Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991)

Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge (1991)

When good puppets go bad

During World War 2, the Nazis learn out that Andre Toulon’s puppets operate without strings as if they have a life of their own. Determined to get their hands on Toulon’s secret of reanimation, the Gestapo try to kidnap Toulon but this disastrously ends with the death of his wife. Toulon escapes and together with his puppets, he plots a nasty revenge against the Germans responsible.

 

Having exhausted what could be done in the present day with a bunch of killer puppets in a remote hotel in the first two films, the third entry into the Puppet Master series sees them go back in time to the Second World War for this prequel chronicling the events which led to the events of the others. Despite the fresh backdrop and the novelty of the puppets being used as the ‘heroes’ this time (even though they still kill people!), the end result is virtually the same as the previous instalments only with a lot more puppet action.

Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge has too much emphasis on trying to fit itself into series canon that it ends up re-writing canon history in the process, forgetting continuity it needed to maintain for the first two films to make sense. That said, the film does a great job of bringing to life WW2 Germany so there’s never any doubt for a second what time period this is supposed to be set in. Maybe it’s a little too cliché to bring in the Nazis as bad guys but someone needed to go up against the puppets in order to turn them into heroes. And in veteran villain Richard Lynch’s snarling Major Krauss there’s a bad guy worth hissing at the screen for. It makes a welcome change being able to cheer for them as proper heroes, not anti-heroes because they’re eliminating annoying members of the cast as in the previous films. Guy Rolfe’s turn as Toulon adds much needed warmth and sincerity to the character, casting to one side the knowledge we have of how he will turn out. An Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader transformation this is not but Rolfe at least makes the good version of his character sympathetic. The script doesn’t do him many favours however, especially during his wife’s death scene.

The true stars of the series have always been the puppets and they’re at their most deadly and mischievous here. The special effects vary in quality but there’s no question that each of the puppets looks and acts in a unique manner, featuring quirky individual characteristics. Watch them as their bow their little heads in sorrow whenever they get upset – it’s brilliantly life-life. Each of the puppets is given some back story of how they came to be and there’s the bonus addition of an excellent new puppet – Six Shooter, a miniature cowboy armed with six arms and loaded guns. This will raise the issue of why he wasn’t in the first two films if he was a ‘Toulon original’ but there’s too many unanswered questions left floating around here for me to really care. Continuity has never been a strong point in horror franchises! The puppets all get plenty to do here though most of their handy work is devoted to the second half of the film.

 

Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge is the best sequel in the entire series, arguably the best entry in the entire franchise and possibly one of the best films Full Moon ever made. Whilst that’s not a total badge of honour given some of the poor sequels which followed, it’s at least a fitting testament to a film from an era in which low budget horror films like this had a bit of spunk and fight about them.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

12 Days of Terror (2004)

12 Days of Terror (2004)

Based on the terrifying true events that inspired Jaws

It’s 1916 and the beaches of New Jersey are packed with swimmers, eager to forget the stories of the war brewing across the Atlantic. However that all changed on July 1st when, during a twelve-day period, a killer shark takes up residence in the waters, threatening New Jersey’s thriving tourist industry.

 

Ah, the killer shark genre. Never has a sub-genre been so inept at coming up with anything remotely as exciting as the original Jaws. The first true killer shark flick and it’s still head and shoulders above the rest despite more recent films having bigger budgets, access to better special effects and shooting schedules that don’t go wrong at every opportunity. So how is it that the likes of Shark Attack, Shark Swarm, the Jaws sequels and even Deep Blue Sea (arguably the best of the Jaws-wannabes) have come nowhere near recapturing the scares, the thrills and the overall entertainment of Spielberg’s classic? 12 Days of Terror is actually a different take on the whole genre. Instead of just copying scenes or rehashing elements, this one takes its cue straight from history and bases itself around the true events which inspired Peter Benchley to write Jaws. It’s no coincidence that this one plays out pretty much the same way as the classic blockbuster but at least it can’t be called a copy.

Given the recent spate of killer shark flicks, 12 Days of Terror has a refreshing approach to the same genre material. I guess it’s the period setting which helps the film. With it being based in 1916, the film has to pretend it knows nothing about sharks: there’s the lack of scientific facts really understand what they’re about (no quotes here about sharks smelling blood in the water from miles away) and there’s the lack of modern equipment to track and combat them (the very primitive steel fences that are erected around the bathing area look useless). It’s almost as if the people don’t know how to handle the situation because it’s totally new to them – watch the scientists laugh at the suggestion that a shark killed the first victim, suggesting it was a torpedo that did it. This period feel also helps during the attack scenes as there’s a real sense of helplessness for the victims. I know people are screwed when they’re attacked by sharks at the best of times, but here you know that the people watching on the beach have no clue as to go about the situation. The attacks consist of little more than the people thrashing around in bloodied water and the shark rarely makes a full appearance. When it does turn up, it’s reasonably effective. Some scenes are CGI but some are clearly animatronics with a splash of CGI thrown in for good measure.

12 Days of Terror has one glaring problem and that it’s downright tiresome. I am sure that the actual events were a lot more exciting than this makes out, given the plodding pace and real lack of anything to get the audience involved with the film. There’s a tepid love triangle between the main characters which is totally pointless and just serves to pad time out. Despite this film being based on the events that inspired Jaws, it seems more like the other way around and that Jaws inspired this film given the way things pan out with the mayor not closing the beaches, the lead characters setting off to sea to kill the shark – which apparently didn’t happen in the true events either. According to the reports, the shark was never caught and it just swam back out to sea. So the finale here with the characters trying to kill the shark in a rickety old boat seems to have been fabricated to add a little bit of excitement. This begs the question: if the writers were going to take liberty with the outcome, why not take liberties with a few other parts of the film too? Either keep it realistic or bling it up with gore and shark attacks!

 

12 Days of Terror has a refreshing approach on the generic killer shark film and manages to raise itself above most of the straight-to-video Jaws rip-offs. But its tedious plodding drama and lack of real bite when needed throw this one back into the chum with the rest.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆