I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH
Jason Voorhees. Freddy Krueger. Michael Myers. No matter how many times these horror characters are killed in their respective franchises, they stay alive in pop culture — stubbornly so — whether you’ve seen their films or not. Most horror movies end up turning into a franchise — SAW, SCREAM, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, and so on — and are properties chasing the same degree of recognition. And yet, maybe you’ve never heard of the PUPPET MASTER movies. Surprisingly, after an overwhelming 10 entries, the killer puppets just don’t hold water to the activity that happens at Camp Crystal Lake or on Elm Street.
However, the 11th film (which is really more of a reboot), THE LITTLEST REICH, just may inch the PUPPET MASTER series closer toward icon status with its hardcore gore, funny dialogue and characters, inventive style and sheer daring. In fact, the film’s red band trailer notes how it’s one of the “most violent films ever made” with “21 scenes of puppet violence and sadistic cruelty graphically shown.” So, if this demonic dollhouse is something you don’t want to go playing in, you might want to go swimming with the PG-13-friendly fishes seeing THE MEG this weekend instead.
This franchise rebirth of sorts opens in classic horror fashion: some happy-go-lucky people find themselves greeted by death, thus sparking the murderous wave that is about to come crashing down on all the poor souls. They encounter claws, knife hands, hooks, torches, saw blades, drills and hammer fists of the evil puppets.The story concerns Edgar Easton (Thomas Lennon of RENO 911!), a freshly divorced comic book artist and store clerk who discovers a mysterious, albeit scary, puppet in his parents’ house when he moves back home. He takes the puppet to the fictional town of Postville, Texas, where a convention centered on the Toulon tragedy (it’s the 30-year-old killings that happen at the beginning of the film) is taking place. He has every intent on selling the puppet, which Edgar says “definitely seems like a toy a maniac would make,” at an auction there.
But, as you probably guessed, his hopes are dashed when the bloody details of the Toulon tragedy come to light and numerous Nazi puppets at the convention horrifyingly spring to life and begin killing every attendee.
If the band Slayer’s hit song, “Raining Blood,” were ever fitting for a movie, it would be THE LITTLEST REICH. There is so much death, exploding limbs, sliced throats, exposed organs and intestines that you may need a jumbo jet’s worth of vomit bags. As disgusting as it may sound, there’s a fun energy to it all that makes it great to experience with a packed audience. And the amount of blood should come as no surprise, considering the film is penned by S. Craig Zahler, the mad genius behind such films as BONE TOMAHAWK and BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99. The dude just likes to see heads be crushed and bodies explode to the extreme. So, if you’re into that happening on screen, read on.
There is one scene that simply takes the cake and may be one of the most terrible things I’ve ever seen happen in a movie. Many of the deaths are pretty mean-spirited, but what happens to one poor, defenseless pregnant woman (you could probably guess what happens — and it’s worse) will live with you forever. Thankfully, the movie throws so much murder at you that the more disturbing ones are surrounded by more digestible ones.
To go along with the creative death scenes (such a strange thing to say), the level of comedy that Zahler brings to the film makes it, arguably, the best film in the PUPPET MASTER franchise. It’s a bold statement to make, as the first three (especially PUPPET MASTER II) are ridiculously fun; however, the character-building moments, like the exchange between Edgar’s colleague and friend Markowitz (Nelson Franklin of NEW GIRL and BLACK-ISH) and a local bartender named Cuddly Bear (Skeeta Jenkins), amp everything up to notch 11.
The graphics of comic books and the concept of conventions also elevates the material.
The opening of the film makes you believe it’s going to be an ambitious feature, but how contained the story is (which primarily takes place in one hotel) makes it a surprisingly rewarding experience. It’s similar to the first DEADPOOL movie, where it doesn’t take its superhero antics sky high. Instead, the devil is in the details — and there’s a shocking amount of detail sprinkled into this 90-minute splatterfest.
THE LITTLEST REICH is not a film for the squeamish. It’s for those horror geeks that love to experience the thrills of a fearless genre film. There are no strings to hold you up here. This is, quite literally, a one-way ticket to hell. So, proceed with caution and prepared to be amazed.
PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH has three late-night showtimes over the next week at the Texas Theatre, located in Oak Cliff. Friday at 9:30 p.m., Saturday at 10:30 p.m. and Wednesday (8/22) at 9:00 p.m.