Director: David Allen
Music: Richard Band
Starring: Elizabeth Maclellan, Collin Bernsen, Steve Welles, Jeff Celentano, Charlie Spradling, Gregory Webb, George ‘Buck’ Flower, Sage Allen, Nita Talbot
You know what’s good for you, you’ll stay away from that hotel! They say Satan has a suite of rooms up there, his brimstone comes out of the chimneys at night and it smells…like roasted entrails!
I saw the first Puppet Master movie early in the wee hours of the morning in my youth during a free HBO weekend. I had caught a brief preview for it earlier that evening, a scene where a puppet dressed in a black trench coat and fedora with a long blade on one hand and a hook on the other is seen by a terrified woman as it runs through a hotel hallway. The puppet was entirely stop-motion in that scene and I’ve always been fascinated with that movie making art since I caught the original King Kong on my rabbit eared television. I was disappointed in the film to be honest but not in the idea or the cast of puppets that inhabit its universe. After all there have been nine sequels to Puppet Master and while I count two or three as being pretty good I will continually pick up the next film in the series no matter how low budget it gets. I just keep watching out of loyalty to the puppets and what Charles Band and the late, great David Allen accomplished with the first three movies.
The back story of Puppet Master starts in 1939 at the Bodega Bay Inn in California where master puppeteer, Andre Toulon (William Hickey), is finishing his newest puppet creation, Jester, when he is warned by two more of his creations, an Oriental puppet sitting in his window and Blade who is scouting the hotel, that Nazi spies have arrived at the hotel to take the puppeteer back to Germany. Toulon has somehow learned, of course we later find out how, to imbue his creations with life and the Third Reich wants that knowledge. Toulon has just enough time to secret away his creations and life giving formula into his equipment case, the inside of which resembles a tiny theater stage complete with curtains. He places them behind a secret wall panel just before the Nazi agents start to break his door down, Toulon then puts a handgun in his mouth and shoots himself to keep his secrets safe. The rest of the first film deals with a group of psychics who are summoned to the hotel at the mental cry of a friend, someone has learned Toulon’s secrets and become the new Puppet Master and is using the evil puppets for personal gain.
Now before we get into the review of the sequel proper let us get to know the core murderous/heroic* puppets that I’ve grown to love:
Blade – The Black trench coat and wide brimmed hat wearing ‘leader’ of the puppets. With his namesake in place of his right hand and a hook for his left, he is probably the most deadly of Toulon’s creations. He was apparently designed to resemble the German actor Klaus Kinski.
Pinhead – A hulking brute with a tiny head, Pinhead is also unnaturally strong. He is capable of dragging a full grown human victim behind him or yanking them off their feet and dispatching his prey with his hands.
Tunneler – Wearing what looks to be an Italian officers WW2 uniform, this puppet has a drill at the top of his skull. He has a tendency to run it full bore when charging at his victims.
Leech Woman – The only female puppet in Toulon’s company, she is white ‘skinned’ with black hair and eyes and wears a pink dress. She also has the ability to vomit up leeches. Let me type that again, she vomits up leeches on her intended victims. Yuck.
Jester – This is my favorite of the puppets. He resembles a court jester and has three sections of his wooden head that spin until they match up to convey his emotions. Happy, sad, devious, angry, and surprised. He seems to be protected the most by the other puppets, and carries a scepter which has been used as a weapon in the movies.
The sequel opens in the Shady Acres cemetery near the Bodega Bay Inn, the puppets have come to Toulon’s graveside and with Pinhead’s help unearth their deceased master. Pinhead then pours a flask of green and yellow liquid into the opened casket which results in the Puppet Master reaching up to his creations from his grave with skeletal arms as the puppets look down on him from up above.
A few months later pass and we are introduced to a Government sponsored Parapsychology team as they arrive at the Bodega Bay hotel. The team consists of their leader Carolyn Bramwell (MacLellan), her brother Patrick (Webb), Lance (Weston), and finally Wanda (Spradling). We learn from Carolyn that the two survivors from the first film have not come to pleasant ends. The owner of the hotel has been murdered by having the brain extracted through their nose and the other is blamed for the murder after having been committed to an asylum, suffering serious seizures and prophetic dreams. The ravings of the inmate have caused enough interest to have Carolyn’s team sent in to see if they might capture anything on tape. Since there was no living family member of the deceased the hotel now belongs to the state. As the team begins to set up their monitoring equipment they are informed by Carolyn that they will be joined by a famed psychic, Camille Kenny (Talbot), who we are told by Patrick writes for a rather dubious National Inquirer type newspaper.
Meanwhile, Camille is driving to the hotel and finds herself lost on a back road where she has the misfortune of stopping at the farmhouse of Matthew (Flower) and Martha (Allen) asking for directions to the hotel. Martha gives her the directions but gleefully becomes unhinged as she screams the dangers of Camille’s destination.
Soon after joining the team at the hotel the psychic warns them she senses that a great violence occurred and “a taint of unholy fury has been absorbed by every particle of this place.” which causes Patrick who has become intoxicated to verbally lash out at her and she leaves the table in anger.
Up in the attic though we see that Toulon (Welles) is busy constructing a new puppet. On his workbench we can see a ghastly miniature black Nazi stormtrooper helmet while he works on a special arm apparatus for his newest creation.
The next day Carolyn and Patrick are in the hotel’s library when they hear Camille scream in fear. Patrick and his sister meet the psychic as she rushes down a stairwell and she tells of how she witnessed two small things in her room, one of them with a knife. The team investigates and finds nothing of interest but Camille knows what she saw and informs the group that she is leaving the next morning and suggests the team follows her example.
In the morning the team finds that Camille has gone missing, her vehicle and clothing are all accounted for but she is no where to be found. Contacting the psychics son, Michael (Bernsen), Carolyn learns that it is not unheard of for his mother to up and disappear on a personal retreat. That night the team finally gets the proof of the supernatural that they need when Tunneler is caught on tape entering the room of one of their own and boring through his victims skull before being killed with a lamp. Dissecting the puppet they learn that its insides are merely wood and gears, the liquid that courses through the wooden body bestowing a kind of artificial intelligence.
The next day Toulon makes his presence known to the team as they try to deduce the deceased puppet’s motivations. Introducing himself as Eriquee Chanee, dressed in an outfit that is a mix of the Invisible Man and Doctor Doom, he explains that he is the owner of the hotel and has been for decades. Carolyn is immediately suspicious of ‘Eriquee’ and demands proof of his claim but he explains that his distrust of public records allow no proof but he will allow the team to stay if they will be kind enough to leave his personal quarters alone. None of the team are happy about this but soon a new guest has arrived at the hotel, Michael Kenney has come seeking his mother.
Does Michael find his mother? Will Carolyn suddenly fall in love with Michael? Who is the new puppet given life by Toulon? Well, come on, you need to watch the movie to find out for yourself.
This is a very fun movie and the stop-motion is very nice, particularly a moment in the film where Blade leaps off a bed to attack his victim, but make no mistake that it is anything but a B-Movie. There is some atrocious acting in this film, mostly by Collin Bernsen, but you get some great character actors who eat the scenery like Sage Allen and George Flower in the mix as well.
The music is handled by Richard Band, whose brother is still the head of the Full Moon studio and a film director in his own right, Charles Band. The score for Puppet Master II is nice (I have it in my CD collection) and some of the musical cues are reminiscent of his earlier and better known work as the composer for the Stuart Gordon masterpiece, H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator.
I give Puppet Master II a full three pumpkins out of five because watching murderous puppets is always an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half!
*The third Puppet Master film is a prequel where you learn the true origins of the puppets as they protect Toulon in his flight from Germany, retroactive continuity is kind of a signature of the series, and they mostly continue in that role as benevolent protectors in the following films.