Review: Puppet Master III - Toulon's Revenge / Cert: 18 / Director: David DeCoteau / Screenplay: C. Courtney Joyner / Starring: Guy Rolfe, Richard Lynch, Ian Abercrombie, Kristopher Logan / Released: October 22nd
The third instalment of the Puppet Master series is a prequel, giving us the long-awaited backstory of Andre Toulon (Rolfe), a puppeteer with the power of bringing his creations to life. It's World War II, Berlin, and Toulon is doing his bit against the Axis by sneaking anti-Nazi propaganda into his puppet shows. This draws the attention of a Gestapo officer, who notices that Toulon's puppets seems to be moving around without strings, as if by magic – news which greatly excites Nazi boffin Dr Hess (Abercrombie), who has been trying and failing to come up with a formula to reanimate corpses for service on the Eastern Front. The ensuing raid on Toulon's flat results in the death of his beloved wife, Elsa (Douglas). The puppet master escapes, vowing revenge. Cue the patter of tiny feet and the flashing of knives.
Going back in time fifty years was a risky move, but it works very well. Shot on the Universal Studios backlot, the film has a sleek, Indiana Jones-ish period feel, with sinister black cars prowling the streets and anything that doesn't move draped in massive swastikas. It also boasts a superior array of baddies. As well as the bumptious Dr Hess, there's vicious Gestapo heavy Major Krauss (a typically fine turn from the late Richard Lynch) and his boss, the urbane, brothel-creeping General Mueller (played by Walter Gotell, better known as General Gogol from the James Bond movies).
Rounding out a strong cast is Guy Rolfe, taking on the role of Toulon. A tall, distinguished actor in the Christopher Lee/Basil Rathbone mould, his dignified but steely performance at last makes sense of a character who until that point had been a bit of a muddle – a suicidal Geppetto in the first film, a brain-eating ghoul in the second. Rolfe paints him as a decent man in the grip of moral outrage, determined to exact poetic vengeance.
Prolific director David DeCoteau (98 directing credits on IMDb!) moves things along briskly, and the SFX (a combination of stop-motion animation, cable controls and hand puppetry) are the slickest of the series yet. There's a colourful new addition, a six-armed cowboy called Six Shooter, who delivers one of the film's standout moments when he goes clambering up the wall of General Mueller's favourite brothel. And two old favourites, Blade and Leach Woman, are endowed with surprising origin stories.
In fact, the whole film benefits from the sense of being part of an ongoing saga, deepening our understanding of what has gone before and shedding new light on characters we thought we knew. Like its predecessors, it looks stunning in this new transfer. That's three excellent discs released so far. Anyone fancy popping round for a Puppet Master marathon?
Extras: Commentary by David DeCoteau and C. Courtney Joyner, original Videozone making of featurette, introduction by Charles Band, trailer, two rare toy commercials, Full Moon trailer park, reversible sleeve incorporating original art.