The Puppet Master movies are nostalgic childhood favorites of mine. There were five when I first rented them, and that’s how I choose to remember it. The series experiences a steep drop-off in quality starting with Part 6, due to a lack of funding, as well as the death of stop-motion special effects wizard David Allen. Producer Charles Band continued making sequels, but instead of doing the obvious thing and finding someone else to do stop-motion, he decided to ditch it completely and use only strings, rods, and recycled footage. As of this writing, there are eleven main entries, a remake, an unofficial crossover, a spin-off, and a second spin-off on the way.
It’s not hard to imagine why kids like me would be drawn to them. As the narrator of the “video bonus” that follows the VHS version of Part 1 puts it, “There is something singularly horrifying about the idea of innocent playthings coming to life as evil monsters. We have all felt that eternal fear of something small and deadly under our bed.” Plus, any story involving little creatures, each with their own unique abilities, will seem cool to kids, especially if it also ties in with a toy line or card game. It’s been proven time and again. That’s why Pokémon is still so popular twenty years on.
The Puppet Master series as a whole exhibits a blatant disregard for continuity. Most of its problems center around the puppets’ creator, André Toulon. Over the course of seven movies, Toulon goes from French, to German, to English, back to French. It doesn’t help that he’s played by three different actors in three straight installments. In Part 1, he shoots himself. That’s in 1939. His tombstone reads 1941. He’s later shown to be living in 1944! Part 3 is a prequel. It takes place in 1941. Toulon battles Nazis. He tells a doctor he was given the ancient secret of animation in Egypt fifteen years prior. That would be 1926. However, the poster for his trip to Cairo says 1912, placing Part 3 closer to 1927. Hitler wasn’t even in power in 1927. In Part 7, he’s given that same secret in Paris in 1902. Which is it, 1902, 1912, or 1926? Wikipedia gets some of these years wrong, and takes it upon itself to fix others.
In Part 1, Toulon is a good guy. In Part 2, he’s evil, and uses a green Herbert West-like reagent containing freshly harvested brains to bring life to his puppets. In Part 3, he’s portrayed as a morally upstanding man until his wife is killed by the Nazis. This begs the question, what was he injecting his puppets with before his wife died, if not brains? Doesn’t matter. By the time we get to Part 7, which actually comes first chronologically, brains aren’t even necessary, Toulon just animates puppets with chants. His wife’s name changes in that one too, from Elsa to Ilsa. Puppets Six Shooter and Torch miss multiple movies without explanation. Etc., etc.
I could come up with more problems if I really put my mind to it. It’s almost as if everyone involved went out of their way to muck up the timeline. Charles Band produced every (main) movie. David DeCoteau directed four of them. They should have known better.
There are six animate puppets in David Schmoeller’s original. The first is an unnamed Burmese opera puppet dubbed “Khan” by fans. He’s present for the intro, then disappears for seven movies. As such, his powers aren’t known. De facto leader Blade has a hook for one hand and a knife for the other. Tunneler has a drill on his head. Pin Head, not to be confused with the leader of the Cenobites from Hellraiser, possesses superhuman strength for his size, roughly equivalent to that of a full-grown man. Jester can magically rotate his face to show five different expressions. And Leech Woman, or “Ms. Leech”, as she’s referred to on the back of the VHS box, well, I’ll give you one guess. No, she doesn’t do any bloodsucking herself, she regurgitates leeches onto her victims.
Her two scenes are the grossest parts of the movie by far. I assume she was added for shock value, without much thought to the science behind her. Charles Band probably went hahaha, this is nasty, they’ll hate it. I re-watched most of the series on Full Moon Streaming last week and it suddenly dawned on me how useless her power is.
We’ve seen some truly unique powers in horror. Jack Frost can change states from snow to water and vice versa, the Killer Klowns From Outer Space can make shadow puppets that eat people, and Killjoy can smoke victims like joints. Leech Woman’s might be the worst. Ok, Jester’s is pretty bad too.
In Part 1, four psychics are drawn to an old seaside hotel by a colleague’s mysterious suicide. One of the psychics is a balding guy with a ponytail named Frank. He’s telepathic. His girlfriend Carissa is psychometric, meaning she can “reconstruct the emotional history of an object by touch”. She can also relive people’s past sexual encounters. I assure you this isn’t a porno. The night of their arrival, Frank and Carissa decide to have sex to channel their dead colleague’s spirit. They log the act as “Experiment 5-17-A”. Call me crazy, but… I suspect they would have had sex regardless. Carissa blindfolds Frank and handcuffs him to the bed. She begins riding him vigorously. Soon, the door to their room opens. Carissa stops. She hears a noise under the bed. While checking what it could be, she gets drilled in the mouth.
By Tunneler. With an actual drill. Perverts.
Leech Woman hops up on the bed and begins barfing leeches on Frank. Frank mistakes the first parasitic worm for Carissa’s lips until he’s pained by its sucking. Contrary to popular belief, leeches don’t secrete anesthetics while feeding. Frank wiggles out of his blindfold and is horrified to see three massive Leeches attached to his body. As hard as he tries, he can’t free his hands. He screams. The character in the next room assumes the screaming is an orgasm and covers his ears with a pillow. “Enough already!” The scene ends before Frank dies, so we don’t know how long it takes. I’m guessing a while.
For thousands of years until relatively recently, doctors used medical leeches to “cure” people of just about everything and it didn’t usually kill them. I mean, I’m sure tons of those people died, but not because of the leeches directly, because they didn’t get the right treatment. Imagine how many you’d need to bleed out.
According to pubmed.org, the giant Amazon leech, Haementeria ghilianii, consumes up to 15 ml of blood at a time at a rate of approximately 0.14 ml/min. There are between 1.2 and 1.5 gallons of blood in the human body. For the purposes of this post, I’ll use the average of the two, 1.35, since Frank is a man and looks decently tall. That’s 5,110 ml.
Healthline warns, “If you lose more than 40% of your blood, you will die.” Let’s do some math. Disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on anything. All of this could be wrong.
.4 x 5,110 ml = 2,044 ml needed to die
2,044 ml ÷ 15 ml/leech = ~136 leeches
If my calculations are correct, it would take 136 of the largest known leeches 107 minutes to exsanguinate someone like Frank.
In actuality, you could be bitten by less, remove them before they’re done feeding, and still die because leech saliva contains an anticoagulant, meaning you wouldn’t stop bleeding immediately. In 2008, a 65-year-old man survived 130 leech bites, but only after receiving eight units of plasma.
Leech Woman regurgitates four onto Frank. Four. Toward the end, Frank’s corpse is found propped up in a chair by survivors with three additional suction marks on it. That’s seven total. I know I said it wouldn’t take the whole 136, but seven’s just not very many.
The fact that Frank is done in by seven can only mean Leech Woman uses an especially potent species unknown to science, and/or instills them with magic while barfing them out. In a franchise populated by psychics, sorcerers, demons, monsters, mummies, zombies, and of course, living dolls, which is known for its crap continuity, neither option is actually that hard to believe.
But even if Leech Woman does possess magical super leeches, it doesn’t change the fact that using them to murder someone takes a lot longer than using a weapon. Why doesn’t Tunneler go after Frank in the scene mentioned above? He’s already under the bed. It would save so much time.
Another obvious downside to Leech Woman’s power is that it requires her victims to be tied up beforehand or incapacitated by the rest of the puppets. What a pain in the ass. She’s more trouble than she’s worth. This might be why the filmmakers gave her a knife in Part 2 before killing her off in favor of a puppet with a flamethrower for a hand. You can’t keep a good puppet down, though; she comes back in 6!
At one point, it’s revealed that Leech Woman is inhabited by the soul of Toulon’s beloved wife Elsa. If that’s the case, why does he paint her up like a whore? And how about the symbolism of the leeches? Is this to say wives drain the lifeforce of men? In my opinion, it’s kind of a dick move to give your wife both the most revolting and least practical ability of them all. He’s setting her up for failure. I’d want my wife to succeed. I’d give her Six Shooter’s guns, or a sawblade. Something cool. Don’t worry, baby, I got you.
I’m putting way too much thought into this. Time to wrap up. Logic be damned, I still love this series. If you want to talk puppets, just leave me a comment.