Puppet Master 4 (1993)

When I think of actual good direct-to-video movies my thoughts often turn to Full Moon.  They did plenty of stinkers and Charles Band is just as amoral as the next exploitation filmmaker, but because there was a lot of talent within the Band family with his father helping with the scripts and his brother providing music, Band was able to keep a lot of the costs down.  That meant that his movies, though obviously still low budget, at least used the money they had for effects and to occasionally hire decent actors.

One of Full Moon's biggest properties is the Puppet Master series, which began with the original Puppet Master movie back in 1989 and which, as of this year, is now up to 14 films and a video game, with a 15th movie in production.  For me the first three have always been best, with my personal favorite being the second, with the third a close second.  Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge told the story of how Andre Toulon (Guy Rolfe) created the puppets and then used them to get revenge on the Nazis for the death of his wife.  It was an ambitious movie, perhaps way too ambitious for Full Moon, but they tried and most of it worked.

Puppet Master 4 was directed by Jeff Burr, as was the fifth installment, and they were made back-to-back.  Originally planned as one movie - a movie that Band hoped to release theatrically - they ended up carrying on the story and, as usual, adding another puppet to the bunch.  This time, in another twist, the puppets become the good guys.

In the underworld the demon god Sutek (Jake McKinnon) is concerned that recent studies into AI may reveal his secrets to humanity.  Still angry that Andre Toulon had stolen the secrets of giving life to inanimate objects from him he sends a number of totem demons to kill the scientists working on the top secret Phoenix Project.  He easily takes care of the first two, but the lead scientist, a prodigy named Rick Myers (Gordon Currie), has set himself up as caretaker of the Bedega Bay Inn.  Because it is the off season he is able to do his work in private.

That privacy is interrupted when his girlfriend Susie (Chandra West) shows up with two friends in tow: Rick's jealous colleague Cameron (Ash Adams) and his psychic girlfriend Lauren (Teresa Hill).  He also has another companion in Blade, the pale-faced leader of the puppets, and through him Lauren is drawn to find Toulon's trunk in a storeroom.  The trunk contains the other puppets plus what is left of the elixir that brings them to life.  The puppets bond with Rick and, when Sutek's creatures attack, they help defend him along with a new creation, Decapitron, that contains the essence of Toulon himself.

There were a number of writers on this including series veteran Todd Hentschell, and I can tell where this had originally been planned as a full movie.  Most likely it would have had a faster pace with some of the parts that happen at the beginning being mixed in with some of the later action.  As it is the pacing is weird, with the introduction of Dr. Leslie Piper (Stacie Randall) and then Dr. Carl Baker (Felton Perry), both of whom get killed before we even meet our protagonist.  That, and Sutek talking about his plans, takes up a good first third of the movie.

Gordon Currie does a good job of carrying the film.  He's got traditional good looks but is also believable as a smart guy.  Though Cameron is an annoying character Ash Adams manages to add a few dimensions to him, even if none of them are good.  Unfortunately, Teresa Hill is mainly there for eye candy, as her acting leaves a lot to be desired.  Chandra West doesn't get a whole lot to do to be able to judge her in any major way.

Why I think this movie has been reassessed, since most fans jumped ship after the fourth and fifth installments, is because of Currie and some great animation work by David Allen.  He does a good job of blending the puppets into their surroundings.  When Guy Rolfe appears it is kind of corny and not as well done, but the introduction of Decapitron's powers is one of the better scenes in the series.  

Despite it being a decently made and quite enjoyable entry Puppet Master 4 is still obviously a desperate attempt to continue the series.  Not as desperate as many of the later films have been, but it is obvious that the best days of the series were behind it, as also the best days of Full Moon were behind Charles Band by this point.  It's still much better than most of what Full Moon would put out in the future. 

Puppet Master 4 (1993)
Time: 79 minutes
Starring: Gordon Currie, Chandra West, Ash Aams, Teresa Hill
Director: Jeff Burr



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