Odds are, if you're old enough to remember wandering the aisles of a Blockbuster or your favorite local video store, you remember seeing near countless VHS or DVD covers for horror movies that never made it to theaters, but existed, it would seem, for the sole purpose of tempting people's curiosity. The Puppet Master franchise was a major staple in that particular department and one that is still going strong today. Now, for the first time since its inception, it's been totally rebooted with Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. There may no longer be video stores with shelves for this movie to grace. However, if you're a horror fan who isn't easily offended and can get on board with something that can only be described as delightfully depraved, seek this out.
Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich centers on a man named Edgar, played by Reno 911 star Thomas Lennon who, despite the over-the-top nature of this thing, actually plays a much more serious role than we're accustomed to seeing him in. Edgar is dealing with a messy divorce and is forced to move back in with his parents, which isn't going over all that well. To get some quick cash, he decides to sell a nefarious-looking puppet that his now-deceased brother owned, at a small-town convention. These puppets have connections to a string of murders from three decades ago and have something of a following as a result. As it happens, gathering a bunch of these puppets in the same place at the same time for a convention turns out to be a terrible idea. The puppets come to life. A great deal of death ensues.
I can't claim to be an expert on the Puppet Master franchise. I've seen the original and some of the sequels here and there. I have an affection from cheesy horror movies and those fit the bill. But these movies were never really at a prestige level, even at their best. This franchise was in need of a modern reboot and Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich absolutely nails it. It is simultaneously every bit as ridiculous as it should be and, on the other end of the spectrum, ludicrously gory and obscenely violent. The bloodshed matches, in magnitude, the absurd premise of having evil Nazi puppets come to life in order to murder people. I can really only describe it as gore-cheese.
Let's be crystal clear; this movie is utterly bloodsoaked and visually disturbing. Directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund did not mess around, to the point that this movie is being released unrated. It's beyond R. The kills in this movie are so absurd and maliciously violent that casual horror fans will probably be put off by it. There is one kill in particular that I'm not sure I'll ever be able to shake. The word shocking is thrown around unfairly. This kill is genuinely shocking. Not only is it unabashedly gruesome, but Puppet Master: The Littles Reich, as the title sort of implies, wastes no time attempting to be politically correct. This movie is destined to be accused of being tasteless and offensive. And you know what, it probably is. But damned if it isn't a blast.
Beyond the gore, there is actually a lot to love. Despite being reasonably low-budget, there is a lot of care and craft going on here. The puppets are real and they look great. The fact that these are real puppets doing the killing adds a needed layer of tangibility to the cheese. It's also very much honoring the franchise this reboot is built on. Beyond that, there are also a few very good jump scares to go with the gore. There's a loving level of craft going on here. These are real actors given earnest performances. This isn't just a movie using shock and awe to garner attention in order to earn a quick buck. The filmmakers are actually taking this seriously.
Save for a very bizarre and bloody cold open, this movie is actually a bit slow to start. But, believe it or not, that time is spent doing some pretty solid world building. Yes, the Puppet Master reboot is actually doing work in that department and I'm just as surprised as anyone. Genre icon Barbara Crampton also provides this movie a shot in the arm and gives 110 percent effort. She absolutely deserves a shout out.
Like all good franchises, the ending promises that the puppet gore is far from over. This is merely the start of something new, horror fans. The newly resurrected Fangoria is, in part, responsible for Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich and this feels like the perfect way to help welcome the publication back. Offensive, obscene and savage as it may be, this is a killer reboot and, if you're not put off by such things, this is well worth your time.