In the introduction to his new book Puppet Master Complete: A Franchise History, author Nat Brehmer asks a question that will no doubt be on the minds of many: why Puppet Master? Even fans of the series have to admit that it’s a pretty good question. It is not one of the big franchises, has been entirely direct to video, and released by a company that specializes in what many would label as “schlock.” But Brehmer packs the pages of his book with compelling answers and reasons to love this series and his book is one of the best franchise overviews that I have ever read.
First of all, I am a great admirer of Nat Brehmer’s writing. He is without a doubt one of the most knowledgeable voices on horror around. His love for the genre is contagious and if you are not already familiar with his work, be sure to seek it out. He brings all that knowledge and passion to this book and provides what is truly a complete history of, not only the films, but every nook and cranny of the Puppet Master mythos available. His enthusiasm for the franchise oozes from every page. This is the most exhaustive history of Puppet Master to date, and likely ever will be, unless of course Nat writes a follow-up. With the legacy of this franchise, it seems likely that he may have to do just that. Puppet Master is very much the little franchise that could, and just continues to go on and on in multiple forms.
With each chapter, Brehmer explores a particular entry or facet of Puppet Master. I say facet rather than film because there is so much more to the series than just the movies. In fact, some of my favorite chapters of the book have to do with the comics series, the unmade films, and the action figure series’ that came out as the movies began and continued to gain in popularity. Brehmer also offers a great deal of context for each film or project with background on Charles Band’s Full Moon Pictures, which produced and distributed the films. We also see glimpses into the overarching trends in horror that were happening at the time and how the Puppet Master films responded to them. The inception and growth of Full Moon is intimately tied to Puppet Master, including their model as a direct to video outlet, their fan club, and expansion into merchandising. We also get a great deal of context involving what happened before Full Moon with Band’s Empire Pictures and the films that led directly to elements of the Puppet Master franchise, both on film and in other formats.
For each film, we are taken inside the development, production, distribution, and reception through various interviews with key players along the way, which are refreshing in their frankness. Brehmer mixes archival interviews with new discussions that provide both context within the period of the films’ making and first-hand reflections on them. He dives deep into the conception and writing processes, looking into influences such as Universal and Hammer horror films, World War II movies, and even westerns.
Brehmer also provides a great deal of insight in discussing the real stars of the Puppet Master series—the puppets themselves. We learn quite a bit about the development, evolution, and animation at the hands of David Allen and crew of all our favorites: Pinhead, Jester, Torch, Tunneller, Leech Woman, Six Shooter, Decapitron, and of course the one who has become the icon of the series, Blade. Truly no stone is left unturned.
Probably my favorite chapter of all, one that alone is worth the cover price, is the chapter on the unmade Puppet Wars trilogy of films that would have been released after Puppet Master 5. It’s a great deal of fun to dive into what might have been and Brehmer pours as much passion and detail into what wasn’t made as he does into what was.
Puppet Master Complete is clearly a must read for fans of the franchise but is also a fantastic read for any fan of horror or anyone interested in fiercely independent, low-budget filmmaking. In his introduction, Brehmer indicates that he believes the Puppet Master story will be interesting even to those unfamiliar with the series. I can confirm this to be true. As someone who has only a passing knowledge of these films (this is where I admit that I have yet to see a single entry in the series), I found it to be an endlessly engaging read. The fact is that everything Nat Brehmer writes is worth reading, and this is his magnum opus. Engaging, informative, passionate, and thorough. Exhaustive but never exhausting, Puppet Master Complete is a must own and belongs on the shelf right alongside the great franchise histories like Crystal Lake Memories and Taking Shape. So now, if you’ll excuse me, thanks to Nat and this book, I have a franchise to watch.