If you’ve ever wanted to see a decapitated man urinating on his own head, I have just the movie for you. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, directed by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund, is a modern update on the classic series, and while it bears enough similarities to please the die-hards, the film is undeniably its own entity – one where Nazi puppets run amok and commit vicious hate crimes.
If that description turns you off, make no mistake about it – Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is not a film you will enjoy. I want to be clear about that up front. As is mentioned by a character in the movie, bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it. If that mirrors real life a little too closely for you, there’s no harm in taking a pass on this particular outing. This is brutal, tasteless cinema at its most extreme, and not everyone is going to be okay with that.
As for me, I fucking loved it.
The film follows Edgar (Thomas Lennon), a recently divorced “comic book guy” who temporarily moves in with his parents while he gets back on his feet. While looking through his deceased brother’s bedroom, he finds an odd puppet, which he discovers was created by André Toulon, a murderous Nazi who was killed by police officers many years ago. Hoping to make some quick cash, Edgar, accompanied by his new girlfriend, Ashley (Jenny Pellicer), and employer/friend, Markowitz (Nelson Franklin), decides to sell the puppet at a convention that centers around the history of Toulon’s murders. With the majority of Toulon’s puppets under the same roof, however, things take a nightmarish turn as they come to life and pick up right where their Nazi creator left off.
The screenplay for Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich was written by S. Craig Zahler, the mastermind behind modern classics Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, so it comes as no surprise that this reboot features especially brutal death scenes. There’s graphic, and then there’s a puppet traveling up a pregnant woman’s vagina and ripping the baby from her womb. The Littlest Reich falls gloriously into the latter category. Each over-the-top kill is a showcase for masterful practical effects, and I ate it up with a smile on my face because I’m secretly a horrible person.
There’s no doubt that, like the other films in the series, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is steeped in silliness and pitch black humor. What makes this reboot entry so hysterical is that it embraces that silliness in a style that is totally deadpan and serious. Thomas Lennon, an actor known for his work in comedy, plays every reaction and line of dialogue straight, as does everyone else. There are moments of actual joking that work well too, but the ultimate punchline of the film is how seriously it takes the frequently insane happenings. If Airplane! were an offensive horror movie, this is what it would look like.
From top to bottom, the cast commits to the established tone. Lennon is terrific as the lead character, but there are equally great performances from Nelson Franklin as the frequently funny Markowitz, who walks a fine line between being a nice guy and a prick, the always-fantastic Barbara Crampton, and Skeeta Jenkins as Cuddly Bear, the potential fan favorite. Alex Beh also deserves a mention for his awkwardly amusing work as Howie, the hotel concierge, as does Udo Kier, whose intense and terrifying presence makes the opening scene of The Littlest Reich unforgettable.
There are slight gripes to be made about the film – some of the jokes don’t tonally match the moment they belong to, and the ending wraps up much too quickly for the viewer to feel completely satisfied (Though there’s a promise of more to come), but there’s so much fun to be had that you’ll likely forgive these issues. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is tasty tastelessness, and we’re ready for seconds.