Review : Re-Animator (1985)

Re-Animator, directed by Stuart Gordon and released in 1985, is loosely based on a novella written by H.P. Lovecraft in 1922. The film was distributed by Empire Pictures (the company created by Charles Band before Full Moon). Re-Animator has reached the status of cult classic over the years.

Re-Animator tells the story of Herbert West, a medical student who succeeded in creating a serum which can re-animate dead bodies. In Zurich, he manages to bring his dead professor back to life but there are disgusting side effects as the dosage was too high. Accused of killing the professor, Herbert West moves to New England and enrolls in university to further his studies. When he demonstrates to his roommate, Dan, the power of his discovery, the latter joins him to further test the serum. This leaves the students expelled from school with a trail of re-animated corpses behind them.

Re-animator is the perfect example of a horror comedy done right. The mad scientist premise has been used countless times and, on paper, it sounds a bit ridiculous. Instead of working against it, the film completely embraces it and does exactly what should be done : it goes over the top and delivers a gory experience with plenty of dark humor. I loved the tone of Re-Animator and its unique style. It has a good rhythm and is never boring.

The story being a mix of Frankenstein and zombies, it offers a reflexion on the God complex that is often associated on screen to scientists and doctors and the acceptance of our own mortality. Add to that a high dose of blood and gore and gags, and you get the perfect entertaining cinematic experience. Of course, Re-Animator has its flaws and I could nitpick as I often like to do. I also could list everything that doesn’t make sense. I won’t bother because this film has good acting, a fun story, great practical effects and this is all I wanted !

Finally, I just want to write a few words about what is, in my opinion, the greatest strenght of the film : Jeffrey Combs’ performance as Herbert West. It may be the first time I thought an actor acting over the top was brilliant and made the right choice. He absolutely nails the part of the scientist slowly descending into madness. The rest of the cast does a fine job as well but I do believe Re-Animator would be nothing without Jeffrey Combs.

If you love horror, you are bound to love Re-Animator. I have no clue why it took me so long to watch this classic and I can see myself rewatching it several times in the future. Learn from my mistakes : don’t wait any longer, watch it now!


Review : Puppet Master 5 (1994)

Puppet Master 5, directed by Jeff Durr and released in 1994, was shot back-to-back with Puppet Master 4 and is a direct sequel to this last intallment.

A greedy doctor is after the puppet master’s secrets in hope of getting rich by selling the puppets to the military. But this is not the only menace the puppets have to face this time. Sutec, the egyptian demon, is still determined to obtain the magic which animates the puppets.

Puppet Master 5 is a direct continuation of Puppet Master 4 and is so similar, it feels like watching the same movie again. The plot is basically the same : the puppets help the hero, Rick, fight off Sutec’s little demonic minions and they end up re-animating Decapitron…again. The movie spends too much time in the beginning focusing on the events of the previous film through a montage in which they use footage from Puppet Master 4 with a voiceover. This sequence is way too long and though it is well made, they should have shortened it.

The movie recycles too many elements from the previous entries in the franchise and is overall very repetitive and underwhelming. Imagine if Puppet Master 2 and Puppet Master 4 had a baby and the result is Puppet Master 5 !

I still do not understand this sudden need (introduced in the previous film) to reedeem the puppets by making them the good guys. They were more fun when they were evil and the franchise loses a bit of its appeal if the puppets are not doing evil deeds.

The other dimension, with the demon, still doesn’t work for me. I also find this new aspect of the story unnecessary. However, as I have stated for every single entry in the Puppet Master franchise so far, the animation is still top notch and keeps improving with every film. David Allen does a fantastic job and all the scenes involving the puppets are highly entertaining.

To conclude, Puppet Master 5 is not as fun nor as interesting as the previous films and is way too similar to Puppet Paster 4 to be an enjoyable watch.

Review : Puppet Master 4 (1993)

In this fourth installment, the puppets turn good ! Evil creatures are sent by an Egyptian demon to reclaim the magic stolen by Toulon. They target a young scientist, Rick, who is now in possession of the puppet master’s secrets. The creatures, called totems, leave a deadly path…until the puppets interfere to stop them.

Directed by Jeff Burr and released in 1993, Puppet Master 4 takes the franchise in a new direction with one major alteration : the puppets are now helping the protagonist.

The film is a let-down, especially following Puppet Master 3. Though there is a lot of doll action, the story is not as elaborate as in the previous installments. The opening sequence in the demon’s lair and the demon himself look as if they are from a theme park attraction. But the totems (the demon’s minions) have a great design and are different from what we are used to in this franchise.

The strong point of the film is, as always, the animation of the puppets. This is the one aspect that keeps improving with each film. The tradition continues as a new puppet is introduced : Decapitron. Unfortunately, this time, its design has nothing special and I didn’t particularly liked it.

The direction of the film is also questionnable. So far, the franchise has established that the puppets are evil. Having them turn good and protect the protagonist and his friends feels out of place and, in my opinion, hurts the franchise since its main appeal is watching evil puppets creatively kill stupid characters.

After the huge improvement on the story in Puppet Master 3, we are back where we started, with characters wandering around the hotel, which feels like a step back. And this time, we don’t get to have fun with the puppets killing stupid characters, since they are now fighting the demon’s minions.

The film reedeems itself a bit in the third act, with an action-packed confrontation between the puppets and the totems. However, it’s not enough to make up for the film’s weaknesses. Puppet Master 4 is overall a disappointment but still has some entertainment value.

Review : Puppet Master 3 (1991)

Full Moon Features doesn’t waste time as this new sequel was released in 1991, only one year after Puppet Master 2. It was directed by David DeCoteau and written by David Schmoeller, who directed the first Puppet Master.

During World War 2, the Nazis become aware of Toulon’s puppets and send the Gestapo to kidnap them and use the puppeteer’s secret for their own evil plans. During the assault, Toulon’s wife is killed and the puppet master is taken away. But the demonic puppets save their master, who starts planning his revenge.

Puppet Master 3 : Toulon’s Revenge starts with a chronological error : this prequel takes place in 1941 when, as seen in the first film’s opening sequence, André Toulon committed suicide in 1939. However, this mistake is quickly forgiven as this third installment is so much better than its predecessors and is overall very entertaining.

Unlike the previous films, which consisted of boring characters wandering around a hotel and getting killed by puppets, Puppet Master 3 has actual character development and a well constructed plot. The backstory of Toulon and the puppets is very interesting and the acting has improved, making the film much more enjoyable.

Once again, a new puppet is introduced and I love the fact that they seem to do that with every new entry in the franchise. Six Shooter is a cow-boy with an evil grin, six arms and as many guns. We also witness the creation of Leech Woman, who is the one puppet that genuinely creeps me out whenever she does her thing on screen. And as an added bonus, we also get to see the birth of one of my favourite puppets : Blade.

Though the novelty wore off, the puppets are still extremely entertaining. There is more action and less dull moments. Each installment is better than the last and Puppet Master 3 is, by far, the best of the first three films !

Review : Puppet Master 2 (1990)

Puppet Master 2 was directed by David Allen (who designed the puppets) and was released in 1990, only one year after the first installment. It was written by David Schmoeller, who directed the first Puppet Master.

The evil puppets are back and are on a mission to bring their master back to life. In this sequel, a group of paranormal researchers come to the hotel to investigate its past, which is the perfect opportunity for the little devils to go hunting for human brains. They need a special fluid, only contained in the human brain, to keep them alive. They will stop at nothing to get it, led by a new member : Torch.

This sequel is basically a better version of the first film. It has a great opening scene in a cemetery, where the puppets revive their master. Though the lack of « puppet cam » was very disappointing, the puppets’ screentime has highly increased which makes Puppet Master 2 more entertaining tha its predecessor.

The pace is better than in the original though there are still a lot of dull moments. The acting has also improved and the story is overall more interesting. The puppet master’s backstory gives more depht to the character as we didn’t know much about him until now. We also learn more about the creation of the puppets and the magic behind it.

A new puppet is introduced, keeping the concept fresh and interesting. Torch has a great design and his weapon (a flamethrower) is perfect for some fun scenes. The new puppet is very fun and creative and a great addition to the group. In this installment, André Toulon is back from the dead and his make-up was excellent. Mummified Toulon (with and without bandages) was really fun to watch though it was unsettling that nobody seemed freaked out by his appearance.

There is definitely an improvement from Puppet Master but the promise of killer puppets causing havoc is still not completely fulfilled. Overall, Puppet Master 2 is superior to the first film and definitely worth watching. The Blu-ray released by 88 Films is, just like the first movie, a great edition as far as audio and video is concerned. It includes a behind-the-scenes featurette, an audio commentary and awesome retro toy commercials !

Review : Puppet Master (1989)

Puppet Master, directed by David Schmoeller and produced by Full Moon Entertainment, was released in 1989. The script was written by the famous Charles Band, founder of Full Moon Entertainment.

A puppet master uses ancient Egyptian magic to bring his toys to life. He eventually commits suicide after hiding the puppets so the nazis wouldn’t discover his secret. Years later, Alex Whitaker and a group of psychics are investigating the rumors of the puppeteer’s achievement. They quickly cross path with the evil puppets who only have one purpose : protect their master’s secret…while causing mayhem !

Puppet Master is a very good start for a franchise as it definitely leaves you wanting more of the puppets but it isn’t very good as a stand-alone film. After the opening sequence, it takes too long for the puppets to appear on screen again so the first half of the movie is spent expecting something that never comes. Puppet Master is mainly a murder mystery and the puppets are only a background distraction who don’t have enough screen time.

The film is never scary but is quite amusing and has a great atmosphere which is enhanced by the fitting score. The camera work was also very interesting and quite creative at times, such as what is commonly referred to as « the puppet cam », giving the viewer a first-person perspective as one of the puppets. Though the acting is very bad, what matters the most is done brilliantly : the puppets.

The puppets absolutely deserve their cult status : Blade, Tunneler, Leech Woman, Pinhead and Jester are a fun bunch of little misfits. David Allen did an excellent job at designing them. I particularly liked the animation which I found very smooth and sometimes reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen’s work. Granted, most people would not appreciate the animation but if you love old school special effects as much I do, you will ! Each puppet has a unique design with one distinctive feature which gives them all a different personnality. My two favourites are Blade and Tunneler (see below), I found them to be the most fun to watch and I especially liked their design and weapons (especially Tunneler, who is quite original).

I do recommend Puppet Master. The first 45 minutes are rather dull but the pay-off is worth it. The film is a compilation of good ideas which are never fully explored but remains fun throughout.

88 Films released Puppet Master on Blu-ray in a great new edition. The transfer is of high quality, both audio and video. The edition also comes with some special features, including an audio commentary and a very interesting behind-the-scenes featurette. Last, but not least, there is a reversible cover letting you choose between a great new artwork or the original poster. Click on the link below to access 88 Films’ website !