Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018)
Director(s): Sonny Laguna, Tommy Wiklund
Writer(s): S. Craig Zahler, Based on Characters by Charles Band and Kenneth J. Hall
Starring: Thomas Lennon, Jenny Pellicer, Nelson Franklin
The Day of the Birth of yours truly came and went recently and although I’m not one for birthdays in general, the recent quarantine situation due to COVID-19 gave this old vault-keeper some time for nostalgic reflection. The Puppet Master series will always be tied to my most memorable birthdays as a child because I’ll always remember inviting friends over and watching VHS tapes (look it up if those words seem confusing to you) of Puppet Master 4 and 5 that were procured by my mom through a side deal with our local video-shop owner. You have to remember folks, this was pre-internet and years before I was introduced to the pop-culture Mecca that is Comic-Con. Basically, if you were into straight to video horror flicks, the avenues in which you can own these movies were few and far in between. We’ve always had a great relationship with our local video store owner so my mother proceeded in getting me some great horror movies that shaped a good amount of my childhood as the VAULT was starting to take shape where I could store all these wonderful flicks (along with the various macabre characters that now live in the Vault…but that’s another story).
Fast forward decades later with the Vault in full swing when an opportunity came about to showcase my various spooky treasures on a monthly basis. One of my first entries came about as a Top Ten list of my favorite horror treasures from the Full Moon production company where the Puppet Master flicks made up almost half the list (CLICK HERE)! It’s quite obvious that these band of killer puppets have had a strong presence in my life and numerous days of daydreaming about me and the puppets punishing the bad guys were some of my fondest memories (yeah, they are good guys for most of the convoluted timeline).
There have always been whispers about a Puppet Master reboot and I’ve always shrugged it off, not because I wouldn’t be interested, more because although I loved the flicks, I never really considered enough people loving this franchise to get the kind of buzz that would move the powers that be to re-tell a story about Nazi-fighting puppets. However, I started to be believer when S. Craig Zahler, writer/director of critically adored Bone Tomahawk, was attached to write the reboot that would eventually be Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. Like with any reboot linked to ones childhood, one would think I would approach this flick with great precaution and a tinge of cynicism but I was actually rooting for this remake. The Puppet Master series is a horror franchise from an independent studio that never achieved the main stream success that would make me think that this reboot was rooted in a money grab. After years of ups and downs of trying to get this made, it seemed like there was a passionate fan base that wanted this to happen in order to possibly revive something they loved back to its former glory. Throw in financial backing by the premiere horror magazine, Fangoria and now it’s quite clear that this is purely a PASSION project for all those involved. So yes, I was stoked to see how this flick turned out for better or worse.
Although this article proves that I have quite the bias for anything related to this series, I must admit that I loved this fresh take on the classic puppet franchise. As a matter of fact, I believe a lot of remakes can use this flick as a nice template on how to properly execute a reboot. From the opening credits, this flick nails the essence on what a great reboot should be; constantly walking that line in respecting the original but creatively putting in a creative vision that make this new movie its own. The opening credits featured music that was very in tune with the iconic original score of the Puppet Master flicks and featured illustrations that told a nice story with several nods to the original series. The Puppets were still intertwined with Nazis, mad science and a shady character that controls the puppets. Even with all those similarities, the movie took the right amount of turns to make it original as the Puppet Master himself was more of a psychopath rather than a victim of war and the puppets featured variations of the original set of puppets that are all too familiar with the fans. The Puppets were featured heavily in this flick with Blade, Tunneler, Pinhead and Torch getting some surprisingly SOLID makeovers and the fact that there are endless variations of each of them made the movie much more fun in a different way since you’d see an army of blades or torches running around causing mayhem.
The addition of Thomas Lennon (one of my favorites from back in his sketch comedy work from The State) did a brilliant job as the lead and the story on how he comes into possession with the puppets and they mayhem that ensued was done in a clever way that of course was more entertaining than realistic. The level of creative kills and gore in this flick was shockingly fantastic. I had read that this flick had some truly grotesque kills and I was interested in what that entailed since the original flicks never really focused on the gore as it did with the story but wow, the practical effects of a lot of the kills in this movie would delight any horror fan as pure entertainment!
Let me simplify why this sort of reboot works; although it features the similar/identical sort of characters, music and arguably backstory, you could not put this movie with the original franchise and say that it would be a good fit. This reboot is far too different to the point that it would stick out like a gory, fun thumb. However, wast this a great horror movie? Absolutely. Fun gore, neat looking puppets, Nazis and even some solid humor made this movie unique without forgetting or disrespecting what came before.
Again, major studios, I’m putting all of you on NOTICE. Please watch Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich to understand the tightrope walk that is creating a successful reboot. Respect and acknowledge what has worked before but be brave and make it your own.
Life is FAR more interesting when we take interest in things that scare us.