Horror has always been considered line-crossing. Able to rattle the sensibilities of the public with tales of abject terror and acting out taboos unheard of in civilized society. Going as far back as Universal’s Frankenstein featuring a minute long warning of how disturbing the film could be to viewers. Nowadays, with the advent of the internet and shock value lacking the punch it used to, it seemed more and more like there was less of an ability for horror to earn the picketing from the PTA or similar morality groups again. Until now. Until Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich.
The title alone should give an indication of what’s to come, and answers the age-old question; “How do you make monsters scarier?” By making them Nazis! The film is a reboot or parallel universe to the main Puppet Master series. Where in the original, the titular ‘Puppet Master’ and sorcerer, Andre Toulon was a fighter of The Third Reich, this time he’s a hardcore fascist. And played brilliantly by genre mainstay, Udo Kier! The film opens in Texas, 1989 where Toulon continues his prejudiced mayhem until finally being put down for good by cops raiding his mansion.
In the present, struggling comic-book artist Edgar (Thomas Lennon) returns to his family home following a difficult divorce and discovers one of Toulon’s dolls in his late brother’s room. As luck should have it, there’s a convention for the auction and sale of these rare and valuable puppets near Toulon’s estate coming up. In need of cash, Edgar travels with his new girlfriend Ashley (Jenny Pellicer) and his friend Markowitz (Nelson Franklin) to a hotel hosting the con, only to discover to their horror that every Toulon puppet in the vicinity is coming to life and killing all in their path in the goriest ways imaginable!
If Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich has anything going for it, it’s the sheer amount of excess and memorable bloodshed. Considering the script was written by S. Craig Zahler of Bone Tomahawk and Brawl In Cellblock 99 infamy, that should come as no surprise. As well the sheer offensiveness! Because these Nazi puppets don’t just seek out any innocent victims to snuff out. Following their racist master’s orders they target gay people, interracial couples, and Jews among their hit list. Leading to some absolutely grotesque yet theatrical kill scenes so over the top and offensive, it turns comical. And with around 60 different Toulon puppets running around, it’s a veritable army of foot tall-fascists! There are some new spins on old classics like Blade, Torch, and Pinhead, but also new ones like The Happy Amphibian, Mechaniker, among others you have to see to believe. While prior films had audiences rooting for the puppets, they have absolutely zero sympathy this time around. The film is almost entirely special effects, and with a budget to really highlight the blood and do the puppet chaos justice. For gorehounds and fans of the ‘tiny-terror’ sub-genre, this will be a delight.
The cast is large, but mainly for a high bodycount once the bloodshed begins. But with Zahler behind the tale, almost everyone gets their moment to shine if only briefly before being brutally gutted, sliced, ripped, or burnt. Including Barbara Crampton as the officer that killed Toulon and now runs a tour of his bloodstained estate. And the boisterous hotel bartender Cuddly Bear, given a stand-out performance by Skeeta Jenkins. While the sheer theatrics and skilled SFX of the kills make them entertaining to behold, the motivation of the Nazi puppets is enough to make you cheer when they get smashed, shot, blown up, or in one memorable case, thrown into a burning oven. While the characters, monsters, and gore are quite memorable, the overall story is a little flat. With the first half of the film building up to the massacre at the hotel, which once it unfolds is spectacular, leading to attempts to escape and a rather anti-climactic finale.
But overall, for what Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is, it delivers and delivers well. And I hope we get a continuation of the marionette mayhem! A shocking well casted gorefest that will cross your sensibilities! It’s worth at least one watch… if you think you can handle it.
Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich hits limited theaters, VOD, and digital August 17th, 2018.