No.5 Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge
Picking a favorite Puppet Master movie is like trying to pick an escort out of a brochure.
The original Puppet Master was a straight upflick, focusing mostly on some psychic shenanigans and an assortment of killer puppets. The sequel shone the spotlight on the titular master himself: Andre Toulon and started to build up more of the franchise’s backstory. Toulon’s Revenge, at that point the most ambitious movie in the series, takes us all the way back to the beginning in WWII-era Germany. Puppeteer Andre Toulon’s wife is murdered by Nazis seeking to unlock the secret of his formula to animate dead tissue. Faster than you can say…
“Say hello to my little friends!”
Toulon embarks on a mission of vengeance against the Nazi regime. Breaking with the tone of the first two movies, Puppet Master III cast Toulon in a much nicer light. Here, he’s a victim rather than an antagonist. As played by Guy Rolfe, a veteran screen and stage actor, he’s a very likeable character. Playing, what else than the villain is perennial bad guy Richard Lynch, hamming it up as only he can. Pair these two performances with brand new puppets, very decent special effects and a surprisingly effective recreation of 1940s Germany and you have an extremely effective little movie. In fact, I almost always recommend Puppet Master III as an intro to the franchise for newbies.
Oh come on! How can Dollman NOT be on the list! Here’s an idea so ludicrous, so, yes, monumentally stupid it simply can’t NOT work. Intergalactic policeman Brick Bardo (with a name like that you just know he’s played by Tim Thomerson and that potential names included Dick Mortar, Dan Steele, and Cement McBrick) is forced to land on Earth where, gasp!, it turns out he’s doll-sized compared to the planet’s other inhabitants.
Thomerson deserves massive props for keeping a straight face throughout the whole farce. The man categorically refuses to give a bad performance. Dollman is one long-running gag, but due to the convergence of unknowable cosmic forces… hey, it kinda works! Everybody is in on the joke and the whole thing is largely played for laughs.
Thomerson’s Bardo seemingly reloads his pistol 50 times during the course of the movie, despite not having access to any extra ammunition. Jackie Earle Haley of Watchmen and Shutter Island fame amazingly shows up to play the bad guy. People keep telling Bardo to take off those damn sunglasses, which he insists on wearing even at night. What’s next? Have Bardo shack up with another miniature Full Moon character (Melissa Berh’s Ginger from Bad Channels) and face off against the cast of Demonic Toys?
Oh wait, they totally did that! AND IT WAS FUCKING GLORIOUS!
No.3 Bad Channels
Or: Full Moon does MTV. This is a gloriously over-the-top spoof of the equally over-the-top music videos that dominated the airwaves of the early ’90s. The plot hardly matters, but here we go anyway: alien invader… uh, invades radio station belonging to shock-jock Dan O’Dare (Paul Hipp) and proceeds to use broadcasts of bitchin’ tunes to capture and subsequently shrink human females to doll size.
There are hardly enough words in the English language (or Klingon, for that matter) to satisfactorily explain the sheer, unbridled weirdness that is Bad Channels. Just go with it, kick your feet back and listen to some killer tunes, and watch the associated music videos, from such luminaries as Sykotik Sinfoney, Blue Oyster Cult, and DMT. There’s no other movie quite like Bad Channels… not entirely sure whether or not that’s a good thing.
With Cowboys&Aliens recently released on DVD and Blu-ray, what better time to revisit the original melding of two completely opposite genres? Oblivion is a bit like Joss Whedon’s Firefly: Humanity as taken to the stars and encountered a multitude of alien races. Lawless planets on the frontier have degenerated into Old West-style border towns. Enter: Zack Stone! (Again with the rocky name!) Zack must travel to the dangerous world of Oblivion to confront his father’s killer — the evil Red-Eye!
What follows is every single Western cliché you can imagine, but with a humorous sci-fi twist. It’s clear most of Oblivion’s budget went to its makeup and special effects department. Alien costumes are great and gigantic scorpions prowl the wastelands. And oh, that cast! It’s like a who’s who of B-movie stardom decided to come together for one glorious moment of schlockyness! George Takei! (Sulu!) Isaac hayes! (Chef!) Andrew Divoff! ( Wishmaster!) Julie Newmar! (Catwoman!) Jackie Swanson! (Naked suicide girl from the beginning of Lethal Weapon !) Meg Foster! (Evil Bitch in every single thing she’s ever been in!)
Yes, Oblivion isn’t brain surgery. It’s more akin to clipping your toenails than actual surgery. But it’s great fun and as long as you accept that the movie has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, you’ll enjoy the heck out of it.
No.1 The Pit and the Pendulum
Was there ever any doubt that this would be Number 1? As close to a perfect film as Full Moon Pictures ever made, Pit And The Pendulum is just a smidgen away from crossing over into respectable movie territory. It really is that good. Based on several Edgar Allan Poe tales, most notably the titular story and “The Cask Of Amontillado”, Pit is a superb production, featuring both humor and horror in equal doses while never quite dipping its toes into self-parody, despite coming really close to the edge of the river several times.
The excellent Lance Henriksen leads the cast as famed Inquisition torturer Torquemada, delivering a performance that almost belongs in an entirely different, more awards-worthy movie. His Torquemada is at times delirious, mad, serene, lustful, doubtful, and filled with zealous certitude. It remains my all-time favorite performance of his. Torquemada is driven mad with lust by the beautiful Maria (Rona De Ricci) and will do anything to posses her, including sentencing her husband Antonio (Jonathan Fuller) to the titular deathtrap.
To be fair, she makes my chastity belt feel funny.
The supporting cast is way too good for what they’re asked to do. Jeffrey Coombs shows up as the Inquisition’s accountant and the movie’s comic relief. Stephen Lee, whom you’ve probably seen a hundred times without ever learning his name, has a blast as the undertaker. And Oliver Reed of all people shows up to steal a few excellent minutes of screen time as a doomed Cardinal trying to curtail Torquemada’s fancy for burning people at the stake with little to no evidence of witchcraft.
Completing this stellar package is a superb score by Richard Band, whose soundtracks often helped put Full Moon movies a notch above the usual direct-to-trash. Even if you’re not a fan of the studio, I suggest you seek outThe Pit And The Pendulum. It is, quite simply, a good movie.
Your faithful reviewer,