Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is by no means a “perfect” toy chest terrorizer. Perfectly committed to hacking, dismembering and desecrating “chosen” victims for 80ish non-stop minutes? For sure. Disgustingly inappropriate by way of Nazi puppets acting out hate crime commands with sure-to-be revolting motivations? Mega check. The Littlest Reich is no 5-star slice of blood-drizzled strudel given its icky, of-our-times evocations – but boy, is it nice to see directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund reinvigorate exploitation gruesomeness.
So what’s the story this time around? In a twist on Charles Band’s Puppet Master franchise mythology, The Littlest Reich turns infamous “Geppetto of the Dead” André Toulon ( into a practising Nazi. He has fled *back* to Germany during Hitler’s WWII rise, unleashing his wooden minions as a lethal death squad. It’s a departure, and one that instills an unsavory air of resentment throughout every LGBT, Jewish, or racially-insensitive casualty because for Toulon – a man whose mansion is still a war memorial filled with Swastika flags and German propaganda – the “cause” never really died. It’s a motif that’s perfectly displayed by The Littlest Reich’s opening “accident” when a female bartender is decapitated for nothing more than being in a same-sex romance.
In other words, some people will *despise* this movie — and that’s more than OK based on the source content.
All In The Name Of Exploitation?
The above is mentioned because while S. Craig Zahler’s hack-em-to-bits scripted bloodbath dives into old-school horror attitudes, large groups of viewers will be too swept up by current events to see past certain aspects. Even through endeared eyes, some of Zahler’s lines are curiously placed. At times, it feels as if anti-semitic or socially challenged opinions are sprinkled in under a guise of “Oh no, the Nazis are the baddies who eventually get killed! Don’t worry!” Dialogue such as an African American character asking why “Blues” – aka police – hold all the guns, is then assured that’s how it *should* be since everyone else shows such “poor judgment.”
We’re not exactly looking to b movies for social commentary, but come on guys.
Stereotypes are broad and stifling (Zahler’s inclusion of a certain slur shouldn’t happen), including an escape-turned-demise that paints non-Caucasian characters as incompetent (in the name of “fun”). If the confliction of hooting while Nazi dolls maul room by room causes you internal discomfort, don’t think The Littlest Reich does *anything* to calm such distress. These glimpses are ugly. Wholly damning and worth the warning.
Pure hearts be warned.
More Kills In One Movie Than The Entire Puppet Master Franchise?
With almost no hesitation we’re driven to Postville, Texas, where the 30th anniversary of Toulon’s legendary murders will be held. Collectors of Toulon’s sculpted army congregate at The Brass Buckle hotel, including comic guy Edgar (Thomas Lennon), girlfriend Ashley (Jenny Pellicer) and obnoxious friend/employer Markowitz (Nelson Franklin). Their hope is to sell a possibly “original” Blade that Edgar’s deceased brother James found while attending sleepaway camp (in Postville, many moons ago).
Upon arrival, the group takes a Toulon estate tour led by executing officer Carol Doreski (Barbara Crampton chewing scenes with authoritative ease) that allows for exposition. Then it’s back to The Brass Buckle where every visitor retreats to their own room (mostly with sex on the mind, lotsa sex) to find multiple puppets have been “stolen” – and that’s when Toulon’s onslaught begins.
You’re here for the deaths in Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich and on that front, you won’t be disappointed. Edgar’s path from Dallas to Postville blows past “banal” character development (he’s divorced, moves home and starts dating Ashley within all of, like, three scenes). Doreski’s PTSD-laced walk down nightmare lane is the only obstacle between viewers and unapologetic cadaver butchering. Story development continuously halts so Toulon’s army can redecorate The Brass Buckle with a new “Corpse Red Psycho” design concept – and, as already mentioned, it’s all WILDLY practical SFX showmanship.
While its B-movie humor loses its sheen in later acts, downright vile acts of violence call back to scrub-yourself-clean titles of 80s cable box fame. It reminds us of a world where “problematic” wasn’t a thought and zombie babies tearing rib cages open was a normal occurrence. Those who desperately clutch pearls of decency and shame are not fit for The Littlest Reich, then, because we’ve never witnessed a larger body count in theatres.
Take your pick of traumatic favorites. Whether it’s a urinating man having his severed head plopped into toilet bowl via helicopter decapitation – while the “stream” continues. Or Rich womanizers and their stripper-type dates having their boinking “cut” short (at the Achilles tendon).It’s safe to say that you’ll probably need an acid bath to wash the nasty off after this one.
Apologies for the graphic images being branded into your mind (trust us, there are still PLENTY of goretastic goodies left, too), but you *need* to know how far Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich pushes. If you’re not ready for Fangoria’s non-discriminatory meat grinder that makes Feast’s kitchen-sink kill list seem tame, seek alternate entertainment.
Beyond The Brutalization
Laguna and Wiklund are undoubtedly at their best when carving up hotel guests like turkeys on Thanksgiving, but pacing isn’t always as keen. Thomas Lennon’s normal comedic attributes are traded for dour personal mumbling, making for a down-on-his-luck protagonist who’s better when trading blows with recreational misogynist Nelson Franklin.
Humor attempts to hold throughout, but character laughs aren’t as prevalent once Toulon’s creations jump to life. Why? Because it becomes all the more obvious that Laguna and Wiklund aren’t in complete control when cutting between destructive panic or searching for the next name on Toulon’s list.
Transitions can be more of a chore than necessary – given how expected progressing beats are.
Luckily, creative production design charts disturbingly high considering how 60+ puppets overtake The Brass Buckle. Puppet Master fans will reunite with favorites – Blade, Pinhead, Torch, Tunneler – and while others seem to be missing (no Jester or Leech Woman?!), at least new recruits fall in line with ease. Mechaniker, a spike-wheeled chrome speeder who zooms around. “Happy Amphibian,” who appears to be a cross between Kermit and a party clown. Others like “Junior Fuhrer” (I’ll leave that to your own imagination), the aforementioned Iron Giant propeller head, and of course – Toulon’s murderer of the hour – Skull Blade (a variant of Toulon’s original Blade).
In other words, human fodder like waitress Nerissa (Charlyne Yi) or unprepared desk boy Howie (Alex Beh) stand no chance – well, except for Skeeta Jenkins’s third-person speaking Brass Buckle barman “Cuddly Bear.” Torn from the pages of Blaxploitation films and ready to pulverize some “b**ch” puppets alongside Michael Paré’s Detective Brown (line of the film: “This incident is turning into more of a happening,” followed by Det. Brown’s distant gaze upwards).
Is ‘Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich‘ Any good?
Let’s make this simple – Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is a purposefully demonizing monster mashup about killing Nazis that oversells itself a bit on “exploitation”. S. Craig Zahler goes back to his Asylum Blackout roots to write a leaner (aka under-two-hours) script, treads delicate waters, but ultimately makes The Littlest Reich about boundary-affronting, massacre-to-the-max midnight sleaze that’s all for the sake of genre limitlessness.
Crowds will be divided. Patrons may walk out. Wrong moment, wrong place for a story like this? It’s hard to make that call, but put in a lineup with multiple 70s or 80s “classics” we herald…is The Littlest Reich that much different?
Either way, this is one of 2018’s most savagely fun pseudo-slasher watches. Just try not to let the chunks of flesh and body matter stain your clothes (or soul).