Directed by David Schmoeller [Other horror films: Tourist Trap (1979), Crawlspace (1986), Catacombs (1988), The Arrival (1991), Netherworld (1992), Possessed (2005), Little Monsters (2012), Puppet Master: Blitzkrieg Massacre (2018), Death Heads: Brain Drain (2018), Carnage Collection – Puppet Master: Trunk Full of Terror (2022)]
The Puppet Master series is an interesting one, partially because it’s actually a pretty good batch of movies, and mirroring my opinions on the Friday the 13th series, I think the first movie is one of the weaker entries.
And the funny thing is that’s not even that much of a knock against this one, because Puppet Master is still decent. No doubt it has a quality atmosphere, and with a nice location and moderately enjoyable story, it’s a decent movie. It just doesn’t do as much for me as some of the sequels do.
I always have loved the variety of puppets here. Some of them don’t get too much into the action (such as Jester and one named Shredder Khan), but plenty get some stand-out scenes, such as the most strikingly designed one named Pinhead (picture a tiny head on a damn strong body) and my personal favorite Blade. I never really liked Leech Woman, but Tunneler is damn awesome, and what makes all of this better is that the effects behind the puppets looks great.
I think part of the reason I don’t care for this one quite as much as later films is the fact this feels a decent amount more somber and atmospheric. I don’t mind the atmosphere, to be sure, but it takes a little bit to get going, and it’s never quite the zany fun you might have with future films in the series.
Even so, most of the cast did pretty well. I can take or leave Paul Le Mat (who was also in the underrated Grave Secrets) as the lead, but Robin Frates, Irene Miracle (Inferno), and Kathryn O’Reilly were solid. My favorite non-puppet character was played by Matt Roe, who had such a business-focused mind. And though he only got the opening scene, William Hickey did great as André Toulon, and really sold the fact he cared for the puppets.
None of the deaths in the film are amazing themselves, but there’s a certain enjoyment in seeing a woman beaten to death with a fire poker by a puppet, or seeing the aftermath of a puppet’s drill head drilling into another character. None of these deaths are all that gruesome (aside from maybe the leech one, but that’s because I hate leeches), but some may stick out in your memory well enough.
I think Puppet Master is a decent movie in a pretty decent series. I’ve only seen these films, at least at the point of this writing, up to the 2010 Axis of Evil, and there’s really only two flops that I can remember (2003’s The Legacy and 1999’s Retro Puppet Master). It’s a generally-solid series, and though this beginning isn’t my favorite, it’s a well-made movie, and is worth seeing nonetheless.
4 thoughts on “Puppet Master (1989)”