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What I Watched in… March 2017

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Favorite of the Month: Logan (2017)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), A-
  2. Logan (2017), A
  3. Into the Woods (Broadway Cast, 1991), A
  4. Anomalisa (2015), B
  5. My Sucky Teen Romance (2011), B
  6. Volunteers (1985), B
  7. Werewolf of London (1935), C
  8. Quiz Show (1994), A-
  9. Lifeforce (1985), C-
  10. Honor and Glory (1993), D-; RiffTrax Riff, B
  11. The Magic Sword (1962), C+; MST3K Riff, B+
  12. Gamera (1965), B-; MST3K Riff, A
  13. Phantom of the Opera (1943), C+
  14. Newsies (1992), B+
  15. Up (2009), A+
  16. Moana (2016), A-
  17. Hobgoblins (1988), F; MST3K Riff, A-
  18. Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013), B+
  19. The Uninvited (1944), B
  20. Into the Woods (2014), B+
  21. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), A-
  22. Nintendo Quest (2015), B-
  23. Dune (1984), D+
  24. Dracula (1931), B+
  25. Retro Puppet Master (1999), D-; RiffTrax Riff, B
  26. Zombie Nightmare (19870, D; MST3K Riff, A
  27. 50 Years of Star Trek (2016), B-
  28. Innerspace (1987), B
  29. Marooned (aka Space Travelers, 1969), D; MST3K Riff, B-
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Crappy Movie Roulette: Puppet Master (1989)

Puppet MasterDirector: David Schmoeller

Writers: Charles Band & Kenneth J. Hall

Cast: Paul Le Mat, William Hickey, Irene Miracle, Jimmie F. Skaggs, Robin Frates, Matt Roe, Mews Small, Barbara Crampton, Kathryn O’Reilly

Plot: Following an opening sequence comprised of close-up shots of various puppets, we begin with an old man (William Hickey) painting and talking to a series of puppets that are moving independently, intercut with scenes of what appears to be the point-of-view shot of another puppet trying to sneak into a hotel, the Bodega Bay Inn. The puppet, a hook-handed creature with black eyes (Blade, according to Wikipedia), eventually makes it to the old man’s room while evading a pair of men in trenchcoats. As the two men – Nazis, as it turn out – approach, the old man hides his puppets and kills himself.

Fifty years later, we meet Alex Whitaker (Paul Le Mat), a psychic plagued with dreams of violence. He contacts three other psychics: Dana Hadley (Irene Miracle) and the husband-wife team of Frank Forrester (Matt Roe) and Carissa Stanford (Kathryn O’Reilly). The four of them are summoned to the side of their old acquaintance Neil Gallagher (Jimmie F. Skaggs) to compare notes. Upon arriving at the Bodega Bay Inn, now owned by Neil’s wife Megan (Robin Frates), they find Neil has committed suicide.

That night a puppet with a tiny head (Pinhead, evidently) climbs out of Neil’s coffin and begins roaming the hotel. At dinner, Dana tells Megan that Neil only married her for her money, prompting Megan to leave. Alex follows her and apologizes, explaining how Neil called them together years ago to study an Egyptian secret for imbuing life to inanimate objects. Later, Pinhead murders the hotel’s housekeeper and Megan faints when she finds that someone has propped up Neil’s dead body in a chair. As the psychics retire to their rooms, the puppets begin to roam the hotel, murdering Frank and Carissa in the midst of a sex-fueled “psychic experiment.”

When Neil’s body again is moved, this time to Dana’s room, she tries using her skills as a fortune teller to put him to rest. She’s instead attacked by Pinhead, who breaks her ankle to slow her down. Pinhead chases her to the elevator, where Blade slices her throat. Alex has a dream about Megan dancing with a masked man – Neil, as it turns out — followed by a flash of the three other psychics dead, with their heads in his bed. The real Megan arrives and tells Alex she has something to show him, just as she did in his dream. She’s found the diary of the old Puppet Master, who calls his creations “harmless,” but fears what they will do in the wrong hands.

In the dining room, Alex and Megan find the murdered psychics propped up at the table. To their surprise, they find Neil seemingly alive and well. He explains that he did, in fact, commit suicide, but not before using the old Puppet Master’s secrets to grant his body immortality. He had to kill the others, he explains, because their psychic link would eventually have led them to him. He’s tired of the puppets, though, and he tosses one aside, shocking the others. He also confesses to killing Megan’s parents to manipulate her into marrying him, granting him access to their hotel and leaving him free to search for the old man’s secrets. The puppets revolt, turning on Neil and killing him for good.

Thoughts: This is an odd sort of film, the kind of movie that has something to it, but overreaches. It’s a clear attempt by Full Moon Entertainment to start off their own horror franchise in the vein of Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street, and it would seem to have been at least partially successful… after all, as of this writing there have been a whopping ten sequels to this movie. On the other hand, those sequels (and this original) have all been direct-to-video and have limited cultural impact. If you were to show the average person a picture of Blade, the franchise’s most iconic puppet, they wouldn’t have any idea what they were looking at, and may even mistake him for a creation from the Saw franchise.

That said, let’s talk a little bit about what this movie does right. First of all, the puppetry is honestly not bad. The close-ups of the puppets, all done in a 1989 before CGI took over the movie landscape, appear to be legitimate puppet work, and it’s impressive. It’s slow, and it’s creepy, and that works to the movie’s favor. The shots that require a full-figure puppet to walk around in the frame are all stop motion. It’s not as impressive as the puppetry, but it’s not terrible. The greenscreen used to add them into the scene, however, is pretty bad, full of nasty and highly visible artifacting that pulls you out of the reality of the moment, such as it is.

It’s this, more than anything else, that hurts the movie. The puppets stumbling around in stop-motion look like nothing so much as a cartoon, and a silly one. Once you start seeing that, the fear level drops. You’re already dealing with puppets, after all, you have to work to convince the audience that they’re threatening. Child’s Play did it fairly well, but this movie doesn’t. The scene where Dana throws the Pinhead doll across the elevator looks like exactly what it is – a woman chucking a doll. It robs the creatures of any menace they possess. Sadly, it doesn’t go quite far enough to reach the “so bad it’s good” level of entertainment.

The characters are all pretty bland. Megan and Alex are both completely dull and blank, Dana is a stereotypical bitch (she even refers to herself as much) with a tacked-on southern accent, and Frank and Carissa seem to exist only to throw in a quick sex scene prior to kicking off the murder spree. You don’t feel for them, you don’t get to know them, you don’t care when they die and you don’t care if they survive.

Neil, as a villain, is weak as well. We’ve got the standard immortality motive, with a tacked-on excuse for him to murder the others. Why did he need to murder the other psychics? Because they would have found out he hadn’t really killed himself. Well… okay… but why did he feel the need to fake his suicide in the first place? Did the magic that animated him need his “death” in order to take effect? Could they have made that a little clearer? Or did he just get off on killing people – he did murder Megan’s parents with no remorse long before he was immortal, after all. Or maybe – and I know I’m reaching here – maybe the screenwriter just didn’t think things through all that well.

There’s a weird sort of attempt here at a Twilight Zone-style morality play. Neil wants something mankind isn’t supposed to have, he employs some homemade monsters to try to get it, and in the end those same creations turn on him. But that said, it fails to live up to the standards of Rod Serling, with a half-assed attempt at an ironic moral that might actually have worked in a half-hour TV show, but loses its steam in the film’s 90 minute running time.

In the end, Puppet Master is the sort of movie that isn’t quite good enough to be good and isn’t quite bad enough to be fun, which is the saddest kind of film to watch. That said, I’ve got other films in the franchise amidst my collection of crappy movies, and those may well be worth the watch. It’s often from mediocrity like this that truly insanely bad movies, the ones that are a blast to make fun of, flow in future installments.

The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

Make Me Watch a Crappy Movie Take II

Hey, friends. A few weeks ago I asked you guys to choose a movie from my vast collection of crappy horror and sci-fi movies to make me review. The result was The Invisible Maniac. I’m still trying to heal. But that doesn’t mean I won’t do it again! I’ve only got a few scant days of summer left before I go back to work, and how better to spend one of them than reviewing a movie of your choosing? Here, once again, are five movies plucked from the wealth of multi-packs I’ve got on my shelf. Whichever gets the most votes by Monday, August 5, will be the second feature for Crappy Movie Roulette!

984potf984: Prisoner of the Future (1982)
Directed by Tibor Takac
Written by Peter Chapman & Stephen Zoller
Starring Stephen Markle, Andy Adoch & Madeleine Atkinson
Synopsis: A corporate executive is taken prisoner by an underground organization known as The Movement, and is turned over to a ruthless interrogator.
Why you should vote for it: Because don’t we all really want to see a corporate executive tortured by a ruthless investigator?
Current IMDB Rating: 5.2/10
984: Prisoner of the Future at IMDB

CHUDC.H.U.D. (1984)
Directed by Douglas Cheek
Written by Shepard Abbott & Parnell Hall
Starring John Heard, Daniel Stern, Christopher Curry & Kim Greist
Synopsis: A rash of bizarre murders in New York City seems to point to a group of grotesquely deformed vagrants living in the sewers. A courageous policeman, a photo journalist and his girlfriend, and a nutty bum, who seems to know a lot about the creatures, band together to try and determine what the creatures are and how to stop them.
Why you should vote for it: So that with my expert analysis, you’ll finally get that joke on The Simpsons when Homer is afraid of going to New York because of the CHUDs.
Current IMDB Rating: 5.3/10
C.H.U.D. at IMDB

DescendantDescendant (2003)
Directed by Kermit Christman & Del Tenney
Written by William Katt & Kermit Christmas
Starring Jeremy London, Katherine Heigl, Nick Stabile, William Katt, Whitney Dylan & Matt Farnsworth
Synopsis: A young novelist, tormented by his family’s history and haunted by the specter of his long-dead, more famous ancestor, falls in love with a woman, a distant relative of his ancestor, whose friends and family begin to disappear mysteriously.
Why you should vote for it: Because you want to know if they’re going to even touch upon the incest-y vibe of the novelist falling in love with “a distant relative of his ancestor.”
Bonus reason to vote for it: The inclusion of William Katt virtually guarantees at least one Greatest American Hero reference in the write-up.
Current IMDB Rating: 4.4/10
Descendant at IMDB

Puppet MasterPuppet Master (1989)
Directed by David Schmoeller
Written by Charles Band & Kenneth J. Hall
Starring Paul Le Mat, William Hickey, Irene Miracle, Mews Small
Synopsis: André Toulon is a puppet maker and the best of the kind. One day he happens upon an old Egyptian formula able to create life, so he decides to give life to his puppets. The Nazis seek to use this knowledge to their advantage and in desperation, Toulon commits suicide. Some years later four psychics get on the trail of a former colleague who suddenly commits suicide, and they decide to investigate the mansion he killed himself in. Along with his widow, they uncover the secrets of the Puppet Master.
Why you should vote for it: Because they’ve apparently made at least nine movies in this franchise. NINE. Don’t you want to know if there’s any conceivable justification for that?
Current IMDB Rating: 5.3/10
Puppet Master at IMDB

Vampire HappeningThe Vampire Happening (1971)
Directed by Freddie Francis
Written by Karl-Heinz Hummel & August Rieger
Starring Pia Degermark &Thomas Hunter
Synopsis: An American actress inherits a castle in Transylvania. What she doesn’t know is that her ancestor, the Baroness Catali, was in actuality a vampire countess, and emerges from her tomb to ravage the nearby village and Catholic seminary.
Why you should vote for it: Because it’s gotta be better than the other “Happening” movie you’ve heard of.
Current IMDB Rating: 4.6/10
The Vampire Happening at IMDB

Cast yer votes!