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Film / Attack of the Puppet People

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In which a mad doll-maker turned amateur scientist shrinks some hapless young people and makes them his living dolls.

Produced and directed by Bert I. Gordon, this was originally released in 1958 by American International Pictures, in a double-feature package with the same director's War of the Colossal Beast.

Given the RiffTrax treatment in 2014. Also, fun fact: This film played a role in the Watergate scandal, as Alfred Baldwin, a spotter for the team of burglars, got distracted watching it on TV and thus failed to notice the police arriving.

This film provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Mr. Franz is a kind, grandfatherly old man who never shows any true anger toward the "dolls" he's holding against their will, even when he's planning to kill them and himself. While he does have some unsettling tastes, his principal motivation for shrinking his victims is his crippling loneliness.
  • Chroma Key: It's especially noticeable when the doll maker holds a shrunken cat.
  • Covers Always Lie: The dog attacking the dolls in the poster art (and on the DVD cover) is a totally different dog from the one in the film.
  • Dirty Old Man: Mr. Franz shows a particularly creepy behavior once he shrinks his assistant Sally, and of course she wakes up naked – since the process shrunk only her, not her clothes – and he offers her an extravagant dress, from one of the dolls he ordered for her to wear instead. He also offers to "help" her change into her new dress; unsurprisingly, Sally refuses.
  • Empty Piles of Clothing: Averted, in that we never see the dolls in anything but doll sized clothes or a napkin. It's implied, as one states they saw their old clothes hung up in a closet.
  • Evil Old Folks: Zig-Zagged. Sure, Mr. Franz shrinks people against their will, but he treats them very nicely, and mostly just seems to be lonely. That is, until he decides to kill all his victims and himself.
  • The '50s: Clothing, slang, all of it is typical fifties.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: To a ridiculous extent with Bob and Sally. He shows up trying to barge into the office one day, is obnoxious to her, then mocks her when she admits Mr. Franz is a bit scary and talks to his dolls like a real person. Bob later gives her a plain, half-assed apology...and it cuts to them on a date, no lead in, no montage of them getting to know each other. Bob randomly proposes to her and asks her to run away with him to get married in Vegas and she agrees. It's as strange as it sounds.
  • Freudian Excuse: Mr. Franz's profound need for companionship stems from the fact that his wife unexpectedly left him for an acrobat.
  • The Ghost: Franz's wife Emma, who left him to run away with an acrobat.
  • Informed Attribute: Mr. Franz's old friend Emil often describes his marionette act as one of the best in Europe, but what little is shown is downright amateurish.
  • Mood Whiplash: Before he enacts his murder-suicide plan, Franz takes his dolls to the theater and forces Sally to participate in his marionette show by having her interact with a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde puppet (she plays along so that one of the other dolls can drug Franz's coffee). Apropos of nothing, Bob charges onto the stage and destroys the puppet of Dr. Jekyll in a fit of rage. While this does create a distraction that allows the rest of the dolls to flee before Sally and Bob do the same, there's no reason why they couldn't have kept humoring Franz until the drug took effect.
  • Never Trust a Title: The Puppet People are more like doll people. Also, they never attack anyone.
  • No Ending: Two of the "dolls" get back to normal size and leave, telling Mr. Franz they're calling the police, but we never find out what happens to the other little people, what the police do, or whether Franz goes through with his plan of killing himself instead of living the rest of his life alone.
  • No Indoor Voice: Bob is understandably freaked out to wake up the size of a doll, but he shouts at Franz in a bizarrely monotone voice before Franz explains the shrinking process and what he plans to do with them. This is even weirder since later, they attempt to call someone using the rotary phone and their voices are "too small" or quiet to be heard by a normal person on the other side of the call. Bob's shouting was very easy to hear.
  • No Peripheral Vision: The man at the theater somehow does not see the 12-inch tall people frantically waving to get his attention. The camera work is admittedly confusing, but they appear to be within his field of vision and yet he doesn't see them waving desperately at him from the open suitcase on the floor.
  • Police Are Useless: A detective is following the doll-maker, but never catches him doing anything. He never even gets past the Not Now, Kiddo subplot, even when a little girl backs up the missing character's story.
  • Puppet Shows: Franz puts on one starring the living dolls and a Jekyll & Hyde marionette.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Several objects change size between when they are near Franz versus when they are near the people he's shrunk. Most bizarrely are the paint cans on the shelf where they congregate. What are they doing there? Why would Franz shrink them? And how small did he really shrink his captives? They look much smaller in some shots but then appear almost Barbie sized in others.
  • Shrink Ray: Although all the shrinking is done off screen.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Franz's "dolls" steal one of the pills he uses to put them to into a state of suspended animation so that they can drug his coffee while they're all at the theater. Because of the sheer difference in size between them and Franz, they don't expect it to knock him out, but they hope that it will at least slow him down when they try and escape. After he drinks the coffee, Franz doesn't display any symptoms, although Sally and Bob do manage to beat him back to his office and return themselves to normal, so presumably the pill helped a little.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Possibly with the other four puppet people that Bob and Sally meet. It's a bit unclear how long they've been with Franz, but it seems to have kicked in by now. However, once Franz disappears, they do make attempts to contact someone else for help. Some have accepted their fate until they find out Franz has planned a murder/suicide and they snap out of the Stockholm Syndrome and try to save themselves.
  • Taking You with Me: When Mr. Franz learns he's about to be connected to all the vanishing people, he decides a murder/suicide with his "dolls" is a better alternative to being alone.
  • That Poor Cat: He shrinks his cat to demonstrate the shrink ray, then shoves it in a matchbox and lets a little girl play with it. It's not seen again after he gets it back from the little girl.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Sally seriously goes to the cops after seeing shrunken Bob in the glass jar and tells them she thinks the doll man shrunk him instead of simply pointing out that Franz could be a suspect in Bob's disappearance. As we see later on, they do eventually connect the dots of the missing people surrounding Franz, but all Sally did was make herself seem daft instead of doing Bob any good.
    • Granted that it doesn't work because of a Plot Hole, but why would Franz leave a perfectly good working telephone within reach of his captives and leave the window up? Even if the previous four people have Stockholm Syndrome, Bob and Sally definitely don't and have been angry and defiant with him the entire time. Their escape attempts fail, but if they hadn't, he would've been quickly caught thanks to such blatant oversights.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never learn what happened to four of the six puppet people or the cat.
  • Wicked Toymaker: A friendly puppet/dollmaker is shown to secretly shrink people in order to store them in his lab. Every once in a while he pulls them out and makes them "play" for him.