There are some films where the director and writer make choices that make you go: “These guys are invested. They are deliberate. They are proper film-makers, and they know what they’re doing”.
And then sometimes you realise “nope – it really was an elephant with a paint brush all along”.
And that was exactly what went through my mind when I watched Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. Or Puppet Master 23 (or whatever number the franchise is up to now).
Although it IS easy to mock such a long-lived series, it does play on a sort of primeval fear of being sliced by a small sharp blade moving very quickly (and in this case – where the “monster” stands at a foot tall, it has to do a LOT of fast slicing). But that’s pretty much it for the scares.
As a horror fest it very much falls into the gore category – and not a lot of it clever. In fact, some of it is pretty tasteless in a “I bet you believed this was hardcore when you thought of it, but it’s really pretty effing stupid. And your execution is even worse” kind of way.
The movie does start off with an earnest attempt at dialogue between characters where the acting is decent and the direction very considered – everyone gets their own clean shot all the way through, no dirty frames or unnecessary camera movement.
But then you realise they are not being minimalist, they’re just being frickin’ basic.
Starring Thomas Lennon (a perennial “oh THAT guy” actor if there ever was one) as Edgar – a recently divorced lead character who decides to sell a creepy doll he finds in his recently deceased brother’s bedroom. You assume the brother was killed in the previous film, but it’s hard to tell as the order in which the films have been released don’t go in a linear in-film timeline. Plus, some of the sequels are considered “non-canon” and others re-boots…
Anyway – Edgar – a 45-year-old comic book artist is soon pursued by incredibly hot twenty something girl-next-door archetype Ashley (Jenny Pellicer), because if these films can’t be the deluded projections of middle-aged straight men, why make them? (We also get to see her breasts in a make out scene later, so in case you had any doubts…)
Together Edgar, Ashley and the best friend character – played by Nelson Franklin – go to a puppet convention to try and sell their doll at a hotel that was the site of a notorious Nazi murderer getting shot by police for reasons I can’t really remember (because – upon rewind – it wasn’t explained…)
Anyway, from there all the puppets come to life and blah blah blah, you can guess the rest. At one point one of the characters suggests to all the surviving hotel patrons (after the initial puppet attack) that they split up and lock themselves in their various hotel rooms until the authorities arrive. Not only did the writer write that, he also had every character think it was a good idea…
The movie also has great slabs of missing moments that forces you to fill in the blanks, NOT in a cool “we’re challenging the audience to be engaged” sort of way, but because the film-makers have no idea how to make a movie. Or they ran out of money. Or both.
Speaking of “oh that guy” moments – it also stars Michael Pare as a detective. For any child who grew up watching American film & TV in the 70’s, he is Eddie from Eddie and the Cruisers and the John Travolta wannabe from The Greatest American Hero. Yes, that’s how old he is. He was trying to be a knock-off of Saturday Night Fever John Travolta, not Pulp Fiction John Travolta. Truth be told it was his voice that gave him away. Although his face has had some pretty good work, considering he’s older than Tom Cruise!
Speaking of which Barbara Crampton is also in the film, who is no stranger to 80’s B-grade horror flicks, and appears to be making something of a comeback of late with this movie, Replace, and Beyond the Gates.
The Littlest Reich is a 90 minute stretch you won’t get back, unless you’re into gore for gore’s sake, or teenagers wanting to have a sleepover/video night.
Apart from that – if you’re a fan of dolls in horror – be sure to check out the excellent podcast on the subject which can be found here!
– Antony Yee