Goes to the Movies, Uncategorized

Trash Culture Goes to the Movies: Puppet Master 4 (1993)

According to the (brief) research I’ve done on the series, and 5where the series breaks free from the tyranny of Roman numerals, are considered by some to be the pinnacle of the series. It’s a little premature for me to agree or disagree, since and could just be considered two halves of the same movie. For now, though, I have to say that 4 isn’t really as much fun as seeing puppets kill Nazis.

puppetmaster4bladeIf the first two Puppet Master films were slasher movies and the third was sort of a revenge-fueled action movie, this one is a bit like a superhero origin story. The puppets definitely turn into good guys here, after their discovery by a young (and implausible) scientist, Rick, whose lab happens to be the Bodega Bay Inn of the first two movies. He’s researching artificial intelligence for something called the Omega Project and is aware of Blade, but is oblivious to Blade being alive, much less his significance to his research. Rick is joined by his friends Suzie (a love interest for him), Lauren (a psychic…yes, another psychic), and Cameron (an asshole, albeit one with great early 90s’ hair). Lauren’s psychic abilities lead them to find Toulon’s diary and the other puppets, along with vials of the chemicals needed to revive the puppets (the fact that the chemicals come from human brains doesn’t come up).

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With no hesitation, Rick revives the puppets, realizing that their intelligence is the key to finishing his research. Unfortunately, in Egypt, the demon Sutek and his minions are determined to suppress the secret of artificial life. Two other scientists working on the Omega Project receive shipments of gremlin-like dolls, who, under the control of Sutek’s minions, come alive and kill them. When it’s Rick’s turn and the Bodega Bay Inn is invaded by the gremlins, the puppets come to Rick’s defense. As might be expected, Cameron is killed trying to drive off, depriving the world of his ‘do.

It also happens right after he tries to make his girlfriend Lauren push his car in the pouring rain while they know a killer gremlin is running around. So at least you can’t accuse this movie of not giving its audience what it wants.

puppetmaster4victimHowever, the puppets aren’t enough by themselves to destroy all the gremlins, and by destroying them killing Sutek’s minions. Contacting Toulon’s spirit through Lauren, Rick is urged to revive Toulon’s final puppet, Decapitron (which is based on a tragically unfinished film from Charles Band’s Empire Pictures days). I just take it as yet another indication of how freaking awesome the kindly, old puppet master’s shows must have been, at least not when he was portraying the assassination of Adolf Hitler. Anyway, in true Charles Band fashion, Decapitron is brought to life à la lightning in a lab and becomes animated by Toulon’s spirit (and/or his mind juice, like what happened to his wife and pals in III).. This pleases the puppets, who have forgiven Toulon for that whole “refusing to keep them alive just so he can make his stalker crush immortal” thing.

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I know none of the Puppet Master movies thus far deserve awards for tight plotting or solid continuity, but if you can reasonably explain how the above fits in with the first two movies, you deserve to be the lord of all b-movie nerds. Honestly the plot holes are large enough for the German army to attack France through. Why are all the puppets incapacitated except for Blade when it’s implied that they got their fix at the end of II and it was supposed to last them at least a few decades? What happened to Camille anyway, and for that matter how did all the puppets get back to the Bodega Bay Inn? So it’s just a coincidence that Rick is researching artificial intelligence in the hotel that’s home to a bunch of animated puppets? If not, did the Omega Project know about Toulon and his discoveries? I guess not because Rick is taken aback when Toulon’s notes and other belongings are discovered, so it does seem like his bosses set him up randomly in a massive abandoned hotel where a series of brutal, unexplained murders took place over the years. But if the Omega Project had nothing to do with Toulon in the first place, why does Sutek, who says that Toulon “stole” his secrets, see their research as so threatening that he has to go through all the trouble of killing them? And why is it called the Omega Project anyway?  It sounds like they’re working on a doomsday weapon, not artificial intelligence, unless they’re deliberately trying to build Skynet.

Maybe the plot made sense at some point in the writing process, before six different writers all got involved.

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I guess I can see why people like it. It’s the first time you see the puppets as heroic, which I would guess is what Charles Band wanted to do from the beginning. And more so than its predecessors the movie captures the comic book universe feel of Full Moon, which is what made quite a few people fall in love with the company’s works in the first place. Yes, Sutek is goofy, looking a bit like a beefed up Sid and Marty Krofft monster. However, as odd as it is to say about Full Moon’s banner franchise, he does help make the movie the most Full Moon-y installment in the franchise thus far. But he’s still no Richard Lynch.

For all that, it’s a pretty hollow film, lacking the odd atmosphere of the first movie or the character-driven story of the third or the…hm, something of the second. There are plenty of things that happen, like Cameron and Lauren accidentally contacting Sutek psychically, yet the whole movie feels like it could have unfolded in the first thirty minutes. It doesn’t help that the only character who feels like he has anything close to a defined personality is Cameron, the stock horror movie asshole. As always, the puppetry stands out, and there’s some nice effects like Rick playing laser tag with the puppets, or the puppets reacting to Toulon’s “resurrection” as Decapitron. But it’s still a letdown when the movie ends on not even a cliffhanger, but what feels like mid-act.

puppetmaster4puppetsNo, so far I didn’t like it as much as III, but I’ll have to withhold final judgment until I see the story conclude in 5!

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Adventures in Revisionism

Adventures in Revisionism: The Wizard in the Woods

The wizard hadn’t always lived in the woods, just as he wasn’t always dressed in ancient clothes clumsily patched together and smelled of swamp water and pine needles. Once he had lived in the capital, where the use of his powers was well-paid for by courtiers and knights.  It is true that by the wizard’s time people said that even the wisest of scholars had forgotten much lore over the centuries, while others claimed that magic itself wasn’t as powerful as it had been in the old days. Yet the wizard could still fill the sky with lights, and create little humunculi who could perform basic chores for their masters, and brew potions that could make people fall in love or turn flesh into stone. Although in the wizard’s lifetime many were growing to dislike magic, seeing it as frivolous or dangerous or both, he was still in his time wealthy and respected and even loved.

The wizard was never handsome, even in the days when he had his pick of the finest robes and the most exotic colognes, but nonetheless the daughter of a nobleman fell in love with him. At first she had only liked him for his tricks, after he had made her wooden doll into one of porcelain, but he was kind to her, unlike the boys and girls who only teased her and her family who wished to shut her away in a nunnery because she was a little mad.  However the wizard was the first one to ever understand her—for all wizards, by necessity, are a little mad too—and the day came when he married her and took her to live in his chateau by the river and within view of the royal castle. Then one day he bought his wife a kitten, and from that day the two never knew such joy before or since. After years of happiness, the old king died, and his brother came to the throne as King Dupuis XI.  This new king had been raised around knights and merchants, and like many in the kingdom he disdained poets and scholars and magicians. The royal coffers would no longer be open to those the king called useless scribblers.  As for magicians, he decreed that they would be driven out of the capital and even the tiniest hamlets in the kingdom. Without recourse or appeal, the wizard and his wife and their cat no longer had a home, for the family of the wizard’s wife had disowned her the very day after they had wed.

The wizard, his wife, and their cat went into a clearing in the forest where the wizard used his magic to build a little hut, for that was the most he could do since he had lost all his tools and all of his books save one on the awful day the soldiers came to banish him. There in the forest his clients were no longer great warriors and nobles, but poor farmers and petty artisans seeking trinkets and charms. Still, he tried the most he could to make the days as good as they once were, but as the years of hard labor and freezing winters and endless wandering the forest for food and herbs wore down on them the wife became, little by little, more mad. One harsh winter morning, when the ice was thick on the ground and the wind chilled the entire hut, she brought the wizard a cake, and said it had been left for her on the windowsill by strange little blue men with bobbed tails. The wizard said little, but pondered his wife’s state of mind. From then on, every once in a while his wife would return with presents she said were given to her by the blue men: more cakes and other sweets, or a few silver coins, or small items of clothing like gloves and ribbons. The blue men made her happier than the wizard had seen her since before their banishment. Not only was she delighted by their apparent gifts, she told him, but they lived in a paradise. Everyone had their place, their function, even the dreamers and artists. No one was considered frivolous, none were driven out into the cold and the dark like they had been.

The wizard wondered if perhaps the blue men may have been real, for even in those more mundane days there were still many strange and unknown things in the wilderness, but he was afraid to inquire too deeply into the topic, for he did not wish to know the depths of his wife’s madness. Then one day, when she had left at dawn to try to find truffles to sell in the nearby village, she did not return by twilight. The wizard feared the worst. Not only could the blue men or some other creature in the wilderness have taken her, but the reign of King Dupuis XI had seen the few prosper while the multitude struggled, and thus the brigands and cruel mercenaries multiplied. The wizard searched all through the forest, even in the dark and untamed places that no human had traversed in living memory, but to no avail. Even the spells from his one grimoire had become useless in his quest, except that he found a few pages that claimed that beings not of mundane flesh like the blue men could serve as the living philosopher’s stone.

Less than a year after his wife had disappeared, he too began to see the blue men. At first it was only glimpses at the corner of his eye, or a flash of movement at the window, or his cat hissing under the door for no obvious cause. But then as he walked the forest he could hear them singing in the distance or see little bridges they had built over creeks. At first he feared he had only succumbed to his lost wife’s madness, but he began to ponder. If the blue men were real, then they had taken his wife, or at least knew where she was. And if they did not know, he could use the formulae in his tome to turn them into gold, and with his wealth he could perhaps have the means to rescue her from whoever had taken her. So began his search for the blue men, a quest that the wizard in the woods undertook all the rest of his days. If he ever wondered if he was only chasing after a delusion, perhaps he realized that for him the distinction no longer mattered.

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