Puppet Master 4 (1993)
WRITERS: Screenplay by Todd Henschell, Steven E. Carr, Jo Duffy, and Doug Aarniokoski & Keith Payson.
DIRECTOR: Jeff Burr
STARRING: Gordon Currie as Rick Myers
Chandra West as Susie
Jason Adams as Cameron
Teresa Hill as Lauren
Felton Perry as Dr. Carl Baker
Stacie Randall as Dr. Leslie Piper
Guy Rolfe as Andre Toulon
QUICK CUT: Toulon's puppets are back AGAIN, and this time their history is arguably delved into as the source of their magic life-giving elixir shows up to stop the secrets of it from being discovered. Meanwhile, a tech geek is trying to create artificial life while playing with robots.
Rick Meyers - Our hero, a young and brilliant scientist working on the Omega Project to create artificial life or intelligence. They seem unclear about it. He's a little dorky, but generally friendly and nice, and likes to play with robots and dolls.
Susie - Rick's girlfriend, who doesn't get much of a personality beyond that. She's smart, and nice, and can kick some Totem ass, but beyond that she's just kinda there.
Lauren - Susie's friend, as well as a psychic and channeler. She has a nasty habit of going into a catatonic state, despite supposedly touching spirits with her powers pretty frequently.
Cameron - Lauren's boyfriend, and a rival of Rick's from his time at university. He's a bit of a dick, and still holds a grudge because he was the best, until Rick showed up and beat all his records.
THE GUTS: As the credits roll, the movie opens up with some weird imagery that I'm sure H.R. Giger and the Matrix movies would like back. There's tons of skulls and bones strewn about, and glowing red pods inlaid against the aforementioned Gigery backdrop. Definitely evokes some weird shit, and is a good way to set the mood while we'd normally be bored just watching a bunch of names.
Although, failure to use the classic PM music.
Finally, a creature on a throne speaks, telling no one in particular that humans close to discovering their secret, the secret Toulon stole from them. Man, who knew that KFC was this protective of their 11 herbs and spices?
Seriously though, if Toulon stole the secret, don't we already kinda have it?
Anyways, once Mushmouth is done telling us the plot, we jump to something far more normal, as a guy delivers a small, wooden box to Biotech Research and Dr. Leslie Piper.
Inside the box is a doll straight out of nightmares, or just a midget predator, and it somehow gets her in the lip. Although we're never really shown just what it does. She's looking at it, then suddenly she yelps. If anything, it looked like she smacked herself in the face with it.
She tries to leave, but the power flickers, which makes her drop her keys, and when she reaches for them, the little bugger slices off one of her fingers.
We get some hilarious scenes of the woman screaming at the air, where the doll clearly isn't, and running around. Aside from that opening moment with the box, Leslie almost never interacts with the puppet. It's unlikely they're even on set at the same time, since we don't see them together. Which is a lesson they failed to learn from the first movies. Interaction is key.
At least we finally get to see him jump on the girl's back as she's trying to get out of the lab, but forgot how to operate a door handle. Typical stuff of the puppet velcroed to her back and spinning around trying to 'get it off'.
There is some nice, very Blade-like energy to the demon puppet's movement, at least. They seem cut from the same cloth. Or block. Or something.
Skeletor is watching in his magic pool, and tells his minion to draw the girl's power into them. What power? She's a scientist. What's she gonna do for you, really?
Finally, after far too much time, we at last get to see the familiar Bodega Bay Inn, which is now being used as a lab by the boy genius scientist that Doc Leslie was talking about to Dr. Baker. Rick's desk is arrayed with a bunch of robot toys, and I hate to admit how many of them I recognise. And own.
As our hero talks to his girlfriend, we at least get a shot of Blade off to the side. The couple make plans to hang out, and wait out an impending storm. You know, she's got quite a ride to reach the Bodega Bay from what I can remember, and also, that is one big place for one lone scientist to work.
Rick picks up two of his robots setting them on the floor, and for things that are supposedly metal, they're about as wobbly as old Doctor Who sets. Anyways, he sets them up to play against him in what can only be described as a lame game of laser tag.
The fight ends not soon enough, and we learn this was an experiment in creating artificial intelligence. They say artifiical life, but they're still robots, so I call it like I see it. Can you guess where this is going?
While Nerdboy putzes around, Doctor Baker receives a creepy doll of his own. I love that these people just casually put these mysterious things immediately on their desks. I'd toss the thing back into the box for later, at the least.
Susie finally shows up at the inn with some friends, or as I call them, cannon fodder for the dolls. Susie's got her sultry friend Lauren, and a guy who looks like Egon's younger brother.
We learn that the inn is closed for the off season, and Rick has somehow become the caretaker. No explanations of how or why mind you, just that he is. What about the earlier films? Continuity, please? And someone interested in creating life just happens to end up running the inn where magic dolls live? That's Dickensian levels of coincidence.
Meanwhile, back with Dr. Baker, he gets tired of staring at the killer doll, and sticks it in...something. It's cobbled together from kitchen parts. I recognise a mesh strainer, and a pan insert, and for some reason, the door on it actually says top secret, nuclear something or other. If anyone's looking at this thing, it's a little beyond pointless to label it top secret at this point.
As Dr. Baker gets back to work, he hears a cougar howl out from his nuclear powered strainer. He opens the door and...you know, it has a loose door, holes in it, and is nuclear. This can't be safe.
Whatever. Anyways, he looks in to see how badly the cat is burned, but the puppet inside jumps out at him and attacks his face.
At least, that's what I believe happens, since we don't actually see it.
The quartet back at the inn are having dinner as Blade spies on them. We learn that Lauren is a channeler, and that Cameron with the big hair knew Rick from before, but not that the classified work he's been studying and trying to implement is actually Rick's own. That revelation makes him visibly upset, as Rick was always better than Cameron at everything in their days at the institute.
As the group leaves to check out Rick's lab, Lauren stops to pick up Blade, and says he's cute. He's...he's a black-clad skull with a knife and hook for hands. How is that cute? I mean sure, I think he is, but I'm weird. Hmm, I wonder if Lauren's single...
This isn't the first time Blade's been found all over the hotel, and no one finds it odd? Does Rick just think there's a dozen of them scattered around like sharp and pointy easter eggs? I could see once or twice and shrugging it off, but when he turns up in every room, someone has to wonder something.
Sure, they suspect he's mechanical, but that's just a bit suspicious!
Lauren gets a vibe off of Blade, and wants to see the box he came in. Yeah, I usually save the packages from my action figures too, there's a bunch of useful info on those. Rick shows her the satchel he found Blade in, but she can sense it's wrong, and goes to the storage room to see what's there.
She finds the familiar steamer trunk, and draws the rest of the group there with a scream. Why can't anyone just ask for help these days?
By the time they arrive, Lauren has fainted, but she immediately wakes up to tell Rick to stay away from the trunk. So of course, he opens it immediately.
Rick and Cam take turns hammering on the lock of the trunk, putting in way too much effort than it should take to break open a 50 year old box. Lauren gets as bored as I am and buggers off while the boys break out the acid.
They pick through the trunk, where we can see some familiar puppets and sights, like the Faust poster from earlier, better films.
I thought they'd found the passport, or whatever the 1940s German equivalent would be, of Krauss that Toulon used to get out of Germany, but they couldn't even get that right. Instead they reveal it's a fake passport made later.
Next, they pull out a board with strange things written all over it. Despite looking like nothing else out there, Rick says it looks like a Ouija board, except the symbols are a little different.
Rick skims Toulon's journal and immediately ascertains that the Nazis were after Toulon for his magic puppets. He then starts pulling out familiar faces like Pinhead, so the movie can really get going. He lays out all the puppets and speaks their names, which may be the first time in the four films that has happened to all the puppets. It's a neat scene, but the exposition is way heavy handed.
Susie finds the formula, and Rick decides that it would be a good idea to shoot up the unreactive puppets to see what happens. Because messing with the forces of nature and god is the first thing we should always do. To hell with research!
He administers the magic Mountain Dew to the three puppets, and they wake up after a long pause. Pinhead immediately senses the douche in the room and tries to punch Cameron, but the violence is put to a quick end.
After waking up Jester, the power goes out, and no one freaks out that they're alone, in a giant dark inn, with a bunch of animated puppets that should not exist.
Cam and Lauren retire to their room so Cameron can bitch and whine, and for some reason, he has the trunk with him. Ok, he took it to try and steal the secret of the puppets. But why would Rick let him? Anyways, he pulls out the not-Ouija board and tells Lauren to get cracking, but she's understandably reluctant to talk to the dead.
Meanwhile, Rick kills some time by setting up Pinhead and Tunneler with the laser tag guns to see if they're any more artificially intelligent than his robots. Yes, that's right. It is time for puppet laser tag.
The saddest part of the laser fight is that the three combatants are never on the same screen, again. We see them zooming around, doing wacky things, and firing, but always on their own.
In one part of the hotel, there's the super techno battle going on, contrasted by the low-key seance elsewhere. Both are equally lame. As Lauren sits there and hums, the pyarmid on the not-Ouija board glows, and she becomes possessed. Possessed Lauren tells Cam that the secret he seeks is within the pyramid, all he has to do is listen.
So the brilliant scientist leans over to listen to the mystical pyramid, because that makes sense in a rational world. At least he screams like a little girl when it shatters next to his head.
Like the morons they truly are, all the pair can do is sit and scream as Totems climb out of the hole in the not-Ouija board. I dunno what they could do, but just sitting and screaming ain't helping.
Rick and Susie finally hear the screams and investigate, but don't find anything besides Chicken and Scaredy Cat running for the hills. When the car doesn't start, Cam shows what a chivalrous guy he is by making Lauren go out in the rain and push the car. Nice.
He gets what he deserves though after he locks Lauren out, when one of the Totems jumps out of the glove box, I guess. Hilariously, Cameron shouts out, "What is that??" I dunno, maybe the same thing it was the last time you saw it and screamed like a girl?
While the humans chase the Totems around like fools, the puppets see their opposite numbers and do a bit more methodical stalking of the Egyptian wannabes.
They find a Totem in the kitchen and tussel, but the thing really isn't much of a match for our diminutive heroes. Espeically not when they pick up the frying pans. Pinhead and Blade grab the thing and pin him to the wall, enabling Tunneler to make short work of him. Hooray for technology over magic!
As the thing dies, one of Skeletor's minions is zapped with lightning back in the underworld, or wherever the crap they are, and he falls over in a hollow husk of skin.
Rick comes along and finds his new toys making a bloody mess, and tosses the Totem away. And it is still so weird to hear people actually using the names of the puppets on screen. You never got that before, because almost no one knew them, and the puppets couldn't announce themselves.
As Rick goes to get Lauren and Susie so they can wisely get the heck out of Dodge, the puppets follow them in and pull out a large box. Well, Pinhead does most of the work. They reveal a new puppet, dressed in black leather, and wearing a gimp mask. Or just a plain black head, but the former is more disturbing.
This is Decapitron, this movie's addition to the puppet army. And he's probably my least favourite. His name is not as interesting as you might think. There is no decapitation in his abilities. He can only replace his own head with different heads, to very limited ability. They would have been better off with Torch. Even if that little pyro is bugfuck insane.
The puppets hook the new guy up to some serum so he can be brought online. I'm watching the puppet show version of Frankenstein, really.
While all this is going on, Lauren is still recovering from watching Cammy puss out in the car. until she hears a Totem scrabbling inside the walls, coming to get her. That wakes her right up.
She runs past the thing despite everyone telling her not to, but it turns out ok because the Totem just stands there pawing at the air. It sees Rick and Susie and gets more interested in them. Rick has the brilliant idea to send one of his robots at it. Because he's been so impressed with their combat skills so far, it makes perfect sense to do that.
But then we see the robot just wandering in the middle of nowhere, and the Totem just stands there, so the point of that was pretty much nothing.
Rick grabs his toy laser and fires it at the Totem, which again makes no sense. It's a TOY laser. It has been shown to have zero destructive capabilities. It's not even a secret weapon they forgot to mention, it's literally been displayed to NOT be a weapon. I'd do a better job with a laser pointer and a Nerf bat.
Six-Shooter at least has a competent idea and makes a lasoo out of wire that he runs into the other wires that are waiting for lightning to strike and bring Decapitron to life. I quite like the puppetry on Shooter spinning the lasoo, and the struggling Totem. The puppets are overall weak, but there are good moments to be had.
But the lightning finally does its thing, frying the Totem and giving the necessary charge to Decapitron. As the new puppet comes to life, it's leathery head morphs into Toulon's. Poor Rolfe, this is how they get him into this movie, by comping his head into a lame morph effect. How low the puppet master has fallen.
At least they do give a few moments of him dressed up as Decapitron, but only shown from the chest up, so it's still a lame way to use a great actor. But better than just comped in. Slightly.
Decapitoulon delivers an exposition dump of where he got the serum from, which doesn't quite jibe with the earlier movies. He didn't steal it, the secrets were given to him. He says that Sutek and his followers are committed to stop at nothing to protect their secret. Which is why it took them fifty years to bother? Ahh, retcons.
While Rick tries to find the last of the formula that Cameron stole, Susie tries to find Lauren, while Lauren tries to find a good hiding spot to curl up in and have a nervous breakdown.
Susie finds Lauren being soulsucked, and stops the Totem, but it then chooses to attack Susie instead. She gets slashed a few times, and finally boots it across the room like a spiky football with teeth. Since that's not enough, she grabs the acid and dumps that on the wee bastard too.
Lauren slips right back into the catatonic state she's spent much of the movie in, as Rick returns with the serum. She suddenly sits up and speaks as Toulon, demanding Rick animate the Decapitron, so I guess that puppet is only kind of alive? What's the difference?
And Rick just ran in from the downpour outside after finding the stolen formula, and he's now bone dry. Oops.
Undead Toulon speaks in terms that I highly doubt he would've known about back in the 40s, but I guess he had time to study in the afterlife. And what happened to the evil, murderous Toulon from Puppet Master 2? Not where is he, he's dead, but shouldn't he be that personality and not this kind rewind?
So everyone goes back to the attic to do computery things with wires and science to bring Decapitron online and go into the final battle with Sutek. I don't know why this puppet needs special treatment to be animated, but after way more work than they usually take, he steps off his operating table.
He yanks off his own head, as the acid-covered puppet ain't quite dead yet and arrives to cause some more trouble. Jester continues to do nothing.
Blade goes right up to the Totem but doesn't do squat, because we have to sell the bad-assness of Decapitron. He puts on a new head that looks like a pinball with guns mounted to it.
Our favourite puppet gets punched around like a bitch, while everyone stands and watches, still waiting for the new guy to justify his existence.
So yeah, Decapitron's big deal is that he shoots mildly inconvenient lightning bolts from his other head. Since they take multiple shots to kill the Totem, I figure I could do just as well scuffing my feet on the carpet.
It also begs the question of why the two heads? Why not just the blasting head? The other head doesn't do anything, except speak for Toulon, and he could just do that through Lauren. It's a gimmick come up to justify a name, or vice versa.
With the last minion folding like cheap laundry, Pinhead puts the gimp head back on Decapitron so Toulon can be a bad special effect again. Hey, could Toulon talk to himself through the puppet and Lauren?
Toulon tells Rick that they have set free the magic, but they must protect it, and passes down the torch of Puppet Master to this Phillip Fry looking loser.
Oh well, at least now we can go after Sutek in the last act of the film and...wait what? Credits? No! This isn't a whole movie!!
I call bullshit!
Sigh, at least we get the classic music over the credits.
Video: Not half bad, but looks like what it is; a made for VHS movie, and that was the only source available at the time. It's soft, not sharp, and not the best looking movie, but for what it is, I guess it's ok.
Audio: A standard stereo mix, but a decent one at least. Everything is easy to hear.
Special Features: A ten minute VideoZone feature lifted from the original videotape release, and the usual trailer for the movie. VideoZone is once again a good, if brief look at the making of the movie, and some other promotional attempts for other Full Moon products. Nothing mind blowing, but well done for the time.
First Death: Dr. Leslie Piper, 10 minutes in, mauled by a Totem on her back.
Best Death: Cameron's in the car, trapped with a Totem clawing at him, since he deserved it so much, and we actually got to see it. And they kept revisiting his bloody corpse to get stuff from the car. It's very disappointing that most of the deaths happen to characters not even involved in the main plot or even at the inn.
Best Line: "The Nazis wanted to know how he animated his puppets, and he was afraid of what they'd do with that power." "Duh!" Rick and Cameron. The way Cam just completely undercuts Rick's rather fantastical statement is such a riot.
Blood Type - C-: Well, we got a severed finger, a slashed up douchebag, but otherwise not a lot of blood. They really cleaned this movie up from its predecessors.
Sex Appeal: Again, they cleaned things up, so nothing to report here, at all.
Movie Rating: The cleaning up of this movie affected it quite a bit. In the VideoZone, the movie is described as the wholesome, family friendly horror movie, and yeah. That describes it pretty well. The horror is toned WAY down. The deaths are few and far between. There's barely any blood. The puppets are more friendly and actually good. They're even repeatedly called cute, like repeating it will make it so. All this makes the movie a low point for the series. The story is ok, but unfinished since this continues directly to the next movie. The acting is ok, everything is just ok here. This was the last of the Puppet Masters I saw new, until the recent Axis of Evil, and I remember why now. It wasn't that great. Everything was cleaned up to make the puppets more marketable and friendly, and it almost betrays the series. It's an ok story, but I can only give it two out of five Decapitron heads. It might have gotten a three if it had been a whole movie, and not just the first half of Puppet Master 5.
Entertainment Value: The cleaning up also ruins the entertainment to be had. This is a Puppet Master movie at half strength. This is what a Puppet Master movie looks like when it's edited for prime time viewing. Everything you want to see in a Full Moon picture is scrubbed and washed away. There's a few good moments, and it is silly at times, but not quite in a good way. The Totems were cool, but not fully realised in this movie. Sutek is a generic bad guy who just wants his secrets, and is kept out of the center stage, so he never shines. He just stands and yells as his minions whither. The creature that created the magic that birthed the puppets, seeking revenge for his secrets being stolen by man, should be a huge story, a resonant one with the saga, but it just fizzles as puppets fight puppets. There's those good moments sprinkled sparsely, but overall this is the PG Puppet Master, not the R it should be. Or at least PG-13. The VideoZone mentions Charles Band had just started the family features movie studio, MoonBeam, and I wonder if he was more than a little affected by the success of the more kid friendly movies he was producing at the same time. Another two out of five severed fingers for being too friendly for its own good.