One has to wonder what kind of producer in 2018 would have thought Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich to be a good idea. This does not come from the perspective of me disliking the film, though I wouldn’t go as far as saying I like it in the conventional sense either. The whole mess of a movie is just utterly fascinating to me, if only for just existing.
The plot, of sorts, follows a comic book artist aiming to auction off a World War II-era puppet at a convention dedicated to doll maker André Toulon. That’s Nazi doll maker André Toulon. Needless to say, all the puppets come alive and start taking out the convention goers, focusing mainly on minorities, as Nazi dolls are wont to do. It’s hard to overstate how exploitative this movie actually is.
The Littlest Reich is the twelfth movie in the Puppet Master franchise, and while it serves as a reboot, it has its feet firmly planted in its 1980s schlock origins. Digital filming aside, everything screams eighties, down to featuring Barbara Crampton in a central role. (She is the best part of the movie, for whatever that’s worth — note that her part has nothing to do with her appearance in the first movie.) There is not a page in the Book of Gratuitous Filmmaking the directors didn’t read, learn, and applied, with violence so over the top it’s nigh impossible to take seriously. Kudos to the makeup and practical effects artists, mind you — the scenes are gleefully well executed, so to speak.
I could go into the bizarreness of the story — how much damage could eight puppets, Nazis or not, really do on a grander scale? — but the heart and soul of the movie is its star, Thomas Lennon. What on earth is Thomas Lennon doing in a C-movie that only charitably can be said to have reached cult status? Even if you don’t instantly recognize the name, you know the actor from Reno 911 (as short-shorts wearing Lieutenant Dangle) and Santa Clarita Diet (as the principal). More than that, he has as a writer of such franchises as Night at the Museum, produced movies that cumulatively have grossed one-point-four-billion-dollars. The Littlest Reich has so far pulled in $600,000.
And I can’t help but love that. Clearly, Lennon must be a fan of the original movies; it seems dubious to think he was doing The Littlest Reich for fame or fortune. He’s just there, being the same charming Thomas Lennon as in any other movie, doing his Thomas Lennon thing. It’s weird in the most awesome of ways.
Which really goes for the whole movie. It’s a low-cost production, and the directors evidently decided to double down on that. Some of the puppeteering is impressive, but I doubt the puppeteers were on site for much of the filming. The majority looks to be the product of somebody on a dolly, bobbing the puppets up and down to simulate movements. It’s downright reminiscent of Pinocchio’s Revenge.
I realize this sounds like backhanded compliments, and in a sense, I suppose that’s true: The Littlest Reich is objectively not a good movie. It is a fascinating movie, and is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so, and The Littlest Reich should at least entertain fans of the genre. And in case there was any doubt, the cliffhanger ending is a setup for not only a sequel but also a spin-off.
If that’s a good thing or not, remains to be seen, but I’d be hard-pressed not to think those will be fascinating too.
The Littlest Reich is streaming on Shudder.