PUPPET MASTER II: Pulling On Gothic Strings

Puppet Master II. 1990. Directed by David Allen. Screenplay by David Pabian.
Starring Elizabeth Maclellan, Collin Bernsen, Steve Welles, Greg Webb, Charlie Spradling, Jeff Celentano, Nita Talbot, Sage Allen, George ‘Buck’ Flower, & Sean Ryan.
Full Moon Entertainment
Rated R. 88 minutes.

Puppet Master II - Mummy ToulonSomehow this sequel to the original Puppet Master is even better than the first. There are several reasons for that, a major one being David Allen as director. Allen did visual effects and worked on puppet animation for the first Puppet Master. His other credits include: the monkey sequence in 1983’s The Hunger, special visual effects on Larry Cohen’s Q, prosthetic work for White Dog, as well as stop motion effects on movies like 1970’s EquinoxThe HowlingGhoulies IIHoney, I Shrunk the Kids, and more. He brought his stop motion expertise to make Puppet Master II a fun, freaky, and bloody sequel worthy of its namesake.
This sequel again sees a psychic and paranormal investigators going back to the Bodega Bay Inn, where the events of the first film occurred. As they dig into what happened there previously, they’re attacked by the nasty puppets, who may or may not have brought Andre Toulon back from the grave.
There’s much more fun puppet stuff here than the first, which was already full of treats. And the Gothic horror’s there, once again. This screenplay looks deeper into the supernatural via the toys themselves and the possible resurrection of Toulon. Like all great Gothic horror, whether older classics of film and literature or the contemporary stories we watch/read today, Puppet Master II sees the past and present collide with fatal results.
Puppet Master II - FaustAt the beginning of the movie, Pinhead pours a vial of potion into Toulon’s (Steve Welles) grave, while he and the other puppets hope to resurrect their master. Do they? Seems so. This return leads to a spectacular homage on behalf of Allen and screenwriter David Pabian. In disguised form, Toulon wears a similar black trench coat to his puppet Blade. He’s wrapped in bandages like a mummy— fitting, as there are connections between the old woman who built the Bodega Bay Inn and Egyptian ritual, given she had her brain removed through her nose as was done to corpses during mummification. Most important is, with the bandages, glasses, and coat, Toulon looks like the doctor from James Whale’s adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel, The Invisible Man.
Toulon being resurrected is a literal return of the past, setting the Gothic fully in motion. Not to mention we later discover he’s trying to bring back his dead wife, Elsa, and believes one of the parapsychologists – Carolyn (Elizabeth Maclellan) – is his wife reincarnated. This is not the inability of the past to let go of the present, as it is in many Gothic stories with ghosts and other haunting entities. Rather, this is Toulon’s inability to let go of the past, haunted by the death of his wife and unable to reverse time, so the Gothic is the source of his insanity.
In the finale, Toulon has dead bodies ready to be his corporeal puppets, in a cruel ironic twist. He’s going to literally resurrect the past, creating new life out of inorganic matter, same as his puppets did after the Nazis killed him, giving himself anew fleshy shell to inhabit. He wants a new body to join his resurrected wife— a proper Gothic romance.
Puppet Master II - Dissected Toy

“It’s got to be subject to physical laws”

Puppet Master II - Little HeadThe supernatural is even harder to believe when it brings inanimate objects to life, allowing them autonomy. When the supernatural possesses the body, its corporeality is the proof needed for rational humans to understand something horrific’s happening. When inanimate things come to life it’s a double dose of terror: a supernatural entity’s involved, and what could not move, talk, or kill before is now capable of doing all those things, and worse.
This concept plays off the past again. Living toys take us back to a more innocent time of childhood when we wished our toys were real, especially the lonely child who’d love their toys to be their actual friends. Puppet Master as a franchise subverts this joyful notion into surreal horror. There’s an air of fun about these movies – the score helps to give it a childish feel at times – only making everything all the more disturbing.
One scene sees the past and childhood intersect. A small kid has a G.I. Joe-like toy propped up and punishing it as if he were an Allied soldier. “Die Nazi scum,” the kid yells. Even a child knows about the past and its many ghosts. In this way, and others, Puppet Master II is a postmodern work, evoking the history of Nazi Germany, and through this, without ever saying it, the Holocaust, too. Many critical theorists and philosophers see postmodernism as a response to the Holocaust, suggesting all postmodernism, in some way, refers back to it. The Gothic past here encompasses this idea of postmodernism by having a child – who’s living in 1990 and probably too young to actually know much about Nazism – reference this dark period of history. Not coincidence the puppets decide to move on towards a psychiatric facility for young people, the last line of the movie being: “We have children to enchant.”
Puppet Master II - Little Head

“And so I built my hotel here as a haven for all spiritual wayfarers who long to escape this imperfect worldly plane.”

Puppet Master II - Rotting ToulonA fine horror with creeps, cheese, and plenty stop-motion carnage for fans of the franchise and the genre itself. The fact remains Puppet Master II shows us how the past refuses to let go and how certain people won’t let it go, either. Also a testament to the enduring Gothic nature of certain places, those spots locals know and rightfully fear, whether out of real terror or age old superstitions.
Toulon’s resurrection sees the Gothic come back to life. He betrays those who allowed him that life, and his puppets, his own creations are the ones to put an end to his new life. The puppets are part of the future overtaking the past. But the past is never entirely dead— as William Faulkner said, it isn’t even past.
Highly recommend this sequel. Definitely a great ’90s horror, and joins those few sequels better than the first movies that came before them. Allen gives it his all here, showing everybody his stop motion prowess and giving further gruesome life to these bad ass puppets, letting them kill to their hearts’ content. Along the way he and Pabian have their say about ways the Gothic past reaches out into the present.

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