I believe it’s safe to say that for every horror fan, there is one horror franchise that has shaped their view on horror. For some, Freddy kept them awake. For many, Michael haunted them in dark hallways at night. The first horror franchise that I watched all the way through: Puppet Master.
Let me begin with where my desire to watch this franchise came from -insert swirly screen and harp music here-…
About two and a half years ago, my other half and I were still early, early on into our relationship. I went on a short trip to New Hampshire to visit a friend at college. My friend took me to the local Walmart; she needed to pick up some new shampoo and sunscreen and I went along for the ride. I disappeared to the electronics section to see if there was anything good on sale.
Lo and behold…in the $5 bin was a DVD chock full of B-horror movies. I grabbed two: one was 13 different “classic” horror films, and the other was titled “Creepy Kids and Clowns”.
Upon my return to New York, my other half and I were in need of something to do on a rainy day, and so we pulled out my DVD. I saw Puppet Master as one of the films and thought “hey, I love puppets, I love horror, combine the two and it must be AMAZING!”
The Puppet Master franchise is composed of 10 films. Yes, you read that right, 10 films. While not every film is necessarily the best in story quality, you can bet your little marionette strings that you’ll see Blade, Jester, Leech Woman, and Pinhead. Those are the main four of the puppets, with Six Shooter and Torch added into the mix later on. I am going to tell you about each and every one of the films, and I’ll let you know which ones are my favorites. They will be ranked from 1-10 in chronological order by getting their placement in stars. 10 stars means it’s the best, 1 means it’s the worst. Got it? Alright! Let’s get to it!
Puppet Master ********* 9/10
This is the first film in the series, heading off a crazy series of puppet mayhem. Puppet Master introduces us to the puppets, telling the story of puppeteer Andre Toulon, who creates the living puppets using an old Egyptian curse.
Cut to the Bodega Bay Inn, where a group of psychics make contact with a member of their group of friends who claims to know that they know that the Bodega Bay Inn is Andre Toulon’s hiding place. The group begins to realize that these puppets are willing to do just about anything to keep Toulon’s secret to eternal life safe, which means getting sliced, diced, and sucked by leeches.
This one is my second favorite; it’s considered one of the classic horror films of the 80’s for its fun, campy vibe and original idea. There are few things better in this world than horror films about creepy dolls. I give this one the 9/10 star rating rather than the full 10/10 because the storyline is a little bit confusing, however I fell in love with these puppets and they are absolutely, horrifically adorable. Like I said, this one’s classic, so it’s worth a watch, or three.
Puppet Master II: His Unholy Creations ******** 8/10
Puppet Master II takes place right after the first film, however **spoiler** the puppets resurrect Andre Toulon, who previously committed suicide in the first film. After the puppets maul all of the psychics that came to the Bodega Bay Inn previously, a group of parapsychologists are sent to investigate the disappearance of, you know, a group of psychics that got cranked by a bunch of dolls. From there, much of the film is the same as the first, however the puppets uncover Elsa, Toulon’s wife. It explains a little further of the history of the potion for eternal life, more people get brutally murdered by dolls that I would cuddle with, and the story isn’t really too different. The deaths, however, are pretty fun.
I chose this one as my third favorite because it’s a lot like the first in how classic it is. As a continuation of the first, not much changes in terms of the plot, but it’s equally as fun. It’s a bit repetitive, therefore dropping its rating a bit, but still worth the watch!
Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge ********** 10/10
The title makes absolutely no sense, as this film is a prequel to the first two films, so Toulon’s not really getting revenge on the people from the first and second film. HOWEVER, this is by far the best film in the series for the acting and the storyline. It’s the most cohesive and the most emotional. This film explains where the potion came from, as the films have constant themes of being during WWII, so the animation of the puppets is explained in this film. Essentially (bear with me here, this is kind of crazy), a scientist during WWII comes up with an essence to reanimate soldiers that die on the battlefront. The corpses come back to life, however they’re violent and always need to be put back down.
Toulon, on the other hand, creates a puppet show and gets ahold of this essence, and feeds them to his puppets to allow his show to work with no strings (think Pinocchio!). This performance includes Six Shooter and Jester, the other puppets do not exist yet.
Later on in the film, the history of where many of the puppets came from is developed, including Blade and Leech Woman, two of the essential puppets in the group. It’s pretty awesome, actually.
This one is easily the most cohesive story, it’s interesting, it’s engaging, and it’s not nearly as cheesy as the rest of the films. This one goes a great job of explaining things that previously weren’t explained, like Full Moon Productions said “we at least owe them a story that makes sense”, and that’s just what they did. The theme of WWII and Nazis is prevalent through the rest of the films for the most part, but this one explains where the constant references come from. Thumbs up!
Puppet Master IV: The Demon (1993) ******* 7/10
This one is a sequel to Puppet Master II. Yes, the films are made out of chronological order, and it’s incredibly confusing. This one takes place much more presently than the others, being seemingly more “high tech”.
A group of young friends discover the puppets after a demon comes and kills a group of scientists coming close to discovering Toulon’s secret to eternal life. They take the puppets back to his house and play with them to see how intelligent they really are. They discover that they’re much smarter than they imagined when they start playing a game of laser tag.
Meanwhile, the Totems, which are demons sent by the lord of the underworld Sutekh, come to kill the puppets and steal the elixir. Toulon communicates with the group and tells them how to defeat the Totems, which means animating one of his lesser-known puppets, Decapitron.
IV is much more modern than the rest; it’s mostly science and robot-based, making it a little bit more relevant than the 1989 version where everyone was still wearing crazy shoulder pads. This one is a little cheesy, the story about the demons is totally irrelevant to the rest of the series, but it’s fun nonetheless. Is it my favorite? No, but is it hilarious and kind of adorable? Absolutely.
Puppet Master V: The Final Chapter ****** 6/10
By no means, is this one the last chapter in the series. I don’t know why they decided to continue, honestly. This one isn’t awful, honestly, just unnecessary.
Although, chronologically, it’s the only one that really makes sense. Following directly after Puppet Master IV: The Demon, the same scientist is still in charge of the puppets. He brings them back to the Bodega Bay Inn to be at home, when Blade wakes him in the middle of the night to tell him something’s gone wrong (aw). With the hell-puppets still following them for the secret to eternal life, and now a major corporation trying to steal them for money and research, he has to protect his puppets from two forces working against him.
…Can you guess who wins?
It’s not the worst, and it’s not the best. The further down the list we go, the worse the ratings get. This one has better effects than the rest, and the puppets are way more violent, so it’s kind of pleasant to watch until you really realize the storyline. -sigh- Quit while you’re ahead, guys…
Curse of the Puppet Master ***** 5/10
See?! I told you it’s not the last one! Basically, Curse of the Puppet Master was entirely unnecessary. It introduces a new puppet that’s never seen again, as far as I remember, named Tank, after the guy that was killed that became the puppet. The puppets have ended up at a new home (how? We’ll never know), and Dr. Magrew is taking care of them. When he doesn’t like his daughter’s new boyfriend, he puts his soul inside of the Tank puppet, which is basically a robot with this kid’s face.
That’s all you need to know. Ugh.
This is one of the more “what am I watching…” ones in the series. It really makes no sense with the original storyline, it’s pretty dumb, and the acting is AWFUL. From here on out, you can really skip them, but I guess I’ll keep going…
Retro Puppet Master *** 4/10
Another one that doesn’t make sense. It’s supposed to take place before any of the other stories, when Toulon is a child, but he has all the same puppets. Blade exists already when he isn’t supposed to exist until the third film. I’m getting frustrated.
Anyway, the concept of this one is cute, as it is supposed to basically be the history of the “Retro” puppets, before they’re their modern versions that we know and love.
It’s pretty useless. Cute, but useless.
Puppet Master: The Legacy * 1/10
Don’t watch this one no matter what anyone tells you. 99% of Legacy is flashbacks to all of the other films and absolutely nothing happens that you haven’t seen yet. It’s bad. It’s so, so awful and sad and distressing. Please trust me. I don’t have anything good to say about it. -exasperated sigh-
Puppet Master: Axis of Evil *** 3/10
Basically the turning point of the films being all about the Nazis. Basically, Toulon is in America hiding from the Nazis who have threatened him to give them the formula, but of course, he refuses. He then commits suicide, forcing them to deter their efforts.
Cut to the end of the film (the puppets are hardly in this one), a Japanese saboteur steals Blade and Leech Woman and leaves behind the rest of the puppets. They leave this incredibly open-ended in order to make the next (and final) film. -cheers-
Puppet Master X: Axis Rising
The moral of this one is “don’t fuck with America”. I don’t even want to explain it, because it’s a combination of all of the other films’ plots rolled into one awkward, sexist and slightly racist film. They should have ended it at the Final Chapter like they intended, but instead they recreated an awkward WWII that’s offensive and produces puppets with intense cleavage. I’m shaking my head as I’m writing this.
All in all, the first three released in the series were by far the best ones. You can skip around this series, by all means, as the final two are really the only ones that need to be watched in chronological order. You can also watch the third one first, because it’s a prequel to the entire series. Like I said, this whole series was made out of order and is unnecessarily confusing.
REGARDLESS, the puppets are adorable. Much of my horror collection is Puppet Master memorabilia, as it is what rekindled my love for horror (and creepy dolls). They’re always worth watching no matter which film you’re watching, Jester especially. They all have their own fun personalities that, no matter which film you’re watching, make you forget that you’re watching a series of horror films about World War II and Nazis.
If you’ve seen all of them like I have, I commend you, and I applaud your strength. I hope you enjoyed this long, long explanation of the entire series!