It's been just over a year since Full Moon announced they were making their bluray debut with both the original Puppet Master and ninth (or tenth if you include Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys) entry, Puppet Master: Axis of Evil. No one was more surprised and suspicious than myself. Sure, Full Moon can put out a bluray, but we all know it's going to come down to the transfer. Full Moon has always been perceived as a company out to make a buck. There's nothing wrong with that, except that many fans, myself included, love some of their movies and want to see them treated with a bit of respect. It would be nice to see some love and care put into some of their releases of older, catalog titles, but I won't believe it until I see it. I did see some airings of Puppet Master movies on MonsterHD and they looked night and day better than the DVDs, so I'm hopeful Full Moon can work some magic here.
Puppet Master is the movie that not only launched Full Moon as a company, but helped land them a lucrative distribution contract with Paramount. I'm thankful for that contract to this day as it led to nearly all of what's considered the classic Full Moon catalog having been released onto laserdisc. It's that contract that helped Full Moon land the necessary funding to go on and create the many movies they did. With Full Moon you either love them or hate them, though for many the Puppet Master series is a guilty pleasure. Lets take a trip back to Bodega Bay and revisit Puppet Master.
The year is 1939 and the place is Bodega Bay, California. A puppeteer by the name of Andre Toulon (William Hickey) is putting some final touch ups on his latest creation, Jester. Another puppet, sitting by the window and looking to the ground below, turns to Toulon with a look of concern. On the ground below, another puppet, Blade, frantically returns to Toulon's room to warn him of the approaching nazis. Toulon knows they are after him and his secrets that animate puppets into living beings. He's resigned to his fate; he packs the puppets into a large trunk and stores it in a hidden wall panel. As the nazis prepare to break the door down, Toulon shoots himself in the head, taking the secrets of the puppets to his grave.
Fast forward to present day, a psychic named Alex (Paul Le Mat) has strange visions, including leeches on his stomach. At a local carnival, another psychic named Dana (Irene Miracle) gives half assed predictions to locals. During one reading, she has a real vision of a woman being slashed with a small blade. In New York, researchers Frank Forrester (Matt Roe) and Carlissa Stamford (Kathryn O'Reilly) are conducting tests on sexual fantasies. They are all brought together by their visions, which they believe is a psychic calling from Neil Gallagher (Jimmie F. Skaggs), a psychic associate from their pasts. The group arrives at the Bodega Bay Inn and learn from Neil's wife, Megan (Robin Frates), that he recently committed suicide. They all agree to stay for the funeral and begin to get settled in at the hotel.
The group does some research at the hotel to try and discover what Neil's intentions were. They learn he married Megan to gain access to the hotel and try to discover the secret of the puppets. Things begin to go awry when Blade, Leech Woman, Jester, Pinhead, and Tunneler show up and begin killing off the guests one at a time. As the group begins to diminish, the remaining few will soon discover that their greatest threat is not in the puppets but in their master.
As low budget of a movie as Puppet Master clearly is, some of the latter sequels are of such shoddy quality that I cannot help but view the original as high budget. There's no doubt that the budget of the original is greater than many of the sequels, as evidenced by superior effects and acting. Since the original was considered for a possible theatrical run, this makes a bit of sense. With stop motion effects done by the legendary David Allen, coupled with decent animatronics on the puppets, this original outdoes many of the sequels on the effects side.
There aren't many scares and clearly the best route to go with these puppets, similar to Child's Play, is to simply have fun with it, which becomes a greater theme in the early sequels. The original tries to have some fun but what fails is when it tries to be a serious movie. The fun to this movie is the puppets themselves and they simply do not get enough screen time to keep the viewer interested. With a lackluster story and barely adequate acting, we are left wanting more. Sometimes wanting more is a good thing but that's not the case here where there is nothing else carrying the movie.
I'm glad the original Puppet Master was successful enough to launch Full Moon and give us some fun sequels and even a few gems like the Subspecies series. Viewing the original nearly 20 years later, the only thing clear is that is doesn't hold up well over time. Hopefully the some of the better sequels don't suffer from the same fate.
Struck from a new master and presented in its original 16x9 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this is the best Puppet Master has ever looked. It's far from perfect, however. There's plenty of print damage present - dirt and scratches, primarily. Colors are vastly improved over the older DVD but are still on the faded side. Detail is also greatly improved over the DVD but that really isn't saying much considering how lousy the DVD is. Similar low budget movies from the same period have gone through better restorations. Clearly Full Moon is only going to throw the minimal amount at a new transfer, and it shows. It's an average presentation for a lackluster effort. Even with that all being said, I'm still thankful to have it on high definition bluray with a half decent presentation because it's more than I would have ever expected from Full Moon.
The original batch of Puppet Master blurays did not have the advertised Dolby Digital 5.1 track included. Full Moon eventually acknowledged that there was a defect in a small batch of the original discs. Sadly my disc is one of the defective ones. However, as I searched around on the web, it seems everyone has the defective disc so additional research is needed to verify a 5.1 track even exists. I will look into that and update the review accordingly. The stereo mix present is an average track that is clear and audible at all times. I noticed no real channel separation.
Sadly the original Puppet Master was made before Full Moon started including a VideoZone at the end of every VHS release, which would contain a behind-the-scenes look at the movie and feature several interviews with cast and crew. What is included are just a minimal amount of basic supplements. First is a brief introduction by Charles Band raving about the bluray release and he gives a brief background on how Puppet Master came to be. It's about five minutes in length. Although it is short, I did enjoy hearing from Band and some of the background. Next is a short retro documentary titled 'No Strings Attached' that runs about seven minutes in length. It includes interviews with director David Schmoeller, actor Paul Le Mat, Full Moon head Charles Band, effects artist David Allen, and a few crew members. It also includes some behind-the-scenes footage. Closing out the supplements are a good dozen trailer from older Full Moon movies, along with a trailer for the latest Puppet Master sequel. There may be minimal supplements here but they are enjoyable enough for fans.
This is the best Puppet Master has ever looked and although the transfer is flawed, it's likely the best we will ever get. It is night and day better than the DVD. I'm thankful to have this on bluray but can't help wanting more after being spoiled by Blue Underground and others. The movie itself has not aged well but chances are you already know if you like or dislike this movie. Lets hope Full Moon will start releasing some sequels onto bluray as well.
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
The 5.1 audio version definitely exists Dave. I received the free replacement direct from Full Moon more than a year ago...
Cool. Searching around on the net it seemed like the few reviews out there indicated that they only had the stereo version. I will contact Full Moon about a replacement.
Yeah, I think they released the corrected disc about 3-4 months after the original release date. They sent out a replacement free of charge, which should still be valid if you got one with the incorrect disc.
I found this disc, along with the Subspecies BD for $10 each at a local Dollar General store. For that price, it was well worth the upgrade! I really want to see PM2 on BD. The DVD version(s) were all sourced from a video that warped towards the end. It almost become unwatchable!
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