The 13th installment of the cult 1989 straight-to-video hit Puppet Master has landed in UK cinemas, drenched in blood, a cloak of “offensive humour” and killer Nazi puppets. Yes, you heard me right, killer.Nazi.Puppets. The success of this franchise must come from an ironic enjoyment of the B movie style but S. Craig Zahler has tumbled from quite a height with this chaotic mess of a film.
Following the premise of psychics controlling vicious puppets with their minds thanks to an ancient Egyptian spell. This sequel changes the main psychic André Toulon from an opposer of the Third Reich to an evil Nazi (because the world needs more Nazis?). Zahler, writer of Bone Tomahawk and Dragged Over Concrete has horror movie pedigree. Working with the likes of Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn, unfortunately, he chokes on the script for this next flick. I understand the enjoyment of transgressive comedy, especially within the horror genre, and I am not in theory against Nazi’s being used for a money-making/entertainment value if done right (see Dead Snow). But this film’s script is nonsensical, flimsy, and painfully tasteless. The attempt to shock the audience is akin to a child discovering a swear word and then using it so regularly it becomes ineffective. For someone who comes out with the line “it’s not offensive if I insult everyone” this might be a ride into the depths of uncensored hilarity, but for the rest of us it comes across as a tacky, unsubtle attempt. For something to be shockingly funny it first and foremost has to be funny, which this film is not. Even without the constant “controversy”, the writing makes very little sense, an example would be “this incident is fast becoming a happening”, what? Confusing turn of phrases pepper this film and undermine any effective horror or comedy value leaving the film swaying in the breeze shot full of holes.
Partly blameable on Zahler’s wooden idea of human speech but also produced by a selection of dreadful performances another person to hurtle from his pedestal is the lead Thomas Lennon. Previously on the TV show The State and writer of such wonders as Night at the Museum he brings no warmth, brightness, or comedy to this role. Providing us with characterisation that would freeze water. As the Nazi puppets rampage around a hotel, the rest of the cast’s ability to portray fear (an important part of a horror film some would say) ranges from lazy disinterest to mild discomfort. This provides a setting for a total lack of connection to the film and with a smattering of gratuitous nudity, we are in for an unpleasant 90 minutes.
This being one of the first forays into producing films for the iconic horror magazine Fangoria it’s off to a bumpy start for the company. The only saving grace of this production is the special effects department. The gore is imaginative, effective, and comically bloody. With a kill Bill style, they manage to attain a certain level of stylistic enjoyment. The violence itself is enjoyable to watch but when the props and special effects people are the only ones even remotely doing their job you know there is a deeper issue within the production.
The deeper issue could possibly be Charles Band, the creator, and producer of the Puppet Master franchise. After producing 12 films within the same universe you would have thought there would be nothing left to say. This clumpy and punctured plot and frankly unacceptable directing by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund prove hopefully that it should end here. Please?! This film could only be enjoyable for someone who claims that political correctness has gone mad, and enjoys loudly arguing with vegetarians just for the sake of it. The lack of any desirable positive feature of the latest (and hopefully last) Puppet Master film proves that trying to offend an audience without any aim or skill leaves you like an angry teenager screaming obscenities to unfazed ears.