What better way to celebrate Halloween than with those whacked out puppets from Full Moon? The Toulon Terrors are always fun-but I realized that I had not seen any of the series barring the (nearly perfect in my opinion) original in well over 10 years, possibly more. Come to think of it, I probably saw these sequels the day they were released on VHS and never again. I was going to grab number 2 off the shelf, but a lot of things appealed to me with this installment. The World War 2 setting, the fact that it was directed by David DeCoteau, a chance to watch a movie written by C. Courtney Joyner and seeing Richard Lynch playing a Nazi on the artwork screamed at me to pick it up.
Well, I’m glad I did.
After the amount of damage the puppets dished out in the first two installments I wondered at what exactly Toulon could be seeking revenge for-and once I found it the stage was set for a very different film from the previous entries. Our puppets are…heroic? Well, not exactly, but they are on the side of righteous vengeance and Nazi slicing and dicing-and that is a curious change. I loved the little critters as nightmarish mini-monsters and had my doubts I would cheer for them-but I ended up doing just that.
Andre Toulon is introduced as a puppeteer out to entertain some children with stories that paint Hitler in a negative light. Of course, this doesn’t sit well and he is told to back off and perhaps give his six shooter puppets something different to blow holes in. Undeterred, Toulon continues his shows…sure, he figured that nobody would care. Of course, he had no idea that Nazi scientists were hard at work attempting to create perfect undead soldiers and the secret of his lifelike puppets was also spied upon and sought after by those same nefarious scientists. OOPS.
Once Major Krause (Richard Lynch dangling a cigarette menacingly) and Doctor Hess (Ian Abercrombie) get on his case it is not long until his wife is dead and he is under threat of death.
Enter…THE PUPPET CORPS OF DEATH!
Going in to hiding, Toulon wages war against the Nazis that have done him wrong-and the Puppets are all too happy to drill, smash, slash and barf leeches (!!) all over them in the name of their master. While it seems silly, the Puppet Master films don’t shy away from the occasional bit of graphic carnage and I must admit that I love that little screw headed guy and the giant gaps of gore that he creates with his dreaded dome of doom. BzzzzzBLLLALRRRRGH!
Everything goes as planned, Toulon escapes and the Nazis are foiled (well, the 4 Toulon deals with at least)…but there are some tender moments too. In memory of his dead wife, Andre whips up the ever popular Leech Woman! See, we did not know that was his wife, but giving her that particular power is really bizarre don’t you agree? Well…the psychology of Andre Toulon is an entirely different film I guess.
There is nothing in this film that doesn’t work, from the simple scripting, the sparse Paramount backlot sets, the bare breasts, the blood…basically we have here a perfect sub 90 minute film. What Puppet Master III (hey, they use Roman Numerals!) really makes me remember is a time when the direct to video market held the most potential. The distribution deal with Paramount was huge for Full Moon, and it was difficult for any horror fan not to find these films as they spent a lot of time in the rental shops seeking out treasures old and new. While Full Moon would eventually degenerate in to endless regurgitation and re-used footage in it’s later years, the productions such as the (at least the first 5) Puppet Masters, Subspecies, Trancers, Robot Jox and even Mandroid-which could have used a sequel-all feel much less jaded and genuine than the endless mock-busters and Saw clones that get dumped to DVD these days. Full Moon did it’s own thing, and did it pretty well for a few amazing years. And that is what gives them a long life, because even after they began to knock off the Puppets with Demonic Toys or start to shoot on tiny versions of the budgets they once had-taking away the production values and pillaging the older movies, there were no series like Subspecies or Puppet Master. If they were made today, I fear we would not have the amazing actual puppets, just virtual CGI ones. I’m not that old or that cranky, but the physical effects in this film, even the dodgy ones, make it so much better.
Maybe the puppets are dull echoes of themselves now, but watching any production from Full Moon during this time period is a blast of energy that makes me happy to be a horror fan. While there were lots of amazing movies for genre fans in the 80s, I would not hesitate to throw the original Puppet Master on that list-and Puppet Master III is just as much fun!
And one additional note, I had no idea that PUPPET MASTER- AXIS OF EVIL is in post production when I watched this. So…this is a sequel to Puppet Master III directed by David DeCoteau?? Amazing how synchronicity strikes. Here is a promo video with a bit of behind the scenes information on this new film. Very exciting-lets see if the magic can still make the puppets dance.