30th Jul2018

Fantasia 2018: ‘Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Udo Kier, Thomas Lennon, Alex Beh, Barbara Crampton, Nelson Franklin, Skeeta Jenkins, Michael Paré, Jenny Pellicer, Charlyne Yi | Written by S. Craig Zahler | Directed by Sonny Laguna, Tommy Wiklund

puppetmaster-reich

Recently divorced and reeling, Edgar returns to his childhood home to regroup his life. When Edgar finds a nefarious looking puppet in his deceased brother’s room, he decides to sell the doll for some quick cash. Girl-next-door Ashley and and comic book pal Markowitz join Edgar for a doomed road trip to an auction at a convention celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the infamous Toulon Murders. All hell breaks loose when a strange force animates the puppets at the convention, setting them on a bloody killing spree that’s motivated by an evil as old as time.

I’m going to be honest, there’s absolutely no way this review is unbiased. In the slightest. You see, I’ve been a Puppetmaster fan my entire life… OK, so maybe not my ENTIRE life, but my entire “obsessive movie watching” life.

I first discovered Puppetmaster via the second film in the franchise, which I rented from the local video shop (my second home at the time)… After that I tracked down the first film in the series, along with the by-then-released third film. Of course since that time my Puppetmaster obsession has only grown – statues, toys, collectables and re-release after re-release of the films on VHS, DVD and now Blu-ray; I’ve bought it all. Multiple times. And that includes re-releases of the Blu-rays too, I’m a sucker for collectors editions and Full Moon’s steady stream of new editions firmly scratches that itch!

To this new Puppet Master then, subtitled The Littlest Reich, which comes from the directorial team of Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wirklund. A duo whose previous film, Wither, was – somewhat like this film – a new take on an old movie. In Wither‘s case it was a nod to the Evil Dead movies; in this case it’s a Full Moon-less reboot/redux of a franchise that, despite its fevered fanbase, never really took off the way it deserved too. Plus you have a script from S. Craig Zahler, whose previous film, Brawl in Cell Block 99 has a reputation for being a brutal, gore-filled prison-flick. Oh, and did I mention Laguna was also behind the SUPERB Swedish winter-set slasher film Blood Runs Cold, one of my favourite films of 2011 (was it really that long ago?).

So you have a franchise I adore, a production team whose reputation proceeds them and a cast that includes genre legends Udo Kier, Matthias Hues and Barbara Crampton amongst its number. What’s not to love? Turns out nothing, there’s absolutely NOTHING not to love about Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. As a long-time fan of the series I had my doubts but I was thankfully, and gloriously proved wrong. This film both revitalises and reboots the series, yet also pays homage to what has come before.

Zahler, Laguna and Wiklund have crafted a film that plays out very similar to the original film – a group of strangers, including a wealth of familiar faces (a la the original film), come together in a hotel and then the sh*t hits the fan…. Yet despite the similar set-up, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich never feels like a pastiche. Instead it feels like a bunch of fans got together to make their version of Band’s classics, to tell a new story that builds on, and somewhat reboots, the tale of Toulon and his puppets. Ultimately taking these killer dolls back to their vicious roots, this time with a little more discrimination to their killings than before – pushing sociopolitical boundaries in a nod to the state of right-wing state politics today.

And that’s the thing, this film pushes boundaries. Boundaries of taste, political correctness, and most definitely the boundaries of gore – especially in modern (lets say more “mainstream”) horror filmmaking. The gore in Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is absolutely brutal; and I do mean brutal. Beheadings, disembowellings, stabbings and more, oh so much more, in some of the most politically incorrect murders committed to celluloid this side of the 1980s!

The effects are practical, the murders as blood-soaked and excessive as you could EVER possibly image – some even moreso. And I do mean moreso. It’s as if the team behind the film thought “what’s the most extreme murders our puppets could do?” and then they wrote them into the script. From grotesque, somewhat humorous, kills; to the downright disturbing, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is a gore-lovers wet dream! Yet it’s more than that. The film hits a point, an hour in, where the sheer excessive nature, and the madness, of the murders becomes poetic, revealing a dark beauty to the Puppet Master mythos that hasn’t been seen in the franchise since the well-regarded prequel, Puppetmaster III.

To sum this review up in the most succinct way possible. Puppet Master: The Little Reich is abso-f*cking-lutely f*cking awesome. If you’re a fan of the franchise you’ll love this; if you’re not a fan you will be after this! This is killer-doll filmmaking at it’s finest. Perfection.

***** 5/5

Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich screened at this years Fantasia Festival on Saturday July 21st.

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