Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich – Nazi figurines raise gore-soaked hell

This horror flick combines some standard scary-movie components – evil toys, gory deaths played for laughs, snarky self-referential humour – and manages to make a reasonably competent, mildly amusing monster mash. It’s not going to win any points for originality, but the main cast is pretty good at turning a line or dropping a quip, particularly Nelson Franklin as a sardonic-cum-heroic comic store owner named Markowitz. Meanwhile, the supporting players scream expressively as their guts are torn out, and their (latex) bodies are dismembered in a variety of creative ways. One unfortunate chap, for instance, gets up to have a wee in his hotel room only to be decapitated mid-stream, soaking his own head as it falls. Props to whoever thought that one up.

The plot gathers geeks, collectors and true-crime obsessives in a small Texas town for a convention centred around mysterious murders from the 1980s that involved a creepy old man with a Nazi-connected past and a menagerie of vicious-looking foot-high puppets. Of course, all come to life and start killing the visitors – starting with Jews, Gypsies, lesbians and people of colour – not long after the stylishly designed opening credits have finished. Some of the evil little woodentops favour stabby, slicing gadgets and nasty rictus grins; exploiting the possibilities of recent technology, some have little drone propellers. Newly divorced comic-book artist Edgar (Thomas Lennon) must defend himself, his boss Markowitz and his manic pixie dream girlfriend Ashley (Jenny Pellicer)

Gorehounds will know there’s a whole Puppet Master franchise, some entries dating back to the days when scare fare like this often went straight to video or LaserDisc. But don’t feel intimidated if you haven’t seen the dozen or so previous instalments, read any of the comic-book spin-offs or bought any of the merchandise, because this tongue-in-cheek gorefest is a reboot, meant to take place in a parallel universe in which original hero/antihero Andre Toulon (a gamey cameo here for Udo Kier) from earlier movies is briefly alive again for the Texas-set prologue. Given the rise of neo-Nazis worldwide, it’s a shame the film-makers didn’t opt to mix in some on-trend iconography – perhaps dressing the puppets in chinos and giving them tiki torches? – in order to add a timely subtextual spin on the basic conceit. But sadly, this isn’t quite that audacious or droll.


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