By: AJ Taysom
I actually hadn’t heard the name Charles Band until about a month ago. This probably smashes my credibility since this is a horror site and he is a horror auteur responsible for over 300 horror movies since the 70s but, at the same time, I don’t think I’m going to be too hard on myself for not knowing the name of the man responsible for Evil Bong 3: The Wrath of Bong. But I digress.
The point is, while you (or I) may not have heard of Charles Band, there is a good chance you have interacted with his works in some capacity; either you are a rabid fan of everything this guy’s put out, or you’ve passed his movies time and time again in the f.y.e bargain bin. That last bargain bin thing is a joke. But also not really, because nobody likes his movies. Most are direct to video and have sort of a ‘Roger Corman but made in the 90s’ feel. His most popular features are undoubtedly the Puppetmaster series, movies about killer puppets. There are twelve currently (with one on the way), and they vary in quality from movie to movie. At their worst (the first Puppetmaster) the puppets are barely in the movie (maybe ten minutes?) and they don’t do a lot. At their best, they are Puppetmaster III, Toulons Revenge.
Puppetmaster III has quite a bit to do with the continuity of the other Puppetmaster movies. I won’t get into that much here, because it’s long and convoluted, and this movie actually functions as one of the better standalone movies of the franchise. So let’s just pretend it was made in a vacuum (it wasn’t, it’s a prequel) and talk about the plot without regarding any of the other movies, because that will make this review way longer than it needs to be, and I already have a tendency to be wordy.
Enter Toulon: an aging puppeteer living in Nazi Germany with his wife. They perform satirical marionette shows about Hitler and the rest of the Reich. The Nazis see this. The Nazis are not happy. What the Nazis also discover is that, more importantly, the Puppets move themselves. They are alive though some sort of strange magic. Remember the continuity we are currently ignoring? Yeah. The magic comes from that. Anyway, the fact that they move is perfect, because the Nazis are trying (and failing) at a reanimation formula to create a zombie army. The Nazis attempt to steal is magic puppet secrets, and murder Toulon’s wife in the process. This is where the titular Revenge comes into play, because the puppets (who we later find out are infused with the souls of Jewish people or Jew sympathizers who were murdered) start to kill all of the Nazis. The story doesn’t really take any complex twists and turns from here: it keeps it simple with puppet on Nazi violence. Towards the third act it almost turns into this brilliant commentary about a responsible use of technology, but then a puppet pukes leeches down the throat of a Nazi and he chokes and dies. So it kind of loses that thread. Which is okay, because the films of Charles Band don’t happen to be known for their ethical and philosophical ramblings. He knows who he is, and he doesn’t seem to give a shit.
I like this movie. I love puppets, so my opinion might be biased, but compared to the other movies in the Puppetmaster series it has the clearest, most direct plot and is the most entertaining. And its Nazis vs puppets which is just awesome. The revenge flick format makes it sort of like Inglorious Basterds put with puppets although, unlike Basterds, it doesn’t pretend to have some sort of insightful commentary on society or watching movies or whatever; it just is. It isn’t snarky or “deep”: its exploitation fun.
Outside (and inside) of horror circles, I’m sure Charles Band gets a bad rap sometimes. I doubt I’ve ever seen one of his movies end up on a top ten list and he seems like someone where (within the horror community at least) you can score major social points for hating him. Sort of like George Lucas. I’d like to argue there’s a brilliance and sincerity to Band: he sticks to his guns and when we look at all of the Puppetmaster movies in a larger context we see a very impressive feat of original, long-form horror movie storytelling. But that’s a longer conversation for another day.
Go watch Puppetmaster III and then play outside or something.