Tag Archives: Paramount Home Video

Puppetmaster (1989, David Schmoeller)

Puppetmaster has some great stop motion. The stop motion is nowhere near enough to make up for the rest, but there’s some excellent stop motion. The stop motion is so good, in fact, the lighting on it is better than Sergio Salvati’s lighting for the rest of the film.

Salvati’s lighting is a problem. He doesn’t do mood. John Myhre’s production design doesn’t do mood either. Yet Richard Band’s music does lots of mood. So the film’s constantly clashing. But when it’s stop motion effects of the murderous little puppets, then the mood is in sync.

The film opens in the past, with William Hickey cameoing as a puppet maker who can bring his creations to life. Jump to the present and someone has found the puppets. So the motley crew of principals have to go to this huge empty hotel to meet their friend, Jimmie F. Skaggs. They’re all psychic. Sorry, forgot. They’re all psychic. Anyway, it’s Paul Le Mat the Ivy league professor who dreams the future, Irene Miracle the Cajun fortuneteller, Matt Roe and Kathryn O’Reilly are a couple–he exploits her psychic powers, basically.

Only Skaggs is dead, leaving wife Robin Frates to contend with the puppet-hunters. Except none of the principals ever really talks about the puppets. Director Schmoeller’s pseudonymous script is light on detail, content, character, and, of course, mood. Le Mat sort of wanders through the film in a daze. Not just when he’s left to wander the empty hotel because everyone else is busy getting killed by the puppets.

In the flashback, Schmoeller does a lot with the puppet-vision–when it’s a puppet running around, interacting with an unknowing human world. When it comes time for him to do it in a thriller sequence, he completely chokes. It’s already a bad, long sequence–Schmoeller drags out the death scenes. He’s big on showcasing suffering, even if it’s limited by budget. His direction doesn’t have any of the humor Band’s music lays over the action. Again, Puppetmaster never feels in sync.

It’d be hard, given the performances. Everyone is awful except maybe Frates. And Mews Small as the maid, who disappears and no one cares why. Small’s okay.

Roe at least intentionally exaggerates. It’s unclear what anyone else is doing. Le Mat shuffling around is his entire performance. He’s got the least amount of character and he’s top-billed. At least Miracle has a taxidermied dog. It’s creepy and Miracle underplays it–while somehow going way too far on the accent–but it’s something. Le Mat’s just got a shaggy mullet.

Puppetmaster puts a lot of thought into its special effects. There’s no thought into anything else, though. The third act is better. Once Le Mat gets something to do, even if it’s only for five minutes. Schmoeller’s script has a pulse for a bit. The film goes needlessly far into gore soon after, not just because it’s narratively pointless, but also because the film doesn’t have the effects budget to do it. Schmoeller is always showcasing suffering over the gore in the scene. Not tension, not suspense, not gore, just suffering. It’s kind of weird, actually. Because he doesn’t do anything with it. It doesn’t build to anything.

Because Puppetmaster’s pretty bad. Cool stop motion, some cool puppets, some bad acting. Some really awful direction and writing.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Schmoeller; screenplay by Schmoeller, based on a story by Charles Band and Kenneth J. Hall; director of photography, Sergio Salvati; edited by Thomas Meshelski; music by Richard Band; production designer, John Myhre; produced by Hope Perello; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Paul Le Mat (Alex Whitaker), Robin Frates (Megan Gallagher), Irene Miracle (Dana Hadley), Matt Roe (Frank Forrester), Kathryn O’Reilly (Carissa Stamford), Mews Small (Theresa), Jimmie F. Skaggs (Neil Gallagher), and William Hickey (Andre Toulon).


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Trancers 5: Sudden Deth (1994, David Nutter)

There are no good parts to Trancers 5: Sudden Deth. The best parts, however, are when you forget you’re watching an actual motion picture–or even a direct-to-video release on a name label–and think you’re instead watching some terrible fantasy movie shot by the staff of a renaissance fair. At one point there’s a magic map and it looks like an eight year-old’s treasure map to their Halloween candy (hidden under their bed). It’s ludicrous. Not in an endearing way, but definitely in a way slightly more amusing than anything else going on in Trancers 5. Because Trancers 5 is really, really bad.

Tim Thomerson escapes as unscathed as humanly possible. He doesn’t have a single good line in the entire movie, not a single good moment because Nutter’s direction is so lame and Peter David’s script is so weak; he never embarrasses himself further than the inherent embarrassment of being involved with such a production.

Almost every other performance is horrific. Clabe Hartley, Ty Miller, Terri Ivens. They’re all awful. Mark Arnold is awful in a different way; he tries and fails. No one else tries.

The story has Thomerson and Miller going to a haunted castle to get a time diamond to send Thomerson back home. It’s occasionally a lot like a tone-deaf, terrible Army of Darkness knock-off. The plotting is dumb. Just about halfway through, it gets a lot worse as Miller gets the first of his many “I’m an energy vampire but I’m okay” speeches. Bad writing, bad directing, bad acting. Thomerson gets credit for not rolling his eyes in the two shots during these deliveries.

The boringness of Trancers 5–the relentless lameness throughout–is the worst part. It opens with too long opening titles, then a seven minute recap of the previous film (poorly narrated by Arnold). Then it’s only like an hour of actual movie and every minute of it is lame.

Also lame are Adolfo Bartoli’s photography and Gary Fry’s music.

Trancers 5 is dreadful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Nutter; screenplay by Peter David, based on characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Lisa Bromwell; music by Gary Fry; production designer, Mircea-Dudus Neagu; produced by Michael Catalano, Oana Paunescu and Vlad Paunescu; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Ty Miller (Prospero), Terri Ivens (Shaleen), Clabe Hartley (Lord Caliban), Stacie Randall (Lyra), Mark Arnold (Lucius), Jeff Moldovan (Harson) and Stephen Macht (Harris).


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Trancers 4: Jack of Swords (1994, David Nutter)

I’m not sure where to start with Trancers 4 except I don’t recommend anyone else ever watch this film. Especially not if you like Trancers or even Tim Thomerson. That definite discouragement aside, for a direct-to-video sequel shot in Romania and set in a different universe like an episode of the original “Star Trek” just so they could use castles and magic and dumb shit, Trancers 4: Jack of Swords could be worse.

It’s bad. It’s a very bad film and director Nutter completely misses the chance to give it any charm whatsoever; he’s really bad. But it could be worse. Peter David’s script is quirky in its plotting. One can only imagine who he had in mind for playing the villain. Instead of anyone good, it’s Clabe Hartley, who kind of acts like a Chippendales dancer trying out to be a magician in 1984. But I’m not even sure Hartley gives the worst performance in the film. He’s energetic. He’s bad at his job but he’s trying.

But Hartley’s still bad because Trancers 4 is bad. It’s just affably simple. Once you get past all the stupidity in the production–like rebel leader Terri Ivens having on a leather bikini top–David’s script is reliably predictable. Nutter butchers whatever pacing the script’s got and doesn’t seem to direct the actors at all.

The not always bad performances are from Stacie Randall, Ty Miller, Alan Oppenheimer and Stephen Macht. Mark Arnold for some reason gets the worst direction in the film as Hartley’s sidekick and it appears to be because Nutter doesn’t understand the script. He probably should’ve asked David to explain it to him. And Arnold, who’s lost, but occasionally seems like he thinks he’s trapped in a terrible comedy.

Lochlyn Munro is bad.

Technically, it could be worse. There are no crew standouts but it’s obvious Nutter’s bad at the whole shot composition thing so there’s only so much the cinematographer and the editor can do. Gary Fry’s music is pretty lame. And the stupid thing has three minute opening titles; they’re desperately trying to pad this thing. It’s seventy-four minutes and has some boring stretches.

Maybe the worst part is the opening with Thomerson in future L.A. was terrible but not without potential. Thomerson’s lost here. The direction’s bad, he’s sharing too much of the script with the supporting cast, it’s a bad part. Thomerson does try and he’s still Thomerson, but Tracers 4 fails him worst of all.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Nutter; screenplay by Peter David, based on characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Lisa Bromwell; music by Gary Fry; production designer, Mircea-Dudus Neagu; produced by Michael Catalano, Oana Paunescu and Vlad Paunescu; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Stacie Randall (Lyra), Clabe Hartley (Caliban), Ty Miller (Prospero), Mark Arnold (Lucius), Terri Ivens (Shaleen), Lochlyn Munro (Sebastian), Alan Oppenheimer (Farr) and Stephen Macht (Harris).


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Trancers III (1992, C. Courtney Joyner)

There’s a certain exhaustion about Trancers III. Director Joyner doesn’t have much chemistry with star Tim Thomerson, leading to way too much time spent on the evil super-soldiers. This Trancers sequel, in addition to a really lame Terminator 2 vibe with a novelty android, is all about explaining the origins of Trancers. But not in an interesting way, but a really boring one.

Thomerson and Helen Hunt, on the rocks since the previous sequel, get one scene together. Hunt has two scenes (one on the phone with Thomerson) but only the one actual scene. She tries really hard, but there’s no way to make anything out of it. Joyner is awkward at integrating information from the previous movies, which means dialogue problems, and he’s bad at directing the actors trying to articulate that dialogue.

It should be sad, seeing the heart of the franchise fizzle out, but it’s not because by the time Hunt and Thomerson have their moment, Trancers III is already in the dumps. It starts in the dumps, what with the secret military experiment laboratory underneath a strip club. Actually, maybe Trancers III starting with that tell tale sign of trouble–a “theme by” music credit, which means the filmmakers weren’t able to bring back the original series composer–it lowers expectations. Then there’s a dumb TV commercial with Thomerson advertising his PI business (a Robocop nod) before he disappears, except a weak voice over. Joyner doesn’t know how to make Thomerson fun. It’s not a question of trying to make him funny, it’s about making Trancers and Thomerson fun. Joyner fails at it.

Real quick–Andrew Robinson. Robinson’s the evil mad scientist, only he’s a macho army guy mad scientist, which should be funny. It’s not. Maybe if Adolfo Bartoli were a better photographer, the bad sets would look better but he isn’t. And Robinson’s performance suffers. He’s going crazy–his accent goes from country to Scottish and back again–it just doesn’t amount to anything.

Melanie Smith is okay as Thomerson’s new sidekick, but not really any good. She’s okay for the Trancers III regular cast, who are mostly bad. Decent cameo from Stephen Macht though and it’s fun to see Telma Hopkins. Megan Ward’s bad, unfortunately. Not really her fault, but she’s still bad.

There’s no reason for a Trancers III, so if you’re going to make one, don’t make it lame. There’s just no reason to make such a lame Trancers movie. It wastes Thomerson, it wastes Hunt, it wastes Robinson.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by C. Courtney Joyner; screenplay by Joyner, based on characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Lauren A. Schaffer and Margeret-Anne Smith; music by Richard Band, Phil Davies and Mark Ryder; production designer, Milo; produced by Albert Band; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Helen Hunt (Lena), Megan Ward (Alice Stillwell), Melanie Smith (R.J.), Andrew Robinson (Col. Daddy Muthuh), Tony Pierce (Jason), Stephen Macht (Harris) and Telma Hopkins (Cmdr. Raines).


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