Beyond the Slimy Wall:
Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys
By Stephanie Star Smith
April 4, 2005
We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this weekly column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture beyond the slimy wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.
Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys
Sometimes you’ve just gotta take one for the team.
Part of my mission statement is to wade through the dross so the rest of you don’t have to, which sometimes means watching films that I have a strong feeling are going to bring the suck in order to provide that valuable public service. And although I really like the Puppet Master franchise, the name at the top of the credit list gave me serious reservations about this flick: Corey Feldman. Now, I was well out of the demographic to be a fan of the Coreys during their reign of terror in the ‘80s, but I thought Feldman wasn’t too horrible in Lost Boys and was actually kind of fun in Bordello of Blood. Still, I knew that with Feldman getting top billing, I wasn’t in for a quality viewing experience. As it turned out, Feldman wasn’t the only one in Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys who sinned greatly against Thespis, and for good measure, the writers decided they should provide a truly awful script for these...well, “actors” isn’t really a title they deserve, but it’s about the most polite one I think of right now, so we’ll go with that, shall we?
So I didn’t come into this film with very high expectations. In fact, I had no expectations of being entertained at all, and boy, did this film not disappoint on that score. In fact, this flick not only lived down to my expectations, but it may actually have hit a new low in sucky entertainment.
Poor André Toulon is spinning in his fictional grave right now.
I’ll issue the standard spoiler warning, but let me caution that no matter how great your curiosity - which I am about to satisfy with a complete description of what passes for a plot in this craptastic film - you could spend the two hours you’d waste on viewing this flick in far more worthy pursuits. Such as hitting yourself in the head repeatedly with a baseball bat, for instance.
The film opens with a pastiche of one of those annoying gotta-have-it Christmas toy commercials that plague adults with and without children alike - albeit for different reasons - during the holiday season. This one is for a baby doll and a teddy bear that will “come to life” on Christmas morning. Now since we know these aren’t the Puppet Master puppets, it stands to reason these are the eponymous evil playthings, and it’s not a huge leap of logic to deduce that the “come to life” part isn’t some marketing slogan for audio-animatronic sleight-of-hand.
We are then taken to the Toulon Doll Hospital, and treated to our first encounter with Corey Feldman Acting Old. Sporting what had to have been the absolute worst wig Wardrobe could locate and a raspy delivery punctuated by random groans and moans that are probably meant to indicate “old” and “absent-minded professor” but sound more like the soundtrack to a porn film, Feldman treats us to a ridiculous scene in which he and his erstwhile daughter are trying to recreate André Toulon’s formula and bring his puppets to life, all the while complaining about his ex-wife. This accomplishes two things: creeps us out, because there is no way in hell we can possibly believe Feldman is old enough to have a daughter that age, and those strange sounds he’s making whenever he speaks to her bring to mind lust more than paternal affection; and confuses the hell out of us, because we shortly segue to Evil Incorporated, better known here as Sharpe Industries, leading us to believe that its CEO, Erica Sharpe, is Feldman’s ex. Which she isn’t, but that’s the least of this piece of tripe’s problems, as it turns out.
Lest you think I’ve poured out all my vitriol on Feldman and Erstwhile Daughter, allow me to reassure you, dear friends, that I have plenty left for the gang over at Sharpe Industries. First of all, the actress playing Erica Sharpe really needs to lay off the collagen lip injections, because she’s crossed the line from the bee-stung look to the stung-by-an-entire-hive-and-allergic-to-bees look. Which one should really avoid using lip-gloss whilst sporting. And I’m sure the actress was going for evil in her delivery, but never got past petulant and childish, which doesn’t make for a good villainess (see: Glory, Season Five Buffy). Our other main player at Sharpe, at least initially, is a toady who is passable, making him a veritable Olivier in this group of elementary-school thespians.
So it turns out that Sharpe is spying on Feldman - I’m sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to call him Toulon because I like that character too much - and sees that he has succeeded in bringing the Puppet Master puppets back to life. Who, interestingly enough, are the only ones in this mess who seem capable of acting, which is a sad commentary on so many, many things. And quicker than you can say “plot device”, Sharpe sends henchmen over to steal the PMPs so she can have loyal puppets for her very own, the henchmen botch things, the PMPs save the day but another plot device...sorry, fire gets started that singes the PMPs, the better to fit them with the updated attachments needed for the denouement. Then the police arrive, in the form of a young female officer who takes such an obvious shine to Feldman that she was practically holding a sign saying “I’m attracted to Feldman”, and we have our romantic interest. And the actress playing said romantic interest, in keeping with the lack of acting ability to be found in the rest of the cast, was very disconcerting to watch, because her mouth movements and dialogue were out of sync; it was like watching a dubbed film, except the dialogue didn’t have the mismatched sound quality you usually get with a dubbed-in line. Very strange, and after a while, all you can think about when she’s speaking. Which isn’t too much of a problem, as you’re not missing much.
So back we go to Sharpe Industries for a trip to Exposition Land. Seems Missy Fat-Lips has made a deal with a demon named Bael to make all the toys her company has been pushing Tickle Me Elmo-style to the kinder come to life on Christmas Morn and kill the kiddies. This unprecedented “slaughter of innocents” - and whoever wrote that must’ve gotten paid by the usage, because that line is repeated a good score more times - will give Missy Fat-Lips enough power to - dare I say it? - rule the world. Which, after seeing villains who wanted to suck the world into Hell or undo all of creation, sounds a mite tame. At any rate, Missy Fat-Lips wants the PMPs instead of her hench-toys, because the hench-toys aren’t loyal to her but she thinks the PMPs will be. Problem is, the PMPs need Toulon blood to reanimate, and Missy Fat-Lips promised her demon benefactor she’d wipe out the Toulon line, so Missy Fat-Lips decides to renegotiate the deal. Never a good idea when dealing with a demon, but hey, why stop with the bad ideas now?
Of course, once we see Bael, we know why Missy Fat-Lips has no qualms about summoning him and changing the ground rules. Someone really should’ve spent more of the $1.98 F/X budget this film apparently had on the demon makeup, because after seeing so many demons on Buffy and Angel, you gotta go some to make a respectably scary demon, and this guy’s a joke. The over-the-top acting style doesn’t help, either. I’m sure the guy was going for menacing and evil, but instead rocketed straight down the road to camp. And not in a good way, either.
However, the Bael-summoning scene does give us the one cool thing - other than the PMPs, which we already know and love - this waste of celluloid has to offer: an iron maiden that also suctions out blood. This is a way cool torture device that must have Torquemada salivating in Hell, cause the Auto-de-Fe would’ve been kickin’ with something like that! Sadly, however, we also meet the worst things this film has to offer - yes, even worse than Missy Fat-Lips, Missy Out-of-Sync and Fright-Wigged Corey Feldman - the demon toys: a baby doll called Baby Oops, a teddy bear, and a Jack-in-the-Box. These are the completely-lacking-the-scare prototypes for the crappy toys being fed the kinder by Sharpe Industries, and their main weapon is fear, fear and surprise...wait; sorry. Wrong show. Actually, the toys’ “weapons” are about as scary as the Pythonite Spanish Inquisition. Baby Oops will apparently kill the rug-rats by boring them to death with his single entendres, or perhaps slaying them by farting brimstone. The teddy bear kills by...looking scary, I guess, as we never see the teeth he bares in action, and the Jack-in-the-Box will apparently kill by giving the kidlets a heart attack, as again, his wicked-looking teeth are never employed.
So Missy Fat-Lips puts the virgin receptionist - we later determine that Sharpe Industries only hires virgin receptionists, so their employment pool must draw only from monasteries - into the new and improved iron maiden, now with 50% more pain-inflicting apparatus, out pops Not-the-Least-Bit-Scary Bael, and the deal is reiterated and slightly modified so Missy Fat-Lips can have her Toulon blood.
Now that 98% of the exposition is out of the way, we get to watch Feldman and Erstwhile Daughter - another Razzie candidate - figure out that they were spied upon, that Evil Incorporated is behind it, and that they must hide so that the henchmen won’t get the PMPs before Feldman and ED can super-size them. Feldman and Company pack up and go to Grandma’s sprawling mansion - and why the ex-wife angle is still being carried on at this point is beyond understanding, as the ex serves no purpose whatsoever in what little storyline there is - and when Miss Out-of-Sync pays a booty call, she finds the nest empty. As do Missy Fat-Lip’s henchmen. Who probably weren’t there for a booty call, but hey, that might’ve made a more interesting film if they had been.
After the PMPs are retro-fitted with their 21st-century weaponry and whilst the animating elixir is brewing, Feldman decides to pay a visit to Sharpe Industries to see what they’re up to, the better to allow himself and his daughter to be found so that this movie will grind mercifully to an end sometime this millennium. Naturally, he (A) sees Miss Out-of-Sync there and believes she’s in on the dastardly doings, whatever they may be; (B) sees the demon toys in action; and (C) gets spotted so we can have a suspense-free chase sequence and a way for Missy Fat-Lips to track down Feldman and ED, by way of Baby Oops hitching a ride on Missy Out-of-Sync’s patrol car when she makes another attempt at that booty call. Missy Out-of-Sync gets knocked out, Feldman and ED are kidnapped, bringing the PMPs along with them in a big case, and we all go to Sharpe Industries on Christmas Eve for the denouement. Which sadly for us, won’t be for another 45 minutes or so.
Once we’re at Evil Incorporated, Feldman and the box of PMPs end up in Missy Fat-Lips’ office, where we’re treated to one of the most god-awful outfits any actress has ever worn in a film - seriously, the Wardrobe Mistress must’ve been on drugs when she picked this baby out - and learn that Missy Fat-Lips has decided the best way to ensure a steady supply of Toulon blood is to have Feldman impregnate her. Now picturing that image, along with Missy Fat-Lips’ outfit, provide the only real horror in this flick, but thankfully, Feldman and the filmmakers don’t force us to actually watch such a scene.
And here’s the point where what little plot there is goes off the rails. Throughout the film, we’ve been treated to these little placards letting us know how much time is left till Christmas Morn. According to the placard we get just before the action returns to Evil Incorporated, it’s 12 hours to Christmas Morn. Shortly after our return, just prior to the squicky near-sex scene, we get a placard telling us it’s six hours till Christmas Morn. As Missy Fat-Lips leaves to wring the life’s blood - almost literally - from ED, Feldman awakens the PMPs. Who then, according to the next placard, take five hours and 56 minutes trying to get out of the metal container into which the suitcase they were traveling in was placed, and as far as we can tell, they don’t even make a serious effort until the placard says we’ve got four minutes to Christmas Morn. Not good planning there. Oh, and there’s also a pointless scene where Toady comes in with the Jack-in-the-Box and tells Feldman he’s their “only hope” - and from where I’m sitting, that means they’re seriously screwed - then proceeds to kill himself and very nearly kill his “only hope” by unleashing the Jack-in-the-Box’s sonic scream. Strange little vignette that, although I guess it proves there's something at least marginally fatal about the Jack-in-the-Box.
The next major snafu in the miniscule plot comes from Missy Fat-Lips trying to wring the life’s blood from ED. In the earlier scene with the turbo-charged iron maiden, the bloodletting happens the second Missy Fat-Lips flips the switch, and as one would expect from a device that has stuck scores of iron spikes into a body and then applied suction, the inhabitant of the iron maiden expired in short order. So why is ED able to scream for help for several minutes after the suction has been turned on, and then when Six Shooter’s newly-attached lasers shut off the electricity, scream for help for several more minutes whilst Missy Fat-Lips tries the “manual setting”? Yes, I know we can’t have the heroine die, especially since her death unleashes the ever-popular slaughter of the innocents, but couldn’t they at least have tried to come up with a reasonable way for her death to not occur? Oh, yeah, almost forgot that we take a little side trip to Exposition Land again once Goofy Bael comes on-scene to find out why he wanted the Toulons wiped out: revenge because the first Toulon to have the secret of animating puppets sold his soul for the knowledge and then reneged on the bargain by turning himself into a tree. O. K.
So now we’re finally nearing the end. Christmas Morn comes and goes - apparently demons are very strict with the timing; too many minutes after sunrise and you’ve failed - so Bael takes Missy Fat-Lips to Hell, along with the never-ever-even-slightly-scary demon toys. Missy Out-of-Sync comes on the scene, everybody breathes a sigh of relief, and Missy Out-of-Sync invites ED and Feldman over for a happy Christmas dinner with a side of booty call. The end.
Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys had a shot at being a great campy romp, but instead tried to take itself too seriously. And that, coupled with the horrendous acting by one and all - except the Puppet Master puppets, who never fail to amuse - is what sunk this ship afore it could sail. Be thankful that now you don’t have to sit through this steaming pile to find out what happens.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go poke my eyes out with a stick and then give myself a lobotomy, the better to erase this mess from my memory.
I see by the shadows falling from my bust of Pallas that our time is up. Until next time, then, when we will once again venture Beyond the Slimy Wall.