“I don’t like anything that starts with ‘re’ – like retro, reinvent, recreate – I hate that.”- Jack White
“I don’t want to be a reality retro star.”- Bret Michaels
“All of a sudden, Hulk Hogan has become retro”- Hulk Hogan
Oh, Puppet Master… I’ve spent so much time trying to wrap my head around you. So many poor choices and so much bad continuity. Maybe I’ve been a bit unfair in expecting these movies to be cohesive. After all, they’re not trying to tell a linear story, and even something like The Evil Dead series makes pretty substantial tweaks to its continuity between movies. So, for this entry, I’m going to try something different. I’m going to examine it first on its own merits, and then do my best to figure out how it fits in to the greater scheme of things. It should be easier, since this is a prequel. Actually, it’s a prequel of a prequel, which might be the first such instance in cinematic history. It’s Retro Puppet Master, or as I like to call it, At Least It’s Not Part 6.
The story opens shortly after the events of part 3. Toulon, again played by Guy Rolfe, is a night away from crossing over the border into Switzerland, and is taking advantage of a rare quiet moment to shoot the shit with his puppet pals. One of the puppets comes across the head of an older, carved wood puppet, and Toulon explains that this current group was not his first batch of walking abominations. He then begins the flashback…
Ok, let’s get this out of the way. We are shown a young Toulon from around the turn of the century, and he’s played by Mark from The Room. In a silly poofy shirt. With a ridiculous French accent. I’m not going to pretend that any of these elements, let alone the collection of the three, aren’t somewhat distracting. I mean, I half expected young Toulon to tell people about stuffing their comments in their pockets, or fly in a rage and almost throw his friend off a roof. I guess it isn’t THIS movie’s fault he went on to do The Room, but he did, and here we are.
Anyway, this movie brings back Sutek, the evil GWAR reject God from parts 4 & 5. Sutek has sent three magic zombie type dudes after a 3000 year old Egyptian sorcerer. Instead of using their zombie magic to kill him, they just hire two random dudes to beat him up in an alley. So, this old guy is getting beat up outside Toulon’s theater as his show is letting out, and a young woman notices the attack, and calls Toulon outside to help, as the random dudes run off. The girl is Elsa, who you might remember, later goes on to be his wife, and then turns into a puppet and vomits leeches on folk. Elsa and Toulon have somewhat of a meet-cute, and she leaves, as Toulon agrees to house the old man as he gets his strength back. The old man finally wakes up, and tells Toulon about being a 3000 year old necromancer, and Toulon’s reaction is appropriately skeptical until the wizard starts making the puppets move around on their own. He tells Toulon that he’s dying, and that he’s going to teach him his secrets. They stumble across the corpse of a sickly beggar that Toulon was friendly with, and he becomes Retro-Pinhead, his first living puppet.
Toulon leaves for a while because of some subplot about Elsa being a Swiss ambassador’s daughter that I frankly didn’t feel like talking about. While he’s gone, the magic zombie dudes show up at the theater to kill the wizard. He’s all like “I’m gonna die, but not by your hands”, and zaps himself in the chest. So whatever. He’s still dead. Mission accomplished, I guess? Oh, they also kill all of Toulon’s puppeteer assistants. Toulon wakes up in the woods somewhere, and comes home to find a half dozen corpses. He uses their souls to bring more puppets to life, and our retro puppet team is set.
And let’s talk about these retro puppets. In addition to the aforementioned Retro Pinhead, we have a Retro Blade & Retro 6 Shooter, being joined by new puppets, Cyclops, Dr. Death, and Drill Sergeant(which might as well be Tunneller, but i like the new name, so I’m fine with it). The puppets all look pretty good. They are more of an old timey carved wood look than the more painted and polished puppets of the rest of the series. I think the weirdest was Retro Blade, because they took the coolest and most iconic design of the series, and turned it into something that looks like a drunk homeless guy with the garden claw from Santa Claws. I identified with the little fictional piece of wood. What can I say?
The Magic Zombie guys kidnap Elsa to convince Toulon to come to him. He predictably does, and they have their final anti climactic confrontation in a train, where the 6 puppets take down one of the zombies, while Toulon just kind of punches the other one. Nothing magical or fancy or even remotely interesting… Just Mark from The Room in a poofy shirt going all punchy punchy on a creature that had previously demonstrated some pretty impressive mystical powers. At any rate, Toulon rescues Elsa, and introduces her to the puppets, and then they go off and do whatever. Old Toulon finishes the story to his newer puppets by telling them that the story of what actually happened to this first batch is another story for another day.
On its own merits, this movie wasn’t as bad as i was expecting it to be. I never thought I’d say this, but after part 6, reintroducing the Sutek mythology was a sight for sore eyes. Also, having Guy Rolfe as Toulon again, even if it was just in a couple of bookend scenes, was nice to see, as he did play the role in 4 movies. Some of the acting was awful, as is to be expected. Greg Sestero probably would have been better served not to do the French Accent. It was pretty distracting. Also, this movie would have been a million times better if he snuck Tommy Wiseau in there somewhere. I know they were friends by this point. I read his book. I’m not necessarily blaming the movie for NOT randomly having Tommy Wiseau in it, just pointing out that it, as well as every other movie, would be much better with his inclusion. I guess it was entertaining. Pretty middle of the road for this series. Maybe its strongest selling point is that since you’re going back and establishing new continuity as a pre-prequel, you don’t have to worry about messing things up in the future so much. It didn’t break anything too much, and in this series, I’ll take it. This one is worth seeing if you’re a completionist, an idiot, or have an overwhelming desire to see Greg Sestero in a slightly more embarrassing performance than his turn in The Room.