Toy Division… PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH Reviewed

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Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (USA / UK, 2018). Directed by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund.

Nazi atrocities reinterpreted via the conventions of the stalk’n’slash genre… what offence could conceivably be taken? In cinemas, now.

Hey, ho, let’s go… I haven’t exactly been an avid follower of Charles Band’s Puppet Master franchise, despite the fact that this Blog’s fairy godmother Irene Miracle starred in David Schmoeller’s 1989 original. If you’re approaching the latest sequel / reboot in a similar state of woeful ignorance, you might well appreciate its pre-titles recap of “the Toulon massacre” that kicked off all this shit in the first place. Blink and you’ll miss HOF Hall-Of-Famer Udo Kier under heavy burns make up as evil puppeteer Andre Toulon.

Udo Kier in Puppet Master - The Littlest Reich

Cut to the present day, where recently divorced comic book writer Edgar Easton (Thomas Lennon) moves back in with Mom and Dad, in fact into the bedroom of his puppet-collecting brother, who died under mysterious circumstances. On a more positive note, he embarks on a heated affair with girl next door Ashley Summers (Jenny Pellicer) and together with his wise-cracking schlubb of a buddy / comic store co-worker Markowitz (Nelson Franklin) they take a road trip to a convention marking (well, celebrating, really) the 30 anniversary of that massacre, in the hope of auctioning off one of Ed’s dead brother’s Andre Toulon puppets. You might well be thinking at this point that they and the other attendees deserve all they get. Which turns out to be plenty…

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Having taken ten minutes or so to establish the protagonists’ characters and back stories, Laguna and Wicklund spend the rest of the picture trotting out a succession of eye-wateringly inventive splatter set pieces (appropriately enough in a film going out under the reactivated Fangoria banner… its co-directors both seem to have backgrounds in prosthetic effects and  look like they were probably weaned on that mag in its heyday) when the undead Toulon launches a telekinetic campaign from his crypt (as you do), mobilising his repulsive toys in a  blitzkrieg of butchery against the minority groups he so despises.

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Many of the victims are messily dispatched while having sex which is, in itself, one of the dodgier tropes of the stalk’n’slash cycle that Laguna and Wicklund are so gleefully invoking… but that’s the least of this film’s transgressions against political correctness. Most of the victims are also Jewish (including the couple who congratulate themselves on surviving The Holocaust, only to have their faces burned off by a flame thrower wielding killer puppet) but a lesbian is carved up in her bath and a gypsy ends up pissing on his own head, which has just been lopped off his shoulders by a puppet piloted drone. “These are hate crimes”, Ed tells dim investigating officer Brown (Michael Paré). No shit, Sherlock.

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My initial exposure to PM:TLR was at the 2018 Mayhem Festival,  and I do recall that it was received with a collective “What the actual fuck?!?” response reminiscent of the audience reaction to Springtime For Hitler in The Producers. Before we’d had a chance to debate its ethical niceties, though, we were watching Mandy, after which nobody could talk about anything but Panos Cosmatos’ tripped out revenge saga. Even so, it was difficult to dismiss the memory of the (jewish) Markowitz pushing a “junior fuhrer” puppet into an oven with the words: “See how you like it!” It was only on a second viewing that the penny dropped for me about the exact significance of the film’s crowning outrage, in which a puppet tunnels up a pregnant woman’s vagina and exits, dragging her unborn foetus and placenta behind it. The “Jew Suss” features of the embryo snatcher suggest only one possible interpretation of this scene, i.e. as a take on the old pogrom promoting myth about Jews using christian children in their passover meals… on a holiday that actually coincides with this release! Tasteless, much? I’m only surprised at the restraint by which this film wasn’t marketed as some kind of dark mirror image to Toy Story, utilising the line “To Buchenwald and Beyond!” The final twist suggesting that everything we’ve seen might be the contents of a comic book written by world-weary Ed comes as little mitigation for a film both violent and politically incorrect enough to make The Gestapo’s Last Orgy look like The Sound Of Music.

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Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich arrives in UK cinemas at an “interesting” moment in time, where it seems impossible to discuss Israel or The Holocaust or whatever without somebody branding you “an anti-Semite” before you’ve even got two syllables out. God knows what the PC brigade will make of this. The BBFC don’t seem to have found any fault with it but what will The Daily Mail say? (“Hurrah For The Blackshirts Puppets!”, perhaps?)

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The film boasts a better cast than it probably deserves. The principals are likeable (which doesn’t prevent just about all of them being graphically bumped off), Lennon playing it admirably straight-faced throughout. It’s always good to see Barbara Crampton, here as a tart-tongued tour guide / former cop. Must have seemed like old times for the film’s soundtrack composer, Fabio Frizzi, who was Lucio Fulci’s go-to OST guy (come to think of it, the character who gets the back of her head pulled off in a car must have given Frizzi a proper case of the Dunwich deja vu!)

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Now I hear that bloody Chucky is getting relaunched. If that one does OK, how long will it be before producer Band goes for a Dolls reboot? Check your Christmas stocking very carefully, this year…

Puppet Master - The Littlest Reich. Theatrical Poster

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