According to the (brief) research I’ve done on the series, 4 and 5, where the series breaks free from the tyranny of Roman numerals, are considered by some to be the pinnacle of the series. It’s a little premature for me to agree or disagree, since 4 and 5 could just be considered two halves of the same movie. For now, though, I have to say that 4 isn’t really as much fun as seeing puppets kill Nazis.
If the first two Puppet Master films were slasher movies and the third was sort of a revenge-fueled action movie, this one is a bit like a superhero origin story. The puppets definitely turn into good guys here, after their discovery by a young (and implausible) scientist, Rick, whose lab happens to be the Bodega Bay Inn of the first two movies. He’s researching artificial intelligence for something called the Omega Project and is aware of Blade, but is oblivious to Blade being alive, much less his significance to his research. Rick is joined by his friends Suzie (a love interest for him), Lauren (a psychic…yes, another psychic), and Cameron (an asshole, albeit one with great early 90s’ hair). Lauren’s psychic abilities lead them to find Toulon’s diary and the other puppets, along with vials of the chemicals needed to revive the puppets (the fact that the chemicals come from human brains doesn’t come up).
With no hesitation, Rick revives the puppets, realizing that their intelligence is the key to finishing his research. Unfortunately, in Egypt, the demon Sutek and his minions are determined to suppress the secret of artificial life. Two other scientists working on the Omega Project receive shipments of gremlin-like dolls, who, under the control of Sutek’s minions, come alive and kill them. When it’s Rick’s turn and the Bodega Bay Inn is invaded by the gremlins, the puppets come to Rick’s defense. As might be expected, Cameron is killed trying to drive off, depriving the world of his ‘do.
It also happens right after he tries to make his girlfriend Lauren push his car in the pouring rain while they know a killer gremlin is running around. So at least you can’t accuse this movie of not giving its audience what it wants.
However, the puppets aren’t enough by themselves to destroy all the gremlins, and by destroying them killing Sutek’s minions. Contacting Toulon’s spirit through Lauren, Rick is urged to revive Toulon’s final puppet, Decapitron (which is based on a tragically unfinished film from Charles Band’s Empire Pictures days). I just take it as yet another indication of how freaking awesome the kindly, old puppet master’s shows must have been, at least not when he was portraying the assassination of Adolf Hitler. Anyway, in true Charles Band fashion, Decapitron is brought to life à la lightning in a lab and becomes animated by Toulon’s spirit (and/or his mind juice, like what happened to his wife and pals in III).. This pleases the puppets, who have forgiven Toulon for that whole “refusing to keep them alive just so he can make his stalker crush immortal” thing.
I know none of the Puppet Master movies thus far deserve awards for tight plotting or solid continuity, but if you can reasonably explain how the above fits in with the first two movies, you deserve to be the lord of all b-movie nerds. Honestly the plot holes are large enough for the German army to attack France through. Why are all the puppets incapacitated except for Blade when it’s implied that they got their fix at the end of II and it was supposed to last them at least a few decades? What happened to Camille anyway, and for that matter how did all the puppets get back to the Bodega Bay Inn? So it’s just a coincidence that Rick is researching artificial intelligence in the hotel that’s home to a bunch of animated puppets? If not, did the Omega Project know about Toulon and his discoveries? I guess not because Rick is taken aback when Toulon’s notes and other belongings are discovered, so it does seem like his bosses set him up randomly in a massive abandoned hotel where a series of brutal, unexplained murders took place over the years. But if the Omega Project had nothing to do with Toulon in the first place, why does Sutek, who says that Toulon “stole” his secrets, see their research as so threatening that he has to go through all the trouble of killing them? And why is it called the Omega Project anyway? It sounds like they’re working on a doomsday weapon, not artificial intelligence, unless they’re deliberately trying to build Skynet.
Maybe the plot made sense at some point in the writing process, before six different writers all got involved.
I guess I can see why people like it. It’s the first time you see the puppets as heroic, which I would guess is what Charles Band wanted to do from the beginning. And more so than its predecessors the movie captures the comic book universe feel of Full Moon, which is what made quite a few people fall in love with the company’s works in the first place. Yes, Sutek is goofy, looking a bit like a beefed up Sid and Marty Krofft monster. However, as odd as it is to say about Full Moon’s banner franchise, he does help make the movie the most Full Moon-y installment in the franchise thus far. But he’s still no Richard Lynch.
For all that, it’s a pretty hollow film, lacking the odd atmosphere of the first movie or the character-driven story of the third or the…hm, something of the second. There are plenty of things that happen, like Cameron and Lauren accidentally contacting Sutek psychically, yet the whole movie feels like it could have unfolded in the first thirty minutes. It doesn’t help that the only character who feels like he has anything close to a defined personality is Cameron, the stock horror movie asshole. As always, the puppetry stands out, and there’s some nice effects like Rick playing laser tag with the puppets, or the puppets reacting to Toulon’s “resurrection” as Decapitron. But it’s still a letdown when the movie ends on not even a cliffhanger, but what feels like mid-act.