Puppet Killer is the new horror-comedy by Canadian director Lisa Ovies with a screenplay by Kevin Mosley. The film stars Aleks Paunovic, Lee Majdoub, Lisa Durupt, Richard Harmon, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Kyle Cassie, and Geoff Gustafson.
The film received its US premiere as well as The Best of the Fest award at NFF 2019. Prior to the festival, I contacted Lisa because I was leaving Sunday before the late screening and she graciously sent me the screener prior to the festival. Despite having seen it at home, I immediately extended my AirBnb for an extra day so that I could watch the film with an audience.
Looking at the poster and title, the viewer has only a vague idea of what will be seen. Even the red band trailer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q46t4JmrVAY) only gives a glimpse of the insanity that ensues. But Puppet Killer far exceeds any preconceived expectations by being incredibly witty, nostalgic, and brutal in just the right balance. The performances of all of the actors and puppeteers actually accomplish something rare to most horror comedies: well-rounded, interesting characters for whom the audience feels compassion.
The opening shows a mostly silent montage of a woman (Ovies) happily bestowing her childhood puppet, Simon, to her newborn. We see the boy grow up with the puppet and the family’s beloved tradition of watching horror films around the holidays. The joy turns quickly when we see Mom is dying of cancer. Jamie’s father eventually remarries a woman who is receptive neither to Simon nor Jamie carrying on his mother’s traditions and she suffers dire consequences seemingly at the hand of Simon for voicing her disdain.
Fast forwarding in Jamie’s life, he and five of his friends plan a vacation to the cabin where his stepmother met her demise. There is a brilliant running gag starting at this point and an astute viewer should be able to figure it out by watching the trailer and reading the synopsis (but it shall not be revealed here). Because of this “twist,” so to speak, what could be a standard slasher setup is anything but standard.
After settling in, one of the friends finds Simon in the basement and the group ridicules Jamie for his childhood toy which displeases both man and puppet. In the next few days, Jamie begins to bond with Simon once again while Simon enacts brutal justice on each of his harassers in methods he absorbed from the horror movies Jamie’s mother loved so much. The classic horror homage kills are both nostalgic and hilarious for the viewer because no overt attention is called to them: a true horror fan automatically knows the reference and appreciates it even more as is being played out by a fuzzy red puppet with one adorable snaggletooth.
As I expected, the film was a hit with the NFF audience in addition to the festival judges. As the weekend progressed, Ovies even fielded calls from several other festivals wanting to show it. After spending the bulk of the weekend in the presence of this hilarious and talented woman, I can confidently say she is one of the most supportive and devoted indie horror filmmakers around. If possible, see this film on the festival circuit in the coming months.