Thursday 30 January 2014

The Haunting In Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia (2014)

The bent backwards floaty girl on a poster horror movie subgenre gets yet another addition to its ranks in the form of this ‘sequel’, which follows not so proudly in the tradition of MUTANT 2, THE CELL 2, and TROLL 2 (not films you’d want your movie to be grouped with) in having absolutely nothing to do with its predecessor. As usual, it’s those naughty distributors who are to blame - in the out-takes presented as extras on this fine-looking Blu-ray the title on the clapperboard is quite clearly THE HAUNTING IN GEORGIA. However, it’s never been in the nature of the exploitation film industry to take any risks where product recognition might be concerned, and so this movie gets to labour under the rather unwieldy title above.
I rather liked the original HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT, featuring as it did some nice literary in-jokes (Ramsey Aickman and the Campbell family) and a climax so deliciously crazy that its cavalcade of corpses walled up in a mortuary would not have been out of place in one of Lucio Fulci’s better efforts. Weirdly enough, GHOSTS OF GEORGIA has a bit of a Fulci vibe to it as well, and we’ll come to that in due course.

The title card ‘Based on the true story’ will have those who have seen far too many films of this ilk claiming the same thing resisting the urge to raise a well-exercised eyebrow, as we are introduced to the rather airbrushed working class Wyrick family. This consists of Greg Evigan wannabe Chad Michael Murray as the Dad With Perfect Hair, Abigail Spencer as the Mother With Perfect Hair and Makeup (despite having mental health issues that result in her needing to take baths fully clothed), and Emily Alyn Lind as their daughter Heidi and easily the best actress in the film. 
The Wyrick family move into their dream home in the middle of nowhere that comes complete with a trashy camper van in the garden where mum’s equally trashy sister Joyce (a roughed up-looking Katee Sackhoff) gets to stay when she arrives unannounced and not exactly invited. 
It becomes apparent that the house was previously occupied by a taxidermist who used to aid escaping slaves back in the Bad Old Days. He was apparently executed by the local townsfolk for what he got up to, but, as Heidi starts to see all kinds of weird and ghostly apparitions, it becomes apparent (quite a long way into the picture it must be said) that all is not what it seems.
The film (I’m not typing that title out again) has come in for something of a critical lambasting in various quarters, but it’s actually not that bad. In fact, the worst thing I can accuse it of is not giving what turns out to be quite a ripping grand guignol of a backstory the treatment it deserves. Director Tom Elkins is not a hack by any means, and he’s capable of crafting some fine scary imagery. BritHorror obsessives will be wondering if he’s a fan of Freddie Francis’ THE CREEPING FLESH (if you know the film you’ll know which bits I mean) and whereas HAUNTING PART 1 ended with a scene reminiscent of Fulci’s CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, this time it’s HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY that die hard Euro fans will undoubtedly be reminded of. Unfortunately, very little of this is put together in a way that would tell this story the most
effectively, meaning that by the end you feel a bit cheated. There’s a good story in here, and some of the effects and imagery are marvellous, but the film takes far too long to get going and meanders all over the place for the first eighty minutes such that when the revelations come you wish the film had got to that bit half an hour earlier. 
Extras include out-takes that actually helped endear me to the film more, some deleted scenes, and a featurette about the ‘true’ story and family on which the film is based.
HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT 2: GHOSTS OF GEORGIA is not the utter failure other reviews may lead you to believe, and is actually a reasonable enough time waster if any of the above has made you think you might like to see it. If nothing else it’s reassuring to find a film adhering to that old scriptwriting rule that if you introduce a taxidermist in Act I, he damn well needs to have stuffed something interesting (and preferably horrific) by Act III.

HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT 2: GHOSTS OF GEORGIA will be released on DVD & Blu-ray on 3rd March 2014 by Lionsgate Entertainment.

Monday 27 January 2014

The Creeps (1997)

      “Perhaps you imagined me somewhat...taller.”
Once again we take an excursion into the properly odd courtesy of one of 88 Films’ Grindhouse releases (this one’s Number 13 in the series) and good old Charles Band, who both produces and directs this time around.
Mad scientist Winston Berber (Bill Moynihan) is busy amassing a collection of first edition manuscripts of famous horror novels. He already has Guy Endore’s Werewolf of Paris and Nina Wilcox Putnam’s The Mummy. He pinches Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from under the nose of pretty librarian Anna Quarrie (non-actress Rhonda Griffin). Anna knows her Mary Woronov-alike boss Miss Christina (Kristin Norton) isn’t going to be happy about that, and she's certainly going to stop asking her to Rita Mae Brown readings if she finds out, so she employs video shop owner-cum-private detective David Raleigh (Justin Lauer) to help her find it. Meanwhile Berber is after Bram Stoker’s Dracula as well. He intends to use these books, and the machine he has in his Portacabin laboratory, to bring the classic horror monsters to life. He needs a virgin for this but things go a bit wrong and the monsters emerge from their creation booths only three feet tall. The rest of the running time deals with their attempts to return themselves to their proper size, which include turning Miss Christina into a Valkyrie. 
THE CREEPS is another good natured, and rather peculiar, film that can’t quite decide if it’s for children or not (the brief nudity would suggest not but knowing Mr Band he was probably covering all the bases here with the intention of editing afterwards). Even so, the 18 certificate on this one is a bit of a mystery as there’s barely anything to raise it above a 12. There are plenty of in-jokes for obscure horror film buffs - Raleigh deals in uncut widescreen versions of Jess Franco classics like VAMPYROS LESBOS and BARBED WIRE DOLLS, and at one point someone turns up at the video shop asking if Band’s 1997 movie HIDEOUS is out on VHS yet. 
Fans of serious stuff should stay well away, but if you want to see a pretty girl in a gold satin bra being chased around a library by tiny versions of the mummy, the werewolf, Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula (Phil Fondacaro who’s very good, by the way) you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven. 
          88 Films’ DVD is framed at 1.33:1 and looks cropped. The imdb claims the original aspect of THE CREEPS was 2.35:1 but I find that very hard to believe. Extras include the Full Moon trailer park and a Videozone segment, but the real surprise here is the inclusion of Charles Band’s THE BEST OF SEX AND VIOLENCE. Basically a trailer compilation hosted by John Carradine that was issued on Band’s own Wizard Video back in the 1980s, it’s a collection of obscure stuff that’s far more interesting (and brain frying) than the main feature. I've certainly never seen so many trailers for 1970s pornographic musical versions of fairy tales in my life, but then I’m not what you’d call an expert in these things. Worth picking up if you saw the adverts for it on the back of Fangoria all those years ago and want to satisfy your curiosity.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Hideous! (1997)

88 Films strikes again with the latest in their Grindhouse series of quirky, weird and offbeat low budget releases (No.14 to be exact). This one’s another Charles Band piece and, like a lot of his work, it's a fair bit of hokey fun, especially if you’re very forgiving.
Workers at a sewage processing plant scoop something small and fleshy out of the general effluent, something that’s still alive. Saleswoman Belinda Yost (Tracie May), specialist in such rare collectibles as bicephalic babies arranges for it to be sold to deformed baby collector and eccentric multi-millionaire Napoleon Lazar (Mel Johnson Jr). However, rival deformed baby collector and eccentric millionaire Dr Lorca also wants the specimen, and has already paid Belinda to keep him apprised of any interesting oddities that get scooped up out of the sewage. 
          Lorca arranges for his assistant, the gorgeous Sheila (Jacqueline Lovell, veteran of more top quality-sounding stuff that I’ve never seen including THE EXOTIC HOUSE OF WAX and NUDE BOWLING PARTY - I am not making these up) to waylay Napoleon and rob him. She achieves this while wearing nothing but a gorilla mask and a pair of tight leather shorts. If nothing else Miss Lovell is to be congratulated for completing all her exterior scenes in what look like sub zero temperatures while betraying hardly a goose pimple.
Lorca puts the specimen in a jar. He puts the jar alongside three other jars, all of which contain baby monsters that look suspiciously like the kind of rubber puppets one might find in a Charles Band movie.
Tentacles snake out of the oversized head of sewage baby and bring the other monstrosities to life. Well, they wiggle about a bit as they escape their glass prisons and scuttle off into the shadows.
Belinda, Napoleon. a detective called Leonard (Jerry O’Donnell) and Belinda’s secretary Elvina (Rhonda Griffin) descend on Dr Lorca’s castle to get Napoleon’s specimen back, only to end up being chased around the place by the four rubbery grotesques until Dr Lorca’s acid bath comes in handy.
HIDEOUS! is surprisingly good natured fun, especially as its monsters are really quite, well, hideous. The dialogue is often witty, and even the occasionally clunky bits aren’t too distracting. What is distracting is Ms Lovell’s costume when she’s not being a topless bandit. Consisting of little more than a tiny leather waistcoat and the same tight shorts it’s certainly one of the more original outfits to grace a pretty girl in a horror movie, and it could be counted by certain sophisticated members of the movie’s audience as one of the highlights of what’s on offer here.
         88 Films offer a decent presentation of the movie in 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Extras include a commentary track by the two actors who play the rival collectors, there’s a Videozone segment and a collection of Full Moon trashy trailers. Definitely worth a look if you’re a Full Moon fan or fancy something a bit daft and out of the ordinary. 

88 Films are releasing Charles Band's HIDEOUS! on DVD on 3rd February 2014

Monday 20 January 2014

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)

One of the best exploitation movie titles ever belongs to this curious piece from the late 1980s. I’m not at all familiar with the works of co-director, co-writer and co-producer Donald G Jackson but apparently he was known for his ‘Zen’ approach to film-making that involves the use of no script whatsoever, leading to predictably ramshackle results. Thankfully someone did write a script for HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN and what a lot of delirious fun it is.
In the kind of post-apocalyptic future where you can still find a nice clean white nurse’s uniform, Sam Hell (Roddy Piper) is one of the few surviving fertile males. He’s captured by a group of warrior nurses who declare his genitals to be government property, slap an electronic chastity belt on him that will explode if handled incorrectly, and explain that his purpose is now to impregnate as many fertile women as possible.
It just so happens that a group of scantily clad young ladies with working ovaries has been captured by a gang of human-sized mutant frogs and so, as a result of one of the most ridiculous plot devices ever in movie history, Mr Hell gets driven to Frogtown in a pink van accompanied by sexy Nurse Spangle (Sandahl Bergman) and machine gun-toting Centinella (Cec Verrell). After various sexual shenanigans that Robin Askwith would be proud of, they arrive at their destination. Hell and Spangle go in undercover as a slave trader and his slavegirl. In Frogtown they meet Looney Tunes (Rory Calhoun playing a more insane version of his character from MOTEL HELL) who helps them infiltrate the lair of frog boss Commander Toty (Brian Frank). Will Nurse Spangle escape the clutches of Commander Toty and his three mutant willies? (Yes you read that correctly). Will Hell kill the frogs and save the girls? Will a Samurai sword magically appear on his back to get him out of a tight spot at just the right moment? You can bet that it will.
The kind of movie you might expect to get if the writer of CONFESSIONS OF A WINDOW CLEANER had been asked to write the script for a no-budget post-apocalypse MAD MAX rip off that had to feature giant frogs as the villains, HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN is actually a lot of fun, and certainly worth a look. Steve Wang’s animatronic frog heads are actually terrific and give the film a tremendous boost in terms of production value if not exactly believability. Performances are what you’d expect with this sort of thing, but everyone seems to be having a good time and joining in the fun.
Arrow’s limited edition Blu-ray and DVD combo pack presents HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and includes several extras. In ‘Grappling with Green Gargantuans’ Roddy Piper recalls his movie career and FROGTOWN in particular. ‘Creature Feature Creator’ is an interview with Steve Wang who provides the background on his amphibian creations. Finally in ‘Amphibian Armageddon’ actor Brian Frank remembers what it was like to play the evil lead frog in the film. There’s also an extended opening scene from a very dodgy-looking VHS transfer and a trailer that’s as much fun as the movie. A very nice package from Arrow, and how could you resist a film from a director who then went on to make something called THE TOAD WARRIOR?

HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN gets released in a limited edition Blu-ray / DVD combo pack by Arrow Films on 3rd February 2014

Friday 17 January 2014

Hellgate (1989)

Without a doubt one of the pottiest films I’ve ever written about for this site, William Levey’s HELLGATE is one of those movies that pretty much defies description, and it's from the director of the insane BLACKENSTEIN (1973), no less. But HELLGATE is about to be released as a limited edition Arrow Blu-ray and DVD combo pack so I’m going to do my best anyway.
Definitely the only movie to combine the Can-Can with exploding mutant fish, feature a CARNIVAL OF SOULS-type dance hall scene augmented by a flitting nude lady, and have the director providing a cameo as a severed talking head in a fridge, HELLGATE kicks off with one of the weirdest back stories committed to celluloid. Back in the 1950s the smallest bike gang in existence ride into the ‘Ghost Town’ of Hellgate having kidnapped the owner’s daughter Josie from a nearby diner and torn her skirt off to display see-through black panties of somewhat 1980s proportions and style. The girl dies when one of the bikers attempts a PSYCHOMANIA-like charge at a brick wall, while her father gets his hand mangled by a bicycle chain and has to resort to wearing a metal gauntlet.
Years later in the same town, the micro-budget equivalent of John Carradine pops down into the local gold mine attraction to mend something and discovers a magic crystal that brings a rubber bat back to life, causes a goldfish to mutate, swell and explode, and a stuffed turtle to attack our town boss so he has to apply metal plates to his face in addition to the steel glove he's been wearing for the past thirty years.
Have you decided whether or not you want to watch this yet? If not then read on...
The present. Well, actually a kind of bizarre late 1980s present that’s meant to be the US but is in fact South Africa. Ron Palillo (FRIDAY 13TH PART VI and WELCOME BACK KOTTER) meets up with his friends who have been telling ghost stories (or rather completely insane stories as they include the above). He's already encountered Josie’s ghost, who as well as having to wander eternally, also appears to have suffered the curse of breast augmentation surgery. They all decide to take a trip to the ghost town where they encounter more lunacy than even they deserve to. 
HELLGATE is a very strange film. Despite having a sense of anything goes, it also drags quite a bit and you may well find yourself straying to the fast forward button. The budget is obviously very low and probably the kindest thing I can say about it is it reminded me of Jess Franco trying to direct a version of Norman J Warren’s BLOODY NEW YEAR. It’s certainly not like anything you will have seen before, but whether or not that’s a recommendation is hard to say.
As always, Arrow have gone the extra mile to provide us with extras. These include ‘Road to Perdition’ in which director William A Levey recalls how he ended up directing the film. In ‘Alien Invasion, Blaxploitation and Ghost Busting’ Howard S Berger delivers an appreciation of the movie that is affectionate, enlightening, and obviously heartfelt. In fact I’d go so far as to say that I don’t think anyone could give this movie a better, more accurate press than he does. There’s also ‘Video Nasty’ in which PUPPET MASTER writer Kenneth J Hall recalls the direct-to-video years, some lovely Graham Humphreys cover art, and a collector’s booklet with new writing on the movie by Lee Gambin.
HELLGATE is completely mental, and whether or not that was the film-maker’s intention I can guarantee you’ll never see anything else quite like it. And that’s as much a warning as it is a promise.

HELLGATE is being released as a limited edition Blu-ray and DVD combo pack by Arrow Films on 3rd February 2014

Friday 10 January 2014

Puppet Master III (1991)

I’m quite fond of Charles Band’s PUPPET MASTER series of films, or at least the three I’ve seen so far, not least because they’re probably the closest thing the 1990s had to the old Universal monster cycle. The actor playing the Andre Toulon, the puppet master himself, changes from film to film (William Hickey in the first, Steve Welles in the second and Guy Rolfe in the third) and, in part three, there’s a cheerful disregard for the continuity timeline of the first two films that’s on a par with the Universal MUMMY pictures. 
It’s 1941. Despite having shot himself in a hotel in Bodega Bay in 1939 in PUPPET MASTER I & II Andre Toulon (Guy Rolfe) is alive and well and living in Berlin. That’s unlikely to last, however, if he continues with his satirical puppet shows that make fun of a cringing, simpering Adolf Hitler. Before we can ask ourselves if anyone would have been able to get away with that in mid-World War II Germany, much less whether an audience of chuckling adults and their smiling children would have risked torture and death to attend in the numbers shown here, Toulon is being paid a call on by Gestapo officer Richard Lynch (always
good value). It seems the Nazis are trying to discover the secret of reanimating dead tissue, and because Jeffrey Combs hasn’t been born yet the chap with the mysteriously moving puppets may have the answer. The Nazis kill Toulon’s wife (Sarah Douglas, top billed but with minimal screen time) and the puppet master escapes to end up hiding out in a bombed out building to plot his revenge. He is, of course, aided in his endeavours by the usual collection of dolls from the first two films, plus a cowboy with six arms who fires tiny bullets. Nevertheless these are capable of despatching General Mueller (Walter Gotell)  but not before he’s visited several young ladies at the local brothel, (including a post HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS Michelle Bauer in officer’s cap) allowing certain sophisticated members of the audience to get their fix of adult entertainment. Toulon creates the Leech Lady (see PUPPET MASTER) doll using his wife’s spirit and, at one point, explains the history of the other dolls.
PUPPET MASTER III isn’t quite as enjoyable as the first two in series, although it’s not through want of trying. Indeed, this is quite an ambitious picture, the reach of which ultimately exceeds its grasp. It’s rare to come across an early 90s exploitation picture where all the main characters are in their mid-forties or older, and the period setting makes for a pleasant change. The acting’s pretty good as well, thanks to some seasoned professionals getting a chance to have fun in some low budget silliness. For a part III TOULON’S REVENGE isn’t too bad, and if you liked the first two PUPPET MASTER movies this one’s worth a spin too.
88 Films’ presentation has the film in it original 1:1.85 aspect ratio. The extras are very similar to PUPPET MASTER II, with the same Charles Band introduction, the same toy adverts and the same batch of trashy trailers. There’s also a commentary track by director David Decoteau and screenwriter C Courtney Joyner and a Videozone making of featurette. Like 88 Films’ PUPPET MASTER II, this is actually a very nice presentation of a film that deserves it. 

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Puppet Master II (1991)

The return of Charles Band’s appealing little puppet monsters from the 1989 straight to VHS hit PUPPET MASTER sees them resurrecting their maker, Andre Toulon, from his grave in the opening scene. Anyone questioning where they have been able to get the fluid to bring him back to life, or where he obtains his subsequent ‘disguise’ (a marvellous combination of Claude Raines’ 1933 INVISIBLE MAN and Peter Lorre’s Gogol from the 1935 MAD LOVE) are missing the point of these endearingly barmy movies.
Another group of four paranormal investigators arrives at the Bodega Bay hotel where, in 1939 and the previous film, Toulon the puppet master killed himself before the Nazis could steal his secrets of how to give tiny animated blocks of wood life. The ‘experts’ look less like academics and more like surfers, so we can perhaps forgive them when their methods turns out to be a bit slapdash. 
The puppets are after ‘brain fluid’ to help keep them going, and their first victim is hunky Patrick (Greg Webb) who is there with his sister Carolyn (Elizabeth McClellan). “He doesn’t handle alcohol well,” she explains to the others as Patrick stumbles off to bed having sipped a thimbleful of wine, although why she even allowed him to have that much if it ruins him brings into question her suitability as a sibling, 
Patrick gets his head drilled open and Carolyn gets slightly upset. They all seem to agree, however, that the best course of action is not to call the police but instead to stick his body into the freezer and carry on paranormal investigating.
Mind you, no-one seems in the least bit surprised when Toulon turns up in his Gogol disguise (see pic) and explains that he owns the hotel. Meanwhile, out in the country at a wooden shack built out of beer crates, the puppets are busy. George ‘Buck’ Flower (veteran of some unbelievable 1970s rubbish including a couple of ILSA movies) gets his brain drained. His less than sylphlike wife throws a lady puppet into the incinerator before a puppet in a Nazi uniform with bullets for teeth burns her alive. 
Carolyn is the reincarnation of Toulon’s lost love. Cue a flashback scene to Cairo (ambitious stuff here, Mr Band!) where a Caucasian Egyptian promises to show Toulon and his wife the secret of animating puppets. Back in the present, Toulon has constructed two human-sized puppets to house both his and his wife’s spirits once he’s perfected his formula to do the job. The Mr & Mrs Toulon puppets are supremely creepy, resembling as they do the Clockwork Wizards from DR PHIBES. 
There’s a bit of a kerfuffle as there always is in these films, Toulon burns, but his “wife” escapes with the puppets with the intention of terrorising a local orphanage.
PUPPET MASTER II drags a bit in the middle, but overall it’s a supremely daft and enjoyable piece of entertainment. Toulon and his laboratory look like something out of the best 1930s mad scientist pictures, and the ending is deliriously crazy. The film is no classic, but it is a delicious time waster for those so inclined. And yes, I’m now looking forward to PUPPET MASTER III.
88 Films delivers a very nice PUPPET MASTER II package, with an introduction and commentary by Charles Band, plenty of trashy trailers, a featurette, and two toy commercials. And Graham Humphreys has done the new box art - what more could you want?

Saturday 4 January 2014

Subspecies (1991)

Charles Band strikes again with another franchise-starting, low-budget, brief (83 minutes) movie featuring little creatures - the SUBSPECIES of the title. Apparently director Ted Nicolaou’s original concept for this vampire movie didn’t even feature them, but all it took was the producer of PUPPET MASTER, DEMONIC TOYS, GHOULIES and DOLLMAN amongst others to suggest that little creatures can equal big profits, for them to be included here as well.
SUBSPECIES begins in a Transylvanian castle, where Tall Man Angus Scrimm (playing the “king” as he is described in the credits) has been spending his time growing his hair so that he resembles Jon Pertwee’s Dr Who after repeated rinsing with extra-extra-full-bodied shampoo. He spends his days sitting around sucking on something called the Bloodstone, which is (we are later told), a constantly bleeding crystal that’s been pinched from the Vatican and is filled with saints’ blood.
The next thing you know, his naughty son Radu (Anders Hove) arrives, all pointy teeth, long rubbery NOSFERATU fingers and prosthetically swollen forehead. Dad traps Radu in a cage, but his son has a secret weapon up his sleeve, or rather at the end of it, because he can break off the ends of his rubber fingers and turn them into little red men who help him escape. Radu kills his dad, but not before mentioning that he has a brother. This leads any early 1990s exploitation movie savvy member of the audience to wonder if he’ll turn up later, be a ‘good’ vampire, and look like a reject from a 1980s electronica band. We shall see...
Two bright young things arrive in town to join up with local girl Mara (ie the one who’s going to end up stripped, chained up in a dungeon, and subjected to the mercy of the little red creatures in a scene that’s a bit like a Jess Franco film but with children’s cartoon characters). All three of them are doing their PhDs in something that requires them to go wandering around old castles, and it’s not long before one of them has cut her arm on a doorpost and is getting a midnight visit from Radu. Mara gets captured and subjected to...well you already know that, leaving the third girl, Michele to react incredibly stoically to the fact that her two friends have been vampirised, that she has to help kill them, and that the handsome stranger who’s been lurking around and resembles a reject from a 1980s electronica band, and with whom she has fallen in love is in fact...a vampire!!
SUBSPECIES isn’t actually too bad if you’re very forgiving. The authentic locations are beautiful to look at, and one suspects that even dear old Mr Franco would have a time of it trying to make it look dull. Ted Nicolaou manages quite a few atmospheric and creepy shots, including some nice backlighting of the vampire and a supremely weird bit involving a WICKER MAN-like procession of the local townsfolk. There are several of these SUBSPECIES films and I’ll admit I was dreading watching any of them. Now I’m actually quite keen to see what part 2 is like. 
       88 Films’ DVD & Blu-ray is a reasonable transfer and the extras include a commentary track by Charles Band and Chris Gore, cast & crew interviews, a SUBSPECIES montage and the usual barrel of trailers for ropey old films that are a bundle of laughs to watch. This really isn't such a bad package at all.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Puppet Master (1989)

British company 88 Films seems to be making a bid to be the Entertainment In Video for the DVD generation. For those who don’t know, EV (as it was called) was the company responsible for releasing each and every Charles Band Empire production on VHS in the UK back in the 1980s. I’m not sure if 88 have the rights to the Empire catalogue, but they certainly have an awful lot of films made by Full Moon, the company Band formed after Empire went under. I’ve already reviewed their exceptional release of Stuart Gordon’s CASTLE FREAK that contains Band’s THE EVIL CLERGYMAN as an extra, and I’ll be covering some more 88 Full Moon releases in due course.
But now to PUPPET MASTER, a film which has given rise to, at the last count, nine sequels (yes I said nine) as well as crossing over to other Full Moon films like DEMONIC TOYS (which I’ve already covered). So the question is, is the original PUPPET MASTER a blisteringly brilliant piece of horror cinema or is Charles Band just getting the absolute maximum value for money (and then some) out of David Allen’s funny little creations?
It’s 1939. At the Bodega Bay hotel in California, master puppeteer Andre Toulon (William Hickey) has discovered the ancient Egyptian method of being able to imbue his inanimate puppets with life. But the Nazis are after the secret and as they break down the door to his hotel room he shoots himself.
The present day (well, 1989). A group of psychics are contacted by their colleague, Neil Gallagher, who has found Toulon’s final hiding place. They include Paul Le Mat and his amazing hair, lovely Irene INFERNO Miracle and her stuffed dog, and Matt Roe and Kathryn O’Reilly as a pair of researchers who have psychic experiences through sex (one assumes it’s very unlikely they will make it to the end of the film as soon as we meet them). They converge on the hotel only to find that Gallagher’s dead and Toulon’s puppets are still very much alive. People get killed by the puppets, there’s a twist, and the stuffed dog comes back to life. The end.
PUPPET MASTER isn’t at all bad, and the puppets are a lot of imaginative fun, with the leech woman being especially unsettling (where do all those leeches come from anyway?). The film was originally intended for cinema release before going straight to VHS in 1990. In his introduction Band explains that this version is the first time the 1.85:1 master has been used since the film was made and so if you’re a fan of the film, this is definitely the version to get. 
88 Films’ release is a widescreen transfer as stated above. It also includes two commentary tracks, one from Charles Band and another from Justin Kerswell and Calum Waddell. There’s also a making of featurette and the Full Moon Trailer Park which features promos for another ten films. This is actually a very nice package and if you’re a fan of PUPPET MASTER, or wanting to discover it for the first time, this is the version to get.