For the release of Cinestate’s PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH, I had the chance to speak with the creator of the PUPPET MASTER franchise himself, Mr. Charles Band. A true lover of horror, stop-motion animation, and the creation of unique characters, Charles Band has become a household name for many of us who have a deep appreciation for the beloved genre. During our chat, we discussed everything from the creation of the PUPPET MASTER franchise, how the LITTLEST REICH fits into the timeline of films, and what puppet character he relates to the most.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Charles! It’s such an honor to speak with you today! To start things off, I thought it might be a good idea if we talked briefly about the inception of the PUPPET MASTER franchise for those who may not be overly familiar with the films.
Charles Band: Of course! I had already been making a lot of movies from the late 70’s through the end of the 80’s under the Empire label; movies such as Ghoulies, From Beyond, Re-Animator and Dolls. As we got closer to the 90’s, I started a new label called Full Moon and I had a great deal with Paramount and wanted to do something unique and different. One of the pet projects that I had was these different characters that I had been developing, these super-villains that were 12”-16” tall. They weren’t originally designed as puppets, and I didn’t have names for them yet, but I did have a six armed little ninja guy and another mysterious dude who had a hook and a knife for arms with little blades that popped out of his eyes. They looked very different from what the puppets turned out to look like but I had collected these guys and thought I should make a movie about these five or six little super-villain guys. I then started experimenting with titles. I’m not exactly sure how the PUPPET MASTER title came to be, I just knew I wanted a movie title that ended with Master.
So, I had these characters and a basic premise of making it in WWII, beginning the story in Nazi Germany. I went to my stop-motion animation guy, David Allen, and told him I had a title for a film called PUPPET MASTER and wasn’t sure what the story was going to be yet but that we needed to develop these characters. I gave him all my sketches and materials for what I would like these 5-6 puppets to be and told him that they needed to be historically accurate, with the marionettes being from the time period between 1939-1940. We went back and forth and David came up with the idea of turning the six armed ninja guy into a sort of cowboy and obviously “Six Shooter” couldn’t have been a better name. Essentially, we brought these characters into the period so that they would feel like they were all creatures or puppets from the same puppeteer who made them and operated them.
With all my movies, it starts with a poster, an idea, then the title and then we sort of back into a story and make the movie. Little by little I put the people together – David Schmoeller was a director I had worked with dating back to the late 70’s when we made a movie together called Tourist Trap. David was put on as director [for PUPPET MASTER] because he added a real cool, dark spin to it. Dave Allen was working on the puppets because I wanted a lot of stop-motion animation in the film, something I still very much love to this day. Then the movie got made and it was successful and we sort of just, one at a time, kept making these films for the last 27 years.
Nightmarish Conjurings: I had read that THE LITTLE REICH is more of an off-shoot from the original PUPPET MASTER, instead existing in this parallel universe where Andre Toulon’s story is drastically different from the original. Are you hoping to build off of THE LITTLEST REICH with a whole new series?
CB: No, actually, I’m happy that we work in our own Universe that we created that’s been around since 1990. I’m sure PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH will be successful and those involved with that film will carve out their own franchise. The beauty of this project, which is unique in our business, is that usually when a studio comes in and buys the rights to do a reboot or a remake, they spend more money, do a [limited] theatrical release, and essentially buy out the rights to the franchise. What they don’t want to do is spend all this money making a bigger, and theoretically better, PUPPET MASTER only to then have the person who made all the original PUPPET MASTERS still competing and making more of that film. Those were the sort of offers I’ve had over the last 10-15 years, and I had some good offers.
It’s very hard to turn down an offer with money because this isn’t an easy business; however, that would have put me out of the PUPPET MASTER business and I didn’t want to do that. What was unique about Cinestate and producer Dallas Sonnier is that they said to me, “You know, there’s no reason why you can’t keep making your PUPPET MASTER franchise. It has its own unique sensibility. You handle the story in your own way and we will make our own darker, more evil, obviously more graphic and violent, PUPPET MASTER.”
I’m also very much involved in the whole merchandise business, as it is something that has helped keep this franchise alive at times, so that’s why the puppet characters in THE LITTLEST REICHlook different. Even though we have two characters named Blade, side by side they are quite different, the same with Torch. So, THE LITTLEST REICH exists in a parallel universe and those involved will do their thing and make more of these movies if it works for them and they’ll do their own merchandise whenever they decide to do that. In the meantime, we will keep making our own PUPPET MASTER films.
Nightmarish Conjurings: What do you think it is about this franchise that people love so much?
CB: Whether the puppets are good, bad, or little Nazi’s doing bad things, I think small inanimate objects coming to life freaks a lot of people out. It’s very entertaining. I think deep down inside people know it isn’t real. I mean, when the news is so god awful, and scarier than any movie I’ve ever made, that’s what people want to escape from, so a little puppet, that’s 14” tall, running around with a blade can be freaky, but it’s pretend, it’s fantasy. I think there aren’t many of these movies, even though I’ve certainly made my fair share, so it’s unique in a world that is driven by tent pole movies with endless effects that are all cartoony CGI. Our whole thing here is to make effects the way they have been made, in my opinion, in some of the better movies – organic on-screen effects, not the CGI stuff. I think one of the things that really made me believe in the way that Cinestate was going to make this movie, even though they went on a very dark path that was different from the way I have made movies, was that they agreed to not use any CGI. One cool thing about THE LITTLEST REICH is that those puppets are as real as they can be without being alive. It’s authentic and cool and creepy and fun at the same time.
Nightmarish Conjurings: I have to ask, is there any puppet character that you find yourself identifying the most with?
CB: Jester, because he is the most reactive of all the puppets. You know he’s got it all. He’s got his shocked face, his sad face, his inquisitive face. He seems to be almost like the Greek Chorus of the team.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Last, but not least, do you have any upcoming projects that we should be keeping our eyes out for?
CB: Keep your eyes out for THE PRIME EVILS. It’s an amazing project that we shot 20 odd years ago. It had an incredible amount of stop-motion animation shots. About halfway through that, the wizard stop-motion guy passed away and we are now pulling all our resources together to get the shots done. It’ll be out next year and is the mother-load of just amazing stop-motion animation wizardry. There will be a lot about PRIME EVILS coming up soon.
PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH arrives in select theaters, VOD and Digital HD August 17th.