Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991, David DeCoteau)

Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge is Puppet Master Origins. Set in WWII Berlin, Guy Rolfe is a concerned old man. He sees his neighbors in fear of the Nazis so he got some string and he got some wood, he did some carving and he was good. Anti-Nazi civilians–mostly kids–came running so they could hear the old German puppeteer. Except maybe Rolfe’s playing a French guy?

Doesn’t matter.

Rolfe’s puppets are living creatures, however. He constructs the puppets, then brings them to life through scientific means; the newly animate puppets hang out with Rolfe and wife Sarah Douglas.

Enter Nazi amateur puppeteer Kristopher Logan, who reports Rolfe’s apparently living puppets and his anti-Nazi sentiment to Gestapo major Richard Lynch. Lynch already has his own subplot going about he and scientist Ian Ambercrombie are trying to reanimate dead soldiers.

From the start of the film, it’s clear director DeCoteau is being thoughtful. Even with clear low budget trappings, DeCoteau is enthusiastic and inventive. He does extremely well with the empty Berlin streets–empty means less set decoration and no extras–creating this sandbox where the action can play out.

Because it turns out Rolfe’s puppets aren’t just made to entertain kids, they’re also made to kill Nazis. And they kill a lot of Nazis. Toulon’s Revenge actually turns the corner once it fully embraces being a Nazi-killing movie. It comes at the perfect time too.

C. Courtney Joyner’s script gives the actors a mixed bag as far as material. Rolfe’s better with the puppets than with other actors. The scenes with he and Douglas never quite connect. Douglas’s scenes aren’t well-directed. DeCoteau does much better away from Douglas. Even though the opening sweet scene between Rolfe and Douglas is a strong scene and an early sign Toulon’s Revenge mightn’t be predictable.

But Lynch and Ambercrombie are great together. They’ve got the same boss–general Walter Gotell–and they try to get one another in trouble. It’s juvenile; Lynch is this humorless Gestapo bastard, Ambercrombie is a kindly looking scientist. But they’re still Nazi bastards. The film never forgets no matter how likable any of the characters might get in a scene, they’re Nazis.

And the puppets are going to kill them.

DeCoteau has some excellent puppet set pieces. There’s this Old West shootist puppet with six arms (called Six-Shooter, I believe) and those sequences are particularly fun. The puppet does a dance with the arms (in stop motion) and it’s awesome. Sure, the Leech Woman puppet is gross, but… again, they’re killing Nazis. Like they don’t deserve to have a puppet spit leeches all over them. It’s a rather effective way to do a horror movie where you cheer the killers.

Technically, Toulon’s is fine. Adolfo Bartoli’s photography is fine. Editor Carol Oblath has some really well-cut scenes, but also not. Billy Jett’s production design is excellent.

Ambercrombie’s good, Lynch’s good. Rolfe’s great with the puppets. Logan’s not good–Joyner writes all the Nazis real thin and Logan’s the annoying, sweaty, snitch one. Gotell’s good. Douglas’s likable. Her scenes seem like they hadn’t been rehearsed or maybe even written before shooting. But she’s effective nonetheless.

The stop motion is often excellent. The composites are never good, but it’s excusable. Toulon’s Revenge gets away with a lot–like a rocky first act–thanks to Joyner’s plotting, Lynch, Ambercrombie, and the puppets. Rolfe’s usually fine too. At least after the first act.

It’s incredibly entertaining and shockingly effective.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by David DeCoteau; screenplay by C. Courtney Joyner, based on an idea by Charles Band and characters created by David Schmoeller; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Carol Oblath; music by Richard Band; production designer, Billy Jett; produced by DeCoteau and John Schouweiler; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Guy Rolfe (Andre Toulon), Sarah Douglas (Elsa Toulon), Richard Lynch (Major Kraus), Ian Abercrombie (Dr. Hess), Kristopher Logan (Lt. Eric Stein), Aron Eisenberg (Peter), Matthew Faison (Hertz), and Walter Gotell (General Mueller).


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