• Puppet Master (Blu-ray)

    Released by: Full Moon Entertainment
    Released on: 7/27/2010
    Director: David Schmoeller
    Cast: Paul La Mat, William Hickey, Irene Miracle, Jimmie F. Skaggs, Robin Frates, Matt Roe, Kathryn O’Reilly
    Year: 1989
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    The Movie:

    After Charles Band decided he was finished with Empire Pictures and opted to branch out on his own, he produced and co-wrote Puppet Master, the first film released by his then fledgling Full Moon Entertainment. A straight to video release originally distributed on VHS by Paramount, the film was, for the time, quite financially successful and it spawned a few sequels and has remained Full Moon’s flagship title ever since.

    The film begins in 1939 where an aging puppeteer named Andre Toulan (William Hickey) is hiding some of his puppets in the walls of The Bodega Inn on the shores of California. While Toulan may appear, on the outside at least, to just be a normal puppeteer he’s actually discovered how to bring his inanimate creations to life using some green fluid that looks a lot like leftovers from Re-Animator. But why is he hiding his puppets inside the walls of the building? Because Nazi spies are after his secrets and closing in on him fast. Before they’re able to capture him, however, he takes his own life.

    Cut to 1989 and a group of four psychic explorers - Alex (Paul Le Mat), Dana (Irene Miracle), Frank (Matt Roe), and his kinky girlfriend Carlissa (Kathryn O'Reilly) who is able to feel the sexual past of a room she’s in – are trying to figure out why they think they’ve been summoned to the Bodega Inn by one of their previous acquaintances, Neil Gallagher (Jimmie F. Skaggs). Assuming it has something to do with his quest for eternal life, they arrive to meet him but are told by his wife, Megan (Robin Frates), that he has recently killed himself. They realize that things don’t quite add up here and decide to stick around and investigate, and once people start disappearing and then later dying, they realize that something very strange is going on in the Bodega Inn that goes all the way back to Toulan and his creations.

    Puppet Master may suffer from pacing problems in the first half (despite an interesting and intriguing opening scene) but the second half of the film more than makes up for it. Once the plot is set into motion and Toulan’s creations are set loose in the creepy old hotel, all bets are off and director David Schmoeller ramps up the sex and violence in a perverse enough fashion that it holds our interest. It all leads up to a couple of genuinely unsettling scenes in the last half hour or so, highlighted by a scene that takes place inside an elevator that you probably won’t see coming.

    As far as the acting goes, it’s fine for a low budget picture like this. While it’s true that certain parties tend to overdo it in spots (Matt Roe and Kathryn O’Reilly being the two guiltiest parties in that regard), you don’t watch a movie like Puppet Master for the performances – you watch it for sex, violence, and creepy killer puppets. The puppets themselves are the true stars of the show (with no disrespect meant to the lovely Barbara Crampton who has a small cameo role early in the film) and in a day and age, where, if the film were being remade it’d be done entirely with CGI, it’s nice to see how effective the stop motion effects and puppeteer work is in the picture. The puppets move with just enough quirk and stutter that David Allen’s effects work really stands out. Couple this with Richard Band’s excellent instrumental score and the better than average (for a low budget film) cinematography and Puppet Master winds up holding up quite well and this first film in the series is completely deserving of its cult classic status.


    Charles Band notes in his new introduction that every previous release of Puppet Master, all of which were fullframe, presented the film in the wrong aspect ratio and that it was shot widescreen. The AVC encoded 1080p 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this Blu-ray release does look pretty decent, both in terms of quality and in terms of framing. There’s a bit of mild print damage here and there and detail levels vary from scene to scene but this does offer an immediately noticeable upgrade from previous DVD incarnations. Detail is stronger, colors far more natural looking and texture much more defined. Black levels aren’t reference quality but they’re decent enough and shadow detail is pretty good as well. Those expecting a pristine looking image might take issue with the grain and grit present in the picture, but again, for an older low budget film that’s always looked rather dire on home video, this transfer is a big step up. The image can lean towards the soft side and some digital scrubbing looks to have been applied periodically on facial close ups but there’s only mild edge enhancement and there are no problems with compression artifacts to note.

    Despite the fact that the packaging states that this release comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, the only audio option is a standard definition English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. No lossless option has been offered and there are no alternate language options or subtitles of any kind anywhere to be found. While there isn’t much in the low end, at least the levels are well balanced and the dialogue is always clean and audible. The score, courtesy of Richard Band, has some nice bounce to it and the various sound effects used throughout the film are suitably gross sounding.

    Executive producer/co-writer/creator Charles Band provides a five minute introduction where he discusses the aspect ratio, how the film was originally distributed by Paramount, and where he got the ideas for the film from. There’s also a seven minute featurette included entitled No Strings Attached that takes us behind the scenes of the film where we see director David Schmoeller hard at work and get a peek at some of the puppets used in the film.

    Aside from that, look for trailers for the first three Puppet Master films as well as the newest entry, Puppet Master: Axis Of Evil, and trailers for a bunch of other Full Moon releases such as Dollman, Demonic Toys, and Trancers 2. Menus and chapter stops are also included.

    The Final Word:

    The Puppet Master fan base will definitely appreciate the upgrade in picture quality that this Blu-ray release offers. While it would have been nice to have a lossless audio option and more extra than have been supplied (a commentary would have been a good choice) the difference between the HD transfer here and the previous standard definition release is like night and day. It’s not a reference quality image by any stretch, but it’s so much better than what has come before.
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      Watching this tonight for the first time since the early 1990s, I registered that it was lensed by Sergio Salvati. Watching the UK Blu-ray (after having only seen a grotty fullscreen VHS tape prior to this), it's clear that the film carries the hallmarks of Salvati's photography: the short focal lengths, the symmetrical compositions, etc.Plus, Irene Miracle is delectable in this
    1. Wernski's Avatar
      Wernski -
      The 88Films Blu has two commentaries.

      But unfortunately - and I don't understand why - both blus only include the cut version.