There is an entertaining movie in PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH, unfortunately as it stands the film is mean spirited, uncomfortable, and in poor taste. Those three things would usually be positives, particularly in a review on a site that revels in exploitation, but the PUPPET MASTER reboot seems misguided.
The film follows Edgar (Thomas Lennon) a comic book store employee and artist who returns to his childhood home following a divorce. The pace is unusually brisk for a S. Craig Zahler script and in no time at all Edgar, his new girlfriend Ashley (Jenny Pellicer), and his boss Markowitz (Nelson Franklin) are off to a hotel convention celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Toulon Murders. So far, this sounds like your average PUPPET MASTER flick. The kills begin to happen and it’s revealed that the newly designed puppets are Nazis. Yes, the mean little villains who turned face by TOULON’S REVENGE and fought the third Reich, who’s master offed himself in the opening of the 1989 original rather than be captured by Hitler’s minions are racist, anti-semites, committing “hate crimes” throughout the hotel.
Maybe Zahler is attempting to be transgressive, and maybe this could all work with more talented directors at the helm, but as it stands PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH is an ugly movie. His trademark nihilism is featured, but there seems to be an unusual cynicism that permeates the film. Far be it from me to be offended on anyone’s behalf, but the film’s attempt to blend “edgy” humor and racial politics seem out of place and misguided in a PUPPET MASTER film. The original series at it’s best was kind of silly and at its worst sort of stupid, but they were always fun. Perhaps I have a narrow view of what a PUPPET MASTER film should be, maybe I sound like a LAST JEDI denier, and certainly understand how silly this sounds, but THE LITTLEST REICH is a betrayal of the PUPPET MASTER mythos and characters. This is like, if in the upcoming fifth Indiana Jones, it’s revealed that Indy is a part of Hitler’s cabal.
Even at their most evil in the previous Full Moon entries, Toulon’s puppet crew is easy to like. They look cool, they have personality, and generally speaking, the characters they kill off sort of deserve it. It’s like cheering Jason Voorhees on throughout a FRIDAY THE 13TH film or America’s odd obsession Freddy Krueger throughout the ‘80s. The film is chock full of brutal, nasty, kills (and admittedly, the gore effects are gangbusters), and wild midnight audience would be eager to cheer, scream, and gasp, but its uncomfortable when you realize that you’re watching racist puppets kill gay men, a Romani man (referred to as a “gypsy” in the film), and, in one of the film’s most vile moments, a pregnant black woman.
There’s a lot of talent behind PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH: Barbara Crampton shines per usual, Michael Pare looks like he could still play Tom Cody one more time, and of course the Fabio Frizzi score is as terrific as you expect. Udo Keir is wonderfully gross in what amounts to an extended cameo, and Zahler does deliver a few genuine laughs. The redesigned puppets are pretty cool, especially the gyro-copter robot. All that seems like a waste for what in theory should have been an easy win. The LITTLEST REICH is not a toy box audiences—and especially longtime PUPPET MASTER fans—are going to want to play in.