Color, 1993, 78m
Directed by Jeff Burr
Starring Gordon Currie, Chandra West, Ash Adams, Teresa Hill, Guy Rolfe, Stacie Randall, Felton Perry
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) / DD5.1, 2.0
Still the flagship mascots of horror/sci-fi indie studio Full Moon, the Puppet Master characters have evolved quite a bit since their debut in 1989. By the time this fourth entry came out, the team of animated killer toys have become sort of antiheroes in the prior film by fighting Nazis; therefore, it was only logical to push them even further into good guy territory, a development that works better than it sounds since the film still comes with loads of puppet gore and random pint-sized mayhem.
This time out the puppets led by Blade are joined by a new member, Decapitron, a character from an aborted Empire Pictures project years earlier, while Six Shooter returns from the third entry. The team (still including Pinhead and Tunneler, the latter getting some of the best moments here) is pitted against some scaly, malicious creatures called the Totems, who do the evil bidding of an ancient Egyptian demon called Sutekh who monitors the human carnage through a viewing pool straight out of Jason and the Argonauts. Their human target is Rick (Friday the 13th Part VIII's Currie), a young scientist at the former Bodega Bay Inn now privy to the magic secrets that Toulon pilfered from Sutekh to bring his puppets to life. Now Rick and his pals including Susie (Night Terrors' West) and Cameron (Adams) have to pair up with the puppets to fend off the supernatural menace, which won't stop until everyone in sight is dead.
This marked the first official Full Moon entry from director Jeff Burr, who caused a bit of a splash on the indie horror scene with From a Whisper to a Scream (aka The Offspring) and Stepfather II before diving into studio hell with Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. In keeping with Puppet Master II and Puppet Master III, which were designed as direct-to-video sequels to the first film (intended as a theatrical release but instead a trend-setting VHS hit), this was treated given the red carpet treatment in relative terms by Full Moon with some elaborate effects sequences and a sprawling narrative that dovetails into Puppet Master V, which Burr shot back to back with this film. Though you couldn't really tell from the flat, fuzzy VHS and laserdisc versions we've had for years (which were also the source for a handful of DVDs), it's also one of the slickest entries in the series with a vivid, often beautiful color palette, some fun mobile camera work, and detailed production design and character animation. The script is definitely on the thin side with little shading given to the characters, but considering everyone's really here to see the puppets in action, the film definitely delivers.
As mentioned above, the full frame transfer created by Full Moon for the VHS release through Paramount was okay but nothing terribly attractive. (It also featured Torch on the cover despite the fact that he's missing from the film, a goof carried on to this day.) Fans of the series should be overjoyed with the 2015 Blu-ray release from Full Moon, which is more aesthetically framed at 1.78:1 and features much stronger colors, detail, black levels... well, pretty much everything. It looks great and ranks up there with the transfers of the past three films, which were all quite strong as well (not counting the excessive degraining on the first one, which was corrected on the 88 Films UK release). As usual, audio is offered in lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 options; both sound fine for what they are and give reasonable support to the quirky score by Richard Band, though it's still a shame the label won't switch to lossless. The main extra here is an audio commentary with Burr who essentially regards this as one movie along with the fifth entry, which will presumably come along soon, and it's a fun chat as he talks about the origins of the film (getting a call from Charles Band on Super Bowl Sunday to do this back to back with Oblivion), the personal nature of every film he makes, and the weird fact that he did sequentially numbered sequels in different horror series after his first film. Also included is the original 21-minute Videozone featuring on-set footage and interviews with the cast and crew (not to mention a slew of additional promos for titles like Mandroid and Dollman vs. Demonic Toys), plus bonus trailers for Specters, Vampire Journals, the first three Puppet Master titles, Trancers 2, and Subspecies 2 and 3.