3 out of 5
Directed by: Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund
I’m not exactly sure what this means about me as a horror film viewer, but: this is pretty much 100% what I expected from this film. And the only reason I highlight that is because I’ve only seen one Puppet Master film, and most festival reviews of this flick suggested it was a gonzo gore-out, as scripted by a recent man-of-the-hour, Craig Zahler. (Who has certainly committed some intense visual atrocities in his own films.)
But I knew what this was going to be: Nazi puppets, some cheap beheadings, some lightly controversy-baiting jokes, some fake breasts, and… the end. And, yeah, that’s what it was. Nie, I’m not claiming a horror sixth sense, as I’m sure I’m not the only one who suspected the same, as The Littlest Reich is fully par with directors Sonny Laguna’s and Tommy Wiklund’s previous offering, Wither, which did the cabin-in-the-woods bit competently, and completely generically. Same same, slightly different spin.
In The Littlest Reich, a reboot of the series, the Puppet Master hisself, Toulon (played with winky glee by Udo Kier), is now a Nazi, and so of course, his puppets – some new to the series, some reimagined – do his Final Solution bidding. He’s offed during a police raid some time in the past, allowing us to flash forward to the present, when Edgar (Thomas Lennon) and pals and others are attending a Toulon convention to sell the various puppets they’d each purchased or inherited. Barbara Crampton is there as tour guide (she’d cameod in the original, so that’s fun), and the hotel at which the guests are staying has plenty of Nazi fodder for slashing and disemboweling – which kicks off pretty quickly and then sustains the runtime thereafter.
There are definitely some good gore gags, but nothing that really catches you off guard; as soon as you see random hotel patron X, your horror senses can sniff out exactly how the kill will go down. That doesn’t ruin it, but it’s the same vibe that Wither offered: looks good, sounds right, but you’ve seen it before.
That being said, Zahler’s script is smart enough to not go for the easiest jokes and to not ignore some potential huge plot gaffs; he might lampshade the explanations, but I appreciated that they were there. And the plus side of Laguna’s and Wiklund’s approach is that it’s not boring – they do keep their film moving at an exact pace. In Reich, that’s at the expense of some scene jumping-around, but, yeah, we probably didn’t need those scenes anyway.