Puppet Master: Axis of Evil (2010)

Puppet Master: Axis of Evil (2010)

The Blade is Back

After fleeing Nazi Germany, Andre Toulon commits suicide before they can track him down and steal his secrets. His puppets are found by a young man who brings them to life and uses them to stop an Axis plan to destroy an American bomb factory during World War II.

 

It’s been six years since the last Puppet Master film due to the continual drop in quality that the sequels suffered after the third film and genuine lack of interest from fans like me. What was once a decent little niche series became victim to some serious cost cutting and penny pinching from Charles Band. So much so that Puppet Master: The Legacy more or less killed the franchise off with a terrible story which relied on stock footage and flashbacks too much in a vain attempt to hide it’s pitiful budget. Trying to revive the series, the puppets are back for one more bash. The ninth official entry into the Puppet Master series (the tenth if you include the non-canon Puppet Master Vs Demonic Toys), Puppet Master: Axis of Evil is going to be a franchise killer, there’s no question. I thought that the series was dead and buried long before Puppet Master: The Legacy came along but somehow it’s lifeless corpse is being dragged around, no doubt re-animated by the fabled life-giving formula of Andre Toulon that brings the puppets to life.

Once more the series goes back in time to try and flesh out the story of Andre Toulon and the puppets and yet all it does is cover a lot of old ground and write itself into a hole when you try and link it in with the other films. Stock footage of the first few minutes of Puppet Master are edited in with new footage to make it look like it’s all freshly filmed (which is easy to tell because the actor who plays Toulon, William Hickey, died in 1997!). Then we’re introduced to the new character that has the responsibility of looking after the puppets. If you think it sounds rather familiar it’s because this is almost always what happens in these films. The puppets find a new owner and come to life, working with their human friend to stop some sinister character for whatever reason. The human side of the story is hardly gripping material but you’re going to have to make do with it because there’s little puppet action. But more on that later. The austerity measures that this series clearly has had placed on it are evident to see. The sets look cheap and ramshackle. The lighting is just awful. The acting is dire. The script is laughable and full of inconsistencies (did the American writers forget when Pearl Harbor took place?).

Puppet Master: Axis of Evil tries hard to create a story we’ll care about but ultimately it has the opposite effect and ends up pushing the puppets into the background thus alienating its devoted fan base. The puppets have always been the stars of the show yet, apart from the first three films, they’ve been cast off to the side and rarely used. If you’re going to make a film about these killer puppets without using them, why bother in the first place? The tragedy is that when you do get to see new footage, they look like pale imitations of their prior selves. The rest of the shots of the puppets are once again culled from previous films where they actually had money to spend on them. Like the Jaws films, it’s so sad to see that the special effects have got worse since the original when they should be improving every film. The original five puppets are back: Blade, Tunneler, Ms Leech, Pinhead and Jester and there’s another new face in the gang. Six-Shooter, one of the best puppets of the series, appears in a cameo but as a broken puppet – conveniently enough it’s also the most complex puppet to operate with six gun-toting arms.

Clearly lacking a budget to do much in the way of animating the puppets, the film relies on close-up shots of them and feeble rod and string movements which make them look….well, like silly puppets. Maybe it’s time that they were turned into CGI puppets? At least they’d get something to do. The stop-motion used in the original has long been cast aside and now the puppets, although apparently ‘living’ characters in the film, are about as inanimate as a carbon rod. And in my opinion, the biggest disgrace of it all is that the puppets are the good guys once more. They were so much better as the bad ass tiny terrors in the first two films and yet every film since then has simply had them take revenge on a villainous character.

Admittedly Puppet Master: Axis of Evil does pick up in the final fifteen minutes when they actually start getting revenge on the Japanese and Nazi agents. It’s a far cry from the slasher elements of the original three films where the puppets got pretty nasty at times with their victims. There’s little gore and the violence seems punctuated – yet again, conveniently enough, the goriest moment in the entire film comes courtesy of the stock footage of Toulon’s suicide. The rest of the deaths are very feeble and blood free. And there’s no nudity either. The series hasn’t really gone down that route for a while now but what made the original few films so popular were the exploitative elements of the blood and boobs, coupled with the notion of killer puppets!

However, in order to end the review on a positive note, Richard Band’s circus-style signature theme makes a welcome return during the title credits and the end credits roll over drawings of the various characters which is rather neat.

 

You’ll need to be a hardcore Puppet Master aficionado to get anything out of this dismal sequel and even those die-hard fans would be best served re-watching the first two films. It’s set itself up for an inevitable sequel but the series really needs a much needed shot of cash to bring the puppets more into the fray. George W. Bush famously named his Axis of Evil as threats to the peace of the world. I hereby name Puppet Master: Axis of Evil a threat to the world of low budget horror films.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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