Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991)

This is more like it! Charles Band is clearly receiving all the mental suggestions I’ve been sending through these reviews through the space/time continuum. ‘Cuz after Puppet Master’s lackluster, 50 minutes of psychic crap, start, Band brought the fun to Part II. (“Fun” here being blatant Bride of Frankenstein referencing.) For Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge, Band splits the writing duties among himself and two others, thus mitigating how much suck is on the screen at any one time. And things are all the better for it, as director David DeCoteau opens with a masterstroke: Nazis and zombies; immediately bringing to mind a WWII-era Return of the Living Dead remake!

[On a all too serious sidenote, don’t ever, ever, watch Jess Franco’s Bloodsucking Nazi Zombies. In fact, it’s probably best you forget I ever mentioned it.]

This film is the fan favorite for obvious reasons. Yet all I can remember about it is the image of a Nazi hooker being shot up by Toulon’s “newest” puppet: Six Shooter. After said puppet using its six arms to spider climb up the bordello. Which, in B-movie cinema, is practically the equivalent of an Oscar-winning scene. Murderous puppets, Nazis, and hookers being all the ingredients any movie needs to truly be “great.”

This movie is all over the place. So far over that its flaws became staples for the series. First, is the utter disregard for any semblance of continuity. Now one of the Puppet Masters’ running features was having each installment introduce a new puppet. We learn that the secret to bringing puppets to life is to model them after someone you know, and infuse that person’s memory with a lot of hate. That’s right, the sign of a true artisan is unbridled hatred. So much hate they have no choice but to return from the dead; a la the ghost ladies in Kuroneko.

Blurring the line for continuity is one thing, hell, anytime you mess with the established space/time continuum, you pretty much have to. But to then follow it up by blurring the ideas underlying morals?

It’s no wonder my 14 year-old mind could’ve fully grasp what was happening onscreen!

Toulon’s Revenge centers around the Nazi’s searching for the Puppet Master. They want his secret for installing life into his wooden dolls for use in their “Death Corps” operation. (I know, I know, “Death Corps” sounds a lot less impressive than “Luftwaffe” or “Wehrmacht;” Goering must’ve run out of German words to use.) This operation is split into two factions: Dr. Hess’ (Ian Abercrombie) science division, vs Kraus’ (Richard Lynch) troops brawn over brains approach. Hess studies Toulon’s magic syrup to divine its chemical make-up. Kraus burns down Toulon’s theater. Needless to say, neither Nazi enjoys the other’s company.

Leaving the viewer in a quandary. While Hess is clearly a Nazi, he also appreciates Toulon’s work, and wants to preserve/replicate it. Kraus, on the other hand, is the obvious villain. I mean, he burns down an empty puppet theater! You’re left hoping Hess comes out ahead, as the voice of reason, even though he himself works for a party that’s systematically killing 6 million Jews.

I love Tunneler, honestly, I do, but is his (artificial, wooden) life worth more than a Anne Frank?

These are the type of moral questions you’ll ask yourself when the movie’s on. You’ll also probably ponder why Guy Rolfe was chosen to play Toulon when Richard Lynch is such a better actor. This probably also factors into the sympathy you start feeling for Hess and the Third Reich. Hess looks like Orville Redenbacher, and just screams “Loser.” Your heart naturally goes out to him. Kraus looking like an ugly, wooden, David Bowie who accidentally walked onto the set of a live-action “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”

Toulon, in comparison, looks like a emaciated Santa Claus dressed in two different shades of brown. Hobo-likeness and the ability to be outacted by chairs are not attributes heros should possess.

Further complicating things is Toulon’s villain turn at the end. While no one can begrudge him the desire to avenge his wife’s murder, was stringing Kraus up from meathooks and then dropping him on an axe really acceptable? Especially when Six Shooter could’ve just shot Kraus; ending things quickly and painlessly? The Nazis, after all, didn’t torture Toulon’s wife. Kraus having shot Toulon’s wife in order to put her out of her misery.

The film’s final ambiguity arising when Puppet Master 4’s curious teaser (When Bad Puppets Go Good) is revealed. Implying, as it does, that while Toulon and puppets were just killing Nazis, they still weren’t “good.” The subtitle in question also forgetting the puppets turn towards the light at the end of Puppet Master.

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