If you're old enough to remember video stores, you may recall the Puppet Master films that perpetually graced the horror aisles in the 1990s. Perhaps, attracted by the colorful covers and novel premise, you even rented an entry or two. Yet even if you have seen a few of these films, you probably don't remember quite how full-on weird they are.
In horror, there is scary, there is creepy, and then there is inexplicably bizarre. The Puppet Master franchise falls squarely into the third category.
As Full Moon's flagship series, Puppet Master was practically guaranteed sequels right out of the gate. No one, however, could have predicted that it would put out more films than any other horror franchise in history - at a whopping 13 (and counting). Over the many years since Puppet Master first premiered in 1989, audiences have laughed, cursed, and stared at their screens in utter befuddlement.
The chronology of the films is largely random, with sequels, prequels, alternate timelines, and even a non-canonical Christmas special. Dates don't align, and some films feel like complete non-sequiturs. The puppets themselves are equally random. Their morality is determined by whoever is acting Puppet Master, allowing them to behave as heroes, antiheroes, or villains, depending on the film. New puppets show up randomly with little regard to continuity. The puppets' abilities are bizarre, their appearances even more so.
Despite these flaws - or partly because of them - the series has amassed a dedicated cult following. These are the moments of unadulterated weirdness that created that following.
The Humanoid Dolls In 'Puppet Master II' Are Just HorrifyingPhoto: Puppet Master II / Full Moon Entertainment
These things are pure nightmare fuel. The waxy plastic faces, the lifeless eyes, and the way their movement doesn't quite feel natural, all add up to make the life-sized humanoid dolls that appear at the end of Puppet Master II truly grotesque.
Adding impact to this imagery is the knowledge that André Toulon's actual plan is to subject his one true love to an eternity living as this monstrosity. His plan basically goes like this: Step 1, collect organs; Step 2, make puppet life-giving juice; Step 3, transfer own soul from a reanimated body to a life-sized puppet monster; Step 4, slay the reincarnated love of my life and trap her soul in another horrifying life-sized puppet.
In 'Puppet Master,' Leech Woman Vomits A Leech Into Her Victim's MouthPhoto: Puppet Master / Full Moon Entertainment
Anyone the least bit familiar with the Puppet Master franchise will remember Leech Woman. How could you not? Here we have a beautiful woman puppet with the completely impractical but surprisingly lethal power to vomit leeches.
Everything about this scene is weird. First of all, it starts out with a blindfolded, disrobed man strapped to a bed as a puppet starts to get frisky with him. Without warning, the puppet begins regurgitating leeches.
The icing on the cake comes when one leech drops directly into his mouth. By the time he inexplicably succumbs to the leeches (in a remarkably short amount of time), the audience is out of disbelief and just accepts it. After all, nothing else here made a lick of sense.
'Puppet Master 4' Suddenly Brings Egyptian Demons Into The MixPhoto: Puppet Master 4 / Full Moon Entertainment
The films go straight from fighting the forces of the SS in Puppet Master III to combating ancient Egyptian demons in Puppet Master 4. No further explanation is given, and perhaps that is for the best. Well, they did promise at the end of three that four would be about "Bad puppets gone good," and that is technically correct.
Even more bizarre than the drastic change in premise is the appearance of the demons themselves. Here we have a lumpy skeleton in a cape bossing around three misshapen Jawas. The weird Jawas, in turn, possess "totems" (evil puppet monsters) that enter the human world to do all sorts of horrible things. André Toulon's collection of puppets - whom we've all come to know and love - must then fight these evil totems.
Never mind the details. The bottom line is that the audience gets to watch puppets fight.
In 'Puppet Master II,' Torch Immolates A Youngster To Collect His OrgansPhoto: Puppet Master II / Full Moon Entertainment
One of the few taboos in horror is having children be harmed, but Puppet Master II crosses this line in such a nonchalant manner that you might miss it.
The scene opens up by firmly establishing the child is obnoxious and undeserving of sympathy from the audience. He is shown undressing and then whipping his shirtless action figure - an uncommon childhood game, to say the least. When he starts bossing around and yelling at Torch, the audience knows what's coming.
The immolation is done "tastefully" off screen, but the audience is still left asking, "Did they really just do that?"