Writer: S. Craig Zahler (script), Charles Band, Kenneth J. Hall (characters created by)
Cast: Thomas Lennon, Barbara Crampton, Michael Paré, Jenny Pellicer, Nelson Franklin, Udo Kier, Charlyne Yi, Skeeta Jenkins
Cert: 18 (TBC)
Running time: 90mins
What’s the story: Edgar (Lennon) and friends travel to a small town to auction a puppet belonging to a serial killer murdered there decades before. But, in the hotel Edgar and other puppet bearing guests discover some toys bite back.
What’s the verdict: A bargain bin horror franchise since inception back in 1989, audiences are likely to be drawn to this soft Puppet Master reboot chiefly because it’s scripted by Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99 creator S. Craig Zahler.
Yet, whereas recent Chucky movies Curse and Cult have shown there is intelligent life in the little doll yet, this Puppet Master never rises out of its slasher groove. Despite the gleefully OTT murder scenes and bad-taste, liberal-baiting story (these revived puppets are Nazi pieces of work targeting Jewish, black and gay characters they deem racially inferior).
Adding an uneasy frisson to all this is that the race hate is played partly straight, partly for giggles. So, amidst the carnage there is Holocaust 101 dialogue, primarily delivered by Nelson Franklin’s Mankowitz, best mate to Lennon’s Edgar. But, the script is not sharp enough to score as satirical poor taste and the episodic structure – dialogue scene/kill scene/dialogue scene/kill scene – breeds repetition, not helped by perfunctory character introductions.
Saving Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich are those outrageous gore scenes and the efforts of the cult cast.
As the totalitarian toys go about their business, heads drop into toilet bowls, innards hit the hotel carpet and, in one deliberately SJW-taunting scene, a pregnant woman births a murderous mechanical minion. All this is too silly to offend those likely to check out a film called Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, but viewers who stumble across it on late night TV may wonder what the hell is going on.
Barbara Crampton, Michael Paré and Udo Kier bring cult credibility as a retired cop, a disbelieving detective and mad puppet master Toulon respectively. Jenny Pellicer and Charlyne Yi inject fizz into underwritten roles as Edgar’s girlfriend and Markowitz’s object of barely checked lust, as does relative newcomer Skeeta Jenkins in a nothing role as a sassy black bartender.
Ironically, the actor making least impression is Jenkins. Always watchable, he is strangely sidelined for much of the action, making early scenes with his dismissive, disappointed father redundant.
A decent party film due to the amount of splatter hurled at the screen. A cliffhanger ending promises a future installment, but next time could the puppets dance to a more interesting tune?