Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, 2018.
Directed by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund.
Starring Thomas Lennon, Jenny Pellicer, Nelson Franklin, Charlyne Yi, Barbara Crampton, Michael Pare and Udo Kier.
While trying to sell a morbid doll at a slightly distasteful murder anniversary convention, a comic book shop employee finds himself in the midst of an attack by unhinged, anti-Semitic puppets.
Sometimes, horror movies designed purely for shock don’t work. Sometimes, they come across like rather desperate and ultimately misguided attempts to push buttons in order to ‘trigger’ the ‘snowflakes’ in the audience. On occasion, though, a movie like Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich comes along – a film so deliciously silly and outrageously inappropriate that it’s impossible not to be carried along by its madness. With a script by S. Craig Zahler – also releasing the dreadful Dragged Across Concrete this week – it’s a movie that revives a cult horror franchise in blood-soaked fashion.
In the wake of a divorce, comic book shop employee Edgar (Thomas Lennon) discovers a rather creepy-looking puppet in his childhood bedroom. He discovers the puppet was a creation of the murderous Nazi Andre Toulon (Udo Kier), which lends it some value. With his new girlfriend Ashley (Jenny Pellicer) and uncouth boss Markowitz (Nelson Franklin) in tow, he heads to a rather ghoulish convention marking the 30th anniversary of the murders in the hope of making a few bob. Soon, his puppet – and the others arriving for sale – become sentient and violent, and a fight for survival gets going.
Anyone who’s familiar with the oeuvre of either the 12 (!) previous Puppet Master films or with the work of S. Craig Zahler will know what to expect from The Littlest Reich. It’s gleefully violent and unafraid of smashing through boundaries of taste and decency. Given the new, Nazi lick of paint the killer puppets have been given this time around, there are gags about gas chambers, Hitler babies and a scene in which a menorah is used as bait.
Fortunately, the tone is never allowed to even veer close to serious, which allows the movie to get away with murder – often quite literally. The presence of Re-Animator and Chopping Mall star Barbara Crampton in an extended cameo as a cop tells any audience everything they need to know about the sort of splattery mayhem that’s on the cards. Plot is kept to something of a minimum in order to facilitate the bonkers gore, which is largely achieved by pleasingly old-fashioned practical effects work.
Done over a lengthy running time, the unhinged bad taste of Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich could easily have become a little too much. However, the brisk 90 minutes of this film turns it into a brutally enjoyable sprint of a story in which directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund keep the gas pedal firmly planted right through the floor. The performers all know exactly what sort of film they’re making and play up the comedy accordingly. Charlyne Yi, who was so great in J-Lo comedy Second Act, is again a comic highlight as a soft-spoken hotel waitress who finds herself way out of her depth.
This movie is a triumph of tone in just about every way. It occasionally oversteps the taste boundaries in a way that will turn some viewers off – you need to be tolerant of severed heads in toilets – but there’s such a gleeful malevolence to it that it’s easy to be carried along with it. “Why would anybody create a Nazi puppet?” asks one character in the midst of the mayhem. The beauty of Puppet Master is that you never really need a good answer to that one.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.