Greetings everyone! We’re in the final stretch of the Month of the Macabre with just three more days to go. Today, we’re talking about a franchise that’s so obscure that I’m surprised that I know about it.
Part of the reason that this series is so obscure is because none of the movies in the series were ever released in theaters. The series was made by Full Moon Features, which is mostly known for making low budget horror films like Gingerdead Man and The Dead Hate The Living!. Incidentally, one of my favorite film franchises growing up was the Trancers series, which was also made by Full Moon Features.
I talked about the “evil toy” concept back in my post about the Child’s Play franchise, but I didn’t go into too much detail about the differences that can occur in these stories. For instance, the Child’s Play movies specifically feature a toy that is possessed by the spirit of an evil man. The Puppet Master series is different, in that the toys were brought to life by their maker. These puppets tend to act based on their own needs for survival.
To get the gist of this series, think back to the scene in Toy Story where the toys at Sid’s house work together to scary the crap out of Sid. Imagine an entire film that revolved around that concept, and you pretty much have the Puppet Master series.
1989’s Puppet Master starts in 1939 with master puppeteer Andre Toulon putting the finishing touches on his latest puppet, the Jester. His other creations include Blade (not that one), Pinhead (not that one), Tunneler, Leech Woman, Shreddar Khan, Gengie, and more than I can mention here. Nazi soldiers break down Andre’s door, but he shoots himself before they can capture him.
The movie then jumps to 1989, where a group of psychics track down the inn that Andre committed suicide. There they find out that one of their friends, Neil, is married (which they find hard to believe) and has recently committed suicide (which they find less hard to believe). As they stay at the inn, they each have a vision related to Neil.
The film then explains that Neil was working with the psychics as part of his research into alchemy. It turns out that the ancient Egyptians had created a formula that could bring inanimate objects to life. Andre had discovered this formula, which is both why the Nazis were after him and why Neil wanted to find the inn.
Ooh, I know this formula too! All you need are nine tana leaves and a juicer…no, wait. That’s for bringing a mummy back to life.
The puppets begin murdering the psychics one by one, until only two remain. Neil then reveals that while he did commit suicide, he used Andre’s secrets to come back to life. He explains that he killed the others both to keep his secret, and so that he could have something to work with other than puppets. The puppets kill Neil when he throws Jester at a chair, proving that they have a will of their own.
1990’s Puppet Master II starts with the puppets digging up Andre’s grave and using the formula to bring his skeleton to life. Andre, now posing as a man named Eriquee, uses the puppets to murder some investigators and kidnap a woman that he believes is the reincarnation of his wife. It’s revealed that Andre and the puppets are still killing people because one of the ingredients they need to stay alive is human brain tissue. The puppets turn on Andre when they realize he was using them for his own ends. The woman they kidnapped takes them to a children’s mental hospital, either because she hates kids or she honestly thought that bringing murderous puppets to mentally troubled kids would end well.
1991’s Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge takes place entirely during World War II. This film explains how Andre’s wife died, and show Andre and his puppets killing Nazi soldiers. The only problem with the film is that it takes place in 1941, three years after Andre killed himself in the first movie.
1993’s Puppet Master 4 has a plot where a lord of Hell sends his minions to kill anyone that has the secret of bringing inanimate objects to life. This includes not only the formula that Andre used to bring his puppets to life, but also Artificial Intelligence for some reason. Andre’s spirit and his puppets manage to help some A.I. researchers in defeating the hellish minions.
1994’s Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter takes place immediately after the previous film, with the surviving researchers being blamed for the deaths of their colleagues. The lord of Hell from the previous film possesses a totem through which he plans to finish the job his minions started. Working together, the researchers and the puppets are able to destroy the lord of Hell.
Anyone that’s been reading my Month of the Macabre posts knows that films titled “The Final Chapter” are almost never the final chapter, and the same thing is true here. 1998’s Curse of the Puppet Master has a new character named Dr. Magrew in possession of Andre’s puppets. Dr. Magrew is obsessed with learning Andre’s secrets, and even convinces a simple minded man named Rick into helping him make life-sized mannequins. Magrew later kills Rick and puts his soul into a puppet, causing Andre’s puppets to turn on Magrew and kill him.
1999’s Retro Puppet Master is both a direct sequel to the third film and a prequel for the series as a whole. While still on the run from the Nazis, Andre reminisces about how and where he learned the formula that let him bring his puppets to life. The story he tells does retcon what was discovered in previous films a little, but considering this move takes place after his suicide, I don’t think continuity was a big concern here.
2003’s Puppet Master: The Legacy goes back to the inn from the first film. A woman named Maclain arrives at the inn looking for Andre’s formula, where she finds a man named Eric. Eric reveals that Andre saved his life when he was a boy, and that he promised to keep Andre’s work from falling into the wrong hands. After an argument about whether Andre’s work was good or evil (which includes a lot of stock footage from previous films), Eric and the puppets kill Maclain. As she’s dying, Maclain reveals that what she really was actually looking for was a way to permanently kill the puppets, as they will always turn on their master eventually.
I think this was supposed to be the last film in the series due to the ending, but of course the studio decided to make more films. 2010’s Puppet Master: Axis of Evil takes place during World War II with an interesting twist. The film follows Danny, a man with a limp who decides to aid Andre. He arrives shortly after Andre’s suicide, and retrieves the puppets from their hiding place. Danny and the puppets manage to kill some spies, including one of the Nazi soldiers that was after Andre, but other other Nazi and a Japanese spy named Ozu escape with some of the puppets.
2012’s Puppet Master X: Axis Rising continued the story with Ozu being betrayed and murdered by a Nazi soldier. Danny and the puppets continue to fight the Nazis, and even manage to retrieve the stolen puppets. However, the film ends with a Nazi agent managing to get a hold of a bottle of Andre’s formula.
2017’s Puppet Master: Axis Termination finished the storyline of Danny and the puppets fighting the Nazis. Sadly, I don’t really know too much about this film as I’ve never seen this one. Since this is the conclusion of the trilogy and we never see Danny in any of the films that take place after this, I can only assume that he is either killed by the Nazis, the puppets, or the Nazi puppets.
2018’s Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is technically a reboot of the series, but I’m not entirely sure how. I haven’t seen this film either, but from what little I know about it, there doesn’t seem to be a lot that contradicts the previous films.
There was also a crossover film with the Demonic Toys “series”, but that film contradicts a lot of the other movies in the series. The puppets are distinctly made into heroic characters for the sake of the film, and manage to save the day by fighting off the evil toys. I’m not going to do a blog post about the Demonic Toys series because there were only two films in that series, and then a couple of crossover movies in between the two films.
There was also another film called The Puppet Masters in 1994, but this film was about parasitic space aliens that attach to humans and manipulate them like puppets. Granted, that’s a good idea for a horror film, but it has nothing to do with what we’re talking about here.
That’s about it for the Puppet Master series. It’s kind of sad that this series doesn’t have more exposure, as it is technically the longest running series of horror films with twelve films (thirteen if we count the crossover film, which I don’t). The only horror series I can think of with more films would be the Witchcraft series, and a lot of the films in that series are closer to fantasy than horror.
We’re almost done with the Month of the Macabre. Tomorrow, we’ll go over some of the various one-shot films and stories that never received sequels, but probably should have.