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The Puppet Monster Massacre
by Dustin Mills

Picking a number one favorite movie for me is kind of like a parent picking a favorite child. There is one glaring difference, however: I genuinely love all my “favorite movies” and would feel bad picking one over the other. Because of this I consider the few flicks that are under the “favorites” label to be orbiting around the spot, all holding equal ground. One of these special V.I.P flicks is Peter Jackson's 1989 masterpiece “Meet The Feebles.” I must have been around thirteen or so when I first laid eyes on it and I'm still mesmerized by its uniqueness. Ever since, I have been searching for more puppet-based horror films. The two worlds seem to blend together so seamlessly and the things that could be accomplished with such an unconventional medium could really do wonders for the horror genre. It wasn't until recently that I discovered another cult/horror style film completely starring puppets. That movie is “Puppet Monster Massacre.”

The plot is purposefully familiar. A group of very diverse individuals are all called to spend a night in a mysterious castle by a mad scientist named Wolfgang Wagner (Steve Rimpici). We are treated right off the bat to a humorous scene where a throwaway victim gets to meet our eccentric villain. From there we go about meeting the puppet folks that we will be spending the remainder of the film with, and they are colorful. It's made clear at the beginning (although not to our clueless victims) that our villain has created a monster and wants it to grow, with the help of his unsuspecting guests. The primary hero of the story is Charlie (Ethan Holey). He is the “Average Joe” who's just a touch more wimpy than normal folk. He has a thing for his best friend Gwen (Jessica Daniels) and so when they are both chosen to take a run at a cash prize for staying the night at Wagner's castle, Charlie mans up and goes with her. Other chosen guests include Iggy (Bart Flynn) and Mona (Erica Kisseberth), two metal-head types, and Raimi (writer/director Dustin Mills) a perverted dweeb.

The confused lot make it to the house and calamity ensues. There is plenty of the red stuff as well as slapstick humor and a healthy dose of puppet nudity (you know, if you're into that sort of thing). The jokes can, at times, get a little on the sophomoric side, but overall it's a lot of fun and things are kept light. I'd be lying if I said that even the more crass humor wasn't pretty funny and worked into the screenplay well. Without the puppet aspect, the film would seem pretty bland in execution. The plot is basic and it never really allows itself to go above and beyond; never pushes the boundaries of what can be done with horror puppetry. That being said, it's still super entertaining and has a lot of fun with itself. Charlie's war-veteran grandfather Gramps (also voiced by Bart Flynn) is hilarious and all the actors do a great job with their characters (especially Flynn and Rimpici).

I do love the monster character, it's a very interesting design, and I like how everything gets tied together and makes logical sense in the end. Some of the kills could have been a little more effective and graphic given the fact that everyone is a puppet, but for typical slasher style, it's pretty creative. Nothing is left to the plain or ordinary and most everything is done with a unique twist. The dialogue is funny and keeps things moving along, which is always important.

The film combines puppetry for the characters with cheap CGI for most of the effects and sets. It works just fine that way, but in the back of my head I couldn't help but feel somewhat letdown that actual puppet sets and effects weren’t utilized more, giving the film a more well-rounded feel. It's not a huge criticism, however, at times the CGI mixes with the puppetry quite well and even adds to the laughs. In the end, it's more of a modern re-telling of a haunted house style movie with elements of slasher and monster movies. These elements blend together quite well and leave an overall good taste in the mind's palate. It's fun enough experiencing a horror/comedy with a familiar plot knowing that things will get crazier than your average film of the type. When everyone in the movie is also a puppet, that's just the tastiest gravy ever.

The climax is objectively awesome and adds a lot of fun energy to the film. It is very well-shot and designed and helps give the film a much-needed boost that helps the third act feel like a legitimate ending. It takes some truly unexpected turns that give the project an injection of cred and moves quickly and neatly enough to be a successful venture. Any trepidation or ambivalence I'd felt in the past is nudged healthily into the “awesomely entertaining” category with this finale. It ups the action and the fun quality many notches with thousands of bullets and all-out puppet warfare. I respect what Dustin Mills did by making this film, and the way it all ends up is the best example of what I appreciate.

While I'd be lying if I said that my over-a-decade quest for another not-for-kids puppet themed movie was completely fulfilled, I had a great time with “Puppet Monster Massacre.” It's a great ride with plenty to laugh at and keep you entertained.

PJ Griffin, HMS

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