Homemade horror is in such a slump that filmmakers are now flocking around gimmicks to give it a good kick in the pants. One of the most obvious is casting. Going back through their catalog of cult considerations, they will pay middle dollar to desperate ex-icons looking for another paycheck to prove their genre worth. It's like Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi all over again. Then there are the coat-tailers, the ones who see a popular trend - torture porn, found footage, serial killer riffs - and repeat them ad nauseum, to the point where fans just grow frustrated and depressed. Zombies and vampires beware! Few press the outsides of the envelope, while even fewer find a unique means of making their point. So kudos to writer/director Dustin Mills. It takes an artist of brave temperament to attempt a splatter-filled creature on the loose title where puppets, not people, make up the viable victim/villain pool. That's right - friendly felt figures do all the heavy lifting here, and with a bit of commendable CG magic, we end up with an enjoyable, if often silly, Puppet Monster Massacre.
Of course, when you've got Elmo's illiterate human cousins walking around in front of them, the dread drops off rather quickly. There are definitely issues with the 'performers' here. Dr. Wagner and his beast are excellent, the perfect combination of expression and rudimentary realization. Even the weird coloring and hideous hairdo on the mad man scientist fits the part. Gramps is also a recognizable in a stereotypical old fart ideal and Raimi Campbell is like an uber-nerd reimagined as a pus wart. That just leaves our leads, and aside from Mona's ample cloth bosom (which we get to see several times), the main characters are too crude. They might as well be socks with stock elements glued to them. Adding a few piercings doesn't distinguish them. Sure, it's a nice touch that Iggy turns out to be less "British" than he appears, but for the most part, we can't wait to see these idiots die. They make the tired teen archetype from the '80s slasher film look like players from the Old Vic. Yes...yes...yes...they are puppets. We get it. They are supposed to be crude and comical - but dull?
Thankfully, Mills' sense of humor and way with a narrative more or less save the experience. Just when we think we can't tolerate the children's party production values any further, the script comes along and delivers some excellent self-deprecating dialogue. This is a horror movie that understands it's a horror movie, that doesn't try to be realistic (duh) while still playing into all the creepshow cliches. Does that mean that The Puppet Monster Massacre is a 100% success? Hardly. In fact, the film is more a noble failure than a true triumph. It's just too surreal to really win us over. And then there is the blood. It's nice that Mills has amplified the gore with computer graphics, but the kills lack the impact he is looking for. Real bloodletting is less clean and polished. Here, when someone dies, the cartoonish quality of the death spray leaves us wanting something a bit more...substantive. Indeed, that's a good way to sum up The Puppet Monster Massacre. It's a novel idea with some intriguing approaches, but overall, it's a slight and superficial scarefest.
The Extras: There are two commentary tracks included on this disc. One features Mills by himself and it's very insightful. He lists off his frames of reference, explains certain plot elements, and argues for things he would do differently. The second narrative includes assistant director Brandon Salkil and is a bit repetitive. With two, it's definitely more lively and fun. There are also two small clips of discarded monster designs. They prove that the final version of the creature was indeed the best version.