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Evil Puppeteer

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"The Puppeteer" by sculptor Thomas Kuebler.

Puppet Chorus: Get in line, stay in time
Kaos called, it's time to shine!
The puppets dance, in her trance!
Mesmeralda: You never really had a chance! I'm the one who pulls your strings!
— Mesmeralda's Villain Song, Skylanders: SWAP Force
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For many years, people have been disturbed by the lifelessness of puppets and dolls, and the fear of these toys coming to life has led to tropes such as Perverse Puppet and Demonic Dummy. In turn, some are fascinated or horrified of the people who control said puppets, and as a result, many puppeteers and ventriloquists in fiction will be bad guys.

Another factor in the negative portrayal of puppeteers is the idea of People Puppets - having another person literally pull you around with strings. Some evil puppeteers may even perform Puppet Permutation: the act of turning people into puppets.

Another reason why puppet masters may be portrayed as bad guys is because of the symbolism that they inspire. The way a puppeteer controls a puppet is easily comparable to someone manipulating others socially. The mastermind behind a gang or conspiracy is often referred to as "the one pulling the strings", and the image of a hand holding a puppet control bar is usually used to indicate power and control.

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If an evil puppeteer is a Funny Animal, then he or she may be a spider, due to a spider's silk resembling a puppet's strings.

May be a Marionette Master or a Living Doll Collector.

Compare Wicked Toymaker, Repulsive Ringmaster, Depraved Kids' Show Host, and Monster Clown.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • One of the openings of Crimson Spell combines this with Evil Overlooker, depicting Rimris holding up a slumped, shirtless Vald with marionette strings.
  • In Hunter × Hunter, Chrollo is this trope whenever he uses the Order Stamp. It's a wooden stamp with a marking that, when stamped onto a puppet's forehead, allows the puppet to be given simple orders by the stamp's wielder, which it will follow until the puppet is destroyed or the ink is removed. Chrollo is shown to be able to control dozens, if not hundreds, of such puppets simultaneously with the Order Stamp.
  • Naruto: Sasori of the villainous Akatsuki organization fights mainly using special puppets that he controls with chakra strings. He also converted the late Third Kazekage's corpse (who can control iron sand) into his special doll, and it's also revealed that he converted his own body into a puppet, with the only living part of him being his intact heart. He's opposed by his grandmother, Lady Chiyo, a good puppeteer.
  • One Piece: Doflamingo is a thoroughly sadistic person with Razor Floss powers that he mainly use for People Puppets - he can manipulate people's bodies, usually to harm each other.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman villain The Ventriloquist always carries with him a murderous dummy named Scarface. Part of the fear factor in the Ventriloquist's character is that nobody knows for sure who's really controlling who - some speculate that the Ventriloquist's meek behavior is just a facade for his bloodlust, while some think that Scarface is actually alive, and forcing the Ventriloquist to commit crimes. In Batman: The Animated Series, Scarface appears to be a Split Personality of his.
  • Zatanna foe Oscar Hampel, a.k.a. Stringleshanks, was a murderous puppeteer transformed into a lifeless dummy that resembled Hampel's most famous marionette Stringleshanks by Zatanna's father John Zatara. However, the spell bound Hampel's wooden existence to Zatara's bloodline. Hampel would later be awakened by Zatanna's presence and come back to plague her as a Demonic Dummy.
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    Films — Animated 
  • The Jester from Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return steals the souls of his victims and transforms their bodies into creepy marionettes.
  • Stromboli from Pinocchio, who has his own circus of puppets and hires Pinocchio, but treats him badly: he underpays him, locks him up in a cage, and threatens to chop him into firewood.
  • Pupettino from Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night plays this trope completely straight by turning Pinocchio back into a puppet with a magical organ grinder. Since Puppetino has done it with Twinkle, a runaway girl Pinocchio grows an affection for, it heavily implies that his whole collection of puppets are former humans that he transformed.

    Films — Live Action 
  • Paul from Lili is not "evil", but he's far from being a pleasant carnival puppeteer. However, this is subverted because his bitterness comes from suffering a leg injury in WW2 that forced him to quit his dancing career, and while initially disliking Lili (who refers to Paul as "The Angry Man"), he prevents her suicide by having friendly interactions with the girl through his colorful cast of hand puppets.
  • In Parable, Magnus is rather cruel to the people in his puppet show, and he participates in the murder of the clown. Then he has a moment of redemption.
  • Jigsaw from Saw is a non-supernatural variant. He often uses an eerie ventriloquist puppet of his own creation named "Billy" to announce his presence.
  • In The Wiz the Nightmare Fuel sequence set in a Sinister Subway is kicked off by a creepy masked peddler who unleashes two puppets that start dancing on their own before growing 7 feet tall and begin to chase the terrorized protagonists with a jiggly Ominous Walk. Later the peddler participates in the torture of Dorothy's friends, as he sadistically flattens the body of the Tin Man using a press.

    Literature 
  • Subverted with Mangiafuoco/Fire-Eater from Carlo Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio. While he initially acts very hostile and wants to finish cooking his roasted goat by burning Pinocchio as punishment for interrupting his puppet show, and then gives off a Bad Boss vibe when he decides to burn his Harlequin puppet in Pinocchio's place, he is moved when Pinocchio begs mercy for Harlequin and tells him about his poor father, to the point Mangiafuoco decides to spare Harlequin's life by choosing to eat his roast half-cooked and gifts Pinocchio some golden coins to help Geppetto.
  • Madame Tarsa from The Crew of the Copper-Colored Cupids is more blue-and-orange than evil, but she's definitely very creepy and very unreliable. And also a bit of a scammer: the first of her creations encountered by the characters is a "ventriloquist's dummy" which steals your voice to speak with, and won't give it back to you until you buy it from Tarsa.
  • In the Modesty Blaise novel I, Lucifer, the Big Bad's hobby is constructing hand-made marionettes and putting on creepy puppet shows with his wife. One of his underlings reflects that part of why the puppet shows are so unnerving is that they're a reminder that he has real people dancing to his strings as well.
  • In Paul Gallico's story Love of Seven Dolls (which partially inspired the aforementioned movie Lili) the evil puppeteer character is played much more straight, being a verbally, physically and sexually abusive lover with no Freudian Excuse for his personality. Only at the very end he has a Heel Realization, but it doesn't really make the predicament he put himself and his victim into any better.
  • In One Thousand Monsters, Tsunako Shiki is one of Yuki-Onna's pets and she has a fascination and mastery with toys and puppetry, using her skill in these to torment Kostaki. She's so much The Gadfly, that during the battle with the Black Ocean, she turns her puppets on Geneviève for amusement.
  • Gaspare Grisini from Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz is a famous, beloved puppeteer - who secretly has a criminal background. He kidnapped the two protagonists from an orphanage when they were very young and trained them as assistants for his puppet show.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Adam Rain, the villain of the Criminal Minds episode "The Lesson" is a serial killer and abductor who loves to target people that feel perfect for the roles of his deranged human puppet show that consists in manipulating the victims like living marionettes. Being played by Brad Dourif of Chucky fame just adds to the creepiness.
  • On Heroes there's Eric Doyle (aka The Puppet Master), a creepy ventriloquist whose superpower is to control people like puppets.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: In "Lords of the Deep", Kinga invents Drone Probes — drones with marionettes of Kinga and Max attached — so she can personally harass Jonah and the bots from afar. But Jonah immediately neutralizes them by just cutting the strings.
  • Odd Squad: The Puppet Master is this, having turned Olive, Otto, and a few other people into puppets in "Puppet Show".
  • Super Sentai has Barakaka, who for some reason really wanted to boil ohpink (pink ranger) alive. He even hosted his own puppet show to show children how he was going to do it.
  • The Tales from the Crypt episode "Strung Along" offers a sympathetic take of this trope: Joseph Renfield is an elderly man who used to be a great TV puppeteer and had to quit due to his heart condition. He decides to try revive his show with the help of young animatronic artist David, much to the disapproval of Joseph's younger wife Ellen. In the end, David (whose real name is Rick) and Ellen give Joseph a fatal heart attack by pretending that his clown marionette Koko is a killer Perverse Puppet because they wanted to inherit his fortune. However, Joseph and Koko retaliate by becoming the Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds version of the Evil Puppeteer and give the two greedy Asshole Victims what they deserve.
  • Zachariah Skull, the villain of The Wild Wild West episode "The Night of the Puppeteer". He not only uses a regular puppet (armed with a real gun) in a murder attempt, he also has an army of life-sized marionettes at his command which he controls via steam lines. They can serve wine, play music... and kill.

    Video Games 
  • BlazBlue: Relius, one of the baddies, wields an automaton puppet named Ignis, named after - and powered with the soul of - his late wife. He also put the soul of her daughter Ada into the legendary puppet Nirvana, that ends up being used by his son, Carl, who wants revenge on his dad. Relius is even called the "Mad Puppeteer" for this reason.
  • One boss in Dynamite Headdy is a clown puppet that controls another puppet to fight Headdy.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location: In the trailer, Funtime Freddy is seen with a Bonnie handpuppet. It's a bit of a zig-zagging trope in the game: when you first met him, you have to use the puppet's voice-cues to keep him away, making him stay away. However, the second time you meet him, then the puppet itself is dangerous.
  • Kirby:
    • In Kirby's Epic Yarn, King Dedede is possessed by a floating puppet control bar that attaches its strings to him and forces him to fight Kirby. To defeat the control bar, you must use its buttons to pull its strings off one by one.
    • Taranza from Kirby: Triple Deluxe, described as the "Master of Puppetry", is a creepy anthropomorphic spider who kidnaps King Dedede, forcing Kirby to save him. He later attaches puppet strings to Dedede, forcing him to fight Kirby once again. However, Taranza turns out to be not as bad as he seems. Once he realizes how cruel his boss, Queen Sectonia, is, he even pulls a Heel–Face Turn to help Kirby defeat her.
  • Library Of Ruina: The Puppeteer, aka Jae-heon, qualifies. Among the many Distortions operating within the City, he has the ability to turn people into gruesome-looking puppets who, while fully conscious of their situation, are utterly powerless in resisting his whims. After contributing to the creation of Love Town, he transforms the first-class passengers of a Warp Train into Puppets before sending them to the Library as a part of the Reverberation Ensemble’s plans. The Floor of Language Realization reveals he was once a Backstreets technician who was driven to resurrecting his dead son but got caught up in Roland’s rampage across the City. Roland ended up destroying his laboratory and rendering his efforts all for naught, leading to Jae-heon distorting.
  • In LittleBigPlanet Vita, the Puppeteer is the Big Bad, who has an army of Hollows that cause mayhem all across Carnivalia. Subverted when it turns out that the Puppeteer isn't actually evil, he was locked up by the Hollows, who are the true villains.
  • Mesmeralda from Skylanders is a ringmaster/puppeteer spider who runs a circus with her "Puppet Chorus", a bunch of ghostly puppets who follow her every command, and even join in on her Villain Song!
  • Resident Evil Village has Lady Donna Beneviento, who is always followed by a Creepy Doll named "Angie" that does most of the speaking for her and lives in a manor filled with dangerous puppets. However, rather than directly fight Ethan she instead uses her powers over hallucinogens to toy with him and essentially make him play a lethal game of hide and seek.

    Webcomics 
  • In Homestuck, while at first Bro's manipulation of puppets via Flash Step and use of them to gaslight and torment Dave is played for comedy, it gradually becomes clear that his raising of Dave crossed the line into severely damaging physical and psychological abuse. Dave (after a long period of denial that anything was wrong or strange about his childhood) eventually acknowledges this.

    Western Animation 
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog: In "The Great Fusilli", the sound of Creepy Circus Music alerts the Bagges that their house has been visited by a magic stage run by a Wicked Cultured crocodile named Fusilli. Fusilli encourages Muriel, Eustace, and Courage to perform on his stage, eventually convincing them to sign a contract to become full-time actors. Things only get worse when Courage goes backstage and discovers many lifeless puppets - and he and his owners are next! Courage goes back to the stage to warn them, but he's too late - letting out a triumphant Evil Laugh, Fusilli uses his stage to turn Muriel and Eustace into puppets. Fusilli is eventually Hoist by His Own Petard when he falls onto the stage, and his natural showmanship causes him to perform even as he is turned into a puppet himself. This is one of the show's few Downer Endings, however, as Muriel and Eustace are still stuck as puppets.
  • Quackerjack from Darkwing Duck is both a Monster Clown and this: he carries a puppet called Mr. Banana Brain around, and often has conversations with himself through it.
  • Downplayed with Mr. Garrison from South Park. He has his puppet Mr. Hat in the first few seasons, and although he's not exactly evil, he's a major Jerkass.

 
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Fusilli

An evil crocodile actor who turns his performers into puppets for his sadistic amusement.

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