Color, 1991, 88m
Directed by Dave Allen
Starring Elizabeth Maclellan, Collin Bernsen, Steve Welles, Charlie Spradling, Gregory Webb, Jeff Weston, George "Buck" Flower
Full Moon (Blu-Ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD5.1, Echo Bridge, Full Moon, New Video (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / DD2.0
After successfully launching his Full Moon studio in 1989 with the fan favorite Puppet Master, Charles Band and company had discovered an untapped demand for horror fans willing to go straight to their local video store. With drive-ins dropping like flies and major studios getting a stronger choke hold over theater chains, people were still hungry for stripped-down, unassuming shockers with crazy puppets running around hacking up people left and right. Naturally, two years later saw the release of Puppet Master II, which compensates for the loss in star power of its predecessor by amping up the weirdness, violence, and sheer entertainment value. There's far less set up here as we get down to business right away, with the puppets from the first film circling the grave of Andre Toulon and reviving him with a little black magic.
Cut to a band of government-sponsored paranormal investigators who, apparently having never watched The Legend of Hell House, think it would be a great idea to spend the weekend in the cursed Bodega Bay Hotel (since the first time around went so well). This time the potential victims are flame-haired Carolyn (Mclellan), her brother Patrick (Webb), sultry brunette Wanda (Spradling), and macho Lance (current acting teacher Weston), who wants to get into Wanda's pants. A daffy psychic familiar with the place (a cameo by TV vet Nita Talbot) quickly falls prey to the puppets still scuttling around the place, including Blade, Jester, Pinhead, new arrival Torch (who looks like a metallic SS officer and can shoot flames out of his maw), and Tunneler, who dispatches the first unlucky member of the group by burrowing into his skull, Phantasm-style, and turns into a case study after being stomped on. Meanwhile two other mystery men show up: Eriquee Chaneé (Welles), whose wears goggles and bandages over his face Claude Rains style, and Michael (Bernsen, brother of Corbin), who's looking for his missing mother and winds up falling for Carolyn, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Toulon's long-dead wife. Meanwhile the puppets keep using chunks of their victims' brains to create a diabolical concoction linked to Toulon's ultimate secret plan.
Expanding the series mythology without mucking it up, Puppet Master II is a textbook example of a Full Moon film at its most pure and enjoyable. The characters are all enjoyable and interesting enough without overstaying their welcome, each puppet gets to strut its stuff at least once or twice (though as usual Blade gets some of the best moments, including a killer POV shot attacking someone's face), the obligatory flashback (to Cairo this time) advances the story and sets up the finale, and on top of that, it also boasts the most beloved nude scene in the series (courtesy of Spradling, who also, ahem, enlivened her scenes in Full Moon's Meridian and even David Lynch's Wild at Heart). Once again Richard Band breaks out the synthesizers for a quirky score containing the usual series theme along with a few new flourishes, and of course, there's even a set up for another sequel (which, also as usual, is completely ignored by the subsequent film). The last 20 minutes or so are especially worthwhile, a frenetic combination of puppet attacks and macabre twists that wouldn't be out of place in Tourist Trap. Good fun all around.
The first Full Moon sequel out of the gate, Puppet Master II was also a substantial hit back in the VHS days but spent the following two decades looking increasingly lackluster thanks to the dated open matte video master rehashed for every single laserdisc and DVD release. The 2012 Blu-Ray release from Full Moon (available directly from them in the US, though an apparently identical version from 88 Films is also being prepped in the UK) easily surpasses the HD presentation of the original film (which looked okay but a bit drab, due to either the transfer process or the way it was originally shot). Colors are extremely natural but bright and candy-like where appropriate, and there's actual fine detail and film grain throughout. Most importantly, the washed-out black levels of the old transfer have been replaced here with much deeper, more dimensional ones here, making the combination of stop motion and puppetry far more convincing and effective. It's a much more atmospheric and genuinely cinematic film now, and the 1.78:1 matting also gives the compositions a sense of style completely missing before. In short, it looks great. Really, really, shockingly great. You also get both 5.1 and regular Dolby stereo mixes; while the new 5.1 mix spreads things out, personally the stereo mix sounds more full and effective. Fans should have fun arguing over each, but if you've seen this before, the two-channel option really feels more like a vintage Full Moon title.
The old "Videozone" making-of featurette is carried over here, spending 21 minutes with Charles Band offering an intro and covering the making of this film while promoting other upcoming projects like The Pit and the Pendulum. You'll see plenty of behind-the-scenes footage here including puppet demonstrations, cast and crew interviews, and more. On top of that you get a new HD video intro by Band and, more importantly, a feature-length commentary in which he talks about the state of Full Moon at the time, the ins and outs of bringing the puppets to life, the shooting locations, and the story behind director Dave Allen, a talented effects artist who got his one feature-length break here and succumbed to cancer in 1999. It's a great chat as well as a valuable walk through an untamed period in horror video history. Finally the disc closes out with a "rare TV commercial" for the company's line of Puppet Master toys (timed to coincide with the 1998 release of Curse of the Puppet Master), a "Killer Montage" of the film's horrific highlights (also from an older full frame master), and a barrage of hi-def trailers for Full Moon titles both old and new like Subspecies, the Killjoy films, Killer Eye: Halloween Haunt, and a seriously mouth-watering one for Castle Freak.