The PUPPET MASTER Franchise: Part 1 – The Early Years (#1-5)

With 14 entries, I believe Puppet Master is the largest horror movie franchise of all time. A breakthrough hit for Full Moon Entertainment, Charlie Band‘s production company specializing in ultra low budget and cheesy horror/sex pictures, the original Puppet Master was the cornerstone for the company leading to several lesser (if you can imagine) horror franchises like The Gingerdead Man, Evil Bong and Demonic Toys. Puppet Master even had a cross-over with Demonic Toys, pitting them against each other in a no holds barred battle much like Freddy vs Jason or Alien vs Predator, except shittier and with Corey Feldman.

My review of this franchise will consist of three parts – The Early Years (#1-#5), The Shitty Years (#6-#9) and The Nazi Years (#10-#14). Because along with being about puppets this franchise is also about the Holocaust. Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

Let’s get started!

Puppet Master

directed by: David Schmoeller; written by: Joseph G. Collodi

cast: Paul LeMat, William Hickey, Barbara Crampton, Jimmie F. Scraggs, Irene Miracle, Robin Frates

puppet cast: Blade, Jester, Pinhead, Tunneler, Leech Woman, Shredder Khan, Genie

runtime: 90 minutes

release date: September 30, 1989 (direct to VHS)

Much like the original Friday the 13th, the original Puppet Master is commonly seen as merely a mid-tier entry of the franchise. Straight up, the original Friday the 13th is a bad movie, and so is the original Puppet Master. It’s clear Charles Band and crew didn’t understand what worked about the franchise yet = 1) more puppet shenanigans; 2) less human drama. These humans are so boring I forgot who any of them were and I just watched this fucking thing less than a week ago. I think they were family feuding or something, anyway, the puppet story is much more interesting. Legendary actor William Hickey (best known by today’s audiences as “Uncle Lewis” in Christmas Vacation) plays Andre Toulon in the 1939 flashbacks, a French toymaker living in Pasadena, who has discovered a way to give life to puppets and use them to fuck over Hitler. Unfortunately, Nazi goons find him, and instead of letting himself get captured, he commits suicide, leaving the living dolls behind.

NOTE: I had to make a virtual trip to Wikipedia cause besides a few good kills and adorable killer puppets, there’s nothing I remember about this disposable B-picture.

Okay, so it turns out the humans were psychics (a really boring representation of psychics, if you ask me) who are contacted by an evil psychic who wants to use their psychic powers to help re-animate these dolls or something? I don’t know. The evil psychic seems to be doing just fine manipulating the puppets to kill the good psychics, that is until the puppets realize he’s full of shit and turn on him…Anyway, the evil psychic finds Toulon’s diary about how to animate these puppets into living things and decides to use the formula on humans, so he’ll have a human army to go out and take shit over. However, the main dude and main dudette psychics have other plans and with the help of the puppets, kill the evil psychic.

Overall, I give this one 2 puppets out of 5.

So here are the puppets that are introduced in this one:

BLADE

BLADE – Not to be confused with the Wesley Snipes character, this Blade is kinda like the leader of the puppets and very much the face of the entire franchise. Blade’s looks are based on the devil from Faust except in a little black trenchcoat with a little black gangster hat and a hook for his right hand and a sword for his left. He’s really cute and extremely loyal, we find out he is the spirit of a German scientist turned resistance fighter in third movie. KILLS – He slashes one of the psychics’ throats and delivers the killing blow to the evil psychic at the end of the movie. +2

PINHEAD

PINHEAD: The largest puppet with a torso as big as a human ass and the hands of an adult human. He has a tiny little bald pinhead though, and that disproportion is equal parts hilarious and precious. His power is that he has the physical strength of most humans and can deliver punches like a mantis shrimp. He’s like the #2 in the puppet gang. The one thing to know about Pinhead is the motherfucker does not like to be touched. In the third film, you find out he was a Jewish truck driver killed by Nazis for sneaking shipments of food to suffering Jews. KILLS: In this one, he bashes in a housekeeper’s skull with a fire poker. Really undeserved death that threatens to make him an unlikeable character, but hey, he died fighting Nazis so let’s cut him some slack. +1

JESTER

JESTER: The only puppet in the movie who doesn’t kill or maim anyone, I think he’s a conscientious objector. Jester is a very sensitive boy that the other puppets look out for. He just feels things deeper than the other ones. In the third film, we find out that as a human, he was a Jewish bookkeeper who was, according to Toulon, “very funny.” So basically he’s a comedian suffering from depression. KILLS: Not in a million years would Jester do a thing like that. +0

TUNNELER

TUNNELER: Dressed like an army dude with a wide silver drill on the top of his head, Tunneler is perhaps most recognizable for his big friendly black eyes. He’s definitely not into the whole leadership thing, but he’s a good soldier. KILLS: He screws this lady. +1

LEECH WOMAN

LEECH WOMAN: The most WTF puppet in that her special skill is vomiting up giant leeches. Do leeches kill people or just gross them out? They can’t kill people, right? A leech can’t absorb all your blood and even if they could, they wouldn’t be able to fit all of it in their little cockroach bodies. Right? Anyway, it sucks this is the only female puppet of the group given her defense mechanism, while certainly disgusting to witness, is hands down the least effective. It takes her 30 seconds alone to hawk up one of these bug loogies. KILLS: She doesn’t kill anyone cause again, leeches can’t kill people, but she aids in the murder of a couple folks. +0

NOTE: The other two puppets Shredder Khan and Genie have such short parts they aren’t worth exploring. But here are some pics…

From left to right: SHREDDER KAHN and GENIE

Puppet Master II: His Unholy Creation

directed by: David Allen; written by: David Pabian

cast: Elizabeth MacLellan, Collin Bersen, Georgory Webb, Charlie Spradling, Steve Welles, Sage Allen, Jeff Weston, Nina Talbot

puppet cast: Blade, Jester, Pinhead, Tunneler, Leech Woman, and introducing Torch

runtime: 88 minutes

release date: November 17, 1990 (direct to VHS)

Now we’re starting to cook with gas! Puppet Master II is a vast improvement over the original in both the more prominent role the puppets play and the less prominent role the humans play. It opens with Blade, Pinhead, and the gang re-animating the corpse of Andre Toulon, who is portrayed here not by Uncle Lewis, but by another actor, in a completely different way. Here, Toulon is a well-spoken, bandaged-to-look-like-the-Invisible-Man-but-acts-like-Inspector-Clouseau-annoying-goofball, and a truly bad dude. This is the first of many instances where the franchise negates what has come in the past. In the original, Toulon is portrayed as an anti-fascist hero, here he’s some uber-fascist John Hammond-on-a-power-trip pervert trying to take over the world with his killer puppets, and who thinks the lead human female, Carolyn (a parapsychologist!), is the re-incarnated spirit of his long-dead wife.

A deteriorating French dipshit enjoying his morning cigarette on the beach.

So, Carolyn, is vacationing? in this house or inherited it or something, there’s so much flimsy exposition hurled at you it’s impossible to keep track. She and her brother are really grossed out by this obviously been dead for decades walking, bandaged corpse, but they just think he’s like a regular weirdo or something. Andre Toulon begins sending the puppets to do his bidding and kill people who get in the way of his world domination plan which means Pinhead, Blade, and Tunneler are offing motherfuckers, while Jester and Leech Woman watch. There’s another puppet introduced here, Torch. He’s designed to look like a Nazi stormtrooper – he has bullets for teeth, one of those hard German helmets, and his right-hand shoots fire. He murders a child who mistakes him for a toy. Yikes.

Anyway, the way this thing wraps up is Toulon has a plan to transfer his consciousness into a creepy-looking human body puppet and force Carolyn to transfer into another creepy-looking human body puppet. These to-scale puppets have these bulging eyeballs that look legit frightening. The little puppets see this as a betrayal of what their cause is, so they double-cross Toulon and Torch sets him on fire, delivering the fatal blow. A guess you can still kill a dead guy, but only if he transfers his consciousness into another body that’s a different body than the one he initially died in.

But he’s not really dead! Cause Jester, the alleged “pacificist”, transfers Toulon’s soul over to the human body puppet meant for Carolyn. It ends with the human body puppet on the road with Torch and the rest of the puppets, pretending to be a magician for children’s birthday parties.

Unmasked Toulon
Overall, I give this one 3.25 puppets out of 5.

So here are the new puppets that are introduced in this one…

TORCH

TORCH: A cute but incredibly deadly killer puppet who, much like a baby scorpion, has trouble controlling his venom – in this case, “fire”. He has the mentality of a toddler and seems to be Toulon’s favorite in this one. KILLS: He kills both an angry scullery maid and a child in this one. He also delivers the fatal blow that gets Toulon. +3

HUMAN BODY PUPPET #1

HUMAN BODY PUPPET #1: A human body puppet Toulon transfers into. KILLS: Not able to off anyone before getting stabbed and lit on fire. +0

HUMAN BODY PUPPET #2

HUMAN BODY PUPPET #2: A human body puppet, intended for Carolyn, that Toulon transfers into at the end. KILLS: Who knows, probably a bunch more kids and parents at Pasadena birthday parties. +infinity

MORE KILLS

BLADE – Blade kills a woman and her boyfriend with his left-hand hook. +2

LEECH WOMAN – Kills a scullery maid’s husband while in bed, leeching him and ripping off and eating parts of his face. +1

TUNNELER – Drills a hole in this dude’s head while he’s sleeping. +1

PINHEAD – Beats this old lady psychic to death. +1

Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge

directed by: David Decoteau; written by: C. Courtney Joyner

cast: Guy Rolfe, Richard Lynch, Mr. Pitt, Sarah Douglas, Walter Gotell, Kristopher Logan, Matthew Faison, Nog

puppet cast: Blade, Jester, Pinhead, Leech Woman, Tunneler, and introducing Six Shooter

runtime: 86 minutes

release date: October 17, 1991 (direct to VHS)

Introducing the absolute best installment of the Puppet Master franchise that manages to feel like an actual real movie…almost. It’s a prequel set during the Holocaust, but don’t worry it’s a really fun, action-packed, and kinda cute movie about the Holocaust! I know, I know, but bear with me…

Negating almost everything the last two Puppet Master movies established as canon, PM3 follows puppet master Andre Toulon, who apparently lives in Nazi Germany in 1941, two full years after he commits suicide in Pasadena, California in the original Puppet Master movie. Unlike Puppet Master II, he’s portrayed as a good guy here. A heroic puppeteer who is making anti-fascist puppet shows featuring a six-armed gunslinger puppet firing rounds at a cowardly Hitler puppet. The S.S. hears about this and proceed to act like a bunch of Nazis, murdering Toulon’s wife and kidnapping him, and of course, canceling the play.

Toulon and his stupid Hitler puppet

What those Nazi bastards don’t know is that Toulon’s puppets are alive, so on the transport to what I’m assuming is a concentration camp, Tunneler and Pinhead come alive and kill everyone in the Nazi mobile except Toulon. Toulon escapes and with the help of the puppets, tries to establish an underground network of Jews and Jewish sympathizers to wipe out the Nazis for good. He sends puppets on real Inglourious Basterds-type missions to execute high-ranking Nazi leaders in an attempt to shake things up.

We also learn that the puppets are controlled by the spirits of Jews who died fighting Nazis. Before they died, Toulon would ask them if they’d like to die or keep fighting, and the ones who wanted to keep fighting would be reborn into the bodies of killer puppets. Pinhead was a truck driver sneaking food to Jews in concentration camps, Jester was a Jewish accountant who did stand-up comedy and Leech Woman was Toulon’s wife the Nazis killed. Why would you turn your murdered wife into a puppet that vomits leeches on people though?

NOT Rutger Hauer

What else? Well, there’s a main bad guy Nazi, who looks a lot like Rutger Hauer, chasing Toulon and his puppets and he’s really mean. He knows about the puppets and wants Toulon’s formula to re-animate dead Nazis to have even more Nazis. Cause that’s what 1941 Germany needed, more Nazis! Mr. Pitt from Seinfeld plays a German scientist who is working within the Nazi organization to take them down (who eventually dies and becomes Blade), oh and Nog from Deep Space Nine plays a little Jewish boy who befriends Toulon and his puppets. While I do have to acknowledge that perhaps maybe this storyline trivializes the holocaust, I do really dig the “Fuck Hitler” and “Fuck Fascism” attitude throughout.

Mr. Pitt
Overall, I give this one 4.1 puppets out of 5

So here are the new puppets that are introduced in this one…

SIX SHOOTER

SIX SHOOTER: The only puppet with a gun in the Puppet Master franchise and not just one, six of them! They shoot tiny bullets but they still kill the shit out of Nazis. The noisest puppet, Six Shooter is always giggling and grinning and grunting, all while keeping a positive attitude. They don’t explore his backstory other than mention he was always involved in battle when he was alive and loved firing his guns. KILLS: He shoots a Nazi General in the chest six times who proceeds to fall out of a window to his death. He also shoots a low-level Nazi Private during a raid of Toulon’s hideout. +2

MORE KILLS…

BLADE: He doesn’t kill anyone in this one because he isn’t “reborn” until the very end of this installment. He assists in the killing of the head Nazi at the end though. +0

PINHEAD: He scores the most kills in this installment – he strangles a Nazi soldier to death, he strangles a Nazi scientist to death, he bashes in the skull of a Nazi spy with a wrench and he kills a Nazi soldier with a brick. He also assists in the killing of the head Nazi at the end. +4

TUNNELER: He tunnels through a Nazi soldier’s chest and also assists in most of the other kills by screwing people’s ankles. He also assists in the killing of the head Nazi at the end. +1

LEECH WOMAN: She hawks leech loogies on a few Nazis but nothing fatal. She also assists in the killing of the head Nazi at the end, with Toulon himself delivering the fatal blow. +0

Puppet Master 4: When Bad Puppets Turn Good

directed by: Jeff Burr; written by: Charles Band, Steven E. Carr, Todd Henschell, Keith S. Payson, Jo Duffy, Douglas Aarniokoski

cast: Gordon Currie, Chandra West, Jason Adams, Teresa Hill, Felton Perry, Stacie Randall, Guy Rolfe

puppet cast: Blade, Pinhead, Tunneler, Six Shooter, Jester and introducing Totem, Sutekh and Decapitron

runtime: 79 minutes

release date: November 24, 1993 (direct to VHS)

Here’s where the series sheds all of its cynicism and dives head first into “goofy” territory. Blade, Pinhead, and the gang are all good dudes in this one and the bad guy is a giant felt villain straight out of a “the writers came up empty this week” episode of Power Rangers. His name is Sutekh and he wears a cape and a thong. He’s a bald boy with large, glowing orange eyes, a shriveled scrotum for a mouth, and massive back problems. Maybe it’s just the way the sonofabitch is puppeteered, but the way he moves around his lair suggests he has at least two herniated discs, maybe three. So, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, who is this guy? Well, he’s a goofy puppet villain living in an old museum in another dimension. He has a bunch of Jawas that work for him and he’s obsessed with stealing Toulon’s re-animation juice and killing all the puppets. Using telekineses, his Jawas VR themselves into bodies of vicious puppets in OUR world called Totems. Basically, it’s like James Cameron‘s Avatar but not as stupid.

Gentleman, start your engines, and may the best Jawa win!

Anyway, the puppets find their way into the hands of a young surfer bro scientist, his nice girlfriend, and their two insufferable academic friends, when the young surfer bro scientist inherits this old hotel the puppets live in. Apparently, Science Surfer is doing very parallel work to what Andre Toulon did, because by Puppet Master 4, Toulon has evolved all the way from modest toymaker to groundbreaking physicist. The puppets immediately take a shine to the science surfer and his girlfriend but are to nobody’s surprise, annoyed by the insufferable academics. Eventually, the Totems break into the hotel, kill the insufferable academics and start shit with the puppets. The puppets kill them with the help of Toulon, who has manifested his spirit in a new puppet called Decapitron, and as a result, the Jawas controlling them implode on themselves and Sutkeh gets super pissed. “Noooooo! I’ll get you next time!” Sutkeh more or less says. Puppet Master 5 is basically part-two of this story.

“So this is how needles work, huh brah?”
Overall, I give this one 3.6 puppets out of 5.

So here are the new puppets in this one…

SUTEKH

SUTEKH: I already explained this dude to death. KILLS: He wills the Jawas to control the Totems, but mostly just deals with his back problems IRL. +0, +4 by proxy

TOTEM

TOTEMS: Two totems in this one who are the avatars of the Jawas. KILLS: They murder two scientists, one of which is played by a Robocop actor. They also murder the the insufferable academics. +4

DECAPITRON

DECAPITRON: This puppet with a regular human dude body but a TV head that generates electricity. Andre Toulon constantly Skypes into the head to flirt with Science Surfer. KILLS: Electrocutes a Totem. +1

MORE KILLS

BLADE: Doesn’t really do much, he stabs a Totem in the chest but Decapitron makes the kill. +0

PINHEAD: Gets up on the roof of the hotel, during a massive rain storm, and conducts electricity through a weather vane to electrocute a Totem to death. +1

SIX SHOOTER: Helps Pinhead electrocutre a Totem to death. +1

TUNNELER: Tunnels through a Totem’s chest. +1

Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter

directed by: Jeff Burr; written by: Charles Band, Steven E. Carr, Todd Henschell, Keith S. Payson, Jo Duffy, Douglas Aarniokoski

cast: Guy Rolfe, Gordon Currie, Chandra West, Ian Oglivy, Teresa Hill, Christopher Guest’s Brother, Duane Whitaker, Clu Gulager

puppet cast: Blade, Pinhead, Jester, Tunneler, Torch, Six Shooter, Sutkeh, Decapitron, and introducing Dark Totem

runtime: 81 minutes

release date: September 21, 1994 (direct to VHS)

Starting two days after Puppet Master 4, Puppet Master 5 begins with Science Surfer in jail because the police didn’t believe his story about puppets killing 5 people. His girlfriend bails him out and he repays her by falling asleep mid blowjob. The next morning after a nightmare, he decides to go back to the hotel he inherited to find and rescue the puppets. However, his asshole boss at his Artificial Intelligence research project job beats him to the hotel, with three guys dressed like they’re going to a baseball game. Their plan? Steal the puppets, figure out how they work and make $$$$$$$$$$$$$. However, the puppets have other plans and so does the thonged monster Sutekh, hungry for revenge, who sends the Prince of the Totems to take care of these DANG PUPPETS once and for all!

Puppet Acupuncture

This one is super slow and relies heavily on footage from Puppet Master 4. We don’t get nearly as much of the puppets as we did in 4, and instead are subjected to a dumb story about someone’s shitty boss trying to exploit them. There are some wonderfully slapstick puppet moments in this one. That smartass pacifist, Jester, whacks Maynard from Pulp Fiction in the nuts with a meat tenderizer for being an overall piece of shit, while Pinhead cheers him on. Blade does some cute stuff, and hey, Torch is back, being a real badass and groaning like a moron. Most of the kills in this one, like the last one, are made by the Totem, in this case, Dark Totem, who is basically like the other Totems but with a cape like his daddy. At the end, they defeat Dark Totem and then Sutekh by extension. Andre Toulon appears once again in the Decapitron head to tell Science Surfer he’s the next Puppet Master. We never see this Science Surfer again for the rest of the series.

When the cheese shop ain’t opening up.
Overall, I give this one 2.7 puppets out of 5.

So here are the new puppets in this one…

DARK TOTEM: Sutekh’s pride and joy. KILLS: He murders the first guy dressed as a guy going to a baseball game and then he murders the second guy dressed as a guy going to a baseball game. Later he murders Maynard from Pulp Fiction. +3

MORE KILLS

BLADE: Stabs Dark Totem in the gullet but besides that doesn’t do much. +0

PINHEAD: Jester is more violent than Pinhead in this one. +0

JESTER: Whacks Maynard from Pulp Fiction in the balls with a meat tenderizer but no kills. +0

TUNNELER: Tunnels Dr. Jenning’s legs but doesn’t deliver the killing blow. +0

TORCH: Torch’s big return after being gone for two movies, he’s just magically at the hotel after being absent in PM4. He shoots fire at Dr. Jennings causing him to back up and fall down an open elevator shaft, resulting in his death. Any jury worth their weight in salt would find Torch guilty of second degree murder. +1

DECAPITRON: Electocutes Dark Totem to a burnt crisp before Science Surfer stomps his brains in. Technically, Science Surfer delivers the final blow here but I reckon Dark Totem was dead anyway after Decapitron’s electricity assault. I’m giving him a point. +1

5 DOWN, 9 TO GO!

NEXT TIME…

Puppet Master gets real shitty in the late 90s and early 2000s.

OTHER FRANCHISE REVIEWS:

Franchise with Me: The Hannibal Lecter Movies w/ Shawn Collins

Franchise with Me: Wild Things w/ Michael Palladino

Franchise with Me: The Kissing Booth w/ Ben V.

Franchise with Me: The Chucky Movies w/ Michael Palladino

Franchise with Me: The Leprechaun Movies w/ Ben V.

Franchise with Me: Tremors w/ Michael Paul Kohn

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