Even if you haven’t seen one of the twelve prior Puppet Master films (not a typo) stretching back to 1989, you know what to expect from the often-straight-to-video horror franchise: puppets. Evil ones. Lots of ’em. Animated by ancient magic. (It’s an Egyptian spell, actually, but that’s high-level Puppet Master Studies.) Occasionally, as in this deliriously silly reboot, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, their creator shows up—a flesh-scarred Nazi toymaker named André Toulon (Warholian horror great Udo Kier, born to bring campy menace).
What makes this latest installment such a riot – apart from having more money than usual, thereby allowing the practical special effects to achieve a splattery early, Peter Jackson-ish glee – is its original script by ‘Brawl in Cell Block 99’s S Craig Zahler. He’s got his own skyrocketing directorial career to attend to, but Zahler is clearly a ‘Puppet Master’ fan. He’s filled the movie with gore, but also the kind of character-driven grace notes that most horror movies breeze by. Our wry hero, Edgar (Thomas Lennon), is a reserved comic-book-store clerk, recently divorced, who, when not doing battle with tiny knife-wielding antagonists, builds a refreshingly adult relationship with neighbor Ashley (Jenny Pellicer) while indulging his wise-cracking Jewish boss Markowitz (Nelson Franklin).
That last bit is key: ‘The Littlest Reich’ is no ‘Shoah’ but it does play around in the slop of real-life genocide and that makes it strangely transgressive. If you’re in the right mood – not too self-serious – you’ll get off on its vengeful payback (Markowitz, tossing a squirming Nazi puppet into a kitchen oven: ‘I can think of six million reasons why.’). A sequel is all but promised.