AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A SCIENTIST!
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PUPPET MASTER II (1991)
[aka Puppet Master 2: His Unholy Creations]
“We have only a short time left to distil the
fluid. And then – then – think of it! Another half century as
Director: David Allen
Starring: Elizabeth Maclellan, Collin Bernsen, Steve Welles, Nita Talbot, Charlie Spradling, Gregory Webb, Jeff Weston (Jeff Celentano), George “Buck” Flower, Sage Allen, Ivan J. Rado
Screenplay: David Pabian, based upon a story by Charles Band
Comments: There are some things that I like about Puppet Master II – although not necessarily in a good way – and some things that I hate. Overall my impression is negative, though, chiefly because this first sequel gives us an Andre Toulon risen from the dead, who WILL NOT SHUT UP. More on that anon.
Nothing inspires confidence in a film like a spelling error in the first five seconds.
Evidently, no-one at Full Moon Entertainment was
in any doubt as to why someone might be watching this first of a
eight sequels to
perhaps the most successful of all the externalisations of Charles
Band’s unhealthy obsession with small scuttling things. The puppets show
themselves in the opening seconds, intent upon the neglected grave of
Andre Toulon in the
Speaking of whom, most of our human characters show up next, and we get the film’s first big guffaw as we are treated to a close-up of the logo that spells out for us the alleged qualifications of Our Heroes:
A subsidiary of Generica Inc.
Patrick will later claim that paranormal research
is only funded to “keep a small segment of the public amused”, which I
guess explains why the almighty Bureau Of Investigation employs
bunch of bozos. Carolyn Bramwell, in charge, is the only remotely
professional one in the crew, and that’s only because this film goes for
the much-cherished “female scientist who learns to be a real woman”
trope. With her are the loutish Lance, who we can only assume is the
electronics specialist, and Wanda, whose qualifications are a complete
mystery. (Actually, given that Wanda is played by Charlie Spradling, I
guess that’s not strictly true.) The final crew-member is Carolyn’s
brother Patrick, recently paroled into his sister’s custody, and
immediately pressed into service by her when the keys to the Bodega Inn,
given to her by her government superiors, don’t work, and she needs
Patrick to break in. Charming. Our intrepid investigators begin setting
up, and the screenplay makes a credible stab at continuity, with Wanda
expositing about the post-Puppet
Master fate of Alex Whitaker, who “saw
something that drove him out of his mind”. Later, we hear about the
gruesome murder of the
Oooh! That’s funny: I just got the strangest cold chill down my back. Hmm....
Now, where have I seen that before...?
Meanwhile, the rest of our humans are showing themselves. Professional psychic Camille Kenney (played by Nita Talbot, last seen around these parts falling victim to a demonic nappy service), invited to join the investigation by Carolyn, stops to ask directions from a farmer busy displaying his level of intelligence by putting up a barbed wire fence while wearing no sort of protective equipment. From Mathew and his wife, Martha, Camille learns of a series of animal mutilations, the perpetrator having ripped his victims’ heads open and, well, as Mathew elegantly puts it, “Et their brains!”
Up at the Inn, the battle lines are being drawn between “science” and “feeling”, and even at this early stage we know that poor old science is going to take its lumps again, not least because after about six lines of dialogue we already have Carolyn pegged as full of professional regrets. Here she defends Camille, explaining her decision to invite her by saying, “She’s no fraud. I’m hoping she’ll tune into something that a scientist wouldn’t.” Yup, because we’re all so emotionally shut off and closed-minded. Poor pathetic things.
The next day, Patrick is pretending to make himself useful by scouting about and taking photographs. His wanderings lead with through the, ahem, “cemetary”, and to Andre Toulon’s open grave. (Where the headstone reads “1941”, by which time, I’m very sure the Nazis would have had more pressing matters on their hands. I’m also sure the first film opened in 1939.) Later, over dinner, we hear about Megan Gallagher’s fate, having had – ew – her brain extracted through her nose. “As in Egyptian mummification?” exclaims Camille.
Ooo-oooh!! There’s that chill again! What is that?
Carolyn goes on to describe the disappearance of a
whole team of psychics from the
Those things make me scream too.
Much snickering ensues, while Camille, in high dudgeon, announces her intention of leaving immediately, advising the others to do the same, warning them that they are all in danger as long as they stay in the house. She is packing when the lights in her room dim, leaving only what I assume is meant to be a bust of Andre Toulon illuminated; and she is inviting it to speak to her when Pinhead and Jester sneak up on her. Pinhead grabs her by the leg and tips her over, and the unavoidable physical realities of the situation (damn you, Science!!) are danced around by having Camille hit her head so hard on the floor she is left only semi-conscious, allowing Jester to gag her before Pinhead drags her away and essentially out of the film. Half her luck.
More or less humiliating than death by demonic nappy service? - you decide.
Camille’s, ahem, “disappearance” – “To leave all her things behind! She must have been more upset than I realised!” (not to mention the half-packed suitcase on the bed; bright, these scientists) – leads Carolyn to make phone contact with Camille’s son, Michael, during which the joint diagnosis is “eccentricity”. That night, Lance is manning the monitors when Wanda starts demonstrating her wide range of professional talents by serving coffee and then groping him. This, understandably, distracts Lance, but he does eventually notice that a door that was closed is now open. (Why would you point a camera at the bottom of one unimportant door?) Lance rewinds the film, and he and Wanda gasp as they watch the footage of a small figure creeping into Patrick’s room. It’s Tunneler – and his top-secret tippy-toe walk here is quite hilarious. Patrick has been hitting the bottle hard again, which the next explanation for why someone would just lie there as a homicidal puppet climbs up onto his bed and starts drilling through his skull. Lance and Wanda burst in and drag Tunneler off, and Lance whomps him with a lamp base, but it is too late for Patrick.
"Shhh! Be vewy, vewy quiet! I'm hunting jerks!"
Aaaaaaand then we get one of my very favourite
sections of the whole film. Evidently, one of the perks of working for
the Bureau Of Investigation’s Paranormal Research Office is the right
completely to ignore legal procedure, if and when it suits. Having had
one of their members killed, and in the process captured and dissected a
self-ambulatory puppet, and decided that “it must run chemically,
somehow”, as well as taking some hilariously primitive computer scans of
Tunneler’s internal workings (and
exactly, did they take those
you’d think that these paranormal researchers would consider their job
completed, or at least that it was time to call for some back-up, right?
Wrong. Not only do they not leave, they don’t see any necessity for
reporting Patrick’s death. Instead, they just shove his body into the
TREMBLE BEFORE THE AWESOME POWERS OF THE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION'S
PARANORMAL RESEARCH OFFICE, O PUNY MORTALS
Carolyn is of course shattered by Patrick’s death,
and all the more so because – gasp! –
letting her down. “What is this thing?
gotta be subject
to physical laws!” she cries in despair, poking at Tunneler’s innards.
This scene is interrupted when the door swings open to admit----well,
Andre Toulon is the short answer, although the bandage-swathed,
black-clad figure seems to be part Phantom Of The Opera and part
Invisible Man, with just a dash of Darkman. In any case, he introduces
himself as “Eriquee Chaneé” (a name that Lance will pronounce carefully
Chaney, presumably for the benefit of
the thickos in the audience), in a way which creates another issue. I’m
no expert on this franchise, but I got the impression from the first
Everyone exchanges introductions – here Carolyn
declares her team to be from “the U.S. Office of Paranormal Claims”,
which makes them sound like accountants – and Chaneé declares himself
the legal owner of the house, although he doesn’t happen to have any
proof to hand. He further insists that he only returned to the house an
hour earlier, having been in
And no sooner has Chaneé withdrawn than another stranger arrives. (I’m not sure the Bodega Bay Inn was this patronised in its heyday.) This time it’s Michael Kenney, who has come to report that Camille is still missing. He and Carolyn immediately start making goo-goo eyes, while she makes an attempt to explain what the hell’s been going on before inviting him to stay.
Hey, remember Mathew and Martha? Don’t worry if not, they won’t be with us much longer. Martha wakes one night to find Leech Woman digging into Mathew’s open skull with her little knife (evidently, trepanning is simple and painless). She shrieks and fights back, and manages to take out Leech Woman, catching her up and tossing her into the pot-belly stove – and, let's face it, thereby doing the franchise a favour. (No offence, lady, but talk about useless----) However, this is the beginning and end of Martha’s success, as a new puppet takes Leech Woman’s place: Torch, who has a WWI helmet, little glowing eyes, and a flamethrower for an arm (!) Martha has the shotgun trained on Torch, but – as people in movies will do – just stands there talking and gawping as he raises his arm.... Blade then hacks open the skull of Martha’s toasty remains.
Nothing in the franchise became her so well as the leaving of it.
The worst of the Chaneé monologues start here, although initially they do at least serve the purpose of filling in the blanks in the film’s scenario. The secret of the puppets turns out to be a Mysterious Coloured Fluid kept – yup! – in a Conical Flask, the key ingredient of which turns out to be a certain portion of the human brain, something he calls the “digeneral lobe”. (Djeneral lobe?? I don't know. Anyone got subtitles?) The puppets used the last of their fluid to revive their maker, and are now suffering as a consequence, the fluid needing renewal every fifty years. Torch and Blade return with what was carved out of Martha, only to have Chaneé reject it on the grounds that, “It’s been cooked! You must learn to utilise your talents more conservatively,” he admonishes Torch. (Of course, one could point out that if you need your materials raw, building a killer puppet armed with a flamethrower might not have been the best idea.) Clutching a scroll, Chaneé then launches into a speech about the animating the life-force, something that will be achieved by the combination of the brain tissue with “the timeless secrets of Osiris”.
Chaneé concedes that they have only a short time
left in which to distil the fluid that will restore them all, but tries
to motivate the troops by encouraging them to think of their future:
“Another half-century as
I dunno. Perhaps I’m lacking in team spirit, but I’m not so sure that prospect would inspire me....
The puppets tucked safely into their carrying-case, Chaneé crosses the room to gaze sadly at the picture of a woman; a woman who just happens to look a great deal like Carolyn Bramwell. “We are together again, my enchanting wife!” he sighs.
What did I say?? WHAT did I say!!??
Actually, I can tell you exactly what I said:
“....for decades afterwards, the reincarnation of an ancient love would become the prop of choice for far too many lazy screenwriters, unable to create a convincing relationship between two characters who are nevertheless supposed to be “in love”, or to think up another kind of link between the heroine and the bad guy, and with a random reference to Egypt tossed in by way of explaining yet another re-hash of this now tiresome cliché; so that these days, the mere use of the word “Egypt” in a horror film is enough to set the knowledgeable viewer shuddering in anticipation....”
And you’ll never get a better – or
worse – example of that than right here. Overlooking for the moment that
did not so much as twitch upon first laying eyes on Carolyn, there is
nothing in the flashback we’re all
about to endure – oh, yes: you don’t think you’re getting out of a
“reincarnated lost love” story without a
do you? – to suggest that the relationship between
And another thing! Ever notice how in these stories, it’s always the woman who gets reincarnated, and the man who dabbles in black art immortality? That’s odd considering that the origin of this particular chestnut is certainly H. Rider Haggard’s “She”, wherein an immortal woman met the reincarnation of her lost love in the form of Englishman Leo Vincey. I suppose the lesson here is that cinema has more staying power than literature: clearly, it was the gender-inverted version of this situation in The Mummy that embedded itself in the collective consciousness.
Anyway – I suppose we can’t dodge this any longer
– Chaneé sinks into a chair and gazes up at a poster from the 1912 Cairo
I think they speak for all of us.
I think they speak for all of us.
As the dissatisfied audience begins to drift away,
a mysterious figure watches from the back, and his eyes light up (the
“Lugosi spotlight”, to go along with the Lugosi accent). The next
instant, the little puppet theatre bursts into flames, as
Stranger: “Think of the children!”
“Yes – think of them!”
Stranger: “Think of the children!”
Elsa: “Do it for the children!”
I imagine this scene was funny enough when the film was first released, but post-Helen Lovejoy, it’s a killer.
Oddly, we then fade back to the present, leaving
us none the wiser as to why the stranger destroyed
What follows is simultaneously the most notorious and the most inexplicable scene in the whole film, as our camera stumbles over a small boy on a camping trip, playing in the woods with his, ahem, action figure, which he....
....strips to the waist and whips. Really. And then, catching sight of Torch, lurking in the bushes, he gives a cry of, “Cool!” and dismisses his poor action figure with a contemptuous kick to the side.
Hands up who thinks this is going to end well?
The only thing more unnerving then the action here is the dialogue: first uttering, “Die, Nazi scum!” to his toy, the kid goes on to announce to Torch, “I’m the big star of the movie! I’m Indiana Jones! I’m the director! Do as I say! Move!”
Who exactly this was intended as a shot at (Spielberg? Band? Allen?) is doomed to remain a mystery, however, because the little monster accompanies his words with a whip blow to the other little monster. Naturally, Torch raises his arm....
What does it say about your film when the entirely unnecessary killing of a small child is the best part of it?
Meanwhile....Carolyn and Michael are in town searching fruitlessly for Camille, and we get my other favourite part of this film. Now, as a scientist, I’m quite accustomed to having my career choice dissed by everyone from serial killers to professional naval lint pickers, but in this respect Puppet Master II might just take the cake. Michael takes Carolyn to sit on a cliff overlooking the ocean, and when she expresses appreciation, he agrees that, “It’s not found under any microscope.” Because, yep, that’s all that all scientists do, all the time: they sit there eight hours a day staring down a microscope. Particularly the paranormal researchers. And what does Mr Kenney himself do for a living? He writes westerns – even though, “What I know about the real west wouldn’t fill half a page.” Nevertheless, Carolyn is shamed by this into the usual female scientist confession/justification/apology.
“I grew up as a competitor – pushed myself into a government job because I wanted the structure.”
Well, yes, that certainly explains why you ended up as a paranormal investigator. But wait! There’s more!
“Maybe I need to re-think it all! Do something meaningful, instead of putting scientific tags on nightmares!”
Having thusly revealed herself A Real Woman, and not just An Unemotional Scientist, Carolyn is permitted to cry over Patrick, and ends up in Michael’s willing arms.
Then, unfortunately, it’s
back to the
And yet, it's still poor Charlie Spradling who has to show
And yet, it's still poor Charlie Spradling who has to show her boobs.
Blade and Jester return from another hunting expedition, and in the course of more needless rambling, Chaneé does comment on the fact (apropos of not much) that using animal brains, or pre-deceased human brains, in the fluid would be disastrous – leading to a funny little moment when Blade “silences” Torch with a knife gesture: what, did he think Torch was going to say something? Chaneé orders the puppets to kill everyone else but Carolyn. They learn at this point that she will be “joining them”, and don’t look best pleased. I don’t blame them.
Bloody murder later can only mean pointless sex now; and sure enough, Wanda has abandoned her duties to join Lance in his bed. As Lance showers, Wanda first lies topless on the bed, face down; then turns over; then gets up; then – slowly – puts a shirt on.
Well. That was gratuitous.
Charlie Spradling: the girl who put the full moon in Full Moon
Charlie Spradling: the girl who put the full moon in Full Moon Entertainment.
After a spat encompassing Lane “hosing off” after sex and Wanda coming upstairs before Carolyn’s return to her post, Wanda leaves. Immediately, she hears odd noises from the room behind her. She returns to find Lance dead on the bed, his throat cut by Blade; the discreet cutaway presumably intended to disguise the fact that a full-grown, fully conscious man was overcome by a single puppet in a matter of seconds. Wanda screams and backs away as Blade comes for her; and here we have one of the defining moments in the history of Full Moon Entertainment, as Wanda in her panic knocks over a lamp----
Full Moon Entertainment: we don't need no stinkin' re-shoots!
Full Moon Entertainment: we don't need no stinkin' re-shoots!
Meanwhile, oblivious to all this, a post-coital Carolyn sees from a window that Chaneé is out of the house, and decides to search his rooms – first throwing around her shoulders one of those flimsy wraps that for some reason I’ve never quite been able to fathom, counts as a woman “putting something on”. Evidently, the fact that Chaneé’s attic room is filled with puppets doesn’t tell Carolyn all she needs to know, and she continues to poke around. She has just discovered two adult-sized mannequins in the cupboard when, naturally, Chaneé catches her.
Carolyn’s scream wakes Michael – which Wanda’s scream didn’t; that’s what you get for showing your boobs – inadvertently saving him from Torch, who has just entered the room. Puppet Master II does something unusual with its nudity here. First, when Michael tumbles out of bed, to their credit he is literally butt-naked. Now, it’s not that I particularly want to look at anyone’s butt, but I do get very tired of movie sex scenes that end with the man getting out of bed wearing pants. Here, strangely, they flip the convention, with Michael nekkid – and having to fight a fire that way! owie!! – Wanda in knickers (no top though), and Carolyn somehow emerging in a teddy, despite evidence to the contrary (see above).
His civic duty completed, Michael rushes to the rescue, managing to take Torch out with a fire extinguisher, then to win a wrestling match with Pinhead. He is fighting off Blade when the door of a dumb-waiter nearby suddenly raises up to reveal Camille’s dead body, which is being moved somewhere by Jester. Michael battles on anyway, and manages to toss Blade down the shaft before running up to the attic.
The Hero's Death Battle Exemption felt like a little exercise....
Meanwhile, upstairs, Carolyn is trussed up and being forced to listen to Chaneé’s ranting about Elsa, his own death, and the puppets resurrecting him. (For the first time, I sympathise with her.) “Then – then I saw you! It made all my suffering worth it!” he announces. (Yeah.... Face it, Steve: you’re no Boris Karloff.) Then – finally – Chaneé stops talking, and we get the most effective non-puppet scene in the film as Chaneé transfers his life essence into the male mannequin. First placing a glass funnel in the mannequin’s mouth, Chaneé drinks down the potion containing the extracted brain material, and then cuts his own throat....so that the blood gushes into the funnel, and then into the mannequin. As Chaneé’s dry husk of a body collapses, the mannequin stands up – and speaks in his voice. “Only a moment of pain, and then – immortality!”
Give it up, Steve....
During all this, the puppets have converged on the attic. They are just in time to witness the effects of those substitute animal brains – nothing major: Chaneé brays like a mule – and to be abused by him as “filthy swine”. And then Chaneé breaks it to them that after all their efforts, they won’t be benefitting from the fluid at all, because he’s promised the rest of it to Carolyn/Elsa.
“Of course, you will wither into dry wood....but you have given me back my wife!” he announces cheerfully.
Masterminds Of The World, #672 in a series.
Anyway, Michael finally shows up as Chaneé is trying to force the remainder of the fluid down Carolyn’s throat. Chaneé holds him off by threatening Carolyn, and this distraction allows Jester to claim the precious final goblet. With the fluid safe, the rest of the puppets turn on their former master and give him the ass-kicking he so richly deserves. As Michael and Carolyn flee, Pinhead knocks Chaneé to the ground, and Blade rips his leg open (watery green goop gushing forth). Pinhead then swings Chaneé’s own walking-stick at his hand, which shatters at a blow, spewing forth still more icky green stuff.
So....Chaneé’s great plan for immortality involved transferring his life essence into something so weak and brittle, it breaks under the slightest assault? Oh, bravo, sir! A masterful scheme! [*insert slow, sarcastic clapping*] Actually, I’m not surprised. We are, after all, dealing with an exponent of Egyptian mysticism who can’t even pronounce “Osiris” properly.
Chaneé staggers up, looking sadly at his empty sleeve. Torch closes in and, well, that’s that, really. Except that, as tradition dictates that someone set on fire must plunge out of a window, Chaneé plunges out of a window.
As plans for achieving immortality go, his went.
As plans for achieving immortality go, his went.
The puppets, left to their own devices, start closing in on Camille’s dead body, and the female mannequin...
We visit briefly with Michael and Carolyn – she, naturally, has quit her job – before we get one of my favourite all time examples of the Pointless Kicker Ending, as a van painted with ads for “Miss Camille’s Happily Ever After Puppet Show” pulls over at the side of a lonely highway. It is being driven by the female mannequin, who is dressed as a party clown, and the puppets are on board. Checking a map, the mannequin determines that they should have “turned left at the crossroads” – the same mistake that Camille made at the beginning. (More consideration for the thickos.) Speaking in an odd, stiff, almost-English voice, the mannequin announces their destination to be, “The Balderston Institute For The Mentally Troubled Tots And Teens” (!!!!). “Good therapy for the little brats! We’ll have lots of fun – and if anyone sees anything unusual, well, who’d believe a lot of institutionalised delinquents? All right: back to the crossroads!” And then they drive off in the same direction they were already travelling.
That says it all, really.
"I say, we've been nominated for Most Pointless Kicker Ending! Well
"I say, we've been nominated for Most Pointless Kicker Ending! Well done, chaps!"
Puppet Master II is on the whole an improvement on its predecessor. As usual, it’s the human stuff that’s the problem. There’s a lot less padding in this film than in Puppet Master itself, which is to the good – or would be, if what they give us in its place wasn’t quite so much of Eriquee Chanee’s soliloquising....and if the point to all this (using the term loosely) wasn’t to serve up a fourth-rate re-make of The Mummy. (And if we had any doubt about that being intentional, it is banished with that final reference to “the Balderston Institute”.) But I guess the character material is simply something to be borne with; heaven knows, it’s not the humans – or even the undead – that we’re here to see. The puppet action is all excellently staged – barring, perhaps, the fight scenes, which are certainly the hardest to make credible – and our little stars are permitted to do a variety of actions, achieved through a variety of techniques. No complaints there. Just the same....eight sequels does seem a tad excessive....although as I say that, I must also confess I have the next two sitting around ready to go – and that I’m sort of looking forward to them....
It occurs to me than in some ways, Charles Band is rather like a junkie stuck in a vicious circle; forced, in order to fund his own addiction, to suck in and drag down the rest of us, too; and if what he’s pushing isn’t quite as harmful as what you might find out on the streets – it isn’t particularly good for us, either....
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