Retro Puppet Master (1999)

Retro Puppet Master (1999)

The Legacy Begins…

It’s 1892 and Andre Toulon is the young owner of a puppet theatre in Paris where he comes into the possession of a secret formula which gives life to dead and inanimate matter. He soon becomes the target of an ancient cult of demon worshippers who are attempting to retrieve the formula that was stolen from them by a Egyptian mystic. Toulon protects himself in the only way he can think of – using the secret formula on his array of puppets to bring them to life.

 

The series takes a nosedive into the abyss with this terrible origin story. The sixth sequel to Puppet Master, this instalment takes the unnecessary decision to head back in time to explain how Toulon came to be. Dropping any indication of the sequel number in the title is usually a bad sign for any struggling franchise and for Retro Puppet Master it’s the death knell. Technically it’s a prequel anyway but since the series already had one in the shape of Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge, this one has to go back even further in time. Just how old is this Toulon guy? How eventful was his earlier life that he manages to get two films covering his early years? This is one prequel too many though, in fact one Puppet Master film too many. The magic has long gone. The budget has definitely long gone. The franchise is simply running on empty.

Right let’s get the positive out of the way first. I’ll at least give credit with the series trying to reinvent itself by doing something slightly different (if there’s anything different you can do with the idea of puppets coming to life and killing people). The novelty of seeing the puppets in their crude original forms, plus seeing a couple of puppets Toulon obviously deemed not good enough to keep around, is of decent enough value to waste a bit of time. But that’s it. Nothing else about this sequel is worth the effort. Full Moon slashed their budgets for the sequels and it shows more than ever here. With a Romanian shoot and many of the cast being Romanian, it would be too easy to criticise the studio’s decision. But why the heck not? Shooting in Eastern European has become the norm for low budget studios but surely with these reduced costs the films would be able to stretch the budget a little further to improve the special effects. Or even secure some decent American actors willing to travel over for a few weeks shooting. Or even pay someone to write a proper script? The script is all over the shop and, like most of the sequels, it takes great liberties with its source material. For continuity-fanatics who religiously follow every single plot point from previous films, there’s too much going on here which contradicts earlier films. Best to ignore it!

The only people watching are those likely to be waiting for the little puppets to come alive and start killing people. After all, that’s what made the original such a minor cult hit back in the 80s. For some reason, the series has deemed that this is not the reason people watch the films and it has slowly cut back on the puppet action. Most likely for budgetary reasons, the fact remains that the puppets have gradually turned into side attractions in their own films. With a very slim running time of seventy minutes, you’d surely expect to see more of the puppets – you know, cram as much in as possible. But you won’t get any puppet action until the final third so you’ve got to sit through the rest of this mess before hand as we painstakingly wait for Toulon to learn the Egyptian secrets of the reanimation process.

When the puppets finally do show up, you’ll wonder why they bothered. It was nice to see what the puppets looked like in their original form (Tunneler stills looks great) as well as a couple of newly-designed puppets called Dr Death and Cyclops. But the special effects are laughable and the puppets are virtually immobile. Even at seventy minutes long, the film seems to struggle to fill up the screen time. The plot is forgettable, the acting is what you’d expect from foreigners trying to master the English language and the whole thing looks like it was thought out, filmed and produced within the space of a week.

 

Is Retro Puppet Master the worst seventh instalment of a film franchise? It’s got some tough competition out there! Stick to the first three Puppet Master films and you’ll be happy. This one fails on almost every single level and turns into one of the most pointless wastes of seventy minutes you’re likely to endure. Avoid.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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