Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Starring Levi Fiehler, Jenna Gallaher, Tom Sandoval
Directed by David DeCoteau
Distributed by Revolver Entertainment
If there’s one franchise that many horror fans, myself included, have an unmistakable soft spot for, it has to be Full Moon Entertainment’s Puppet Master series. The iconic collection of string-less misfits Blade, Tunneller, Leech Woman, Pinhead, Jester (and in later instalments the fantastic Torch, amongst others) have over the years found themselves placed within productions of steadily decreasing quality. As Full Moon’s budgets fell, so too did the expectations of fans amidst shoddily made sequels and glorified clip shows. Still, being the gluttons for punishment that we are, we all still harbour that glimmer of hope that one day the puppets will be restored to their former glory.
Thus, it was with no small amount of equal giddiness and trepidation that the first new Puppet Master film, Axis of Evil, disappeared into tray of my DVD player. Suffice to say; 80 minutes later that little spark – that waning flame of hope for Full Moon Entertainment and their malicious marionettes – has been doused once and for all.
Story-wise, Axis of Evil picks up after the events of Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge with yet more archived footage from earlier films used (in this case, Toulon’s suicide opening from the first one). Once the old puppeteer has offed himself, a couple of trenchcoat-clad Nazis search the room before beating a hasty retreat. A late witness to the event is disabled furniture carpenter and hotel employee Danny Coogan (Fiehler), who quickly finds himself in possession of Toulon’s chest of puppets. While visiting his girlfriend at her place of work, the local munitions plant, Danny discovers that one of the new employees is, in fact, one of the devious Nazis that were after Toulon’s puppets! In fact, the Nazi pair, in collaboration with the worst trio of Japanese saboteurs imaginable, plan to blow up the plant and deal a blow to the American war effort. When Danny discovers this through quite literally looking through a window at the OPPOSITE end of a Kabuki theatre and seemingly hearing and seeing every miniscule detail of the plan, he shoulders responsibility for stopping the dastardly deed.
When the villains discover that Danny has the puppets, and the secret to their function, his family is attacked and his girlfriend kidnapped. With the gang of tiny terrors in tow (along with a new puppet for the series, Ninja), Danny sets off to the theatre for a final showdown and one of the most abrupt, unsuitable and sheer laughable endings yet seen.
Being a David DeCoteau flick, it’s pretty much a given that almost every male member of the cast is a chisel-jawed studmuffin; acting ability obviously being second to physique. Across the board, performances in Axis of Evil range from the barely passable to cringe-inducing sub-porno incompetence. The Nazis, with their perfectly American accents, are ridiculously futile villains; yet, even worse is Ada Chao as Ozu, the Japanese mole. Constantly flanked by two henchmen dressed like kamikaze pilots, she looks like a blind person’s attempt at Kabuki wardrobe mixed with the worst kind of stereotypical Far Eastern broken English. Every scene involving the villains discussing their nefarious plans is almost unbearably inept.
The script for Axis of Evil, if you couldn’t tell already, is ridiculously feeble. Both the plot and dialogue feel like they were dreamt up and written in half a day, with no rewrites. Seriously… ten years, and the best Band and co. can come up with is this? The low budget screams at you like an insane hobo next to an ATM for the entire runtime. With long, plodding scenes, lethargic direction and blocking obviously designed to allow full scenes to be constructed in the editing room with as little coverage as possible, the whole affair comes across as a careless rush job, but the biggest crime committed is the treatment of the puppets themselves.
It’s no secret that the quality of the physical puppets used has steadily declined as the series moved on, but Full Moon have reached all-new lows with this one. The hero puppets are so poorly constructed that you almost expect to catch glimpses of plastic sprue that hasn’t been properly removed. In one scene, the drill on Tunneller’s head, shown in loving close-up, is of such horrifically shoddy build, and obviously low-grade plastic, that it almost outshines the sheer shit that is the new Ninja doll – which looks as though it was made entirely of papier-mâché and wrapped in black fabric.
Puppet Master: Axis of Evil is an incompetent waste of time and easily one of the worst of the series. Devoid of charm and just plain irritating, even the most avid fan of the series would do well to stay away.
Revolver Entertainment’s DVD presentation of the film is pretty much suitable. It’s a visually bland and unexciting piece of work, so in reality there really isn’t much to talk about on that front. In terms of audio, the review disc did exhibit an occasional crackling/popping noise that distorted the dialogue and soundtrack. Whether this will be present on the retail edition is uncertain.
On the Special Features front we get the trailer for Axis of Evil, which must be one of the most frustratingly boring and overlong that I’ve ever seen, and Full Moon’s “No Strings Attached” 8-minute featurette on the making of the original Puppet Master that looks as though it was ported straight from an old VHS edition of VideoZone. An extras selection that’s just as poorly considered and delivered as the film itself.
1/2 out of 5
1/2 out of 5