Mastering the Puppets: A Look back at the Puppet Master series

With the Puppet Master series in my rear view mirror, I think I’m at a point where I can objectively look at the series as a whole, and evaluate how I feel about each film. So, I’m going to take this opportunity to make the definitive (and TOTALLY subjective) ranking of each movie in the Puppet Master series. Before we start, I should note that I am judging these movies on the following criteria… Objective quality of the movie, How much I personally enjoyed watching the movie, and finally, How well the movie fits into the series as a whole. Based on those standards, here we go.

10. Puppet Master: The Legacy


Man, this was probably the easiest choice on this list. It literally might as well have not existed. It’s 20 minutes of lousy new material cut with clips of all the previous movies. In addition, in trying to establish a cohesive timeline for the series, it actually made things worse by ignoring several key plot points, and adding new elements that at the very best, made no sense whatsoever, and at worst, pissed me the Hell off. It’s garbage. I don’t have a single good thing to say about it.

9. Curse of the Puppet Master


Of the 10 films in the series, I can really only say I hated two. The aforementioned Puppet Master Legacy & Curse of the Puppet Master are far and away the worst this series has to offer. This film is probably the worst offender as far as continuity goes, as it literally makes no effort at all in fitting into the plot from the other movies. It’s not even really about the puppets. It would be entirely forgettable if it wasn’t for the ending, which might be the worst closing scene of any movie I’ve ever seen. For sure, it’s another entry that can be skipped without missing anything important.

8. Retro Puppet Master


While not great by any stretch, this one is definitely the worst of the ones that didn’t make me unreasonably angry for wasting the time to sit through. It might actually be the worst acted movie in the series. It gains a few points because of some amusing weirdness in it, and the fact that the lead actor went on to play Mark in The Room. I think this one is worth seeing if you’re a completist, but since it’s largely irrelevant to the other films, you could pass on this one, too.

7 & 6.  Puppet Master: Axis of Evil & Puppet Master: Axis Rising


I grouped these two together because they are basically the same movie. I think I enjoyed Axis Rising a bit more, because the new Nazi puppets were kind of fun. They are probably the slickest productions in the series, which is to be expected because they were made more than a decade later than the first installment. They are fun to watch, even if they aren’t really anything special. I’d give them both the same recommendation as I did to Retro… Watch them if you feel the need to see the whole series, but don’t feel like you’re really missing anything by skipping these.

5. Puppet Master 4: The Demon


I think I might have been a bit too harsh in my original review of this one. In retrospect, I think I was just taken aback by the series moving in a new direction with the addition of the demon, Sutek. It was a pretty big departure from the more grounded movies up to this point. It does have some merit, though. It adds both a new protagonist and antagonist to the series in a way handled about as well as it could be, and it’s definitely one of the weirdest entries of the series. It has a guy dressed like Zack Morris playing Laser Tag with walking puppets, for sobbing out loud. Since I can’t say that about any other movie ever made, and since you NEED to see this one to understand the far superior pt 5, this is one you should probably check out.

4. Puppet Master


I originally wrote how impressed I was at this movie for being both a stand alone film as well as a launching point for a franchise. I stand by that statement 100%. I think it lacks some of the weirdness and fun of other entries in this series, but that is forgiven to some degree for being the first one made, and therefore having nothing to work with. Obviously, if you’re going to watch any movie in the series, you need to start here. This is the first one on the list I might actually watch again some day for recreational purposes. It works as a stand alone movie, and since it didn’t have to work with any continuity going in, it has the distinction of being the only movie in the series without canonical plot holes. There’s some faint praise for you.

3. Puppet Master 3: Toulon’s Revenge


This is the first of many prequels in this series. Part 3 seems to be the one most aficionados say is the best one in the series. Much like part 4, I feel like I was originally a bit too hard on this movie when I first talked about it. However, I’m still not giving it my top slot. I will say this, though… This is far and away the best looking of the “classic” series. The puppets look fantastic, and there are a few truly memorable stop motion sequences that I wish there were more of in later films. This is also the movie that introduced us to Six Shooter, who is one of the coolest puppets in the crew. Where this one loses points, at least for me, is the over-explanation of how the puppets came to be. Also, they kind of ruin Blade a little bit. But still a super fun movie, and definitely one you should see.

2. Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter


Ok, I know you’re gonna bust my balls on this one. This is a middle of the road entry for most fans of the series… but hear me out. This has all the elements of a sequel that I love. It picks up right where the previous film left off, it ties up loose ends, and it doesn’t break the continuity established by the previous films. This might be the least wacky film in the series, and while it might be lacking in memorable moments, it has the tightest plot structure and fastest moving story of any movie in this series. Consistency goes a long way with me, both in terms of pacing, and relating to the rest of the series. That’s why this is my second favorite Puppet Master film.

1. Puppet Master 2


This is the best film in the series. You are never going to convince me otherwise. It has the best relative continuity based on earlier films, the most AMAZING weird moments, the best villain, and maybe most importantly, introduces the best puppet in Torch. I just love Torch so much, you guys. It’s probably not a coincidence that the top two films on my list are the only two where he shows up in non-flashback form. But other than Torch being awesome, we have so many common links to the first film, while telling a completely new story, which is something every sequel in the world should strive for. The weirdness of Zombie Toulon and his creepy life sized puppet proxies are probably my favorite elements out of all 10 movies. This is my favorite movie in the series by a mile, and I’d go as far as to say that it’s one of my favorite low budget horror flicks of all time. If you only see one movie in this franchise, see this one.

So that’s my ranking. I think it’s pretty clear that the series took a major dip in quality after part 5. But all of these movies (except Legacy and possibly Curse) have at least some positive qualities that make me glad I saw them. I am fully aware that direct to video horror is a niche within a niche, but I think this series is probably a pretty good jumping off point for someone curious about the lesser known independent titles, or is too young to remember the days of THAT section of Mom and Pop video rental joints.

My only real gripe about this franchise is obviously the bizarre lack of detail to continuity, but I guess I have to take a step back and remember that these movies were made by totally different film makers over a span of 13 years. Watching them all in such a short amount of time makes these faults more apparent than they otherwise would be. I’m not saying all is forgiven, but I do understand why things were the way they were. This was a fun journey, and I’m gonna miss talking about this series. I hope you guys had as much fun following along as I did watching and writing about them. I’m sure I’ll find another series of movies to obsess over, but until then, stay spooky, folks.

2 responses to “Mastering the Puppets: A Look back at the Puppet Master series

  1. I know everyone has their opinions on what’s the best list, etc… but Axis of Evil was a severe upgrade from what Full Moon had been offering for the later films in the series. And Puppet Master II was complete garbage. I would rank this film as only better than Curse of the Puppet Master. It is ridiculous.

  2. There’s a simple explanation for the drop in quality of films after PM5. Full Moon and Paramount split right after PM5 and therefore Full Moon lost their big budget backer. They couldn’t afford anything, least of all the great stop motion effects created by David Allen, who passed in the late nineties. I agree that the Axis series is a definite step in the right direction.

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