A lot of films have been labeled “a love letter to horror fans,” but few really feel like the big warm hug that is PUPPET KILLER. Described as being a flick about a puppet obsessed with horror icons, the killer in question is a manifestation of the horror fandom buried within a traumatized boy… or man, I guess. More on that in a sec.
PUPPET KILLER centers on a group of friends, one of whom is still reeling from the loss of his horror movie-loving mother, and the disappearance of his horror movie hating step-mother, whom he swears was hacked apart by his beloved puppet. Not able to accept another version of reality, a potentially mentally ill Jamie (Aleks Paunovic) takes his high school friends for a holiday visit to his cabin, a cabin he hasn’t been back to since the mysterious disappearance. There, Jamie dusts off his old plush friend, Simon, (voiced by Lee Majdoub, who also stars as Curtis) but soon fears the puppet is back at it again, hacking and slashing his chums.
Though a killer puppet film makes you want to assume its cohorts are of the Dead Silence, Annabelle or Puppet Master variety, this is something completely different. The film does what other films like The Babadook and Daniel Isn’t Real have done so well; create a monster that may or may not exist as a metaphorical manifestation of a person’s mental illness, or be a fictional embodiment of it. The difference between PUPPET KILLER and its would-be cohorts; this one is hilarious. Not only does it spew non-stop jokes, there are some subtle quips and meta in-references (“remember, the keys are in my front pocket…”) and blatant nonsense right on the surface that had me laughing so hard and just saying “what?” while Jamie, who looks 50, speaks to his dad, who looks 35, outside his high school.
This silly little flick is a non-stop list of horror homage, from the references to other slasher killers being choice masks for the killer puppet to appearances from new horror icons like Gigi Saul Guerrero, and accomplishes this while being funny, never boring, and dancing with deeper themes. Words reminiscent of Billy Loomis are even uttered, referencing watching too many horror movies, making for a meta-horror joke about a meta-horror film. *Whoa.* Director, Lisa Ovies, flexes her comedy muscles here and makes for a laugh riot with just enough scares to appease a true horror-loving crowd.
The spin on “cabin in the woods” has been done with all kinds of campy and comedic layers, but PUPPET KILLER manages to bring something fresh to the game, and successfully. Paunovic is stellar as the giant sensitive guy, dancing right on the would-be campy line, able to deliver laughs and warmth in good measure.
Jamie embodies the versions of us who find comfort in horror movies. The special times he shared with his mother were over the scares and spooks while he embraced his furry friend. Stepping in to protect him from his ‘evil step-mother,’ as it were, the puppet comes to stand as the horror-loving comfort zone where Jamie feels safe. Us horror sickos can probably relate on some level.