With so many popular series in the horror genre, it’s easy for one to get lost in the madness. Though the franchise is quite prolific with nine sequels and an unofficial crossover film with the Demonic Toys franchise, Puppetmaster is still one that doesn’t seem to get much recognition in the horror community. It has found a loving cult following on home video over the years, and now any horror fan who wants to discover the series can do so very easily. The series is at times a bit much, but is always entertaining. If you’re looking to discover the franchise for yourself, we’ve provided you with a handy Viewing Guide to all eleven films!
David Schmoeller’s Puppetmaster, the film that started it all, is not necessarily terrible, but it does introduce the main characters of the series in a strange way–specifically, the Puppet Master himself Andre Toulon and his crew of pint-sized puppets. Toulon actually kills himself in the first scene (as he’s being pursued by Nazis) and the rest of the film concerns a group of psychics who are being picked off one by one by the puppets under the control of their evil new master. The most prominently featured puppets include Blade, Leech Woman, Jester (my personal favorite), Pinhead, and Tunneler. Their murderous actions bring out a wonderful comedic undertone and charm that pretty much all of the latter installments take on–some a bit more so than others. The death scenes are gross, but not overly graphic. The original Puppet Master takes place at the Bodega Bay Inn, a location that is used several times throughout the series.
For those viewers who left the first Puppet Master eager to find out more about the titular character, Puppet Master II (sometimes subtitled as “His Unholy Creations”) opens with the puppets resurrecting their master from the grave. Meanwhile, at the Bodega Bay Inn, some paranormal investigators arrive on scene to look into the deaths that occurred in the previous film. Puppet Master II brings in a storyline that is not particularly appealing as the seemingly kind and gentle Toulon eventually becomes the bad guy and the puppets actually end up rebelling against their master, who spends most of the film dressed like Claude Rains’ Invisible Man. Some good points: The animation and puppeteering on Blade and the others is actually pretty well done. Also good is the new puppet that is introduced–Torch. He has some very interesting and fiery scenes, one which occurs with a little boy in the woods and another with a local farmer’s wife. The ending to Puppet Master II is quite odd and very, very creepy.
Arguably the best film out of the whole series, Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge makes great use of all the best elements that the previous and future films would provide. This installment introduced audiences to Guy Rolfe, who replaced William Hickey as Andre Toulon. Rolfe gives the Puppet Master a grandfatherly likability and charm, especially considering the circumstances his character is put in here. Ian Abercrombie and Richard Lynch also turn out great performances. Toulon’s Revenge is the first time that the puppets are seen more like good guys than bad ones as they help Toulon on his quest for vengeance against the Nazis who murdered his beloved wife. It is also revealed that the puppets are not just merely animated dolls, but that they actually contain the souls of people that Toulon knew. This film has the most cohesive storyline, the best acting, and the best death scenes out of the entire franchise. The gun-toting cowboy puppet Six Shooter makes his brilliant debut here, as well.
Blade and Co. get a new Puppet Master in this fourth installment int the franchise–that of a young, genius scientist named Rick. He is working as a caretaker at the Bodega Bay Inn while doing research on robots when he and his friends discover the puppets, along with Toulon’s trunk which contains the serum used to bring them to life. But the creator of the formula, a demon named Sutekh, sends three of his minions (who are coincidentally about the same size as the puppets) to destroy all those in possession of his secret. The puppets do most of the work in the fight against the little Gremlin-like minions, making the human characters look really lame. In fact, it is ultimately up to yet another new puppet named Decapitron to send the final minion back to Hell. Still, the puppets have great personality in this film and the whole thing is definitely a new and interesting turn for the series.
Of course, this is not the final chapter. Not by a long shot. In fact, a better title for this installment would have been Puppet Master 4: Part 2. The movie is not only a direct continuation of Part 4, but also has pretty much the exact same storyline. The same characters are back, with a few more added in simply as fodder. Sutekh, once again, sends a minion demon (just one this time) to kill everyone at the Bodega Bay Inn and there’s some more lame fighting. There’s lots of strange psychic/supernatural stuff happening in this film and its predecessor, which feels very out of place when looking back at the series as a whole. There are some comedic scenes with the thieves who burgle the Inn, but mostly this installment is either forgettable or just runs together with Part 4.
The sixth installment in the Puppet Master franchise is a unique one. The puppets themselves are the film’s only direct connection to the rest of the series. The puppets’ new master is a man named Magrew, who came upon them accidentally and decided to feature them in his sideshow attraction. His true intentions for the puppets takes the movie down a very dark path that the series had not ventured down before. The bad guys are easy to pick out, and the puppets all do a great job of taking care of them in some of the franchise’s more bloody death scenes. Curse of the Puppet Master works well as a stand-alone sequel, but its lacks any real correlation, story-wise to the rest of the series.
Finally taking the story back to its more interesting roots, Retro Puppet Master takes place in Paris 1902 and shows viewers how a young Andre Toulon learned the life-giving secret. Granted, that secret is completely different from what has been established so far, but then again, the Puppet Master movies have pretty terrible continuity anyway. You just have to learn to let that kind of stuff go. Young Toulon is adorable, as is his budding relationship with beautiful Elsa. This is put to the test when they are pursued by three of Sutekh’s mummies, in his first attempt to destroy anyone in possession of the secret formula. Along with retro (and arguably cooler) versions of Blade, Pinhead, Six Shooter, and Tunneler, there are two new puppets who only appear in this film: Dr. Death and Cyclops. Retro Puppet Master is still a fairly good entry, if only because Toulon and Elsa are really adorable together.
This is without a doubt the worst movie of the series, and possibly the worst movie ever made. Less than a third of the scenes in the film consist of new footage, and all the rest of it is archival footage from the previous films. I never thought somebody would have the balls to try to pass something like this off as a movie, but perhaps they were taking inspiration from Silent Night, Deadly Night 2… The nicest thing that can be said about Legacy is that it makes sense of the series’ convoluted and confusing timeline by putting the archival scenes in chronological order. The rest of the movie can be completely ignored not only because it sucks, but also because it has no importance to the franchise’s mythos.
Seven years after the fiasco that was Puppet Master: The Legacy, the series was briefly renewed with Axis of Evil. The story manages to really throw off the already confusing timeline by inserting the events of this film immediately after Toulon’s death in the first film. A young man named Danny, Toulon’s protégé, takes the puppets to save them from the Nazis. They become loyal to him, and help him and his girlfriend Beth to stop a Nazi plot to blow up a munitions plant. Danny and Beth are just as adorable as Toulon and Elsa, and though the story they are involved in is totally far-fetched, you can’t help but root for them. Ninja becomes another puppet that makes a one-time appearance, but he does become integral to the plot during the climactic final fight.
Another sequel that is a direct continuation of its predecessor, Puppet Master X: Axis Rising does a good job of concluding Danny and Beth’s story, but not the series as a whole. The actors have all been traded in for worse models, and a couple more ridiculous villains are added. Most specifically, we have the blonde female Nazi Uschi, who gives a hilariously bad and clichéd performance. Her costuming is equally bad. The whole tone of this entry is far more comedic than Axis of Evil, but it actually works in the movie’s favor. The captured scientist working for the Nazis creates four puppets for the opposite team: Bombshell, Kamikaze, Blitzkrieg, and Weremacht. These are the first one-time appearance puppets who you really wish would have gotten more screen time because they are awesome.
Though not an official member of the Puppet Master canon, this crossover with the Demonic Toys films absolutely deserves to be included here. It is a riotous good time from beginning to end because it makes the smart choice not to take anything about itself seriously. The performance by Corey Feldman as Robert Toulon helps in this endeavor immensely. Every line he utters makes the audience laugh, as does every whacky plot turn that the movie makes. To help in their fight against the Demonic Toys (Baby Oopsy Daisy, Jack Attack, and Grizzly Teddy), Toulon gives four of his puppets some spiffy new upgrades to make them more powerful. Unofficial or not, Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys is a truly delightful B-movie, backed up by a pretty good story and very committed performances by all of the actors.