The Puppet Master series has been consistently running for almost 30 years. With The Littlest Reich, there are now 12 films to the slasher franchise. And with that many sequels comes a precipitous drop in quality and budget down to one film only shooting 30 minutes of new footage. It hasn’t been great. But when you reach these kinds of lows, you can only go up from there, right?
Yes. Yes, as it turns out you can. Watching an army of Nazi toys kill droves of people in brutal and disgusting ways has never been so fun. I dare say that Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is the best Puppet Master movie of all time.
Bold words, I know.
Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich
Director: Sonny Laguna, Tommy Wiklund
Release Date: August 17th, 2018 (Limited, VOD)
A simple but haunting theme plays while the opening credits collect over attractive red-and-black illustrations that serve as a threadbare bit of backstory for The Littlest Reich. The credits, title card, text of time and place, all create the illusion of a horror flick buried in the 70’s. The digital filming shakes some of that feeling, but the tone, setup, lighting, and effects hold it together.
The story is straightforward. Edgar (Thomas Lennon of Reno 911) is a recently divorced comic book artist who’s just moved back in with his parents and discovers an old puppet in his dead brother’s room. Cue the music of impending doom. He learns about a convention in the exact town where his brother had found the puppet and with a new girlfriend and his boss, decides to head out to the convention and auction the puppet off. So, in the very hotel where police had killed a Nazi war criminal and puppeteer, a group of strangers crowd with luggage full of genocidal puppets in the hopes of selling them for a fortune, and of course the corn syrup dam breaks, soaking every frame in that delicious, gooey red stuff.
The Littlest Reich has no interest in building up more plot than is absolutely necessary to facilitate its messy string of murders. Just as a detective starts grilling Edgar about his puppet showing up in the room of a murdered man, someone else dies. Then someone else dies, and then someone else dies. What would be an entire act of a police officer who only believes in the facts sizing up the hero before coming to grips with the bizarre reality that a bunch of dolls are fucking everyone up takes about two minutes here, and that’s great. That’s the best thing The Littlest Reich has going for it. What we have is a cavalcade of dolls showcasing a menagerie of practical effect disembowelments, decapitations, and burnings. Gallons of blood are splattered across the walls, and every kill is as ridiculous as it is grueling.
There’s a great blend of horror and humor with a handful of comedians like Charlyne Yi playing characters. Unfortunately, Lennon is the only one aiming for a more stoic tone and plays the whole thing straight, always grumbling his lines as the one person who knows better than anyone else and can save the day. At one point he has to say that he understands this doll-slaughter situation perfectly, because he’s a comic book artist and has an imagination, as if it’s a super power no other mortal could possibly possess. He delivers the line like it’s a stone, absolutely cold. He just seems so wasted here.
The film also builds to a sequel-baiting and unsatisfying ending after a bare-bones climax. This is the 12th installment of a slasher franchise no one thought had survived the 90’s–of course there’s going to be a sequel. Most slashers have final stingers that leave an opening for the inevitable next chapter. This settled for too much of a cliffhanger, though, that closes with a tone more empty than energizing.
You might wonder, is Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich good enough to warrant watching every previous installment to catch up on all the backstory and lore? No, it’s not. Nothing is. But thankfully, The Littlest Reich is more than self-contained enough to dive into fresh. It’s bloody, it’s fun, and also you might get to see a puppet pull the fetus out of a pregnant woman and carry it like a newlywed out of a hotel room. It’s worth seeing.