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 watches grand plans give way to the lackluster.
CURSE OF THE PUPPET MASTER (1998)
1994's Puppet Master 5 had been marketed as "The Final Chapter", despite the belief of new puppet master Rick Myers that he and the living puppets that had been passed down to him from Andre Toulon had further adventures ahead of them. Full Moon Entertainment head Charles Band said the fifth film was the end of the Puppet Master series, but that didn't mean it would be the last we'd see of the puppets. Not at all. In fact, the plan was for the puppets to return in a trilogy of films entitled Puppet Wars, the first installment of which, Puppet Wars: Curse of the Puppet Master, was intended for release in 1995.
Inspired by the Univeral Monsters movies and their Hammer Films remakes, writers Jay Woelfel (who went on to direct Trancers 6) and Dave Parker (The Dead Hate the Living!) planned for each of the Puppet Wars movies to feature the puppets encountering versions of the classic monsters. Curse was a mummy movie, the second, to be titled either Tomb or Vault of the Puppet Master, would have Toulon and his puppets being tracked down by vampires, and the third (Castle of the Puppet Master?) would have Toulon meeting Frankenstein.
Each of these adventures would occur during Toulon's attempt to escape to the United States from Nazi-controlled Germany in 1945, setting the trilogy between the events of Puppet Master III and the beginning of the original film. Guy Rolfe of parts 3, 4, 5, and eventually Retro Puppet Master, was signed to reprise the role of Toulon, while actor Turhan Bey, who had played a character named Mehemet Bey in Universal's The Mummy's Tomb, was the favorite for the Curse role of a mysterious Egyptian man named Ahmad Bey.
The trilogy was ultimately derailed by a lack of funds, but the screenplays were written and Curse got so close to filming that there was even footage shot of the train that would be the movie's primary setting. Some of that footage was later used for the climactic sequence of Retro Puppet Master.
Woelfel has made the script he wrote with Parker for Puppet Wars: Curse of the Puppet Master available to be downloaded from his website, and it is quite an interesting read. Toulon and his puppets find themselves on a train packed with Nazi officers and the aforementioned Ahmad Bey. Soon they discover that the Nazis are planning to have Anubis, the Egyptian lord of the dead, inhabit a massive statue (which is guarded by small creatures called Homunculi) that they will then control with an ancient jewel called the Eye of Osiris in an effort to turn the tides of war back in their favor. As in other installments of the series set during World War II, the Nazis' ultimate goal is to find a way to resurrect their fallen soldiers.
The Puppet Wars project was shelved and Full Moon's distribution deal with Paramount ended in 1995. The company has never recovered to the heights it was at during the Paramount era, but it has endured.
Having seen the promise of Puppet Wars in the Video Zone featurette that followed Puppet Master 5 on the VHS, I was always on the lookout for another puppet movie to hit the shelves of my local video stores. '95 came and went, and nothing. '96. '97. I began to wonder if Puppet Wars had been released, but just hadn't made it to any stores in my town. I asked one of the store owners about it in 1998. He had no information, but said he'd look into it. Entirely by coincidence, it was just a few weeks later when that video store owner was alerted to the impending release of a new Puppet Master movie, Curse of the Puppet Master. He showed me the page in a video dealer magazine through which he could order copies for the store, asking if that was the movie I had inquired about. It wasn't exactly the movie, it wasn't Puppet Wars, but I was certainly happy to see that there was still life in the franchise. He got a copy for the store, and I rented it on the day it became available.
Puppet Master III director David DeCoteau returned to the series to direct this installment under the pseudonym Victoria Sloan, working from a screenplay written by Full Moon regular Benjamin Carr (a.k.a. Neal Marshall Stevens). Oddly, the story Carr crafted is eerily similar to the 1973 drive-in cult classic Sssssss. The two films are so similar, it's hard to believe that it could have possibly been a coincidence. I would have liked to have been in the room when the decision was made to base the latest Puppet Master sequel on a twenty-five year old movie about a mad scientist slowly turning his assistant into a snake.
The mad scientist in this version of the tale is Dr. Magrew, owner of a roadside attraction, a museum of marvels featuring oddities from around the world. Among Magrew's possessions are puppet master Andre Toulon's living puppets; Blade, Pinhead, Six Shooter, Jester, Tunneler, and Leech Woman. He says he bought them at an auction years ago, and they do seem at home in the Magrew household. This begs the question, what happened to Rick Myers? This question is not answered.
Noting the carving skills of gas station attendant Robert "Tank" Winsley, an awkward gentle giant, Magrew hires Tank for a very important job: Magrew is seeking to create a living puppet of his own, and Tank is tasked with carving that puppet.
Tank stays at the Magrew place while toiling away at the carving job, and in his downtime romance brews between him and Magrew's daughter Jane, who is drawn to him despite the fact that she's a college girl and he's a little slow.
At night, Tank is troubled by terrifying nightmares in which he finds himself turning into a wooden puppet with gears for innards. That's not the only bad thing going on, either. Dr. Magrew has dark secrets, and the local police are suspicious that there was foul play involved in the disappearance of his previous assistant. Further trouble is caused for the characters by a group of local toughs who regularly harrass Tank and Jane.
Of course, the people causing problems for our leads are in the story to be fodder for the puppets when their new master commands them to kill.
The first time I watched this movie, which I had at the time been waiting four years to see, I was sorely disappointed. It did not live up to the expectations I had from the preceding five movies. There was such a step down in quality and atmosphere from what came before that it was jarring.
Curse of the Puppet Master was such a small production that bringing to life the puppets, the reason anyone would be watching the movie, was an expense that could barely be afforded. A lot of the puppets' screentime was accomplished through the use of stock footage from the previous movies, edited in by Ohioan filmmaker J.R. Bookwalter (The Dead Next Door). Bookwalter did his best to make this stock footage work, but the backgrounds give it away. Still, stock footage is better than some of the subpar "puppetry" on display in the newly shot moments.
Some of the acting is questionable, but I do think George Peck and Emily Harrison did well in the roles of Magrew and Jane. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Tank and Jane's lead tormentor is hilarious when he tries to talk tough.
Curse is not very well made, not very interesting, the plot lifted from Ssssss is quite strange. It did fill a gap when it was released; although it didn't live up to its predecessors, it did give fans a new Puppet Master movie after what was the longest period without a sequel. Even when I was unhappy with it after that first viewing, I was appreciative of it for that reason. I was still glad to have a new Puppet Master.
Multiple viewings later, and knowing that Full Moon had entered a new era by the time this went into production, my opinion on it has softened a bit, but it's still one of my least favorite entries in the franchise.
And if you think you have it all figured out from what I've written here, you probably do... basically. There's no way to predict exactly how it ends, because the ending makes no sense.