Like the Hellraiser franchise, Puppet Master films have been getting produced and released for almost three decades. The original Puppet Master was a straight-video release in 1989 that exceeded expectations and developed a cult following. To date, several sequels have been released under the radar of most horror fans. Unlike the Hellraiser movies, Puppet Master films have never seen the dimmed lights of a movie theater – until now. The latest franchise entry, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, saw a limited theatrical run this summer. Directed by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund, and distributed by Fangoria, The Littlest Reich hits the reboot button on the Puppet Master series in the hopes of perhaps finding a new audience.
Down-on-his luck divorcee Edgar (Thomas Lennon) is back in his parents’ home and working with his best friend, Markowitz (Nelson Franklin), at a comic book store. Things take a turn for the better when Edgar strikes up a new relationship with Ashley (Jenny Pellicer) and finds an Andre Toulon puppet in his brother’s old bedroom. Edgar, Jenny, and Markowitz take the valuable puppet to an auction at a hotel convention commemorating the infamous massacre involving the mysterious Toulon. Yet soon after arriving at the hotel, a mysterious force re-animates Toulon’s puppets and the guests find themselves hunted by the tiny toys.
The Littlest Reich Has Small Villains But Big Violence
The Littlest Reich is an absolute over-the-top gorefest that’s primary intents appears to be to push just about any and every button you can imagine might exist. This is a transgressive horror outing that goes places few horror films typically venture. From the opening prologue, The Littlest Reich puts the foot on the pedal with a quick decapitation and, from that moment onward, little time is wasted on story or dialogue. There is perhaps a 15-minute gap or so between the prologue and Edgar et al’s arrival at the hotel, but once the cast is gathered at the convention, the bloody mayhem rarely slows down.
The make-up effects in The Littlest Reich are universally excellent; in fact, it looks like most of the budget was handed over to the movie’s makeup department.
Fans of extreme gore will not be disappointed. The make-up effects in The Littlest Reich are universally excellent; in fact, it looks like most of the budget was handed over to the movie’s makeup department. Directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklunk aren’t shy about the violence either. One victim has his head sawed off while going to the washroom; the severed head lands in the toilet while the body continues to urinate on it. Another victim has their stomach cut open and intestines pulled out. In what could be one of the most offensive horror scenes in recent memory, one puppet attacks a pregnant woman in bed and, well, let’s just say you could probably guess what happens, but will still have a hard time believing they actually filmed it. All this violence is filmed in drab colours – The Littlest Reich is not a pretty movie.
Plot and Story Not Included …
Outside of The Littlest Reich’s insane violence and gore, there really isn’t much else to the movie. The story is a paper thin reboot of the original Puppet Master that flips the role of Andre Toulon, casting him as the villain, and cuts out much of the original film’s mythology. What remains is fairly straightforward use of Nazi’s as villains, a popular horror trope, along with convoluted referrals to the occult and ancient mysterious powers. Much of this story’s attempts to explain the animated puppets is nonsensical as there’s little commitment to actual storytelling. It’s also worth pointing out for fans of the original Puppet Master – the reboot has a much nastier tone defining it than the 1989 cult classic.
Like another recent 2018 horror entry, Terrifier, The Littlest Reich works best when it’s speeding forward and engaged in its own brand of mayhem.
Like another recent 2018 horror entry, Terrifier, The Littlest Reich works best when it’s speeding forward and engaged in its own brand of mayhem. The few times the movie slows down for character moments and dialogue also happen to be the weakest points. To be honest, these moments aren’t awful but they feel superfluous to a movie that’s major selling point is grossing out its audience. Even for a movie that runs at a trim 90 minutes, these occasional quiet moments drag and feel unnecessary. It’s too bad because there was ripe opportunity for the movie to skewer nerd and fanboy culture with its convention setting. But with its threadbare story and empty mythology, The Littlest Reich can’t afford to slow down to ponder these bigger ideas.
Quirky Characters Engage In Spite of a Weak Screenplay
In regards to the performances in The Littlest Reich, I’m not sure it would be accurate to say the performances are good but, truth be told, I quite liked the main characters. As Edgar, Thomas Lennon delivers a drawl performance that fits the down-on-his-luck character and serves to make him quite relatable. Jenny Pellicer is equally as endearing as girlfriend Ashley and, while difficult to pinpoint why, the couple’s relationship feels believable even in a movie about killer puppets. The Littlest Reich’s screenplay, by a slumming S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk) boasts some wonderfully dry dialogue.
Horror fans will recognize many of the supporting actors. Sadly, genre favourite Udo Kier is given very little to do as Andre Toulon, largely wasting his casting in the movie. Michael Pare is resurrected from the 1980’s to play Detective Brown, while the always fantastic Barbara Crampton delivers the movie’s best (and funniest) performance was a retired police officer. The Littlest Reich re-affirms that the world needs more Barbara Crampton.
Deserving of An Audience and New Franchise
The Littlest Reich is clearly an attempt to revive a straight-to-video franchise in the streaming era. While not recommended for casual horror fans, The Littlest Reich has a fun, over-the-top retro vibe that deserves to find a small audience in one of the many available streaming niches. It’s a fun and, yes, offensive horror film that never takes itself too seriously. One could easily see how a wild franchise could be built from this reboot.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B-