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Puppet Master: Axis Rising

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Release Date: 
Full Moon Features
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Directed by: 
Charles Band
Paul Thomas Arnold
Oto Brezina
Kip Canyon
Bottom Line: 

One thing about reviewing movies that are simple, unchallenging and cemented in genre is it is usually easy to make predictions about future installments. In my review of Puppet Master 9 , I made the prediction that the next film in the series would likely deny any of what happened in AXIS OF EVIL and could probably ignored.  Such a prediction (however misguided) was based on the fact that the continuity is so loose in Puppet Master and wacko that it could almost be a contradiction in terms. The Puppet Master story canon is a deranged Mobius strip of a timeline where we get a NEW origin story every third film that stretches the suspension of disbelief of the series, which confuses the viewer and makes it possible to take the films in new directions-at least for people who don’t remember every detail of every film or don’t watch them with a pen and paper as I do. Well as much as hurts to admit it, this was one time where I was wrong. Puppet Master X is an actual sequel of the last film Puppet Master: AXIS OF EVIL.

Young Danny Coogan is puppet master once again and along with his pretty girlfriend from the last film he continues the struggle against the Axis Powers in New York during WW2 with guts, moxie and Puppetmastery. This time I am not going to make any predictions, but with a name like AXIS RISING I am sure that we have at least one more film to figure out who really won the war. With no further ado, let’s see where episode ten takes us.

The film starts out exactly where the previous volume ended (usually a bad idea for a film). The Axis plot to destroy the warehouse where the Manhattan Project was housed failed (whew, that was close) and the Japanese woman Ozu who escaped the battle still has the puppet known as “Tunneler” in a sack.  She is intercepted (shot dead) by Nazi agents who take the toy and give it to their own aged, scientist who often fritters away his time by playing with dolls as a private hobby that infuriates his Nazi handlers.  Do you think you know what is going to happen yet?  It does.  Amidst much abuse, threats and senseless torment the German toymaker named Fauhoffer retrofits Toulon’s green goop and is able to make some killer puppets of his own; several axis themed dolls that actually look neat, better than Toulon’s toys, truth be told and by saying that I am not being un-American or antiheroic. While the traditional “good” puppets from all films look as they always did, and by that they resemble something that could actually be created in 1933 out of by a simple toy master from vengeful hatred and scrap wood, their evil counterparts look modern, slick and desirable by comparison. While this is probably an historical anachronism because they look they were made by a heavily machined modern day tool bench (or special effect house), for once I am going to allow it just for the sake of improvement. There is Bombshell, a female Nazi dominatrix looking doll who shoots machine guns out of her chest piece in a manner similar to the “fembots” from AUSTIN POWERS. Next there is Weremacht a flocked werewolf doll clad in Nazi regalia. Then there is Blitzkrieg, a type of anthromorphic figure with a tanks chassis for a body and cannons (small caliber guns) for arms. Finally there is Kamikaze, a gutsy Japanese soldier attached to an actual full size bomb who is easily the most offensive stereotype of a Japanese soldier I personally have seen onscreen since a WW2 Popeye cartoon, right down to his giant teeth, glasses and “divine wind” ceremonial headband. Seriously, I wonder how long before people start to complain about this one?  “Kamikaze” is an incredibly offensive ethnic stereotype; the eastern equivalent to a “Mammy” doll from the late 1800’s.  Far from being offended myself, I wish I could afford the replica to this sold here.

Though I have heard no such rumor of recall, it seems just like the type of item likely to be pulled from shelves/retooled due to public outcry and will surely accrue in value should that happen. Check it out here and tell me that it isn’t on the fringe of cultural insensitivity? With all due respect to our Japanese friends whose culture I admire very greatly, this is fucking badass, Charles Band, words I haven’t said about you or your creations since I saw the gun from “LASERBLAST” as a tot.

Of course a movie is more than its”cutesy” characters and needless to say the toys soon square off. While I simply would have killed to see some stop motion work here as in the older films, the puppets are manipulated exclusively off-screen in real time yet there are some special effects and much arterial spray as these playthings take out human opponents with their trademark attacks. The Blu-ray is crisp and the digitized blood flashes sparingly but realistically when needed in an R rated fashion missing from some chapters in the series. It surprises me to say, but I liked this one. The entire thing tells the exact same tragic love story from Puppetmaster 3 yet told this time through the eyes of a poor Puppet Master working for the other team.  Moreover, much as in the case of Toulon’s murdered wife became the inspiration for his puppet “Leech Woman” the object of his Frauhoffer’s affection /(his babe in Toyland) is a cruel, beautiful evil Ilsa-esque blonde commandant named” Uschi  who ends up as the “soul” for his favorite toy, Bombshell. I felt for the poor toyman and I too wish I had a real life playmate like that, (but I would settle for the doll replica, if you are reading this Full Moon. Especially if you made a 5:1 scale one, you know…for the carpool lane…heh).

But as usual all of this is not simple fun and games.  This film is actually ANOTHER prequel that actually takes place before PUPPET MASTER in the series and much as of the case of any hyped prequel trilogy released decades after the original films (a certain ruined Lucasfilm franchise comes to mind) the mere fact that you know which characters absolutely MUST survive in order to appear in the later films kind of destroys some of the drama of this.  So much so, that I can actually tell you how this next series of films will go at some juncture to maintain canon. Danny Coogan must ultimately die/retire from the story at some point so the puppets may be returned to the hidden alcove in the Bodega Bay hotel so they can be discovered by the evil Neil Gallager, one of many who should have learned not to play with enchanted toys that are beyond an adults, (if not most mortal men’s) comprehension whether for reasons of sport or illicit gain. 

It isn’t an awesome film but for a Puppet Master film no longer backed by Paramount’s big pocketbook, it isn’t bad. Several of my favorite Puppet Master themes from the other films are evident here: It’s based on an actual love story between human characters gone tragically wrong, the toys kill Nazis; have a showdown where they meet pint sized evil counterparts and there is a hint of a direct chronological sequel which somehow makes at least a little sense, at least in the immediate storyline of the series. A remake of a previous films entire plot in any multiple film series would be the kiss of death for most sequels, but in the case of Puppet Master X’s senselessly bloated ten film “decography” of backstory anachronism, a simple film as this can amount to something inherently watchable if not easily one of the better films in the entire series as long as you try not to think about what will ultimately happen in future films, because that story has already been told, retold (and will likely be changed again anyway). And while I obviously shouldn’t be making further predictions about this series in the closing sentences of my reviews, I feel we are now within three films of seeing “Puppet Master in Space”. 

Extras Include Videozone (making of) Featurette, Killer Puppet Master montage, Uncensored GRINDHOUSE preview and Re-mastered Full Moon trailers.

Grab your copy from Full Moon here!

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