Goes to the Movies

Trash Culture Goes to the Movies – Puppet Master: The Legacy (2003)

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So you know how sitcoms from the ’80s and ’90s would sometimes have one or two clipshow episodes, and no one ever liked those episodes even when they bothered to have a few scenes of new material? Well, movie franchises that have gone straight-to-video have the movie equivalent of those too! That’s exactly what Puppet Master: The Legacy is, with a whopping eight minutes of original footage.

At least those eight minutes end with a cliffhanger. But this also happens to be the last film in the series, chronologically, so there you go. I did my homework and couldn’t find out if, like the similarly flashback-heavy Phantasm IV: Oblivion, the film was made to raise money and get investor interest in a “real” sequel. If so, it clearly didn’t work, or at least not in helping get the sequel that was originally intended.

Plus if you thought the filmmakers would take this opportunity to patch the many, many holes in the franchise’s continuity, well…forget it, Jake, it’s Full Moon.

The quickie plot involves a hitwoman named Maclain, who has been sent to piece together Toulon’s secret formula. She confronts and threatens a man, Peter, at the Badoga Bay Inn, the very same Peter who befriended Toulon in Germany as a boy. Peter claims that he knows nothing about Toulon’s formula, even though he is surrounded by the puppets and has apparently set up a fully functioning lab in the hotel’s basement. Apparently noting these little discrepancies, she shoots Peter in the knee, although it seems you can recover from that because he’s standing on both legs without any difficulty just a couple of scenes later.  Nonetheless cowed, Peter plays a tape recording.  Of Toulon.  Who has been dead for at least several years. And who narrates everything including the events of and 6, except it seems that part of it is also narrated by Rick. So did Rick and Decapitron get together and just relay everything? And the recording even goes all the way back to Toulon talking to the puppets in Retro Puppet Master, but when did that happen?!

Oh God, it’s only eight minutes of story and already there’s at least twenty different ways it doesn’t make any sense!

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Anyway, Toulon’s recording begins by narrating the events of Retro Puppet Master. Maclain channels my own feelings about that particular installment by blurting out, “I don’t care about this drivel!” Then we move on to III, which I think contributes the longest flashback in what might be an acknowledgment that it’s still the best film of the franchise.

When Maclain disses Toulon, Peter claims that Toulon only ever unleashed his puppets against people who deserved to die. Maclain naturally responds by narrating some of the events of and II (although Toulon, still being pretty dead, wasn’t behind the events of – in fact, Neil Gallagher isn’t even brought up, much less why the puppets were following his whims – but there I go, expecting a movie that’s all about Puppet Master continuity to be…well, about Puppet Master continuity).

We do find out that Maclain unceremoniously pumped Rick from and full of lead just before this movie’s events. I would feel bad, but since he apparently sold the puppets off (how else did they end up in Curse?) after they saved his life and apparently saved the world from Sutekh, he had it coming. Oh, right, and for some reason Toulon knows about and narrates everything that went down in Curse too.   puppetmasterlegacy3

Maybe Blade wrote – well, carved – it all down after the puppets found their way back to the Badoga Bay Inn – somehow.

Okay, we already got a question about continuity (or lack thereof) every second this goes on, so let’s wrap things up. The puppets finally get around to attacking Maclain, allowing Peter to get the drop on her and shoot her. While dying (or dozing off into a nap, it’s hard to tell), Maclain tells Peter her employers’ real motive for wanting Toulon’s formula wasn’t for creating new puppets or achieving immortality, but for learning how to stop their own immortality. Her bosses themselves are “immortals” who are in “agony” because they were trapped in wooden bodies using Toulon’s formula. Of course, given how easily Toulon went down in II, you’d think ending their own lives would be as easy as falling out a third story window; it’s not like wooden puppet bodies regenerate after all.

But there I go again. Instead let me say one nice thing. This actually is an interesting twist and instead raises the good kind of questions. Are her bosses some people made unwillingly immortal by Toulon’s formula that we haven’t seen yet, perhaps as a result of Nazi experiments based on the information gotten from Toulon’s research during III? Or is it Neil, Camille, or Robert? Or all of them as kind of a Puppet Master Injustice Society? Or could it even be the Retro Puppets, whose final fate was significantly never revealed? Whoever it is, she, he, or they surprise Peter in the basement, and the closing shot is Peter firing Maclain’s gun at them. Who could be the mastermind, ruthless enough to send a hardened assassin after anyone between them and Toulon’s secrets, and so filled with hatred and despair they’re willing to do anything just to achieve death? Find out…in the sequel that never happened! (I do dimly recall reading years back that the person who ambushes Peter at the end was intended to be Neil Gallagher, but even with the power of the Google oracle I couldn’t verify that one way or the other).

What more can be said about what is, essentially, a movie that’s technically less than ten minutes long? Nothing, really. It’s a shame they passed up the opportunity to try to add some depth to the series’ happenings, beyond just saying that, by the way, the protagonist of two of the series’ films was brutally murdered off-screen. Still, to be fair, kind of, it’s hard to get upset when the filmmakers have never shown much if any consideration for the series being a coherent whole, so…there you go, Puppet Master: The Legacy, I guess you did good after all.

Next time, it’s the officially non-canon black sheep installment of the franchise!

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Invasion (1968)

doctorwhotheinvasionThe TARDIS gets stuck over the dark side of the moon where its crew spy a UFO. Before they can investigate, the UFO fires a missile at the TARDIS, but it teleports away to a farm in the English countryside at the last second. Because of a circuit damaged by the explosion, the TARDIS becomes invisible. The Doctor decides to go to London and look up their friend Professor Travers for help repairing the TARDIS’s circuit, concerned only that they might be in a time when Travers is an infant. Jamie, Zoe, and the Doctor hitch a lift with a truck driver, who is trying to get away from an industrial compound run by International Electrometics, the world’s largest electronics company which holds almost a global monopoly. After clearing a guard post, the truck driver forces the Doctor and his companions off at a field, and they end up having to hitch another ride. Unknown to them, the driver is pursued and detained by two IE guards on motorcycles, and shot to death. At Professor Travers’s townhouse, they find out that Travers and his daughter Anne are in the United States. The house is being watched by a former teacher of Anne’s, Professor Watkins, an electronics expert who happens to work for IE, and his niece Isobel, a photographer. The Doctor tries to call Watkins at IE’s London headquarters, but he has apparently disappeared. The Doctor and Jamie decide to go to IE’s office in person, only to find to his frustration that there’s no human staff, only computers. Eventually Jamie and the Doctor are brought to Tobias Vaughn, IE’s Managing Director. Vaughn assures the Doctor and Jamie that Watkins is working on an experiment and has demanded total isolation while promising to have his top engineers repair the damaged circuit. However, the Doctor is suspicious, noticing that Vaughn did not blink normally for a human.

After the visit, the Doctor and Jamie are taken to a landed jet where they meet the former Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, now a Brigadier. He explains that he’s been put in charge of a new organization, UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Task Force), which has been investigating mysterious disappearances at IE. Jamie recognizes the truck driver from before among the Brigadier’s photographs of UNIT agents who have been investigating IE. Vaughn gets into contact with some alien beings through a device, which warns him that the Doctor is “hostile” and, while they have never been on Earth before, they encountered him previously on “Planet 14.” Then Vaughn is instructed to watch out for anything that might interfere with the planned invasion. Just at that moment, Zoe and Isobel show up looking for the Doctor and Jamie, but are ultimately taken by Vaughn’s goons, who use them as bait for a trap to capture the Doctor and Jamie, who have volunteered to go back to investigate for UNIT.

All of them are taken to IE’s compound, where the Doctor and Jamie are introduced to Watkins, who is being extorted into compliance with the life of his niece. Vaughn hopes to learn more about the TARDIS by spying on the Doctor and Watkins’s conversation, but the Doctor sabotages the surveillance camera with a magnet. Vaughn threatens to kill Zoe if the Doctor doesn’t give him information about the TARDIS, but Jamie and the Doctor escape.  When his security chief and co-conspirator Packer admits he is worried that he is taking a huge risk by refusing to follow orders to kill the Doctor in order to get the TARDIS, Vaughn confides that he’s having Watkins work on a machine that can broadcast emotions, which he hopes to use to control his allies after the invasion. Finding Zoe and Isobel, the Doctor and the others finally get out of the compound with the help of a UNIT helicopter. However, the Doctor doesn’t take long to sneak back into the compound when the Brigadier tells him that UNIT has been getting reports of UFOs for the past year. At the compound, the Doctor finds his suspicions confirmed:  Vaughn is working with the Cybermen.

Vaughn urges the Cybermen to rush forward their plans for the invasion. But at the same time he tests Watkins’ device on one of the Cybermen, driving it mad. Back at UNIT headquarters, the Brigadier wants to warn his higher-ups at Geneva about the oncoming Cybermen invasion, but realizes he needs photographic evidence. Isobel offers to help, but the Brigadier refuses, infuriating her and Zoe. Meanwhile Vaughn is disgusted when the Cybermen announce that they will convert all able-bodied humans into Cybermen and dispose of the “unsuitable” and vows he will no longer cooperate with the invasion unless they go with the initial plan of allowing him to rule Earth in exchange for giving the Cybermen the raw materials they need. The Cybermen appear to acquiesce and Vaughn knows they’re lying, but is confident that his technology will protect him from the Cybermen’s mind control.

Isobel  and Zoe goad Jamie into joining them on an adventure to the IE compound to gather photographic evidence of the Cybermen. In the sewers beneath the compound, they run into the mad Cyberman, but they are saved by UNIT soldiers sent to retrieve them. At Vaughn’s office, Watkins presents Vaughn with an upgraded version of his device and arranges to have them immediately mass produced, but not before testing it on Watkins. Enraged, Watkins threatens Vaughn, who mocks him by giving him a loaded gun…only for Watkins to find out the hard way that Vaughn has been given a cybernetic body by the Cybermen. With the help of Watkins, who UNIT rescued from IE, the Doctor pieces together that the Cybermen will use chips secreted into all devices manufactured by IE to amplify a mind-control signal broadcast from their ship on the moon. Also the Doctor thinks he’s invented a circuit that can block the signal. Unfortunately, it’s too late. The signal brings human life to a standstill across the globe while Cybermen emerge from London’s sewers with more on the way from outer space.

Only the Doctor, his companions, and the Brigadier’s branch of UNIT are saved from the signal in time. The Brigadier works out a plan to convert a Russian spacefaring rocket into a missile that can be used to take out the Cybermen’s mothership, which is generating the signal, but it would take time. In the meantime, the Doctor decides, with a wire supplied by UNIT, to confront Vaughn. The Doctor tries to warn Vaughn that he can’t outsmart the Cybermen, but Vaughn is coolly confident, and guesses the Doctor is playing for time. Back with UNIT, Zoe manages to calculate the best way to use the missiles available to UNIT to create a chain reaction of explosions that take out most of the Cybermen invasion fleet. As the Doctor watches, the Cybermen blame Vaughn for this catastrophe and decide to use a bomb to wipe out all life on Earth in order to just strip mine it.

The Doctor enlists the help of a now half-deranged Vaughn to disrupt the homing signal the Cybermen are using to bring the bomb to Earth.  Using the weapon Watkins developed against the Cybermen that have swarmed IE headquarters, the Doctor with Vaughn and some UNIT soldiers destroy the source of the signal, but not before Vaughn is unceremoniously killed by a Cyberman. Later the Russian missile is able to take out the mothership, since the ship was forced to get into the Earth’s orbit thanks to the destruction of the homing signal. With the Earth saved and the circuit finally repaired, the Doctor sets off again.

Sign of the Times

Isobel calls the Brigadier “anti-feminist” for refusing to let her go help photograph a Cyberman. Of course, Isobel is still the one to serve tea to everyone.

Choice Quotes

“Don’t look so worried. Fancy a cup of tea?”
-The Brigadier to Zoe, at the height of the Cybermen crisis

Continuity Notes

It’s the first time the Brigadier is, well, Brigadier. It’s also the first appearance of his right-hand man, Corporal (later Sergeant) John Benton.

Trying to give the Cybermen a coherent continuity in the “classic” series may not be quite the hopeless task that doing so with Dalek continuity is, but…well, this series really makes a hash out of the Cybermen’s first appearance, The Tenth Planet.  In that story, the Cybermen’s homeworld Mondas comes into contact with Earth again for the first time in millennia. Even if it’s the case that some Cybermen attacked Earth before Mondas returned to the solar system, which some of Tobias Vaughn’s dialogue seems to suggest, then why aren’t the Cybermen recognized? Or at least why do the Cybermen of that story look less advanced than their “Princess Leia hairbun” counterparts here? Of course, the answer is “They didn’t really care that much about continuity on TV shows in the Pre-Internet days!”

Still, this serial alone has given fuel to many a nerdy debate about continuity. One reason boils down to the Cybermen’s claim that they encountered the Doctor before on a mysterious “Planet 14,” which leads any fan into a collision course into the questions raised above. Probably the best “answer” came from famous comic book writer Grant Morrison, who out of the whole mystery spun a Sixth Doctor yarn in the comic book Doctor Who Adventures where Mondas is Marinus in the far future.

But the big one is that this adds to the big snaffu that is UNIT’s continuity. Basically dialogue from “The Web of Fear” suggested that story took place sometime around 1975 and it’s confirmed “The Invasion” unfolds four years after that. It’s pretty clear that UNIT stories take place at least a couple of years in the viewing audience’s future, but how far is unclear, to say the least (it’s infamous enough that it was made into a joke in the “new” series). I’m sure I’ll note it some more when it comes up, but for now let’s just say that the Cyberman invasion of the Earth took place sometime in the early-mid ’70s.

Comments

You can say the same for a lot of Second Doctor series, and I know I’ve said something very similar before, but this one really feels like a ’50s b-movie. A bunch of scientists (including the Doctor) and military leaders are in a room full of tech equipment and discuss a slowly unfolding invasion or crisis or whathaveyou?  Classic! Also, in spite of the obvious budget limitations, this story does feel like an epic in the same vein as The Dalek Invasion of Earth.  Like that one, it’s a cinematic serial, and the plot just feels like there’s more at stake than in most of the Doctor’s other adventures. This is another episode I’d peg as a big influence on Russell T. Davies and his oft-tapped alien invasion sagas during his era of the “new” show.

But it’s really the characters that make this serial work. The exception unfortunately is Isobel, who dates this story badly. As noted above, she calls the Brigadier out, but her plan, carried out to prove she is a Strong Independent Woman, does cause the deaths of a police officer and a couple of UNIT soldiers for the sake of photographs that don’t really help the Brigadier avert the invasion at all. The rest of the time she’s obsessing over fashion photography, flirting with John Benton, or serving tea. Ironically, it’s Zoe, who never feels compelled to assert her Strong Independent Woman-ness, that becomes the better feminist model, by being the one who actually does help UNIT defeat the Cybermen – with math, no less.

The characters who do make this work naturally include the Brigadier. In a show where authority figures are usually one monster invasion away from turning psychotic, the Brigadier is a welcome and complete inversion. He has a stern edge and dominates the room, but is also kind to a fault and willing to listen to good advice no matter the source. Then there’s the real villain, Tobias Vaughn, who is one of the best, if not the best, human villain the show has produced so far. He’s an oddly believable type of lunatic, who is the model of decorum and respect – until his desires are frustrated, in which case the raging psychopath underneath finally reveals himself. It’s really a shame he didn’t become a recurring antagonist, or at least was killed off so casually.

Finally, it’s worth nothing that fans have yet to speculate on the connections between the Doctor and the mysterious Kilroy…

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Goes to the Movies

Trash Culture Goes to the Movies: Retro Puppet Master (1999)

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After my write-up about Curse of the Puppet Master, which was supposed to be the beginning of the series’ descent into awfulness but instead I found it to be perfectly okay, I thought the series had drilled into my head much like the aptly-named Tunneler and filled me with sympathy for Charles Band’s most beloved creations. Luckily, Retro Puppet Master came along and showed me that, no, it’s still possible not to like a Puppet Master movie.  Oh, Sutekh as my witness, is it possible.

Now the idea is actually rather brilliant, and manages to work from both a storytelling and marketing viewpoint. Aside from a brief flashback in II, which was part of more scenes that didn’t make it to the final cut, we don’t really know much about what Andre Toulon was doing before World War II or how he learned the ability to bring puppets to sentient life. Do a movie about that! But the puppets we know and adore weren’t created until the events of III. So let’s have an earlier set of killer, intelligent but more primitive looking puppets we can sell to our fans!

The execution…well, let me put it this way for those of you who have been following along. Retro Puppet Master makes Puppet Master 4 look like Puppet Master III.  

Our “lost episode” begins with Andre Toulon stopping for the night at an abandoned inn on the German-Swiss border…in 1944.  That’s five years after he committed suicide in California according to the original film (and, putting aside the sliding timescale of Andre Toulon’s escape from Nazi Germany and death which has been sliding since II, you’d think by 1944 the Nazis would have much bigger concerns than just learning the secret recipe for making a living puppet). While Toulon scrounges for food and talks to the puppets, Blade somehow discovers the damaged head of another puppet that Toulon identifies as Cyclops – and by “somehow” I mean his discovery is conveyed by Blade waving his hookhand at the camera and Cyclops’s head rolling on the floor from nowhere. Toulon admits that Cyclops was one of several puppets he had before he created them, and goes on to tell the tale of what happened in 1904. Hopefully Toulon’s recounting includes a description of this frilly ensemble we see his younger self wearing…

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Seriously, I think that’s too many frills even for someone from 1704, much less 1904.

And, yes, that’s Greg Sestero pre-The Room wearing that costume that would provoke homophobic slurs from Richard Simmons. If I remember his account of working on the movie from “The Disaster Artist” correctly, he got cast largely because his mother was French, meaning he could sound convincingly French. That makes sense, since “sounding French” is 95 percent of Andre Toulon’s character here.

Anyway, after a performance at a high-class theater in Paris, Toulon meets an audience member, Ilsa, whose overprotective father is the Swiss ambassador to France. In a twist of fate, he also encounters and saves an old man who appears to just be a victim of a random mugging. In reality, he’s a 3,000-year old sorcerer from Egypt who stole the secret of creating life from the Elder God Sutekh, who has marked him for death. This was a vital move because apparently the only thing standing between Earth and conquest by the Elder Gods are weaponized puppets (although Puppet Master 5 does see Sutekh being destroyed with the help of puppets, so…well played, Charles Band, well played).

Before killing himself as a grand gesture to “protect” himself from being a victim of Sutekh’s, the sorcerer teaches a skeptical Toulon how to bring one of his puppets to life, which he does using the consciousness of a deceased beggar Toulon had befriended. Unfortunately, Toulon doesn’t have much time enjoying his quasi-godhood before he becomes the target of Sutekh’s undead minions, whose powers include killing people with bad special effects and pointlessly repeating each other’s statements and wearing snazzy sunglasses.

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Unfortunately, Toulon’s life goes très mal after becoming a sorcerer’s apprentice. Ilsa has one more awkward and supposedly romantic encounter with Toulon before her father’s henchman whisks her away and practically imprisons her at the embassy. Then Sutekh’s goons murder all of Toulon’s assistants, who conveniently give him the final ingredient needed to bring all of his puppets to life: Blade (not to be confused with non-retro Blade), Pinhead (not to be confused with…you get the idea), Six Shooter, Drill Sergeant, and Dr. Death.

The goons attack Toulon, but luckily they don’t see the puppets get out of Toulon’s suitcase, or approach them from the sides. Perhaps vision among the undead is usually poor. After that skirmish, Toulon decides, rather than risk being blamed for the deaths of his assistants, to leave Paris. However, he’s forced to backtrack when the goons kidnap Ilsa, which turns out to be an effective tactic even though Toulon and Ilsa spent about five minutes of screentime together, and none of them showed Ilsa and Toulon sharing a tender, erotic moment amidst candles and silky sheets. (Honestly, not taking advantage of Greg’s…assets is one way in which this is actually a worse movie than The Room).

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The final battle unfolds on the train back to Paris. Toulon finally saves Ilsa and kills Sutekh’s goons by…having the puppets flank them again while Toulon confronts them head-on. But the fact that the goons fall for the exact same tactic again is somewhat more believable than Ilsa only being slightly discomforted by being kidnapped by supernatural beings and rescued by a man she had a brief, mildly flirtatious relationship who happens to have a small brigade of killer puppets. It’s tru wuv. 

Of course, the happy ending here is somewhat diminished knowing that Ilsa will end up shot to death by a Nazi officer, her consciousness or soul or whatever transferred into the wooden body of a leech-vomiting puppet, and then slowly burned to a second death by a redneck matron. And that Toulon will bite a bullet, get resurrected, and end up an insane stalker mummy killed by his own beloved creations.

As for the retro puppets…Toulon tells the current puppets that their final fate is a tale for another time.  In other words, they joined Camille, Torch, and Rick in the giant black hole that rests in the center of Puppet Master continuity.

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I will admit that Retro Puppet Master may not be the worst movie on Greg Sestero’s resume. I mean, it is from Full Moon Video’s infamous Romanian years with stilted lines delivered from Romanian actors and bad dubbing being abundant, but on a technical level it’s…a film, a statement that can’t be made with 100% confidence about The Room, enjoyable as it is. Nonetheless, the puppetry is a stepdown from even the lows of Curse of the Puppet Master, with the puppets not even appearing to be on the same dimension as their human costars. Plus all the show’s characters are so flat that you would be hard-pressed to think of adjectives to describe Ilsa beyond, say, “female”, or “human.”

Even though Charles Band seems to have wanted the puppets to be very small superheroes from the start, the films that have the puppets as heroes tend to be a wash. Retro Puppet Master is definitely no exception. There’s a hint that the puppets aren’t too happy about being people transferred into small artificial bodies, but it’s barely even suggested. The darkness lurking behind Toulon is nowhere in evidence like it was in the more memorable Puppet Master III. It’s almost as if the series has lost its horror roots, despite the clearly menacing nature of its stars.

But, hey…at least this movie wasn’t 95% footage from previous installments!  Oh, God, what have I gotten myself into?

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