Review: ‘Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich’ (2018)

Puppet Master is a franchise that I haven’t thought much on in the past 20 years. While I haven’t seen the early entries in ages, I have a fondness for them due to their low budget ingenuity, creative kills, and all around scrappy charm. Once newer installments’ budgets continued to fall and an over-reliance on stock footage and bad digital effects crept in, I lest the series behind. I always assumed a bigger remake was inevitable, but I never imagined it would come courteous of an up-and-coming filmmaker that I admire.

When it was announced that S. Craig Zahler would be writing and producing a reboot of the franchise, my ears perked up. After all, I love both Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99. Even without him behind the camera, his writing talent alone should spice things up. Throw in a fun cast and an interesting pair of directors on top of that? The project immediately had my interest.

I just wish Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich lived up to all of that.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a terrible film and it’s certainly the most interesting entry in the franchise since 1998’s Curse of the Puppet Master. A low bar, I know, but a bar the film clears nonetheless. As stated above, the cast is a fun assortment of newer comedic talent (i.e. Lennon, Yi, Franklin) and genre mainstays (Kier, Crampton, Pare), all of whom give it their all. The FX remain practical throughout, making this a wonderful grue-filled bonanza of puppet-caused carnage. Fabio Frizzi’s score is another phenomenal touch, with his haunting beats and drones often hearkening back to his classic work with Lucio Fulci.

Unfortunately, the positives end there. The film’s direction and editing are a mess, offering up an unevenly paced tale that is shoot with almost no flare to it whatsoever. Everything plays so flatly and scenes run too long so often that I found myself constantly checking out of the proceedings whenever some heinous death wasn’t occurring. I haven’t seen Laguna & Wiklund’s first feature, Wither, but by all accounts it was a bonkers Evil Dead homage. Had that brought an energy of that type over to this production, it might have made all the difference in the world.  As it stands, their direction is bland at best. One pines for the the directorial talents of Davids Schmoeller and DeCoteau.

It pains me to say this, but the script isn’t up to par with Zahler’s previous works. I admire what he was trying to do in taking the series into more of a pulp horror comic-style direction, but it falls short of reaching such a goal. Try as they might, the cast just aren’t able to rise above some occasionally awful dialogue and the film’s visual failings. In the end we are left with a merely passable update of a cult classic. The door is left for a sequel, so hopefully some improvements can be made if one is put into production.

Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is the latest installment in the Puppet Master franchise. It was directed by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund, from a screenplay by S. Craig Zahler. The film was produced by Dallas Sonnier and Charles Band. It stars Thomas Lennon, Jenny Pellicer, Nelson Franklin, Charlyne Yi, Skeeta Jenkins, Barbara Crampton, Michael Pare, Mattias Hues, Tina Parker, Kennedy Summers, Betsy Holt, Victoria Hande, Anne Beyer, and Udo Kier.

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