Film Review: Puppet Master: The Littlest ReichEvil puppets run amok at a collectors’ convention in the 13th installment of this surprisingly durable series. Look for a brief theatrical release before this formulaic movie settles in for longer life on DVD and streaming.
The 13th installment in the surprisingly long-lived Puppet Master series opens in 1989 (the year the first film debuted), with scarred, aging André Toulon (Udo Kier)—creator and master of macabre living puppets, creatively weaponized with knives, flamethrowers, drills and the like—in a bar, taking offense at a lesbian couple. “Filthy homosexuals,” he mutters, in true would-be master-race style, and sics his murderous puppets on them before getting himself killed by local police.
Cut to the present day, when Toulon’s Postville, Texas mansion has become a swastika-festooned tourist attraction, where Carol Doreski (fan favorite Barbara Crampton)—one of the police officers who responded back in ’89—gives guided tours, and you just know someone always asks whether she shot him. Scads of Toulon-doll owners—in his later years he apparently did a brisk business in the ghoulish collectibles—are in town for an auction of the creepy critters, including affable, recently divorced comic-book artist Edgar (Thomas Lennon), who inherited a skull-face doll from his late brother. He’s accompanied by new girlfriend Ashley (Jenny Pellicer) and sardonic pal Markowitz (Nelson Franklin); Markowitz is also Edgar’s boss at the comic-book store where he works while hoping sales of his “Madame Lightning” books pick up.
Edgar and company check into the hotel where most of the dealers and guests are staying, and next thing you know, the hibernating puppets are up and about, killing people in impressively disgusting ways…you don’t even what to know what happens to the pregnant lady. And they are their maker’s progeny—a gay man, a gypsy (yes, that’s the term used), a black woman (the pregnant lady) and a Jewish couple, which doesn’t bode well for Markowitz but does energize him when the puppets’ genocidal agenda becomes apparent.
I’m not sure Markowitz’s answer why he’s fighting back rather than hiding and waiting for the cops—“I can think of six million reasons why”—is meant as a laugh line, precisely, but it’s pretty flippant, even for a movie about killer Nazi dolls. To be sure, Charles Band’s Full Moon Productions was big on movies about little menaces—they include the Critters series, Dollman, the Ghoulies series, the Prehysteria series (tiny dinosaurs) and Demonic Toys, which did a crossover with Puppet Master in 2004—creating varying degrees of mayhem. But funny little Nazis require rather more finesse than The Littlest Reich possesses.
In fact, the animated credits sequence—rendered entirely in black, white and red—that sketches in Toulon’s backstory (one that isn’t entirely in line with earlier installments, but the words “canonical” and “Puppet Master” don't belong in the same sentence) is by far the sharpest, most memorable part of the production. Except, perhaps, for the promise at the end that the story is to be continued.