Halloween Endurance Test: Puppet Master II (1991)

Puppet Master had a lot of problems. Its pacing was abysmal, the actual Puppet Master, Andre Toulon (Steve Welles/Michael Todd), dies in the first five minutes never to return, and the dialogue is nothing but third-rate paranormal psycho-babble. The lovable, murderous puppets hardly do anything. Hell, the mandatory sex scene is forced to share screen-time with the film’s one murder scene! (Other people die in the film, but it’s usually off camera and/or lame.) Things don’t get interesting until 2/3s of the way in (66.6%!) when spooky shit begins to happen. Dead men return to life waving guns around. Anthropology professors start waking up with the decapitated heads of his peers in the bed with him. The kind of weird shit you expect psychics to “see.”

So I’m happy to announce that Puppet Master’s sequel, the imaginatively titled Puppet Master II, starts off with a bang. The bang of a shovel hitting Andre Toulon’s wooden coffin, as lightning cracks in the sky. The puppets evoking the best parts of Frankenstein as they bring their long dead master back to life.

The film then tragically evokes the worst part of Puppet Master by introducing us to another squad of paranormal researchers. There’s a hunky one – Patrick “Patty” Bramwell (Greg Webb), a hairy one – Lance (Jeff Celentano), a know-it-all redhead – Patty’s sister (Carolyn Elizabeth Maclellan), and a dowdy brunette – Wanda (Charlie Spradling). They all dress horrible. Lance machos it up wearing flannel shirts, inexplicably coupled with white short-shorts. Between that and Carolyn’s bizarre dress/pants get-up, you have to wonder who was in charge of wardrobe.

[A question that, sadly, a 20 minute internet search brings no answers to. My closest guess would be to split the blame between Costume Designer Miye “Mimi” Matsumoto and Wardrobe Assistant Sara Davis.]

At least the script makes some concessions to the skepticism movement, as Patty’s role is to actively challenge his friends’ paranormal research. The group set up video surveillance cameras around the Bordega Bay hotel in hopes of catching spirits. Instead they get angry puppets.

Have you ever seen a grown man torn to shreds by a two foot tall puppet with a drill coming out of the top of its head? Only to be bashed to pieces afterwards by a lamp? Puppets that we learn have no motors, “just gears and wood muscling.”

The puppets are all back: Pinhead, Leech Woman, Blade, Tunneler, and Jester. We also meet Torch, who looks like a armored SS soldier, with bullets for teeth and a flamethrower. We also learn why Jester sucks so much (in both movies); he’s weak, and needs some kind of magic people juice to return to full strength. Hence the(ir) murderous rampage.

This addition fittingly counteracts Leech Woman’s demise, as she was as boring a character as Jester. Once you’ve seen one death by leeches, you’ve seen them all.

This constant flux of puppets is one of the franchise’s defining features. Every film, whether they occur before or after the original, introduces a new puppet; often with conflicting results. Why Toulon, who ends up running from the Nazis in Puppet Master III, would construct a puppet in their shape is beyond me.

As is how both writer Charles Band and directer David Allen both missed the chance to subtitle the film: Bride of Puppet Master. Make no mistake, the opening Frankenstein reference is totally intentional. Carolyn allegedly being the Invisible Man-aping Toulon’s WWII-era bride Elsa. Only here it’s not the Bride that goes berserk at the end, but the puppets. Who, upon hearing the puppet-ized Toulon insult their mortality (calling them “dried wood”), turn on the same master they opened the film by resurrecting.

The film ending with the puppets’ first victim, renowned newspaper psychic Camille (Nita Talbot), being resurrected in Elsa’s surrogate wooden body, and going on a cross-country road trip with the puppets. A storyline that was sadly abandoned for Part III…

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