Thanks to horror film franchises like Annabelle and Chucky, we have more than enough reason to be afraid of dolls now. It seems directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund concocted yet another doll horror film called Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. They added something new to the 2018 film, a comedy horror film.
Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is actually a reboot of the eponymous 1989 film and part of the Puppet Master franchise. A little backstory on this chaotic series is due. There are 13 films in the series, some of which are out of order in the universe’s timetable, but all of them feature extreme campy gore. In order to get the full effect of the 2018 reboot, it’s important to note the established story of the universe and the overall arc.
Like many horror franchises (looking at you, Halloween) the series timeline and release timeline don’t match up. Shocking, right? So, we’ll be purists and go with the story order as opposed to the theatrical release order. The first movie in the series story is the 1999 film named Retro Puppet Master, directed by David DeCoteau and written by Charles Band. This story sets up the magical aspect of the film franchise, which is really interesting. Andre Toulon, who was the man who has all of these creepy puppets in the first place, learns how to animate them under the tutelage of an Egyptian sorcerer. You gotta give the story marks for originality and calling back a good old Boris Karloff’s mummy.
Beyond that, the puppet master Toulon struts his skills in the many, many adventures of the subsequent films. While there are 13 films altogether, many fans of the franchise argue that Puppet Master II: His Unholy Creation is the best film in the series. In this film, Andre Toulon has resurrected again with the help of his trusty puppets. He tries to lengthen their lives as long as he can and to do this he needs to take human brain tissue. As one might expect, he taps into the dolls’ evil, homicidal nature to get the job done and goofy, gory fun ensues. Meanwhile, a group of paranormal investigators gets into his house which is an abandoned hotel to determine the validity of the man’s legendary past. This clever addition to the series prevails as one of the best in the series for its fantastic special effects and memorable characters.
The 2018 reboot does its best to follow along with the rest of the plot and most of the legacy from the 1990s to the early 2000s of the other films. This story begins with a recently divorced Edger who finds one of Andre Toulon’s dolls in the closet of his dead brother’s room. Understandably, he wants to get rid of the creepy thing and elects to sell it at a conveniently slated doll convention celebration at a local hotel. The celebration of the Andre Toulon murders is the theme of the convention, which is just a little more than awkward considering the man was an anti-Semite.
There are other visitors at this convention who have possession of the different dolls, and there are quite a few. The visitors are settling in for the night when suddenly a supernatural force takes over the puppets. Scene after scene of violent puppets attacking helpless victims one by one ensues. The series of attacks are the most entertaining aspect of the film. The gore is so over the top that it comes across as funny, which was the intent of the filmmakers. Watching a tiny doll shred up a grown man tickles the funny bone as much as it’s terrifying. There is one exception, and it is so extremely disturbing and gory that I will not describe it here.
The Littlest Reich employs a vast array of fantastic homicidal dolls. Despite their silence, they show ample personality through their kills and their appearance. The Blade is seen as the central doll character, a pale little man with a black hat and matching cloak. His “twin” is Skull Blade, a hook-handed twin with a skull in lieu of his face. Although these characters are creepy on their own, there are more humorous toys that mix fancy, cute and all shades of madness-inducing violence. One of these is Amphibian. Don’t let this dapper little frog trussed in a purple suit, red shoes, and bowtie fool you. He is depicted shredding the face of one of the unlucky guests without batting an eye. Admittedly, Amphibian’s kills are the most hilarious in this film. There’s something about a dandy frog spitting acidic venom in someone’s face that one can’t take too seriously.
The film isn’t all goofball shenanigans, as unsurprisingly enough, there was a scene in the movie that drew attention to Andre Toulon’s antisemitism. One of the victims—er, characters was a Jew and his partner for the night discussed the ethical dilemma of owning one of the dolls. The Jew goes on to explain that owning the doll gives the man a stronger sense of agency over the issues of the past. In a way, he is healing both himself and the trauma of the past. Unfortunately, he’s killed by a doll in the next scene.
Of all the movies that shouldn’t take itself seriously, the Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich ensures enough self-awareness of its ludicrous nature to keep the laughs going. The trailer is a complete testimony to that ridiculousness, reminding the audience that it’s the goriest movie of all time with such over the top sincerity, you can’t help but laugh as blood splashes from unlucky hotel visitors screaming for their lives by toys who clearly aren’t capable of wielding the power they do. Surely, there are far more gruesome movies, but the point is that the movie is a gorefest but knows when to laugh at itself. This aspect of the film makes it a rare gem in the horror comedy world.