Movie Review: "Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich" (2018)
First and foremost, we really must thank Charles Band for giving the world a franchise that proved the power of "direct to video" (as it was known in those days). There have been a slew of films in the Puppet Master series (now 13 of them), some classic and some poorly conceived and executed. The staying power and audience connection, though, has never waned.
Luckily for us, we are now blessed with the best of the whole bunch. Swedish directing duo Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund (Wither, Animalistic) have churned out an absolute gem of gore, ripe with relevant racial humor and plenty of moments of questionable taste. Yes...I mean that in the best way possible.
Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is a true sequel, picking up chronologically in the current day as a fresh take. Edgar Easton (Thomas Lennon, Reno 911!) has come back home to live with his parents after a painful divorce. His career as a comic artist has gone stagnant, and the shadow of his brother's accidental death hangs over everything. Things take an upswing when he bumps into and falls for an old childhood acquaintance (and the literal girl next door), Ashley (Jenny Pellicer, NBC's State of Affairs). He also finds a Blade puppet in his dead brother's things, prompting him to attend the 30th anniversary convention for the Toulon murders and sell it at auction. He and Ashley, along with his incredibly Jewish boss and fellow comic nerd, Markowitz (Nelson Franklin, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), pack their bags and head out.
I think you can see where this is going from here.
Andre Toulon (German film god and genre legend Udo Kier, Suspiria) is in his crypt, but he's not dead. He's merely gestating into something far worse than a mortal man. He's called his puppets back to life for the convention where dozens of them will be under one roof. Cue the bloodbath!
Thomas Lennon is one of the most legitimately funny and smart men working today, and he plays this part with deadpan intensity and a slightly dry sense of humor. It's kind of amazing to see the restraint from the funny man. Genre goddess (and genuinely sweet person) Barbara Crampton (Reanimator) plays Carol Doreski, the officer who killed Toulon 30 years ago and now hosts the tours of his estate. She's fantastic, as always, in a role that is protective and fierce and utterly serious. Nelson Franklin is well-weighted comic relief/moral compass in a role that he seemed born to play. By the way, I think I'm in love with Jenny Pellicer...wow.
The role that will stick with folks in this one in classic cult fashion is that of Cuddly Bear (Skeeta Jenkins, The Penitent Thief). The hotel bartender turned protector who refers to himself in the third person without fail nearly made me piss myself laughing on more than one occasion. He gets the best lines ("Stay behind the colored man", "Biscuits!") and sells the character like a Hall of Fame pro wrestler taking an epic beating. Everything about him is made for a sequel return. Stay tuned after the credits for a little more Cuddly Bear.
The pacing is breakneck once you get past the first fifteen or twenty minutes of character introduction and exposition. The speed of the film keeps you constantly invested, but it doesn't sacrifice character investment or development (a major testament to the cast, Lennon in particular). Make no mistake, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is still a blood-soaked orgy of blood and guts that masturbates in its own debauchery, but the story isn't non-existent and the characters aren't all bad stereotypes (as is so often the case in campy splatterfests). That's not easy to pull off. Clearly there was a lot of love on that set.
As for the gore? Holy shit. Batshit. Balls-out. Unapologetic. Offensive. Inappropriate at times. In short, it was fucking gorgeous. There's multiple disembowelings, decapitations, throat slashings, head crushes, burnings, hyper-violent stabbings. Two high points involving a pregnant woman and a man urinating are jump out of your seat and clap awful! The goal was obviously balls to the wall, and they crushed it so hard.
In the middle of all that is the payoff of the title itself: The Littlest Reich. These are Nazi puppets hell-bent on revenge. They are targeting Jews, homosexuals, African-Americans, Gypsies, you name it.....it's a literal hate-crime fest! Some feathers will be ruffled by that, and I say "fuck 'em"!! If you can't make fun of Nazis, then who can you make fun of? It's all in the context of the story, after all.
Did I mention there's a Junior Fuehrer puppet?! It's a baby-doll Hitler that climbs inside of people to control them. Let that sink in. There's some layers to the symbolism on that one.
Of course, many of your favorite classic puppets are present and slaughtering- Blade, Tunneler, Torch, Pinhead, (though I didn't see Six Shooter, my personal favorite). There's a small army of new Nazi puppets that bring the pain: Money Lender, Autogyro, Grasshupfer, Mr. Pumper, Mechaniker, Happy Amphibian, and the aforementioned Junior Fuehrer. Puppets may seem small and easy to kill at first glance, but these bastards are terrifying. I wouldn't want to fuck with a tiny psycho armed with blades, fire, superhuman strength, the ability to fly, et cetera. It's crazy, silly nightmare fuel. For the record, Money Lender (most gloriously non-PC name ever) and Autogyro tie for the film's best kill.
There's really nothing to hate on in Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. It was a labor of love for all involved that had a stated goal of being the biggest and baddest of a long and storied franchise with a hardcore cult following. It satisfies on all levels- gore, comedy, execution, story, and presentation. It also succeeds in almost shocking moral clarity and heart.
So much heart.