The legacy of Full Moon really does start with the Puppet Master series, and PUPPET MASTER 4 (aka PUPPET MASTER 4: THE DEMON) has finally found its way to Blu-Ray in a nice new transfer to join forces with the first box set that contained the original trilogy of tiny terrors.
As someone that truly looked forward to these films when they first appeared in the late 80s and early 90s, Jeff Burr's third sequel holds a special place in my heart because I was working as a purchaser for a small video store chain at the time and was totally gobsmacked by the hype train Charles Band and crew were building not just for a fan base, but for retailers as well. As a full-time film nerd and lifelong comic collector, the Puppet Master series – in my mind – really started to become more amazing than ever when PM4 was announced. Anyone could do a low-budget trilogy (well, not ANYONE, but Band made it look easy), and the series starts strong and has a great third entry that takes us back to the early years of Toulon and crew... but where do you go when you've done a "secret origins" issue? Why, to the netherworld of a giant angry puppet, where else?
What makes PUPPET MASTER 4 even more exciting – especially when it was first released – was that Jeff Burr, the director of the anthology of excellence, THE OFFSPRING, was really the numbers champion of the time, having already banged out the worthy STEPFATHER II, PUMPKINHEAD II: BLOOD WINGS and the criminally underrated and shockingly surviving post-production dissection LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3. Every flyer that came packed in my ordering materials had me foaming at the mouth.
Now we have a lot of time and distance to look back at the films and, for me, PUPPET MASTER 4: WHEN BAD PUPPETS TURN GOOD (according to the Full Moon screening materials) holds up really well. When dodgy CGI would overtake low-budget off Hollywood films it put me through a ringer that makes me enjoy David Allen and team's puppet work even more now. Sure, it's puppets and they aren't exactly the most animated ones at that, but each has a personality, and Allen even brings in some zippy new action as not only the giant monster is charming, but also his Blind Dead with Bug Eyed Acolytes and some new puppet Totems appear to have some gory fun.
So this time around, we skip back to post-PUPPET MASTER PART 2 and head on back to the Bodega Bay Inn as a goofy and obviously brilliant researcher named Rick Myers works on a project concerning artificial life. Fate must have smacked him in the head (or the rather large horde of writers on the film all agreed it was the only way to make sense of this) because Blade is just kind of sitting there in the background watching. A mysterious government operation called Phoenix Division is also working on the project, but after a totem is dropped on them from the netherworld of Lord Sutekh, the bug eyed beast from below, it's obvious that the original Puppet Master, Andre Toulon, was into some nasty mojo.
Seems Sutekh wants his magic back and young Rick is about to find the only allies he can find. They are hard, they are stiff, they tunnel and pummel and slice and shoot... THE PUPPETS ARE FOUND! THE PUPPETS ARE BACK! And they are, kind of nice. Heck, they even play a game of laser tag. I shit you not, friends... But it ain't all happy times when Rick has some friends (and one amazing performance of "late 80s/early 90s science team asshole with perma-stuck hair" by Ash Adams as the douchey CAM character) to the old Puppet stable and Sutekh comes calling. Toss in a beautiful (and I mean hubbahubba I wish I had more of her in the film) psychic played by Teresa Hill and it's hell meets technology meets underworld bulgy muscles and eyes in a Puppet Arena Battle Showdown Deathmatch. And there is a new puppet... DECAPITRON! Say it out loud. You smiled there, didn't you?
At under 80 minutes the film plays fast and is never boring. It manages to add a bunch of new elements that distinguish it from the horror stylings of the first two and the backstory shoehorning of the third into a totally unique – and very Full Moon – production. If may be a selling point or insult to you but this is my definition of a good "comic book" film. You can pick up here if you want or enjoy the layered connected story bits from previous films, but never once will you be stuck wondering why things happen or what is going on. Because, you know, if you can pull off DECAPITRON you can certainly pull off a bunch of semi-animated puppets playing laser tag!
A must have for enthusiasts and another HD entry in one of the fundamentally Full Moon series'. Now, we need to get PUPPET MASTER 5 out fast, for it is more Burr, more of these characters and you even have a bonus of SUPERFLY himself – Ron O'Neal – as a detective.
Toulon is truly with us, always... PUPPET MASTER. – David Zuzelo
David Zuzelo is a tireless mangler of media whose story Ascension of the Black Death was recently published in Heavy Metal magazine. He writes the Tomb It May Concern blog and is a frequent contributor to the Exploitation Retrospect blog and magazine. Look for more from David in issue 53 (out later this year). And, for more on the Puppet Master Series, check out our review of the series box set featuring the first seven movies in the direct-to-video horror franchise.
PUPPET MASTER 4 is available from Full Moon Direct.