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Five dolls, designed to instill terror, are discovered in a small California town.
For more about Puppet Master and the Puppet Master Blu-ray release, see Puppet Master Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on August 10, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Starring: Paul Le Mat, William Hickey, Irene Miracle, Jimmie F. Skaggs, Robin Frates
Director: David Schmoeller
» See full cast & crew
Puppet Master Blu-ray Review
Pint-sized Horror yields little results.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, August 10, 2010
This isn't going to be easy.
Released straight to VHS (remember that?) back in 1990 and under the Paramount Pictures label, Full Moon Entertainment's Puppetmaster -- and its numerous sequels -- have enjoyed great success among genre fans and attained that sought-after "cult classic" status. Now some 20 years later, the first picture in the series -- and the newly-minted 10th film to bear the Puppet Master name -- have been released on Blu-ray, and two questions spring immediately to mind: does Puppetmaster hold up as a genre classic, and does Full Moon Features' Blu-ray breathe new life into the movie? Unfortunately, the short answer to both questions is "no." The film has its moments but lacks flow and cohesion between its slasher and psychological elements, and the Blu-ray presentation leaves much to be desired, though it is, finally, being offered on home video for the first time in its original aspect ratio. It's a dubious release and one that many longtime series fans may find lacking, but it's hard to complain too loudly given its low budget and, now, its status as Full Moon's first foray into the Blu-ray marketplace.
Bodega Bay Inn, 1939. A man with the ability to craft and bring to life intricately-detailed but decidedly-deadly puppets commits suicide before two clad-in-black men can take him alive. Fast forward to the present day. Yale professor Alex Whitaker (Paul Le Mat) dreams of leaches feasting on his blood. Meanwhile, carnival psychic Dana Hadley (Irene Miracle) envisions her own throat slashed. They and fellow psychics Frank Forrester (Matt Roe) and Carlissa Stamford (Kathryn O'Reilly) are drawn to the now-abandoned Bodega Bay Inn by colleague Neil Gallagher (Jimmie F. Skaggs). They arrive to two very unexpected surprises: Neil has married a young woman by the name of Megan (Robin Frates), and he's also recently committed suicide. The gathered colleagues and spouse of the recently-departed struggle to understand all that's happened, but they find more than they bargained for when they start dying one by one. The survivors come to realize that they're being attacked by puppets come to life, leading them to believe that there's some force greater than even their own psychic powers at work inside the Bodega Bay Inn.
Small studio, small budget, small slashers, small results. That's the low-down on Puppetmaster, a little genre picture that's gained a big following thanks to its minuscule makers of murder and mayhem. Herein lies a Horror movie with big and original ideas that extend well beyond the superficially obvious copycat elements that hint strongly at Child's Play, but they're never fully realized to an absolutely coherent or purposeful end. Puppetmaster seems too thematically ambitious for a movie that's mostly about small and murderous puppets come to life; the picture seems haphazardly constructed so as to blend a more traditional Horror motif with psychological, spiritual, and metaphysical elements that demand something more than an offbeat Slasher look and feel, a look and feel from which Creator Charles Band's picture simply cannot escape for all its efforts to the contrary. The result is a movie with a plot that's never fully developed and with motives and actions that don't seem to make a whole lot of sense; maybe that's why the series is now on its 10th release.
Still, one cannot ignore Puppetmasters' admirable attempts to extend in range beyond a genre-typical Slasher movie. The picture toys (no pun intended) with psychological, scientific, and in some ways even religious undertones that are ripe for cinematic examination, but it's hard to take Puppetmaster all that seriously when it's dominated by a quintet of puppets that spit out leaches or have drills for heads or knives for hands, all of which are used to violent effect. It's certainly not outside the realm of cinema to build a thoughtful expose on relevant psychological insights into some of man's most challenging questions in the guise of violent and dramatic Horror movies, but such ventures are better left to superior stories and in the hands Directors like Jonathan Demme and David Fincher. Even the Saw franchise -- through its veil of hardcore blood and guts -- manages to play, with some success, with ideas bigger than its violence. In Puppetmaster, the greater issues at hand seem almost a distraction to the Slasher elements that dominate the movie.
Still, and watching the film for only the splatter, sex, and comic genre elements, Puppetmaster proves itself a halfway decent time at the movies. For starters, the little killers are positively cool; Puppetmaster is worth a watch for the unique little guys that are given a fair amount of screen time but still beg for more. Even if they get in the way of appreciating what Charles Band and Director David Schmoeller were trying to accomplish beyond the fun and gore, they're worth the price of admission alone if only to revel in how well they're actually developed without ever really saying a word. Nevertheless, Puppetmaster still lumbers through some dull stretches and incredibly slow-to-develop plot lines and scenes. Several scenes seem extended only for the purpose of enlarging the picture's final runtime, but more often than not, the payoff is worth the wait. If there's a single worst element about the film, it comes from its collection actors that don't really seem to know what to do with the material. They seem as confused as the plot, wondering what, exactly, the movie is trying to be and wanting to say. The result is some hesitant, uncertain performances that seem to only be going on the scripted words and the director's instructions rather than off of some greater understanding of what the story is trying to convey.
Puppet Master Blu-ray, Video Quality
Puppetmaster makes its high-definition -- and correctly-framed -- debut with a problematic but watchable 1080p transfer framed at 1.78:1. According to the disc's introduction featuring series Creator Charles Band, the film was originally shot in 35mm, and this disc has been remastered from original elements while maintaining its director-intended aspect ratio. Unfortunately, the end result isn't a stellar presentation. While there's no doubt that this is the best Puppet Master has ever looked, there's more bad here than good. The good news is that the film definitely looks like high definition material. Fine details aren't as crisp and satisfying as those seen on the better releases of films hailing from the same era, but there's no doubt that the increased resolution has only helped the presentation. Unfortunately, the image appears to be the victim of digital smoothing; human flesh looks particularly waxy and devoid of intricate details. Additionally, the image suffers from dull colors, banding, and poor color gradations, the latter two giving the film a chunky, disheartening appearance. Flesh tones lean towards an orange shade, but blacks, while mostly stable, sometimes appear a bit pale. The transfer also features wobbly opening tile credits and several scenes are littered with heavy scratching and debris. Puppet Master, despite the remaster, just doesn't look all that good next to even the average Blu-ray release. Still, fans will want to upgrade for the boost in overall resolution and to own a copy of the film presented in its proper framing.
Puppet Master Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Puppetmaster arrives on Blu-ray with a messy but adequate Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. This one sounds awfully mushy at times and, frankly, fares little-to-no better than a track recycled from a very old LaserDisc or...yikes...VHS release. Music plays with an obvious lack of clarity, failing to even match some of the really mundane track out there, like those accompanying Super Bowl and Stanley Cup highlight videos. Sound effects lack any sort of power; a gunshot early in the film is absent any sort of heft, and the various sounds the puppets make yield no audible impact that adds to the film's story or tension. Most everything is crammed up the middle, and while dialogue is usually clear enough, this track simply does nothing more than deliver the most basic sound presentation it can get away with. Note that according to the packaging, this release was to offer a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, though it's nowhere to be found on the disc.
Puppet Master Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Puppetmaster contains only a handful of extra features. Charles Band Introduction (1080p, 5:34) features the series' creator speaking on this Blu-ray release, the history of Puppetmaster and Full Moon Features, and his own career. No Strings Attached (Making of 'Puppetmaster') (480p, 7:19) is a short vintage glimpse into the making of the film, comprised of interview clips with the cast and crew, scenes from the film, and some intriguing behind-the-scenes footage of the puppet work and gore effects. Also included is the Puppetmaster: Axis of Evil trailer (1080p, 2:05) and an assortment of vintage 480p trailers for Crash and Burn, Demonic Toys, Dollman, Meridian, Netherworld, Trancers 2, Pit and the Pendulum, Shadowzone, Subspecies, Puppetmaster, Puppetmaster 2, and Puppetmaster 3.
Puppet Master Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
One need only take a look at Puppetmaster's legacy -- fan-favorite characters and no less than nine sequels -- to see just how much of an impact the original picture has had on the world of small-studio Horror and cult classic cinema. The picture has its moments to be sure, and the killers are flat-out cool, but the story seems far too clunky and, frankly, ambitious for a movie that's summed up not by its deeper elements, but with the sentence "demonic puppets come to life with an appetite for murder." Puppetmaster, instead, seems to want to go into some deeply psychological, spiritual, and metaphysical directions, only to be hamstrung by a Slasher element, an element, admittedly, that's more or less loads of fun when left to its own accord and made the centerpiece of the movie. Nevertheless, the movie is what it is, and there's no denying its strong following and status as one of Horror's most enduring and, for some, endearing pictures. This, along with Puppet Master: Axis of Evil, represent Full Moon Features' first foray into the Blu-ray market, and with Puppetmaster, the results are mostly disappointing. The disc sports a problematic 1080p transfer, a dull lossy two-channel soundtrack, and a disappointingly small selection of extra content. Fans will want to pick this up if only to see the film in its original aspect ratio, but genre fans and curious Blu-ray aficionados should consider a rental before a purchase.
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