Technically Full Moon never left us, but today they’re making a comeback. And when I say “Full Moon” I’m referring to the entity that has variously been known as Full Moon Productions, Full Moon Entertainment, Full Moon Studios, Full Moon Pictures, Shadow Films, Shadow Entertainment, Wizard Video and Full Moon Features. That’s a lot of names, especially when you consider that they’ve never really varied in terms of the kinds of films they make, though production values have fallen off over the years.
You may know part of this story from my Puppet Master reviews, but I’ll tell it again for those of you who haven’t read them. I first became acquainted with Full Moon Features in the early ’90s when Charles Band’s production company was just starting to hit its stride. They had a deal with Paramount Pictures to create direct-to-video entertainment and for a while there pretty much everything they touched was golden. These were the days of video stores, you may recall, and I enjoyed going to my favorite locally owned haunt to dig up gems I hadn’t caught when they were first released. I was especially fond of the Trancers movies, featuring the inimitable Tim Thomerson.
The golden age of Full Moon ended in 1995, when they parted ways with Paramount. Budgets dropped through the floor and what followed was a pretty dark time. They made a Trancers sequel that didn’t even have Thomerson in it (sacrilege!), and it was about as horrible as you can imagine. For a long while it looked like Full Moon was going to simply fade into ignominy which, given some of the first-rate low-budgeters they had released previously, was a damned shame.
And here we are, five installments into the quite lengthy Puppet Master series. Only five more to go!
As I explained last time out, Puppet Master 4 and Puppet Master 5 were a part of Full Moon Pictures’ “comic book” approach to filmmaking later on in its life-cycle as an arm of Paramount. Sequels were produced back-to-back to speed the release schedule and stories were more tightly integrated. It should be noted that this strategy didn’t last too long before Paramount Pictures cut Full Moon loose — kicking off a long, dark period in Full Moon’s history — but things still seemed bright when Puppet Master 5 hit video-store shelves.
A lot of story, or at least background, was crammed into Puppet Master 4. We were introduced to the demon lord Sutekh, whose magic powers the puppets of the series. We met Rick Myers (Gordon Currie), a computer genius searching for the secret of true artificial intelligence, and his girlfriend Susie (Chandra West). Frequent television actress Teresa Hill returns as troubled psychic Lauren, though her part in Puppet Master 5 is smaller than it was in the previous film. In this one she has one or two lines, whereas last time out she actually had some minor role in the goings on.
We also had the puppets, who are the true stars of these things. Prior to Puppet Master III they had been depicted as villains, killing off the human cast-members at the behest of the titular puppet master (whoever that happened to be at the time). Puppet Master III marked their transformation into good guys, still obeying a human master, but taking out Nazis and demon puppets and the like.
Puppet Master 5 is tied very closely to Puppet Master 4, starting up virtually where the prior film stops. In what should be a surprise to no one, Rick has been arrested for the suspicious deaths of his friends and co-workers and telling the truth — that little, demonic Totems from another dimension ‘ported into our world and killed them — would land him in still more trouble. It’s more than a little convenient that the one security camera that caught the death of one of Rick’s colleagues just happens to have missed the presence of the murderous Totem, but that’s the movie’s story and it’s sticking with it.
I have talked before about how the late ’80s and early ’90s are marked by me as a golden age in direct-to-video movies. The king of the video shelves, as far as I was concerned, was Full Moon Pictures, who released something nearly every month and whose output was largely pretty good. At least for a while. Quality slacked off considerably toward the end of their lifespan and today they call themselves Full Moon Features and turn out stuff that’s really not very appealing at all.
Of all of Full Moon’s offerings, my favorites were the Trancers movies, mainly because I think Tim Thomerson is a genius. The flagship offerings of Full Moon, however, were the Puppet Master films. To this day Full Moon remains closely identified with these little, sentient and oftentimes murderous puppets. But if you’ve been reading my Puppet Master reviews, which I started last year and have been trickling out, you know this already.
Full Moon mastermind Charlie Band had this idea that Full Moon’s movies would be like comic books: serialized, quick to digest (and produce) and primarily designed to support themselves through ancillary merchandising. Puppet Master 4 was the first step toward serializing the Puppet Master movies, establishing a plot that would be carried through to Puppet Master 5. Both films would be shot at the same time and released within a few months of each other.
Puppet Master III was something of a watershed moment for the Puppet Master series in that it defined the mythology of the movies and positioned the puppets themselves as little heroes as opposed to villains. Puppet Master and Puppet Master II became apocryphal, containing elements that could be borrowed for later features but were mostly ignored. In the case of Puppet Master II this is a good thing because Puppet Master II sucks on toast.
I promised a complete look at the Puppet Master series of films, but I haven’t done a review in that series since November of last year. My apologies. I really did plan to do them more quickly than this, and since there are so many, it would have been better to watch them all in a batch. Ah, well.
As you may recall from way back when, or if you just went back and read the reviews of the first two movies, I didn’t think much of Puppet Master II. In fact, I kind of hated it. While Puppet Master may not have been the pinnacle of the moviemaking art, it was at least entertaining, had some memorable moments and characters and introduced us to the puppets themselves. All Puppet Master II had going for it was a brief scene where Charlie Spradling appeared half-naked. Which is nice, don’t get me wrong, but not enough to save the picture.
I don’t think I’m the only one who disliked Puppet Master II. Why? Because Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge essentially hits the reset button on the whole series and introduces new takes on old characters that are radically different from how they were portrayed in the previous film. We never go back to the plot-lines of Puppet Master II, and I can say from my perspective that this is very much a good thing. Let there be no mistake about it: Puppet Master II is bad, bad, bad.
It stands to reason that the series had nowhere to go but up after that unholy misfire of a sequel and many Puppet Master fans rank Puppet Master III as the best in the long-running series. This may very well be the case, though it may be the sentimental side of me talking here, as I was quite fond of this installment when it came out way back in 1991. That’s twenty years, folks. Puppet Master III is almost allowed to drink.