans to be in the safety of Switzerland by noon the next day.

Toulon is not alone in his escape attempt. He carries with him a large trunk, and inside are his puppets... living beings, supernaturally infused with the lifeforce of people Toulon was once acquainted with, friends who have passed away but live on inside these little wooden bodies.

As Toulon settles in for the night, the puppets make a discovery inside the trunk: the damaged head of a puppet from before their time, one fittingly called Cyclops, given that he was designed with only one eye. At the sight of this remnant of a fallen puppet, Toulon begins to tell his puppets a tale of the past.

In 1902, a young Toulon owned the Theatre Magique in Paris, France, he and his fellow puppeteers performing shows for lower class crowds. It was at this time that he came to know two people who would change his life forever.

Living in Paris's Swiss Embassy at the time was a young woman named Ilsa, daughter of the Swiss ambassador, a very strict man who forbade her from straying too far into the city, only letting her go around during the day with chaperones. But Ilsa is a headstrong girl with an adventurous spirit, and she wants to properly experience Paris, to see its night life. Against her father's wishes, she leaves the embassy one night on her own... and attends a showing at Toulon's Theatre Magique.

After being enchanted by the performance, Ilsa steps back outside into the cold winter night... and witnesses an old man being brutally beaten by two thugs. The attackers run off when they realize they've spotted and Ilsa starts calling for help. Toulon takes the old man into the backstage area of the Theatre Magique, where he lives himself, calling for the police and a doctor. After the situation is ineffectually dealt with - the police are not too concerned with finding the perpetrators - the old man is left with Toulon to rest and recuperate, and Toulon and Ilsa say their goodnights. For Ilsa, this meeting with Toulon is a clear case of love at first sight. They have more meetings over the course of the film, run into some trouble with Ilsa's father and his security team, and Toulon would surely reciprocate her romantic feelings with greater enthusiasm if things weren't so hectic and strange for him.

The strangeness begins as soon as Toulon finds himself alone with the beaten old man. Having regained consciousness, the old man reveals that his name is Afzel, and he's a three thousand year old sorcerer from Cairo, on the run from the undead servants of the god Sutekh. Afzel has stolen from Sutekh an ancient scroll containing the secret of life, how to place the soul of a human being into an inanimate object and make it live. Sutekh's followers will kill to ensure that this secret doesn't get out, but Afzel knows that someday the elder gods will rise, and when they do the secret of life is the only thing that will save mankind.

Of course, Toulon at first brushes all this off as the mad ravings of an old man who has taken some hard hits on the head... until Afzel makes his puppets stand on their own using his magical will.

Soon, Afzel is able to demonstrate the secret of life itself. The homeless boy who had a charming way of begging for change outside the Theatre Magique is found dead on the theatre stairs, having succumbed to an illness. Afzel urges Toulon to bring the body inside. When he does, the old man presents to Toulon a ring, from which extends a small spike. Inserted into the homeless boy's body at the point where his skull meets the back of his neck, the ring withdraws some kind of fluid, which is then injected into one of Toulon's puppets. The injection of fluid is how the lifeforce is bridged between the human body and the inanimate object... and then, with the speaking of an ancient spell, the transfer is completed. The homeless boy lives again, within the body of burly bruiser of a puppet called Pinhead.

By the end of the film, the rest of Toulon's puppets will be inhabited by the lifeforces of people he knows, as Sutekh's servants arrive to finish the job the thugs they hired to beat Afzel to death couldn't manage. This supernatural trio of men, bedecked in trenchcoats, hats, sunglasses, and one glove a piece, have all the powers of Sutekh at their disposal, and are in fact the walking, dessicated corpses of mummies who have been reanimated by their god. When shot or stabbed, the blades and bullets just pass through them with not a spray of blood but instead a puff of dust from their dried out bodies. Sharing one purpose and complete devotion to Sutekh, these servants have an annoying habit of repeating each other's sentences, or parts thereof, and are rather reminiscent of the Strangers from 1998's Dark City. They can knock people out with the wave of a hand and the command to "Sleep". Similarly, they can make people "Die" with a wave of mystical power emitted from their hands. They even have the ability to give an entire city of people nightmares.

Afzel and Toulon's puppeteers all fall victim to the servants' mission to keep Sutekh's secret. They join the homeless boy turned Pinhead as living puppets. A puppeteer who wore an eyepatch in life becomes the puppet Cyclops. Others become Blade, who has three sharp knife-claws on each hand, the militaristic Drill Sergeant, who has a large drill on the top of his head, and the scalpel-toting Dr. Death. The soul of Afzel ends up in the body of Six Shooter, a puppet with six arms, each hand holding a small, fireable pistol.

Toulon and Ilsa's feelings for each other drag her into the middle of this dangerous supernatural situation, which builds to a climactic confrontation in which the puppets, led by Toulon, seek vengeance on the evil beings that ended their human lives.

Shot on a fifteen day schedule in a Romanian winter, directed by prolific B-movie master David DeCoteau (under the pseudonym Joseph Tennent) from a screenplay by Benjamin Carr (Hideous!), Retro Puppet Master features newly designed puppets for the series, both completely new (Cyclops, Dr. Death) and variations on puppets featured in other entries in the series and the wraparound segments of older Toulon telling the story (Blade, Pinhead, Six Shooter, Drill Sergeant/Tunneler).

Even though this story doesn't quite fit with the backstory established for Toulon in movies that preceded this one, I can let that slide given the fact that I find the story it does tell to be quite entertaining. It's an interesting fresh take on the series, and it's fun to see a new, although older styled, batch of puppets in action against a powerful threat.

There are some good performances in the film, particularly from Guy Rolfe, reprising his role as the elder Toulon, Jack Donner as Afzel, and Brigitta Dau, who is engaging and likeable as Ilsa. I'm not sure of the actor's name (perhaps Claudiu Trandafir?), but the head of security working under Ilsa's father is also quite enjoyable to watch.

The film does have its issues, most of which for me stem from its Romanian production. Some key roles are filled by Romanian actors, who have been dubbed over by performers who speak clearer English, and the sound on this dubbing is very poor. It stands out every time a dubbed person speaks... and since all of Toulon's puppeteers are dubbed, it also makes his puppet show that so enthralled Ilsa appear laughable to the viewer. Still, that's a small problem as far as I'm concerned, the worst dubbing is isolated to certain characters with less screen time.

My biggest problem with Retro Puppet Master is the fact that its story has never been followed up on. I'm always been very intrigued to see this 1902 storyline continue, to see Toulon and Ilsa's relationship grow (fans of the other films will know that Ilsa is indeed the love of Toulon's life) as they travel on with this group of puppets and experience further adventures. In the final scene, Toulon promises his 1944 group of puppets that he will one day tell them the story of what happened to the damaged, beheaded Cyclops and the other puppets we see come into being in this film. That's a promise that Full Moon has yet to keep. The question of what happened to Toulon's original puppets is still one that I'm anxious to have answered.

Come on, it's been fifteen years, where is my Retro Puppet Master 2?

No comments:

Post a Comment