Friday, August 31, 2018

Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018)

Directors: Sonny Laguna, Tommy Wiklund
Notable Cast: Thomas Lennon, Nelson Franklin, Jenny Pellicer, Michael Pare, Barbara Crampton, Charlyne Yi, Matthias Hues, Udo Kier

Hype is a cruel mistress. When the Puppet Master reboot was announced there was general shock from the horror community. Not only was Charles Band still going strong with his own Puppet Master series, but he made it very clear that he would not be ending his series in light of this reboot. If anything, Puppet Master was a franchise that desperately needed the reboot retreat and probably has for decades. The announcement, along with inclusion of genre auteur S. Craig Zahler as the writer, was somewhat refreshing. When you add that the film was directed by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund, who delivered the stylish if flawed Blood Runs Cold which was made for the amount of money someone might collect from couch cushions, then there was hype. Too much hype. As the credits rolled on Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, it was hard not to feel a sense of disappointment. So much potential and the film was focused on delivering a silly, tongue-in-cheek experience that Band’s series is known for instead of delivering something a bit different.

Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is a film that delivers on a few key elements that fans are more than likely to enjoy. Mainly, it delivers on the outlandish old-school gore and kills. When I say ‘delivers,’ I mean it truly delivers on it all. Granted, to go into detail about most of them would mean to spoil some of the surprise. Throughout all of them though, the film executes the key moments with a gleeful sense of vicious humor. The gore is plentiful, the deaths shocking, and the practical effects are fantastic. If there is one thing that The Littlest Reich does well, it’s that it delivers on the thrills and kills.

Puppets vs people, the ultimate showdown.
The rest of the film, however, is a mixed bag. The Littlest Reich takes a very comedic approach to the material that can be, generally speaking, hit or miss. The story itself, where a man goes with his girlfriend and friend to sell one of the infamous Toulon puppets at auction in the original house where the original Puppet Master was slain, does create a fun meta-concept where there are fans and collectors of the puppets that come together. The problem is that the film never really runs with the idea. Once the film kicks into a murder fest by the second act, it abandons any of the fun commentary it might have run with to focus on cliché characters doing cliché things. It never helps that The Littlest Reich is completely void of any great characterization and the performances reflect that problem. Even some fantastic secondary casting, including Barbara Crampton, Michael Pare, and Udo Kier, seem horrifically underutilized and underdeveloped. As the film starts to develop, it only gets more baffling that it doesn’t take advantage of the films strengths. It wants to be funny, heartfelt, and exploitative, but it only seemingly takes advantage of the third one.

Strangely enough, one of the choices that is made in the film is that there is a lot more puppets. Some of the new designs are a lot of fun and they allow for some new kills and material to make this one stand out. Unfortunately, there’s too many puppets. One of the things that has carried through the original Puppet Master series is that, even in the first film, each puppet had a personality. In this film, the puppets don’t have that. It’s a weird small thing, but it definitely made an impact as the film carried on.

Your giving the witness the third degree....BURN.
While there are certainly elements that Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich that entertain, particularly when it comes to the puppet vs people sequences, the film itself was not nearly the effective piece of horror or comedy that it wants to be. It suffers from a lacking focus and a lack of characterizations that are not broad swaths of clichés. Ultimately, the film entertains enough and has some great moments that fans will like it, but it is not the stamp of quality to kick start a new rebooted franchise. The film is going to do well enough that there will be talks of sequels, but here’s to hoping that they take a step back and look at what they can do to improve it. As is, The Littlest Reich is fun, but it does not live up to the hype.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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