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"Puppetmaster" Will Leave You With More Questions Than Answers

India has been an avid fan of all things spooky and scary ever since she can remember.

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“I'm the master, and you're the puppet!”

— "Puppetmaster," 1989

After learning their former colleague has taken his own life, a group of psychics travel to a hotel, where they must confront the murderous puppets he left behind. If the summary didn’t give it away, “Puppetmaster” is in a league of its own; this film is on a different level than the other movies I’ve reviewed. Not convinced? Let’s put it this way: “Puppetmaster” makes “The Mansion of the Doomed” and “The Video Dead” seem masterful in comparison. With its wooden acting, stilted dialogue, and hilarious fight scenes (not to mention the puppets themselves), there’s something for everyone to hate.

The People

Though almost every aspect of “Puppetmaster” lends itself to criticism, the one which stands out the most is how strange the characters are. If the writers believed these quirks could be explained away by their psychic abilities, they couldn’t have been more wrong. (Or perhaps they just didn’t care. There probably wasn’t enough room in the budget to pay them a decent salary.)

Still, odd as the characters are, one stands out: Dana (Irene Miracle), who makes her living as a fortune teller despite having powers which are only effective about half the time. In the beginning we witness her telling the fortunes of a young couple at a carnival, where it’s clear she is making things up rather than seeing the future. For instance, when Dana predicts the death of the woman’s grandmother only to learn that she is already dead, she covers for herself by stating that she was referring to the man’s grandmother (not the best excuse, but he's gullible enough to fall for it). Though her powers activate once at the hotel, they aren’t very helpful—Dana mainly uses them to make the occasional vague and dramatic pronouncement of impending doom, which her friends then ignore.

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But Dana is no ordinary fraudulent fortune teller—oh no, no, no. She’s also a self-proclaimed witch—the White Witch, to be exact—fond of toting around her taxidermy dog, whom she has christened Leroy. (To my dismay, the movie never explains Leroy’s origins. Is he a former pet of Dana’s, or did she find him at an estate sale? I need answers!) Indeed, Dana’s eccentricities are matched only by her winning personality. After drunkenly insulting Neil in front of his widow, Dana justifies her behavior with the statement that she is a “nasty bitch.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Of course, we can’t forget about Carissa (Kathryn O’Reilly), whose psychic power involves touching an object and then becoming acquainted with its history. This ability wouldn’t be so strange—though it is rather useless—except for the fact that Carissa seems to have a knack for seeking out objects whose histories involve sex and then becoming turned on by said histories. For example, while in the elevator she sees a vision of Neil raping an unidentified woman—something which is never addressed—and while in the bathtub, she discovers that it was the site of a rendezvous between two soldiers. (Apparently, they spent their entire leave there. Sounds uncomfortable.) Oh, and then there are the celebrities who did the horizontal tango in the bed she shares with her boyfriend, Frank (Matt Roe).

Carissa’s preoccupation with sex isn’t all bad, though, since she and Frank are required to have bizarre and passionate encounters to “get in touch with past events” (whatever that means). However, all of Carissa’s flashbacks occur when she and Frank aren’t making love—meaning her boyfriend probably made the whole thing up so he could bang her whenever he wanted in the name of science. I don’t know who’s dumber—Frank for making up such a stupid lie or Carissa for falling for it.

The Puppets

Given that they resemble a failed arts and crafts project more than sinister marionettes, it’s no surprise that the puppets aren’t very intimidating. (Well, except for the one which vomits leeches.) Nor are they particularly bloodthirsty, since they spend most of the movie running around the hotel, with the occasional killing thrown in for variety. Neil helpfully informs us that they were brought to life using rituals from ancient Egypt (maybe the Egyptians used them to build the pyramids. After all, everybody loves free labor.) Since the puppets’ behavior reflects their master’s personality and old Neil is certainly homicidal, their killing spree is one of the few aspects of the movie which isn’t difficult to understand. What is hard to wrap your brain around, though, is the fact that the puppets turn on him in the end even though they were fine with serving him before. (I guess saying he was tired of them really hurt their feelings. Who knew puppets were so sensitive?)

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The Plot Holes

As you can see, “Puppetmaster” has enough plot holes to drive a truck through. For one thing, we never learn why the protagonists visit the hotel in the first place, since it’s clear they hate Neil. Why attend the burial of someone you despise? Maybe they just wanted to make sure he was dead, but it still seems like a lot of effort for little reward. Supposedly Neil betrayed them and the others are hoping to get their revenge, but it’s not like they had any idea about the homicidal puppets. Were they planning to desecrate his body or something? Dana does stab him to make sure he’s dead.

Also, what happens to the puppets after they get rid of Neil? The last we see of them, they’re in the elevator going to town on his corpse. Are the manic marionettes still roaming the hotel, ready to prey on unsuspecting guests once it reopens? Seems like that would be bad for business.

© 2022 India LaPalme

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