The horror-cheese franchise leaps to life, guided by the deft hands of witty, vicious screenwriter S. Craig Zahler.
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 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.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf
Cast and crew