This past Friday, horror film magazine Fangoria made its cinematic debut, ahead of its return to print in October, as one of the producers of Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. Launching with a limited theatrical release and wider distribution for rent or purchase on VOD platforms, the release encountered one significant SNAFU as etailer giant Amazon released the title for purchase for only 99 cents through its streaming video service.
Written by S. Craigh Zahler, The Littlest Reich takes the concept and characters originated by Charles Band over the course of the franchise's prior twelve installments and reboots the story, making this entry the perfect starting point for newcomers. Although I'd been aware of the Puppet Master movies for a good, long while now, I'd never actually seen one. Having Zahler on screenwriting duties was enough to pique my interest though. I loved his horror-western flick Bone Tomahawk, which he wrote and directed, and tapping him to write a movie about maniacal killer puppets was a guaranteed way to get my butt in a seat to watch this. Amazon's screw-up only helped to ensure I was absolutely going to watch it.
Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is a thinly plotted, low budget gorefest that eschews deep and meaningful characterizations in favor of brutal kills and a few doses of T&A. It's also one of the most entertaining diversions I've ever spent 99 cents on, and I can happily say I got my money's worth. This is a fun, silly, utterly ridiculous bit of pulpy midnight theater.
After crossing paths with Andre Toulon, a Nazi who escaped to America, a lesbian couple is savagely murdered by possessed dolls. The responding officers track the killers to Toulon's mansion (exactly how they deduced that puppet maker Toulon was behind the murder is something the script skirts by in order to get to the action) and kill him. Thirty years later, in the present-day, Toulon's mansion has become a museum exhibit and an auction of his belongings are slated for that weekend. Edgar (Thomas Lennon), a comic book writer and artist, lost his brother to mysterious circumstances as a child, and hopes to sell his Toulon puppet for some quick cash. Tagging along for the weekend getaway are his new girlfriend, Ashley (Jenny Pellicer), and pal Markowitz (Nelson Franklin). The gang checks into a hotel stocked with a number of guests, many of whom are also looking to auction their puppets.
It's a simple set-up, and the hotel setting gives us plenty of potential victims, many of whom were unwittingly thoughtful enough to bring their own reanimating object of demise. Once the guests are all checked in and we're given enough background on Toulon's hard-core Nazism and occult tendencies (we're also given Toulon's backstory during the movie's opening credit sequence, told in colorfully comic book-like fashion that's totally aces) by the mansion's tour guide, played by Scream Queen Barbara Crampton, we're off to the races.
The Littlest Reich is cheaply made, but whatever money went into the production is readily apparent in the buckets of blood decorating the hotel sets and just about every single cast member along the way. The practical effects are lovingly done, sparing not an ounce of squirm-inducing gore to bring the creative kills to life. While it's easy to spot the mannequin stand-ins on occasion, odds are you'll be too entertained to care about some of the movie's chintzier moments, which the film more than makes up for with sheer outrageousness. The killer Nazi puppets are brought to life through stop-motion, and are wholly unsympathetic antagonists in possession of a singular goal: kill everyone.
It's a sad fact of life that in modern America, Nazis are seemingly everywhere - they're in the White House, they're running for Congress and local government seats, they're marching outside WorldCon 76, they're holding rallies all over the place. The Littlest Reich is, if nothing else, certainly timely (there's even an amphibian puppet that seems a clear nod to the alt-right's hate symbol of Pepe the Frog) and none are safe. Zahler, and directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund, check all the potential victim boxes - gays, blacks, Jews, Asians, a gypsy, men, women, and children all serve as fodder for Toulon's puppets, who drill their way through walls and ceilings, fly through windows, and race down hallways to bludgeon, beat, stab, and set aflame their victims. None are safe, few are spared, and it's fun to see these little Nazi bastards get their comeuppance in a few welcome scenes of just desserts during the flick's finale.
It's clear Cinestate, Fangoria's new owners, intend to rejuvenate the Puppet Master franchise, and they're off to a solidly fun start with this reboot. It's not high-art in the classical sense, nor, really, is it a good movie in any sense, but in terms of animated Nazi puppets going on a vicious kill spree it certainly delivers on its schlocky premise. This sucker is all kinds of hammy, splattery, low-brow, B-movie fun and Zahler pens a few scenes that are delightfully inventive, and at least one moment that is startlingly, wickedly obscene in its execution. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is a gloriously cheesy, delightfully profane, and welcomingly sick. It's easily the most rewarding and funnest 99c movie I've ever watched.
Final rating (out of 5):