Color, 1999, 80 mins. 4 secs.
Directed by David DeCoteau
Starring Greg Sestero, Brigitta Dau, Jack Donner
Full Moon (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Retro Puppet Master

Retro Puppet MasterEarly in its long-running and seemingly immortal run of Puppet Master films, Full Moon hit on the clever idea of mounting a prequel with its third film, telling the story of how puppeteer maestro Andre Toulon originally created some of the popular little weaponized monsters whose allegiances change from evil to good depending on the film. Since that turned out to be one of the best films in the entire series, it was inevitable that we’d eventually go even further back in Toulon’s history, showing him as a young man who accidentally acquires the secret of eternal life – but not necessarily for human beings.

Near the end of the 19th century in Paris, the boyish Toulon (The Room's Sestero) harbors a crush on beautiful Ilsa (Dau), daughter of a local ambassador in Germany but finds his artistic pursuits endangered when he witnesses the followers of a malevolent Egyptian god called Sutekh attack an enchanter, Afzel (Donner), who has stolen their secret to immortality. This supernatural gift proves handy in bringing Toulon’s puppets to life (including the Retro Puppet Masterusual standard favorites as well as a couple of newbies), who are soon infused with souls when Sutekh's minions murder members of the theater crew and provide fodder to be transferred into the puppets. Retro Puppet Master

Rated PG-13 and framed with the more familiar old Toulon (a nice cameo by Guy Rolfe) telling the puppets about their origins, this one almost feels like a budget-conscious period adventure film than a horror outing as it tosses in mummified priests and lots of flashy hand blasts, clearly aiming to ride the wave of the same year's The Mummy. Though it was hard to tell in the initial VHS and DVD releases, this is actually a fairly ambitious and opulent-looking film with lush, colorful sets, furniture and costumes giving it a classy feel that somewhat belies the impoverished budget. If you're expecting to see the usual puppets running around causing mayhem, the film only half delivers on that front; the familiar wooden faces here are shown in earlier versions than what we're used to, and they don't really come into play much until the second half of the film. The end result is about middle tier for the series; as long as you know there won't be much violence and it's shooting for a more accessible audience, there's enough fantasy pandemonium here to make for an amusing afternoon of vintage Full Moon entertainment.

The third of four Puppet Master films helmed by the prolific David DeCoteau, Retro Puppet Master looks far, far better on Retro Puppet MasterBlu-ray than it ever did anywhere else. (Weirdly, this one made it out in HD before the film immediately before it, Curse of the Puppet Master, one of the three films in the series still MIA on Blu-ray.) Like the previous titles this was primarily designed for home video consumption, despite the fact that it was shot on 35mm, and it appears a few close up Retro Puppet Mastershots of the puppets and a handful of other effects images were shot in standard def and look a bit jarring here considering that 99% of the running time looks vivid and crisp. As usual you got lossy Dolby Digital options instead of lossless, in this case 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround options, both of which sound satisfying under the circumstances and given the fairly basic nature of the original mix. Extras include a lively audio commentary with DeCoteau (who seems to be incapable of doing a bad chat track) and Sestero, who have a lot of fun looking back at the film and talking about how the effects shots were accomplished and the shooting conditions in Romania, a locale familiar to anyone who's seen more than a few of the company's films before. The original Videozone making-of featurette Retro Puppet Master(19m40s) is ported over here from the DVD with Charles Band leading you into a selection of interviews and behind the scenes footage, but the big new addition here a hefty 125m51s reel of raw production footage from the making of the film, more or less linked by DeCoteau who first appears guiding you onto the set. The puppet material is obviously the most interesting as we see sculptors and puppeteers bringing the little guys to life, so to speak, and though this runs much longer than the actual feature, it's a must for fans of the series. (And you get optional director commentary for this, too!) Also included is a selection of bonus Full Moon trailers including the second and third Puppet Master films, Puppet Master X, Killjoy Psycho Circus, Ravenwolf Towers, and Specters.

Reviewed on June 1, 2017.