Friday, June 27, 2014

Worth Mentioning - His Unholy Creations

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 continues watching his way through the Puppet Master franchise.


After the success producer Charles Band's new company Full Moon had with the 1989 release of Puppetmaster, it was no shock that a sequel would be put into production soon after. To bring the fledgling franchise's killer puppets back to the screen, Band decided to bring back Academy Award nominated special effects wizard David Allen, who had done the effects on the first film, to not only once again create stop-motion sequences with the little creatures and have his crew handle the puppetry, but also to direct the movie.

While Allen and his FX company managed to do some incredible work with the puppets on the sequel, the scenes with the human characters are slightly lacking due to the fact that Allen was working from a mediocre script by David Pabian.

The film begins with a wonderful sequence that has all the atmosphere you could hope for from a horror movie, a scene set in a cemetery - Shady Oaks Cemetary, to be exact (the misspelling is on the sign) - on a dark and stormy night.

After their experience with villainous puppet master Neil Gallagher in the '89 film, the puppets are seeking the guidance of their original, beloved, trusted puppet master Andre Toulon, who killed himself in his room at the Bodega Bay Inn to avoid being captured by Nazis who had pursued him from Europe with the intention of stealing the secret of how he made his puppets live.

Continuity mistake: The beginning of the first movie told us that Andre Toulon committed suicide in 1939, but here his headstone gives the year of death as 1941.

The puppets are able to dig up Toulon's grave, reaching his coffin, prying it open, then taking a beaker of the glowing green serum that gives them life and pouring it on their master's corpse. His rotten arms rise... Cut to the title sequence. It's a perfect opening, but the perfection really ends there.

The first movie's story had centered on a group of psychics gathering at the massive, cliffside Bodega Bay Inn and getting knocked off by the puppets one-by-one. While that group had been sleazy, strange, and unlikeable, the sequel's group of characters are just bland.

After the Bodega Bay Inn's owner is found dead with her brain extracted through her nose (Mrs. Gallagher apparently did not have a happy ending after the credits rolled on part 1), and with surviving psychic Alex Whitaker institutionalized after his ordeal at the inn, researchers from the US Office of Paranormal Claims, joined by eccentric middle-aged psychic Camille, gather at the inn atop Scarab Hill to investigate the situation.

In a bit of exposition that has no real bearing on the series, it is said that the Bodega Bay Inn was originally built by a mystic, drawn to the hill's mystic aura, who wanted to create a haven for spiritual wayfarers who longed to escape "this imperfect worldly plane". Instead, it has just turned out to be a place where a bunch of people get killed.

Soon enough, the paranormal investigators start disappearing or turning up dead, murdered by Toulon's puppets, their brains then extracted.

Holed up in the attic, wrapped in bandages, wearing goggles, gloves, and a heavy cloak to hide his state of decomposition, Toulon needs human brains for the creation of the serum. Specifically, it's the "digeneral lobe" of the brain (I don't believe you'll find that in any medical books) that, when cooked up and mixed with "the secrets of Osiris", results in the life-giving, lifeforce-transferring serum.

The Puppet Master series' continuity has been all over the place over the years, but the one installment with the most elements that have been retconned or ignored is part II. One of those elements is a flashback Toulon has to when he first learned the secrets of Osiris, told to him by a sorcerer in Cairo while Toulon and Elsa were there to do a puppet show version of Faust in 1912. Later installment Retro Puppet Master would show Toulon learning how to give his puppets life in 1902 Paris, completely disregarding Puppet Master II's version of the story.

Eventually, Toulon makes his presence known to the investigators, introducing himself as Eriquee Chaneé (there's a reference to genre stars Lon Chaney Sr. and Jr. in there), and instantly becoming deeply smitten with the head of the group, Carolyn Bramwell, who he believes to be the reincarnation of his long-lost wife Elsa, who was killed by the Nazis. (Her death is shown in the prequel Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge.)

Toulon has a rival for Carolyn's affections in the form of Camille's motorcycle-riding, Western novel-writing son Michael, and of course Carolyn is more interested in the regular guy that the attic-dwelling weirdo.

Another thing about Puppet Master II that doesn't jibe with the rest of the series is the villainy of Andre Toulon. Toulon was never a bad guy other than here, where he's an evil murderer who even betrays his puppets - leading them to believe that he plans to restore them to their former selves, and then revealing that he's merely using them so he can pass his lifeforce into a mannequin body, and then put Carolyn's lifeforce into a female mannequin, reuniting him with Elsa in plastic form.

The way I have always justified Toulon's bad guy turn in this one is with a line of dialogue in which he says he endured "a half century of nightmares" while dead... Surely that could drive anyone insane.

The craziest thing Toulon does in the movie is admit to the puppets that he's been lying to them and using them. That never goes down well.

The story Pabian came up with is fine for a horror movie, all the bandaged madman/reincarnated beloved stuff is classic horror, it just wasn't executed all that well.

I may find Puppet Master II to be one of the lesser entries in the series, but Allen and his crew certainly delivered when it came to the special effects. In addition to introducing the awesome-looking, bullet-toothed, flamethrowing puppet Torch, who has rarely turned up in any following films because he's too complicated to deal with, this movie also features the best effects moment in the entire franchise, a shot that shows the puppet Blade taking a running leap off a bed, landing on his feet and continuing to run across the room, toward a screaming, cowering victim (played by actress Charlie Spradling, who became Full Moon's spokesmodel for a while after this.) The movie as a whole isn't all that great, but that shot of Blade is incredible.

Puppet Master II was actually the first installment of the series that I ever saw, although when seven-year-old me saw it on the video store shelf in 1991, I thought it was a sequel to another killer doll movie I enjoyed, Stuart Gordon's 1987 film Dolls (also a Charles Band production). I had watched Dolls several times on cable television, and yet never knew what its title was. That it might be called Puppet Master seemed like a good possibility to me. Once I started watching it, Puppet Master II was definitely not what I had been expecting, but it did pull me in and I've been a devoted fan of the franchise ever since. It doesn't hold up so well for me now, but it is the one that kicked off my Puppet Master fandom.

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