Puppet Master: Littlest Reich review Thomas LennonYear: 2018
Director(s): Sonny Laguna, Tommy Wiklund
Writer(s): S. Craig Zahler
Region of Origin: USA
Rating: n/a
Digital, Color, 90 mins

Synopsis: All hell breaks loose when a strange force animates puppets up for auction at a convention. (Source)

I know, it’s been a while since you thought to yourself, “I want to see puppets do very bad, horrendous things to unsuspecting people!”. Well, even though you might not have thought that, that day has come, thanks to Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. Picking up in a long line of Puppet Master films, this latest chapter is a tangential soft sequel/reboot. It reimagines the series’ history and starts fresh, blending a new cast with iconic horror actors and a mythology that tweaks what’s come before. Believe me when I say, this film, it’s call caps VICIOUS. The blood and body count are epic. I can tell you right now, there are some all-timer death scenes, and at least one that’ll make your stomach churn. Ultimately, directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund make good on a script from grindhouse auteur S. Craig Zahler, never missing an opportunity to make heads roll or bodily fluids spurt.

This film takes place in a world where titular Nazi sorcerer Andre Toulon (Udo Kier) lives on in legend. After a massacre credited to his name, his hand built (and thought harmless) puppets where distributed around the world to hordes of collectors. Now, on the anniversary of Toulon’s crimes, a small-town convention is assembling his creations for an auction. A recently recently divorced comic book artist named Edgar (Thomas Lennon), just happens to have one of these little demons, and is looking to get some cash for it. Bringing along with him next-door neighbor/gf Ashley (Jenny Pellicer) and close friend Markowitz (Nelson Franklin), the trio head to the convention. What should be a lax weekend, naturally turns into a nightmare fast. On the eve of the auction, the puppets start going missing, forcing a hotel full of convention attendees to fight for their lives.

The genius of this film, is that it knows exactly what it wants to be, has a juicy premise, and 100% cares about nothing else than making good on its grisly promise. With its focused story and single-setting plot, this is a slaughterhouse in cinematic form. After quickly setting the tone with a horrifying hate crime, it’s full steam ahead until the film’s maddening climax. The story becomes a loose excuse to intricately plot some of the nastiest, mean-spirited deaths the genre has ever seen, and this is absolutely not for the overly-sensitive. That the film splices in some dark humor only adds to how delirious of an effort this is. There’s a meta-angle to everything, but instead of resting on references or nods, the film uses this texture to dig deep into its carnage, subverting expectation with low-budget, non-cgi wizardry with unabashed gore. It’s honestly a shock that a film like this exists, but then again, there’s a reason why it could never be made or even touched by a big movie studio. This is a real, misanthropic work that revels in its bad taste.

Puppet Master: Littlest Reich reviewA winning ensemble helps us get further invested into the lunacy. Thomas Lennon grounds everything with Edgar. He’s a down-on-his luck everyman who is a perfect entry point. Jenny Pellicer’s Ashley maybe could’ve used a bit more in the script, but she still maintains a strong presence as the strong silent type, a perfect contrast to Lennon’s more meek stylings. Nelson Franklin holds down the comedic front as a long-suffering friend going through his own troubles. Nelson is charismatic, and like his co-stars finds humor by playing everything straight. He also has a subplot with Charlene Yi that lifts things up a bit. Last but definitely not least, Barbara Crampton is amazing as a no-nonsense cop turned overenthusiastic tour guide, while Udo Kier gives Toulon a refreshing update.

One area of missed opportunity is the way the film handles its tricky themes. I understand that this is meant to be raw, savage escapism first and foremost, but by not confronting the prejudice of its Nazi zombies (who target minorities), it leaves a little something desired. Not a deal breaker, of course, but it would’ve pushed the film into a higher level. As is, this is a mean little film that isn’t afraid to spit in your face and leave you begging for more. It’s a great update to an already storied franchise, injecting new blood and resulting in one of the year’s most audacious horror films.