Puppet Master: Axis of Evil

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Last summer, I spent a couple of nights watching all of the entries in Full Moon’s old “Puppet Master” series, since I discovered that producer/series creator Charles Band had uploaded them all to his YouTube channel. I hadn’t seen the earliest movies since they were released, and I hadn’t seen the last handful of episodes at all.

The “Puppet Master” series sure is a mixed bag – you never really know what you get, something most Full Moon productions have in common. Most of them are pretty good looking, sporting slick cinematography by legendary Swedish D.P. Mac Ahlberg (“Re-Animator”, several John Landis movies, sexploitation classics like “I, A Woman” and a bunch of harcore pornos), and the puppets make for cool characters. But the direction and screenplays are extremely uneven.

The first movie came out in 1989 and was directed by David Schmoeller, and I honestly find it hard to believe this one became a hit – this is a very lame and boring movie in which the “living” puppets created by a certain Toulon, who blew his brains out in a hotel during World War II, terrorize a bunch of uninteresting people ending up at the hotel 50 years later.

Puppeteer and special effects guy Dave Allen (No, not the British comedian!) directed the sequel in 1991, which is just as bad. But later that year came “Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge”, directed by the always busy David DeCoteau, and this is actually a pretty good little movie. This time, the story takes place during the war and cult favorite Richard Lynch plays a nasty nazi.

Jeff Burr; director of “Leatherface: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre III” and “The Stepfather 2”, handled “Puppet Master 4” (1993) and “Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter”. I don’t remember anything at all from these movies, but the title of the fifth installment was a lie. In 1998, David DeCoteau struck again with “Curse of the Puppet Master”, a rather decent entry, and then again in 1999 with “Retro Puppet Master”.

In 2003, producer Charles Band directed the next part himself; the absolutely awful “Puppet Master: The Legacy”, which really should’ve been the last nail in the coffin. Band hardly directed anything at all – this eighth “Puppet Master” movie is made up of clips from the earlier entries. All Band did, was shooting a crappy frame story.

This bad excuse for a movie didn’t stop Full Moon from making “Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys” (2004), directed by Ted Nicolaou, pitching the popular puppets against characters from another Full Moon creation. Then, the Full Moon empire, having been unstable for years,  fell apart.

Charles Band has tried to revive his company several times, in several ways, and now, Full Moon Entertainment has been resurrected as Full Moon Features. It was just a question of time before we’d get yet another movie about Toulon and his killer puppets. And here it is – 21 years after the first movie, Charles Band gives us “Puppet Master: Axis of Evil”.

Once again, seasoned pro Dave DeCoteau is conducting the adventure, but this time, the making of the movie is far, far more interesting than the movie itself. Always trying to make his movies as cheap as possible, Charles Band had decided to shoot this movie in … No, not in Bulgaria. Nope, not Romania. And not in Italy, where Band has his castle – or in South America, “where life is cheap” (according to the ads for “Snuff”).

“Puppet Master 10” was shot in China. Mainland China.

Band and director DeCoteau uploaded video reports to YouTube while making the movie, and while they tried to keep the mood up in these reports, the production was laden with problems. DeCoteau has talked elsewhere about what a hell is was making the movie. The sets where crap, the staff didn’t speak English, everything that could go wrong, went wrong.

Still, I was hoping this would be a cool little movie.

I’m sorry to report it’s not. Dave DeCoteau may be a nice and talented guy, but his new “Puppet Master” flick is a very, very bad movie. It sucks farts out of dead wildebeasts.

The movie was shot on RED, a rather new digital format that’s good at mimicking 35mm film, and although this is a direct-to-DVD release, it was lensed in full Scope. So, initially it all looks great, and the familiar score by Richard Band put a smile on my face.

But it all goes downhill rather quickly, when it’s obvious DeCoteau had to work with a sub-par screenplay and a handful of absolutely terrible actors. Just like the first few entries two decades ago, the movie begins in 1939 with Toulon, who after hiding his puppets, commits suicide when German agents are looking for him in a hotel. Young Danny Coogan (Levi Fiehler) finds the puppets, which he brings to his mother, who’s living in Chinatown along with Danny’s older brother. The brother is about to go to Europe and fight the war – something Danny also wants to do, but can’t, since he’s crippled. Don’t ask me what army they’re going to fight for. These guys are Americans. Did Danny stay several years in the hotel before going home? Waiting for America to join the war?

When visiting his girlfriend Beth (Jenna Gallaher), Danny spots one of the agents who was after Toulon and the magic puppets. It turns out the nazis are making plans with a Japanese dragon lady – they have a bomb and are going to blow a manufacturing plant up. Danny knows that nobody would believe him, so he lets the puppets loose to stop the axis of evil. So, once again we get to see Blade use his knives, the leach woman vomit leaches, and a couple of other familiar puppets strut their stuff, plus one new; the ninja.

The story is very thin and draggy. The movie is only about 83 minutes long, but to make it this long, characters are talking and talking and talking. The prologue is mainly ten minutes of Danny and his uncle talking, and I thought that if you’ve never seen a “Puppet Master” movie before, you’re probably scratching your head, wondering what they’re talking about and why nothing at all happens.

I’ve no problems with dialogue driven movies, but in this case, the acting is so damn bad it hurts! Jenna Gallaher is an incredibly bad actress, she’s so piss-awful she made me blush. I actually squirmed whenever she opened her mouth. She makes the average porn star look like Meryl Streep. Acting wise, of course – I sure don’t wanna see a porn flick featuring Meryl Streep lookalikes. Do you think I’m perverted?

Then we have the Japanese dragon lady. Oh, my God… I’ve no idea if this woman actually knows any English at all. It looks and sounds like she’s reading her lines from cue-cards. Phonetically. Three-four words at the time. And she has lots of dialogue – lots of badly written dialogue. It takes her forever to utter her idiotic lines.

But what about the puppets? Is there any action? Any gore and violence?

Nope. This movie hardly delivers when it comes to the puppets, the reason people watch these movies. Blade and his friends are hardly in the movie at all, and when they do appear, the effects are pretty bad, and the violence is restrained. The early entries in the series sported both gore and nudity. This episode feels rather family friendly.

“Puppet Master: Axis of Evil” more or less feels like watching a school play, with its amateurish acting and weak but strange plot. The ending hints at yet another sequel. I sure hope they get it right next time…

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