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Film / Puppet Master

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"A box of little toys has just become a gang of little terrors. This is not child's play..."
Tagline for the first film

Puppet Master is a low-budget, direct-to-video horror film produced by Charles Band in 1989 by Empire Pictures, but released through Band's then-new company Full Moon Entertainment (with distribution by Paramount). It is considered a Cult Classic and the company's breakout film, as eight sequels were made, as well as an upcoming remake.

The series mostly revolves around a group of puppets created by Andre Toulon. Andre found a secret Egyptian spell back in the 1930s which can bring things back to life. He used it on his puppets and sure enough, they were now alive. Nazis discover the spell and trail Andre all the way to America where he successfully hid the puppets and killed himself. When the puppets are finally released, they'll obey a certain person under their command unless their new master takes things too far.


Needless to say, the series is campy, yet charming to most viewers and fan support has eventually led the first and latest films to be released on Blu-Ray in June 2010.

The series has recently been revived as a comic book series by Action Lab Entertainment, and is actually following up on some loose threads from the sequels, including what happened after the ending of II. It seems the series is making an attempt at addressing some of the contradictions in the sequels.

It was followed by a series of sequels and a crossover:

  • Puppet Master II: His Unholy Creation (1991)
  • Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge (1991)
  • Puppet Master 4: The Demon (1993)
  • Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter (1994)
  • Puppet Master 6: Curse of the Puppet Master (1998)
  • Puppet Master 7: Retro Puppet Master (1999)
  • Puppet Master 8: The Legacy (2003)
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  • The Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys (2004, crossover movie with Demonic Toys)
  • Puppet Master 9: Axis of Evil (2010)
  • Puppet Master X: Axis Rising (2012)
  • Puppet Master 11: Axis Termination (2017)
  • Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018, Remake.)

This film series provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: The Action Lab comic series ended abruptly on "Part 2 of 4" of a storyline involving a rejuvenated Toulon infiltrating a cult, and the subsequent Curtain Call miniseries spent as little time as possible discussing how it was resolved.
  • Action Bomb: The Nazi puppet Kamikaze is a living bomb and also pre-dates the actual Kamikaze tactics by five years.
  • The Ageless: Applies to both the puppets and any human the spell is cast upon.
  • Anatomy Arsenal: A good number of the puppets.
  • Antagonistic Offspring: The comic series finally reveals who is inhabiting the Torch puppet, and it turns out to be Erich Toulon, Andre and Elsa's son who betrayed them by joining the Hitler Youth.
  • Anti-Hero (type IV): Andre Toulon in part III, who uses his puppets to take bloody revenge on the Nazis.
  • Arm Cannon: Torch's flamethrower arm.
  • Artistic License – History: According to the two Axis films, America was involved in World War 2 in 1939—both Danny and his brother Don are eager to enlist and fight—and the Auschwitz concentration camp and Japanese kamikazes are both mentioned despite being too early as well.
  • Attack of the Killer Whatever: Puppet Master is by far Full Moon's most well known and successful edition of this trope.
  • Asshole Victim: The "Indiana Jones" kid in part II, Cameron in part 4, and Joey in Curse Of The Puppet Master.
  • Back from the Dead: Neil Gallagher in the first and Andre Toulon in the second. And technically all the puppets.
    • Neil Gallagher again in the comic series, and he keeps coming back no matter how many times he dies.
  • Berserk Button:
    • The puppets seem to turn on their masters if they become too evil.
    • Two times the puppets seem to turn on their master after he/she harms Jester.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Jester is the least grotesque and completely unarmed compared to his comrades. In most situations he just revolves his face and reacts to the situation, but when pushed he's a tiny killer like any of the others.
  • Big Bad: In the first film, Neil Gallagher controls the puppets to kill our heroes.
  • Blade Below the Shoulder: Blade has two weapon-hands: a sharp hook on the left and a knife on the right.
  • The Bus Came Back: The Action Lab series features the return of Neil Gallagher, Camille, and the Retro Puppets.
  • Bury Your Gays: In The Littlest Reich, several homosexual characters are killed by the puppets.
  • Bus Crash: The comic series reveals that Megan Gallagher died in a car crash.
  • Butt-Monkey: Jester seems to be this.
    • Most of the puppets experience this to some degree. Blade alone gets knocked senseless by a door with tweeting bird sound effects to boot, get startled by and screamed at by a woman he scares in the first film only for him to scream back at her. Then in the second film he is thrown down a dumbwaiter, and thrown up on.
    • Torch is admonished for using his fire too freely, gets mocked by an annoying boy, and sprayed with a fire extinguisher in 2.
  • Came Back Wrong: Why Toulon was a villain in the second film. He'd turned evil because his brain had rotted away and he wasn't thinking clearly. The comic series confirmed this when Toulon apologized to the souls of his friends for what he made them do in the second film, explaining he wasn't in his right mind
  • Canon Discontinuity:
    • Though how it had to be acquired varied, the method to powering the puppets seemed to basically be brain juice up until Retro Puppet Master. From there it seemed to change to tiny amounts of Blood.
    • The first several comics published by Eternity back in the early 90s have a continuity completely alien to the films, given they were written back when only one film existed. Although surprisingly, some of what appeared in those issues (like Elsa being fond of the puppet that would become Leech Woman, her being killed by Nazis and her brain matter used to animate Leech Woman, and Toulon taking revenge on the Nazis) was used in Toulon's Revenge.
  • Characterization Marches On: The puppet's motivations change over the course of the series. In the first two movies they're evil, willing to kill innocent people to serve their master's ambitions—Gallagher murdering his colleagues to prevent them from discovering he learned Toulon's secret, and Toulon harvesting people to brew more serum to reanimate himself and his "wife" into human-sized bodies—though the puppets have their limits on how much evil they'll tolerate from their masters. Toulon's Revenge reveals that all the puppets have been victims of cruelty and murder, reanimated into a second life to fight back, and from this point they fight to protect their masters from the servants of Sutekh (IV, V, and Retro) and antagonistic humans (Curse and the Axis films). The comic series offers the interpretation that being stuck in the bodies of puppets means the souls who inhabit them are susceptible to the wills of others since puppets are supposed to be controlled by someone else.
  • Clip Show: The majority of Puppet Master: The Legacy, with a Framing Device of an assassin killing her way to Toulon's secrets and demanding answers of his "pupil" Peter Hertz.
  • Continuity Cameo: Jack Attack and Baby Oopsy Daisy fromDemonic Toys appear in a one-panel Lawyer-Friendly Cameo in Curtain Call #2.
  • Continuity Nod: Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys makes reference to the Toulon puppets fighting the Nazis in WWII, as was the plot of part 3. Though it's a big part of the series history, this is special as it turns out to be one of the few times continuity is acknowledged in Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys.
  • Continuity Snarl: The Bodega Bay Inn is the unofficial setting of the franchise and the puppets keep returning there under unexplained circumstances.
    • I / II: Toulon hides the puppets and kills himself at the Bodega Bay Inn in 1939, there they're discovered by Neil Gallagher in 1989. The sequel ends in 1991 with the puppets leaving with Camille.
    • III: Takes place in 1941 in Nazi Germany, both Leech Woman and Blade are created during this film, supposedly two years after Toulon hid them and died in California.
    • IV / V: The puppets are found by Rick Myers at the Bodega Bay Inn, the trunk seemingly untouched in decades. Nothing is mentioned about the second film's ending. He becomes the new puppet master and protector of their secrets.
    • VI: The puppets are now in the hands of Dr. Magrew and his daughter Jane at their doll museum, how they got there is unexplained.
    • VIII: The puppets are again back at the Bodega Bay Inn along with Peter Hertz, Toulon's young friend who escaped Germany with him. Rick from IV and V has been murdered between films.
    • IX / X: In 1939, an admirer of Toulon's finds the puppets hidden in the inn shortly after his suicide and takes them home to Los Angeles. There he battles the Nazi agents who hunted Toulon to California. As of 2012, Axis Rising is the final movie in the series, so the puppets remain in LA in 1939 with no suggestion as to how they return to the Inn to be discovered in the original film in 1989.
  • Creepy Doll: To no ones great surprise. Whats interesting is that Toulon is seen to possess quite a few non-animated puppets and dolls that are significantly more friendly-looking. However if the process of Elsa's soul being placed into Leech Woman, is anything to go by, the puppets can get much creepier after being animated.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: The second film nearly has a full party kill due to this trope.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Danny and Beth, who were the main characters in Axis of Evil and Axis Rising, are killed within literally the first two minutes of Axis Termination. The main characters are a whole new set of people who had not appeared or even been mentioned in the previous two.
  • Cut Short: The Action Lab comic series was axed in the middle of a story arc. The Curtain Call miniseries only barely mentioned how that plot was resolved.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: The Axis trilogy of movies does this repeatedly. In Axis of Evil, Max and Ozu are the main villains of the film. Max dies but Ozu escapes at the end of the movie only to be killed at the beginning of the next one Axis Rising by Moebius, who is the main antagonist of the movie. Moebius is killed at the end of the movie but Freuhoffer who turned on him and seemly turned heroic, is revealed to have double crossed Beth and Danny by taking some of the puppet serum himself. However in the following and final movie, Axis Termination, Freuhoffer is shown to be dead after Doktor Gerde Ernst and Sturmbahnfurher Steiner Krabke (the villains of Axis Termination) go to his apartment. Gerde Ernst tells Krabke that she killed Freuhoffer.
  • The Dragon: Blade is mentioned to be the de facto leader of the puppets, second only to their master/creator.
  • Dragon Lady: Axis of Evil has Ozu, an Imperial Japanese spy and saboteur working with the Nazi agents who tried to capture Toulon. Despite hiding in a Chinatown opera house, "because Americans can't tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese", she's always dressed as a Japanese geisha in a kimono, full-face make up, sandals, along with talon-like nails. Ozu spends the film arguing national and cultural pride with her Nazi "ally", cock-teasing him, and plotting to steal Toulon's secret for Japan. Danny even refers to her as Dragon Lady after he first discovers her plans, and she confronts him with a katana after her men are killed.
  • Faux Affably Evil: In The Littest Reich, Andre Toulon tries to come off as a classy gentleman, but can't hide his creepy sinister nature. And that's before he's revealed as a murderous Nazi.
  • Final Girl
    • Megan in original.
    • Carolyn in second.
    • Lauren and Suzie in fourth, later Suzie become final girl in The Final Chapter.
    • Jane in Curse of the Puppet Master.
    • Elsa was this in Retro Puppet Master.
    • Beth in Axis of Evil and Axis Rising.
    • Alexandra in the crossover.
  • Fingore: Blade does this pretty graphically when he lets Neil Gallagher know what he thinks of his escape attempt.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: With what Tunneler did to Carissa in the first movie. We know it involved her face, and she was still alive for a few moments after he stopped. When we see Carissa's corpse later on, her entire lower jaw is covered in blood.
  • Groin Attack: Tunneler drills Joey in the crotch in Curse of the Puppet Master.
  • Happy Harlequin Hat: Jester wears one.
  • Hate Sink: Neil Gallagher is a seemingly-deceased psychic researcher who has some of his colleagues contacted to attend his funeral. Their reactions reveal that none of them liked him, compounded by the fact that one of them gets visions of him raping a woman. As it turns out, he had himself resurrected in an immortality scheme, and has set killer puppets on his supposed friends.
  • Hell Hotel: The backdrop for the first five films is Bodega Bay Inn. How much the hotel plays into this trope depends on the film, as it changes from a friendly if empty hotel during off-season to a abandoned and secret passage filled hotel with its own graveyard.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Dr Magrew in Curse of the Puppet Master after he turns Robert into Tank.
  • Hook Hand: Blade's left hand, his other is a knife.
  • Immortality Immorality: Neil Gallagher, though he was allegedly just as bad before.
  • Job Title
  • Kill It with Fire:
    • Torch is named for his flamethrower arm.
    • The fate of Leech Woman in Part II.
  • Legacy Character: In Retro Puppet Master, it's revealed that Toulon had a set of puppets in 1902, when he learned the secret of life, that closely resembles the puppet stars of the franchise. The "retro" puppets are made of wood, generally unpainted, and have similar designs, outfits, and weapondry of the later puppets. Among the 1902 puppets are "retro" Blade, Pinhead, Six-Shooter, along with a version of Tunneler then known as Drill Sargent. The 1902 puppets are reanimated from his puppeteer troupe and friends murdered by the servants of Sutekh—their fate is unknown and left as a Sequel Hook at the end of the film. It's stated in Part III that the familiar puppets are reanimated by Toulon's friends who were killed at the hands of the Nazis. At some point Toulon crafted a new set of puppets based on his originals, sharing the same names, and for a new set of dead friends.
  • Living Toys: Animated by alchemical magic that was found in Egypt. Stolen, rather, from the demon god Sutekh who will kill to keep his secrets. The primary component is also a willing soul who wants to return to life after death. Toulon and Jane Megrew were both content to have the puppets entertain audiences.
  • Marionette Master: Basically, the title of the series and the running premise throughout—each puppet master has an agenda involving the puppets, the evil ones are killers for their own gain and the heroic ones want to safeguard the puppets and their secrets.
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning: Toulon kills himself in part 1 and his spirit seems occupy Decapitron in parts 4 and 5. Convenient or deliberate?
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: In Axis Rising Beth tells Danny to let Freuhoffer go after he helps them and tells her that he was forced to help the Nazis. Freuhoffer after leaving is shown to have taken some of the puppet serum clearly double crossing them.
  • Negative Continuity:
    • Oh boy. Applies to how the puppets got away from Camille Kenney after Part II, how the puppets got from Rick Myers to Peter Hertz between Part 5 and The Legacy, how the puppets got back to Bodega Bay Inn following Curse of the Puppet Master, and most recently how they got back to Bodega Bay Inn between the events of Axis of Evil and the parts of the first film taking place in the present. Theories abound. Interestingly Fanon prior to Legacy made some sense, assuming that Curse came after Part II so the puppets didn't have to make 2 off-screen trips back to the Bodega Bay Inn
    • Nevermind the whereabouts of particular puppets between films, such as Six Shooter being made in the third film, which chronologically takes place before both the first and second movies but never showing up in them and many other such oddities.
  • No Ontological Inertia: In II, Toulon's reanimated body disintegrates back into a moldering corpse as soon as he possesses something else.
  • Off with His Head!: Several charcters in The Littlest Reich are decapitated.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Toulon in The Littlest Reich is a Nazi collaborator, and it shows. He's disgusted enough by a lesbian couple to have his puppets kill them, and a good chunk of his victims in the hotel are either Jewish, people of color, or Romani. That said, the puppets did kill anyone who tried to escape.
  • Pretty Boy: Toulon in Retro Puppet Master, played by Greg "Mark" Sestero.
  • Puppet Permutation: The plot of the sixth film, Curse of the Puppet Master. In the end, the antagonist succeeds.
  • Pyromaniac: Torch is a cruel and sadistic puppet who burns people alive.
  • Screaming Woman : The series manages to avoid this trope in the first and third film but then we get Lauren in the fourth film and if you think its bad there wait until the fifth film where she finds ways to do even less and manages to scream much. much. more.
  • Sequel Hook:
    • Retro Puppet Master ends with Toulon promising the story of what became of his original 1902 puppets for another day.
    • Axis Rising ends with Freuhoffer slinking off with a vial of the reanimation serum.
  • Series Mascot: Blade is the face of the series. Often times when you see a horror montage, collage, etc., with Puppet Master included, the other puppets + masters aren't gonna show up.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The series contains a green formula that gives the puppets life. In 1985, the same producer was responsible for the Re-Animator film.
    • The Blade puppet was designed after Klaus Kinski.
    • In the second movie, Toulon is constantly wrapped in bandages akin to The Invisible Man.
  • Slashed Throat: What a way to go for Dana Hadley.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome:
    • Megan Gallagher, owner of both the puppets and the hotel, off-screen between the first and second films.
    • Disappointingly, Rick Myers was murdered off-screen in Puppet Master: The Legacy.
    • Ozu from Axis of evil is killed in the opening scene of Axis Rising.
      • The following movie Axis Termination, Danny and Beth are killed in literally the first two minutes of the film. Freuhoffer is likewise revealed to be dead a few scenes later on.
  • Take That!: Given how close their release years were, the films tagline seems a dig at the similar Child's Play series.
  • Too Dumb to Live: In the third film, the entire plot is kicked off because Toulon thought it was a good idea that put on a public show that made fun of Adolf Hitler. In Germany. During 1941.
    • In the first one, Neil was foolish to attack the puppets. Thinking they wouldn't turn on him for that.
    • Toulon in the second one should have known better then anyone that it was not a wise idea to go back on the promise he made to his puppets. Especially considering they were the ones that brought him back to live since they needed his help.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Afzel takes his own life in Retro, seemingly just to unnerve his would-be assassins.
  • This Is a Drill: Tunneler's gimmick is his drill head, also shared by his retro version Drill Sergeant.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Toulon faces off against them in III, and is one himself in the remake.
  • Torpedo Tits: Bombshell is modelled after the late Uschi and her uniform, with an armor-plated bra coming out of the blouse. The bra flips open to reveal tiny machine guns and a seemingly limitless ammo supply.
  • Translation Convention: In Puppet Master III.
  • Versus Title: Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys
  • Villain Ball:
    • In Toulon's Revenge, Major Kraus makes the bone-headed decision to murder the already-wounded Elsa Toulon after she spits on him. Her husband was in Gestapo custody outside believing that an ambulance would be coming for her, Kraus could have used her as a hostage to get the reanimation secret from him—even if treatment failed and she died of her initial injury. Instead he executes her off the bat, Toulon hears the gunshot and knows his wife is dead, leaving him determined to make his escape and plot revenge. This is even pointed out in the movie by General Mueller.
    • In the Axis of Evil, the antagonists have a field day playing Pass the Ball. We're spies in the middle of US on the brink of war? Let's change into our national costumes! What, you mean the middle of an open area isn't a secure place to discuss our plans, and we know this because we've been caught out before? Let's discuss further plans there! I'm tired of chasing the protagonists about; I think I'll stop and have something to eat... hey, this thing is wriggling like a leech; I'll make sure I eat it first.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • The oriental puppet and un-animated Indian puppet are shown in the very first film but only at the start. In Axis of Evil, they are still there when Danny opens up the trunk. However it's never shown if they get animated or what could possibly happen to them.
      • The Action Lab comics at least explain what happened to the oriental puppet (and gives him a name: Kahn). A year before the first movie, Neil Gallagher uses the puppets in a "test run" to try and use the elixir on humans. It fails, and in a fit of rage her destroys Kahn, explaining his absence in the first movie.
    • There's also the maid of the Gallaghers in the first film. After being killed by Pinhead, she is revived by Neil Gallagher and shown briefly guarding one of the exits. After that, she's never seen again. You think a zombie maid would be a cause for alarm.
    • This applies to the human-puppetized Camille Kenney, who rode off into the sunset to kill kids at the end of part 2, the puppets in cages in the back of her truck. The comic series reveals Camille had indeed bedeviled the kids of the Boulderston Institute before the puppets eventually abandoned her and she was left inert. She returns as a villain and her soul is transported into a female version of Jester, only she's now sharing the body with a psychiatrist who pretended to be her.
    • And whatever happened to the Retro Puppets? They show up in the comic series as well.
    • Axis so far leaves open doors. Ninja is presumed dead from the explosion in Axis of Evil. As are the Nazi puppets in Axis Rising. At least for now that is.
  • Wicked Toymaker: Andre Toulon has created puppets that are definitely twisted in design. They range from the hook and knife handed Blade to the leech spewing Leech Woman. Depending on which movie of the series however, Andre is either a good guy who uses his puppets to fight against Nazis and other sorts of evils, or a wicked zombie who uses them to murder people for body parts.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The puppets aren't exactly picky about who they kill.
    • Torch burns a child alive in II.
    • A baby is ripped out of a woman's belly and a boy has his hands chopped off in The Littlest Reich.


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