DeepStar Six (1989)

DeepStar Six (1989)

Not All Aliens Come From Space. Save Your Last Breath… To Scream.

A US naval engineering team is completing work on an underwater nuclear missile base when they accidentally split open the ocean floor during an excavation mission, revealing a huge cave underneath. Contact with the excavation team is lost and after a rescue mission goes wrong, the crew are given the go-ahead for extraction from above. Before they can leave, they must secure the missiles but a mishap with the process cripples the base, trapping everyone at the bottom of the sea. To add to their problems, something deadly has been let loose from the previously-hidden cave and it makes its way into the base, killing the crew off one-by-one.

 

Whilst James Cameron’s The Abyss was in production, other studios assumed that it was going to be some ‘monster-on-the-loose-in-a-confined-space’ flick like Aliens but only underwater instead of space. Cameron was a rising star after Aliens and The Terminator and everyone wanted a piece of the action. Being ones to try and jump on the bandwagon, a handful of similar-themed films each featuring aquatic monsters were rushed into production in order to capitalise on the inevitable popularity, the most notable of which being Leviathan featuring Peter Weller. However, The Abyss was nothing like people expected it to be and so these films floundered a little bit, trying to out-jump the other into the pool only to find the pool had moved.

DeepStar Six finds itself with one of the most recognisable horror directors of the 80s, Sean S. Cunningham (the man behind Friday the 13th), at the helm and along with him Harry Manfredini, the composer from the earlier Friday the 13th films. You’d very much expect better from Mr Cunningham – sort of like an underwater Friday the 13th – but the film never really threatens to turn into anything more than throwaway sci-fi horror.

DeepStar Six should have worked a lot better and could have done had it stuck to the monster movie formula. However it’s far, far too long before the monster shows up for the first time (about an hour) and before then, the film runs like an underwater disaster film with all manner of mishaps and deadly accidents happening to the crew that they need to overcome. Depressurisation, flooding compartments, doors that won’t open, doors that won’t seal, power shortages, etc. I came to see an underwater Alien knock-off, not another The Poseidon Adventure! You get the sense that they wanted to play down the horror elements and keep the adventure and suspense elements high but they’re preaching to the wrong genre crowd if that was the case. The rather convoluted plot has a script that is peppered with coincidences and bad luck in order to further the story and it seems as though the characters go from one catastrophe to the next – and that’s before the monster even turns up.

To his credit, Cunningham does use the first hour to good effect in building the characters and, when they are allowed to breathe life into their stereotypical characters, they do a decent job of making us care about them. Black guys, Russian, South African, annoying moaner character, the hero and heroine, etc. They’re all the usual stock characters but the majority of them (i.e. the ones who make it past the twenty minute mark) are well-rounded and will elicit empathy of some kind, from the guy who has a mental breakdown to the loved-up couple who want to survive for the sake of her unborn baby (that’s almost the complete opposite of being a black character in a film like this!). They’re a step up from the normal one-dimensional planks of wood that these films usually throw out way.

The cast is made up of former TV stars and minor actors who have cropped up in an odd horror or sci-fi film since then (Matt McCoy in the enjoyable Abominable being the one I remembered straight away). Arguably the big recognisable star on show is Miguel Ferrer, he of Robocop fame who made the mistake of crossing Ronny Cox’s Dick Jones character. Ferrer plays a miserable character who must go down as the ‘World’s Worst Crewmate to Have During a Disaster’ – not only does he cause the station to suffer catastrophe but he’s also responsible for a number of other horrendous mishaps during the running time which inflict more suffering upon not only himself but the rest of the crew. Ferrer’s departure is probably the highlight of the film as his character suffers from a really fatal case of depressurisation.

With so much time spent on the characters and the disaster film-style elements of the film, you’ll wonder whether they’ve got enough time to squeeze some monster action in and they almost don’t bother. It’s no surprise to see that the film picks up once the crew become aware of the existence of the monster (and very unfortunate for a chap in a diving suit, a fact spoiled by the poster rather my spoiler) though it hardly does anything and is responsible for directly killing three characters which is a tragedy considering how many characters started the film. When the creature does show up, it doesn’t look anywhere near as bad as you’d expect but someone had little confidence in how it appeared because you’ll hardly get a good look at it. It’s like some giant crab, only described as a prehistoric arthropod in the film and never really given any sort of scientific explanation. It’s blatantly a puppet with limited movement and just threshes backwards and forwards in the water. But in an old school way, it’s effective enough in what it does – you’d just wish it would have done a lot more of it.

 

Whenever DeepStar Six threatens to get good, it halts dead in its tracks again. Whether this is down to the script, the direction or another matter remains to be seen but there was a decent underwater Alien film waiting to come out here. Unfortunately we don’t get it in the final version. It’s too patchy and sporadic to make any long-lasting impression.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dogs (1976)

Dogs (1976)

Don’t Pet Them … Fear Them!

In a small California town, mutilated cows are baffling the local authorities. It is clear that the attacks are not the work of coyotes or wolves but when some of the town’s citizens are found dead, the finger of blame is pointed at the town’s dogs which are grouping together in packs and inexplicably attacking people. A pair of college professors attempt to find out what is turning domestic pets into blood-thirsty killers before it is too late.

 

‘Animals attack’ films were all the rage in the 70s as every sort of animal imaginable suddenly become a man-eater, peaking with the monstrous success of Jaws in 1975 but taking in bees, spiders, grizzly bears, ants and frogs along the way to name a few. Preying upon fears that nature would begin to take revenge upon man’s meddling with the planet, Dogs places man’s best friend in the role of the avenger, striking back at mankind for whatever reason (it’s very sketchy at best). It’s hardly got enough in it to warrant cult status but Dogs was surprisingly effective in places. For someone who doesn’t like dogs, the thought of being ripped apart by them had already me freaking out a little beforehand. I guess if you’re a dog lover, then that notion becomes absurd.

The daft premise could have bombed had the material not been taken seriously but thankfully Dogs is as straight as they come. There’s not a joke or sight gag to be had though most likely lots of unintentional humour will arise should you decide to watch this with a few beers. Though the film is meant to be about the four-legged fiends of the title, too much time is spent with the talky, two-legged kind. There is about a twenty minute chunk of time from the title credits in which the main characters are introduced and talk academically and scientifically in very droll fashion. It’s a stretch to sit through it all but there are a couple of vague reasons thrown around for why the dogs are acting in this fashion. Nothing is really explained and the film ends in very similar anti-climactic fashion to Hitchcock’s The Birds in which more questions will be raised than answers.

After the half-way point, the film does pick up a lot of pace as more dog attacks happen and the film’s big set pieces begin to come into play. When the film finally gets into the correct gear, Dogs ticks off the right boxes and unleashes its horror elements. With the majority of the film taking place at night, there’s a suitably menacing vibe to the film. Seeing a pack of ravenous dogs charge out of the darkness towards their victims is an effective sight to send shivers down the spine. The dog attack look real, as stunt people are chewed on by real dogs, and as we all know from seeing dogs in real life, they can be quite aggressive and relentless when they get their teeth into something. The only weakness with the dogs is the lack of them – there are about twenty dogs in total, a variety of breeds, but you never really get the sense that the scale of this uprising is widespread.

Though the film isn’t very bloody, there’s enough splashed around to make it effective. Also adding to the ambiance is a creepy sound effect used when the dogs begin to howl and pack up before an attack – sort of like a warning alarm. This is used to good effect on a number of occasions, particularly during a nail-biting scene involving a drunk posse who have been camping out in the wilderness to hunt the menace, not realising what they have got themselves in for. It’s a fantastic sequence, well-shot, atmospheric and ratcheting up the tension as the posse can’t see the dogs but they can hear them getting closer and closer.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. star David McCallum is top-billed as the alcoholic hippie professor Harlan Thompson and pulls most of the movie together. He’s a bit irritating and abrupt at first but mellows out as the film progresses and he does less talking and more action. There’s good support from George Wyner too who will most likely be remembered more as a comedy actor for his roles as Colonel Sandurz from Spaceballs or the camp director from American Pie 2. Wyner is pretty solid in a straight role as the other college professor. Linda Gray would go to later worldwide fame in Dallas.

 

A dismal first half an hour kills off a lot of momentum that the second half should have had but Dogs tries it’s hardest to recover with some memorable moments and a honest approach which treats its daft idea with a lot of respect. It’s like The Birds…only with dogs…and it’s nowhere near as good. Thankfully the sequel teaser at the end involving a sinister-looking cat didn’t come to fruition.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Humanoids from the Deep (1980)

Humanoids from the Deep (1980)

They’re not human. But they hunt human women. Not for killing. For mating.

Something strange is happening in the sleepy fishing village of Noyo when salmon stocks begin to dwindle and dogs are turning up dead. Scientist Susan Drake and local fisherman Jim Hill team up to investigate the cause of the problems and discover a terrible race of fishlike humanoid creatures, spawned by mutant DNA, have begun rising from the ocean floor. With the annual Salmon Festival on the horizon, some unwanted guests are about to crash the festivities.

 

I missed out the key part about the humanoids wanting to mate with human women (not just any women either but hot, young and usually topless females – these creatures are pretty choosy!) but the notion of a bit of a monster-human rape would have been enough to throw a lot of potential viewers off this exploitation classic from the master of sleaze, Roger Corman. Humanoids from the Deep plays like the dirtier version of Creature from the Black Lagoon. Remember all of those shots of the Gill Man gazing lovingly at Julie Adams and then making off with her to his lair….and remember all of the questions as to why he wanted to take her. Well Corman is happy to answer those question in graphic form here.

Focusing on this one sleazy aspect of the film would do a dis-service to Humanoids from the Deep, a great schlocky throwback to the 50s sci-fi horrors of old coupled with the promise of what was to come in the gory horror decade that was the 80s. It’s low budget and that vibe hits from the opening scene and title credit but the grotty and gloomy appearance of the film works in its favour. This fishing village is the perfect location to set a horror film, vaguely reminiscent of Jaws to some degree, and is equally depressing and creepy. Humanoids from the Deep has a decent pace and there’s enough going on at any one time to keep the film interesting even if the first half of the film seems to be little more than human drama interlinked with a couple of random humanoid attacks. Plot and script wasn’t high on the agenda here as there’s little questioning as to how or why the humanoids have arrived but rather the ‘what’ as in ‘what are we going to do about it?’ Best to sit back and take everything as it comes.

And everything comes! The humanoid suit was designed by quality FX specialist Rob Bottin, more famous for his work on The Thing and a number of Paul Verhoeven films. I say suit in singular form rather than plural as apparently only one fully-operational suit was created due to costs – the other two suits you can see in the film had issues and so the camera is only able to shoot them from certain angles. The humanoids look like bad ass updates of the Gill Man from Creature from the Black Lagoon. With long, gangly arms, a set of razor sharp teeth, green-skinned and covered in sea weed, and with a high-pitched shrieking scream, these monsters certainly look and sound the part. They’re pretty handy when it comes to dispatching victims too. The blood is free flowing with mutilated dogs turning up, guys having their backs slashed, throats ripped apart and insides gored out. Kids are killed, babies terrified and there’s even a disturbing scene involving a ventriloquist dummy.

If there is one glaring issue with Humanoids from the Deep, it’s the waste of Doug McClure. Though he gets top-billing, McClure is phoning it in big-style from the beginning and he gets very little to do. A man of his considerable B-movie charm should have been getting a little more rough and ready with the humanoids, throwing punches and being more gung-ho to save the town. Co-star Vic Morrow was another talented B-movie veteran who could have been given more to do other than stick close to the script as the villainous Slattery. It’s a waste of their talents and with the film running for a little over eighty minutes, a bit more could have been done with them.

It wouldn’t be right to end the review without going full circle and talking about the infamous scenes of the humanoids getting jiggy with human females. They’re guys-in-suits shoving actresses to the ground when all is said and done. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy but the scenes don’t ‘mean’ anything to me, they’re just daft exploitation scenes from a film which goes below the belt at every opportunity for maximum effect. Director Barbara Peters shot the film and was finishing up but Corman wasn’t happy with the finished results, thought it was too tame and requested extra nudity. Peters refused and wanted nothing to do with the film, Corman fired her and hired someone else to shoot the scenes. Ironically, these scenes never made it into the final cut and ended up as deleted scenes on the DVD, with Peters’ credit restored to one of the popular and enduring of all of Corman’s films. Between this, Galaxy of Terror and Forbidden World, Corman had cemented his legacy as one of horror’s most popular producers.

 

Not one for the purists, what’s not to like about Humanoids from the Deep? It’s a trash movie masterpiece at its most exquisite: blood, boobs and mutated beasts. They don’t make them like this anymore!

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Re-Animator (1985)

Re-Animator (1985)

H.P. Lovecraft’s classic tale of horror

Talented medical student Herbert West has discovered a serum that re-animates dead bodies, though his previous human experiment in Switzerland ended in catastrophe. West goes to an American college where he moves in with student Daniel Cain. Immediately suspicious of West, it isn’t until Cain stumbles upon an experiment with a dead cat that he begins to believe in the serum. But when word of this discovery gets out to renowned brain research Dr Carl Hill and he tries to get his hands on the serum, West and Cain find themselves in an ever-worsening situation involving murder and reanimated bodies.

 

Cult classics don’t come much more cult than Stuart Gordon’s legendary 1985 horror-comedy Re-Animator. Though slightly dated in its appearance nowadays, Re-Animator is still a superbly horrific and humorous film in equal measure. Perfecting the art of black comedy to a tee, Re-Animator is based upon the Herbert West–Reanimator short stories by famous horror master H. P. Lovecraft which is a Frankenstein-style tale about a scientist who believes he can bring the dead to life by injecting them with a re-agent serum that he has designed. As we know from the world of literature, meddling in things that humans can’t comprehend doesn’t end well and this is no exception.

Re-Animator would never be made today. It was a labour of love from a team of people which was a lot like the effort that Sam Raimi and co. put into The Evil Dead. With low budgets forcing the makers to get creative and practical in their approaches, the films took the genre by storm. Whilst it gets overlooked in favour of Raimi’s ground-breaking film, Re-Animator has rightly been heralded as the genre-busting favourite it has become on its own two feet – it was a rare thing for famous critic Roger Ebert to be constructive about a horror film but he loved Re-Animator like most reviewers do.

Combining gut-wrenching home-grown splatter and fiendish “you shouldn’t laugh but you will” comedy is never an easy feat in the horror genre but Re-Animator gets the mix spot on. The gore is plentiful, sometimes gross, but never 100% realistic and this adds to the nature of the film. As things get out of control and more blood starts to flow, you just get to sit back and enjoy the silliness. The film knows that it’s a bit on the loopy side and goes with the flow, becoming even more outlandish in the process. It would be virtually impossible to watch this with a straight face. Part of the reason this works so well is down to the script, which treads the fine line flawlessly throughout the film, and creates some interesting characters.

Thankfully these characters were cast without fault. Jeffrey Combs is brilliant as the slightly-insane Herbert West. Right from the first moment you see him on the screen, he is a magnetic presence with his off-beat delivery and you’re unsure as to what is going through his head at any one moment. Should you root for him or hate him? Combs plays it straight throughout which is great as some of the deadpan situations the characters find themselves in could have been daft if everyone was goofing around. Much of the humour in Re-Animator is based on sight gags, the highlight of which being West and Cain’s struggle with a re-animated cat in the basement where the art of slapstick comes into its own. Special mention should be given to the late David Gale who plays Dr Carl Hill and spends a great portion of the film with his head sitting in a tray of blood as his decapitated body stumbles around trying to do tasks for him. Also of note is Barbara Crampton as Cain’s love interest Megan, who looks good, gets naked a couple of times and gives a new definition to getting head in the film’s most perversely funny moment.

The comedy only goes so far though and it’s up to the horror-based elements to come into their own when this happens. As mentioned, the film is gory and it gets progressively worse as the film goes on with zombies, decapitations and electric surgical saws all coming into play. There’s lots of violence though due to the nature of the film it comes off very cartoony as opposed to anything sinister or serious. There is a line in horror where gore goes from gross to comedic if handled in the right way and Stuart Gordon and co. know exactly what they are doing. It was one of the goriest films of its time and was butchered upon VHS release back in the day. But we live in an era of Saw and Re-Animator looks a little quaint now. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not for the faint-hearted but the bad taste boundary is always maintained.

Richard Band’s theme, which is a none-too-subtle reworking of Bernard Hermann’s Psycho theme, sets the tone of the film during the title credits, adding a bit of mystery and eeriness to proceedings. It’s the icing on top of a very blood-soaked cake.

 

Any self-respecting horror fan should see Re-Animator. From the decade that brought us so many classic B-movie splatter flicks, it’s a twisted little film which comes with a massive reputation and delivers every second of its running time. A must see.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

Dead Space (1991)

Dead Space (1991)

No Place To Hide

After receiving a distress signal from the Phaebon research facility, Commander Krieger and his robot sidekick Tinpan respond straight away. Arriving on the planet, Krieger is told that there is no problem but due to damage his ship sustained during a fight in space, he is forced to stay and carry out repairs. The scientists on board the facility were attempting to find a cure for the deadly Delta 5 disease and created an even more deadly anti-virus to destroy it. But the anti-virus has become sentient, growing into a large creature which is now living off the crew members on board.

 

Dead Space bears no relation to the successful video game series (though I do note costume similarities between the game’s main character, Isaac Clarke, and the robot sidekick in the film). In fact it is a remake of Roger Corman’s cult classic Alien clone Forbidden World, a film which (though lacking in many qualities) is one of Corman’s best films. Dead Space is a rip off of a rip off of a landmark film which is almost like wearing third generation hand-me down clothes which have been worn and worn to death in the years since the original owner put them on for the first time. Shot in just seventeen days, Dead Space will do little to convince you otherwise.

The plots in Dead Space and Forbidden World are almost identical: the intergalactic hero and his robot sidekick responding to a distress signal from a research station; the virus-like creature which has escaped it’s incubation; the team of scientists both in denial about what they have created and in fear of what may happen; and the inevitable carnage which ensues when the creature grows bigger and hungrier and begins to kill everyone off. There’s even a random and completely-irrelevant-to-the-rest-of-the-film sequence at the beginning just like in Forbidden World where our hero is involved in a space dogfight for no apparent reason other than to recycle footage from Battle Beyond the Stars and kill about five minutes of screen time.

The big difference between the two films is the presence and/or absence of the trashy elements which made Forbidden World such a cult hit. Dead Space sorely needed an injection of gore, nudity and general low budget sleaze – it’s the film that Forbidden World would be if it removed most of its gore, naked chick quota and copious amount of sleaze and cheese. There’s nothing here to get overly worked over. Odd moments of blood, including a decent head-ripping late in the film, are not enough to save it. Dead Space doesn’t even attempt to send a wink towards the audience with its content. It’s played straight, serious and without a hint of irony or self-awareness.

Dead Space commits the cardinal sin of movie making and that is it to be boring. Even though it’s got a seventy-two minute run time, the film feels twice as long as that. Characters skulk around in the sparsely-decorated corridors talking about how they’re going to find and stop the creature for scene-upon-scene of innate tedium. The first hour grinds itself through the motions, only really picking up in the finale when the creature is given the big reveal, which is too little too late. The monster itself looks terribly static in the brief glimpses we get of it. For the majority of the film, it is masked in insane amounts of smoke/fog/ice when it’s outside the station or just dimmed in dingy rooms and corridors when it’s inside. It’s a pity because the design looks good, though you won’t get to see it walking around on two legs like the Xenomorph-wannabe from the cover artwork.

Fans of TV shows will be quick to spot Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston as one of the scientists on board the station. No doubt this is the type of film he’ll be wanting to hide on his CV now that he’s pretty famous in Hollywood right now. Cranston isn’t great but given where he’s ended up, it’s easy to ignore it. The rest of the cast are pretty horrible, including Marc Singer as Krieger who is introduced to the audience laying down naked in some sort of steam room. Only, unlike in Forbidden World, the hero of the day only gets to dream about the female scientists naked rather than get down and dirty in the flesh.

 

Dead Space is just that – a completely lifeless amount of time between opening and closing credits where there’s little to see, little to hear and little to worry about. You’d expect better from the low budget canon of Roger Corman, even if by ‘better’ I mean sleazy and cheesy. This is neither and all the worse for it.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Killdozer (1974)

Killdozer (1974)

Everyone Knows a Machine Cannot Kill. Except the Machine.

A mysterious alien force takes control of a massive bulldozer and proceeds to kill off the crew of a remote construction site on a small island off the coast of Africa.

 

That’s about all the plot you’re going to get from a hokey film like Killdozer. Made-for-TV in 1974, this is now virtually forgotten about – never released on DVD to date in the UK, never shown on television as far as I can recall and what few copies there were on VHS have been well worn over the years. Sometimes there are reasons for such obscurity.  I managed to watch this via a Youtube upload which has since been pulled so those wanting to check it out will be disappointed.

Despite the title, which is something a modern studio like The Asylum would love to have devised for one of their outlandish social media frenzies, Killdozer is sluggishly boring and never once lives up to any sort of throwaway potential the novelty value of a killer bulldozer may have had. At a slender seventy-four minutes, the material that is presented barely manages to extend that far and will have you reaching for the fast forward button before the first quarter is over. It’s just dull. There’s only so many adjectives I could use to describe it so the simplest one will do. It’s dull. Slow. Not a lot happens. No excitement. Dull.

For a start, the idea to locate this monstrous machine in the middle of nowhere with only a handful of construction workers to kill off amidst a few tents is daft as it takes away half of the fun of a bulldozer going on a rampage. Where are the buildings being smashed down? The cars and buses being taken out? A city or even small town location would have been the perfect place to unleash the bulldozer but keeping it confined to a small island without roads and any real buildings is a big cop out. I understand the budget not stretching that far but the idea was more less dead-on-arrival and the location doesn’t help matters one bit. It’s bland, pretty lifeless and looks to have been shot entirely in a quarry somewhere.

Forgive me if I’m wrong but aren’t bulldozers supposed to be really noisy, chugging lumps of metal which you could hear driving up on you? Not the Killdozer! This is a stealth vehicle, capable of smashing its way out of trees and bushes to spring out on unsuspecting victims at a moment’s notice. It’s not like it needs much prompting either with the few characters in the film displaying a sense of stupidity that wouldn’t even wash in the 80s teen slasher films. Who thinks it is a good idea to hide from a twenty-tonne bulldozer inside the metal pipe it has just you crawl into? Despite the best efforts of everyone involved, the bulldozer never once manages to appear alive and the film falls flat as a result. There’s hardly any tension or excitement due to its slowness and you could easily outrun it if you put your mind to it. Even the prospect of a bulldozer versus digger showdown can’t liven things up.

The guys that sparsely populate this film consist of a few stock characters including the recovering alcoholic asshole foreman, the token black guy, the nervous one who breaks down and the popular guy. That’s pushing it for individual features as they’re so non-descript that it’s impossible to tell them apart at times. They do a lot of standing around talking and never really seem to ‘get’ the situation that they are faced with especially given their aforementioned stupidity. When the bulldozer is the smartest thing on show, you’ve got issues with your script.

 

Killdozer is dreadful fare which should have been left to rust on the seventies scrap heap. It’s hard trying to find positives to say about it. Even its short running time drags out for an eternity.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Puppet Master X: Axis Rising (2012)

Puppet Master X: Axis Rising (2013)

The Battle Is Over. The War Has Just Begun!

After the destruction of the secret German armoury, some of Andre Toulon’s puppets find themselves in the hands of the Nazis who are hoping to discover the secrets of resurrection and create an army of fallen soldiers to win the war. But Danny and his girlfriend, instrumental in stopping them the first time around, teams up with the remaining puppets in an attempt to rescue their comrades and put an end to these German schemes once and for all.

 

The killer puppets are back for the tenth instalment of the Puppet Master series (eleventh if you include Puppet Master Vs Demonic Toys which is not considered part of the series) though you’ll forgive me for greeting another sequel with apathy. Aside from the first three films, the rest of the Puppet Master has, quite frankly, blowed. Somehow, after twenty-three years since the original, the films are still being made. Though I guess that’s down the fact that people like me still watch them in the hope that they recapture their past glories.

Picking up after the events of Puppet Master: Axis of Evil, Puppet Master X: Axis Rising continues the World War II-themed plot to milk more out of its Nazi bad guys (and no doubt the same sets and props to save on coin) with the main characters being played by new actors (and no doubt cheaper than the originals – starting to see a pattern emerging?) and the puppets once again standing around watching everything like spectators. Puppet Master must surely be Full Moon’s biggest money spinner (or only money spinner for that matter) so I don’t see why these films have been shafted when it comes to budgets. They seem to get progressively smaller and smaller with each film and this is no exception. Long-time producer Charles Band stepped behind the camera for this one, no doubt the most desperate cost-cutting measure available.

There are only a handful of characters in the film, the same two or three sets are re-used and there’s hardly anything in the way of special effects. Gone is everything that made the first three films such cult classics. This is just a woeful efforts which comes off more like a poorly made fan-feature than an official entry into the Puppet Master series. I wonder whether there were any more than about twenty people involved in this from beginning to end, such is the nature of how small scale everything has become. According to Tom Devlin, one of the FX guys who talks in the behind-the-scenes feature, the budget for this was smaller than the cost of building one of the cable-controlled puppets from the original. That’s what we’re dealing with here.

I’ve said in my other reviews for this franchise that it’s the puppets and the shenanigans that they cause which are the main attractions to these films yet we’ve been getting short-changed for years and it gets worse. The classic puppets look to be in awful condition. Both Pinhead and Ms Leech look like they need a new paint job, Jester hardly does anything and Six Shooter is only seen in the finale. The new puppets look fantastic which is a shame when you see how little they have to do. Bombshell is a blonde Nazi with machine guns hidden in her breasts, Weremacht is a werewolf SS soldier, Blitzkrieg is a mini-tank with a helmet head and Kamikaze is a Japanese suicide bomber (blatantly not giving a toss about racial stereotyping). The puppets have nothing to do for the entire film save for the inevitable good versus evil showdown at the end and even here it looks like the director just pointed a camera at the crew and told them to play with the puppets. They’ve got limited movement and there are plenty of close-ups of them looking angry and making noises. Hardly edge-of-your-seat action.

I won’t bother too much looking into the human aspect of the film. No one really cares about the characters anymore – a couple of bland teens in lead roles and some hammy actors portraying ridiculous and long-dead stereotypes don’t really cut the mustard. The German characters are awful, with horrible accents and clichéd mannerisms. Stephanie Sanditz, the busty German officer, may look the part in her low-cut tops (and would look better with them!) but this is the 21st century and the Puppet Master series has long dispensed with gratuitous exploitation – the days of glamorous Charlie Spradling baring all in Puppet Master II are long over. In fact it’s long dispensed with everything – blood, boobs, action and entertainment. What’s left is a void of ideas, kept going by a studio which is desperate to remain relevant in an era where its low budget horror films just don’t make the grade anymore.

 

Puppet Master X: Axis Rising is not the film to resurrect a franchise but what it will do is keep it on life support that bit longer. It’s the best of at least the last four films but that’s not a ringing endorsement. Charles Band needs to decide whether he wants to give the franchise a final farewell and blow a load of money at a decent entry or risk losing the few fans this series has left with another bog-standard filler flick.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆