DVD Review: Puppet Monster Massacre

Hi all…

When I was in junior high and high school in the mid-1980s, it seemed there were new horror movies hitting theaters every week. I didn’t get to see many until they started showing up on video in high school and college, but I did see a few. And most of them involved teenagers doing dumb things and getting slaughtered by the monster or serial killer of the week.

From Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street and the haunted car in Christine to The Lost Boys and Friday the 13th, they all start with a group of clueless, usually good-looking teenagers with hormones raging out of control and end up with blood and dead bodies everywhere. Like Jeff Goldblum‘s character in The Lost World: Jurassic Park says – “Oh yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.”

What if I told you there was a new movie that took that basic plot and turned it on its head? The Puppet Monster Massacre is definitely one of the strangest mash-ups I’ve ever seen. Teenagers? Check. Evil mad scientist? Check. Monster? Check. Creepy old house? Check. Puppets? What the…?

That’s right – The Puppet Monster Massacre from writer/director/actor Dustin Mills takes aim at the classic teenage horror movie pattern, but uses puppets in all the roles. Don’t worry though, there’s still plenty of blood, gore, running, screaming, and sex – yes, I said sex – in this movie so be VERY aware this puppet show is NOT FOR THE KIDDIES. That said, I was laughing my butt off in more than a few places as the film pokes fun at the horror movie genre.

The story takes place in 1985 and starts with a hunter in the woods. He encounters a penguin and proceeds to get his butt kicked by said flightless bird. The poor old hunter wakes up in a mad scientist’s lair and is used as the incubator for a strange little black monster. I knew from the first blood splatter that this wasn’t going to be an average puppet horror film, though I had no idea what the “average puppet horror film” might be when I started…

After that we’re introduced to the rest of the characters – Charlie (voiced by Ethan Holey) is the main character. He lives with his perverted, swearing, gassy grandfather (voiced by Bart Flynn) in a small town. Charlie is in love with Gwen (voiced by Jessica Daniels) who lives nearby but has been chicken to ask her out. One day Charlie gets an invitation in the mail to spend the night at an old house near town. If he survives, he gets $1,000,000. Though his Gramps suggests that something seems hinky, Charlie is determined to go anyway. And when he finds out that Gwen got an invitation, he knows he has to go to prove that he wasn’t the wimp everybody thought he was.

We discover quickly that Gwen and Charlie aren’t the only “contestants” in this potential night of horrors. Also invited are Mona (voiced by Erica Kissenberth) and Iggy (also voiced by Flynn) – a couple of hardcore rockers who like to party and have sex frequently; and Raimi Campbell (voiced by Mills) – a horror movie buff who seems to live in his mother’s basement whose name has to be a combination of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell.

Once this gang of five puppets arrives at the front door to the big old spooky house, they meet the mysterious Dr. Wolfgang Wagner (voiced by Steve Rimpici) – the strange benefactor who invited them all to participate. What they don’t know is that surviving until morning really isn’t in the plan. Dr. Wolfgang, his assistant Squiggums (the penguin), and the Monster have something else in mind. Revenge!

The absolutely hilarious thing to me is that if you decided to cast this film with real actors – it would still work. It’s almost as though Mills decided to take a thought experiment of “what if we used puppets instead of people?” to it’s conclusion and this movie is the result. Though seeing puppet sex was slightly disturbing, I have to say I enjoyed how wacky and well-written the film actually was. Some of the visuals alone had me in stitches such as when the monster is coming out of a door with “CLEARANCE 3 FT.” stenciled above it – or when Charlie falls into a room full of fluffy bunnies with the words “FOOD STORAGE” stenciled on the walls.

Of all the characters, Raimi was my favorite. With his buck teeth and puppet acne, he manages to narrate his way on a trek through the forest that had me laughing early on and then laughing even harder as he explored the house later. I think he had all the best lines and definitely the best chase scene in the whole film that evoked a very Scooby-Doo kind of feel from the music to the cartoon-like path they took through the house.

Don’t worry that there’s not enough blood… There is definitely plenty of mayhem and gore in this movie in addition to the comedy. I can truthfully say I’ve never seen puppets die in as many gruesome ways as they did here. Deaths varied from monsters eating heads to soldiers shooting holes in other soldiers to claws slicing halfway through a puppet’s face (with the requisite brains/gore inside)… every time I thought I’d seen them all, the crew came up with another one.

In addition to the film (about 70 minutes long), there are a couple of commentary tracks as well as a couple of monster designs they decided not to go with.

All in all if you’re looking for a violent, bloody, puppet-based horror flick with crude humor and language, The Puppet Monster Massacre should be right up your alley. Even if you’re just looking for something different in the horror/comedy genre, it fits that bill too. But either way, this has to be one of the more original concepts for a horror film I’ve seen in years and I’d love to see more from Dustin Mills and his crew. Who knows? Maybe this will kick off a whole new genre of horror!

For more about the movie, check out the film’s website at PuppetMonsterMassacre.com.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Look for this fun flick at Amazon!

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DVD Review: The New Adventures of Robin Hood, Season One

Hi again…

Once upon a time – in the mid-1990s, television was invaded by a group of Greek heroes and gods led by Sam Raimi. The first invasion came in the form of a demigod (Hercules, played by Kevin Sorbo) and his friend (Iolaus, played by Michael Hurst) who would right wrongs, save people in distress, and kill monsters or foil devious godly plots. The second invasion was led by a tall woman with amazing warrior skills (Xena, played by Lucy Lawless) and her friend (Gabrielle, played by Renee O’Connor) who basically followed in the same adventure paths as their male predecessors.

These were of course the two TV seriesHercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess – that aired in syndication from 1995 to 1999 (for Hercules) and 1995 to 2001 (for Xena). Both series used tongue-in-cheek humor, occasional sight gags, exaggerated action, and the hero’s journey to explore various story lines roughly based in myths and legends. Both series were very successful and enjoyed long lives in syndication around the world.

And though I knew that other production companies were probably trying to come up with ways to ride their coat tails, I can’t say that I remember any that ever gained much traction on our local television stations in Colorado. So The New Adventures of Robin Hood managed to slip under my radar when it aired for four seasons from 1997 to 1999, airing on TNT from 1997-1998.

The basic idea was to take the stories of Robin Hood and update them in the mold of Hercules and Xena. Add a bit of magic, adventure, witty dialogue, and humor and voila you have a series! So how did I miss it?

Well, Warner Brothers is now releasing the first season of the series for the first time on DVD and it will only be available through the Warner Brothers online store. This is the first of several WB TV series never before released on DVD that they will make available in this fashion.

The first season of The New Adventures of Robin Hood starred Matthew Porretta as Robin, Anna Galvin as Lady Marion Fitzwalter, Richard Ashton as Little John, Martyn Ellis as Friar Tuck, Christopher Lee as Olwyn the Druid/Wizard, and Andrew Bicknell as Prince John. The interplay between Porretta, Galvin, Ashton, and Ellis was quite good I felt and there was an obvious camaraderie there that worked well for comedic and serious elements of the storyline.

And where Xena and Hercules fought creatures from mythology, this series has Robin and his band dealing with other historical groups – Mongols, Vikings, witches, druids, dragons, and even an Arabian knight. Quite the mix of people from a wide variety of times and places in history and tales.

On the four DVDs included in the Season One collection, you get all 13 episodes chock full of adventure, bad puns, and more. Though there are no extras, every show pits Robin and the gang against Prince John and other bullies and monsters in the forest. Presented in full-screen format I had to wonder if there were parts of scenes that may have benefited from a wide-screen approach.

Though the special effects and fight choreography wasn’t the best, I felt in most cases that the core set of characters – Robin, Marion, Little John, and the Friar – really held each episode together. Watching with my two daughters, we especially loved Ashton as Little John. Though the character was a bit dim at times, his good-natured approach to life showed in every scene and lightened the mood when necessary.

That said, I’m guessing that the budget for the series was pretty low. If you watch several episodes back to back you’ll notice many cut scenes were used again and again, such as watching a group of Prince John’s men crossing over the same river multiple times in multiple episodes.

And the “magic” used throughout the series, from magic arrows and armor to illusions of dragons, was quite low quality. I couldn’t tell if it was an early use of computer-generated graphics or not, but it looks quite outdated now. You can see an example of this from the episode “Robin and the Golden Arrow”.

I did find it odd that though the first season cast had Anna Galvin as Marion, the image on the cover of the DVD features the cast from season two, which had Barbara Griffin in the role. The lack of extras on the DVDs was a bit disappointing as well. I was hoping to see some of the behind-the-scenes action between the cast and crew more along the lines of the Hercules series on DVD (the first time), which included at least a few features.

I have to admit we had a good time watching Robin and his merry men. If you’re looking for another take on the Robin Hood legend, be sure to check out The New Adventures of Robin Hood at the WB shop.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Burn Notice: Bruce Campbell Interview

Hi all!

I had a chance on Monday to dial in for a conference call with Bruce Campbell in preparation for the Burn Notice Season 3 opener happening tonight. For those of you who don’t know Bruce, he’s been a part of the fantasy, horror, and science fiction scene ever since playing Ash in the first Evil Dead movie with pal Sam Raimi directing in 1981. That was 28 years ago!! (Geez I feel old.)

Beyond the Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, and Army of Darkness as our hero Ash fighting back the hordes of the possessed loosed from the pages of the Necromicon, he’s also been involved in other movies and television. Remember Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess? How about Brisco County Jr.? And of course he’s been involved in some way with all of the Spiderman movies directed by his friend Sam. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Lately however, he’s been playing Sam Axe, retired FBI agent and pal of Burn Notice‘s Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan). Sam and Michael hang out with Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) in Miami following Michael’s “burn notice” in the spy game. Basically his employers decided that he wasn’t trustworthy and dumped him without any money or his stuff in Miami three years ago when the Burn Notice series began on the USA Network.

Sam Axe, though initially mistrusted by Michael and Fiona, has proven to be a stalwart ally over the last two seasons. Though a bit of a womanizer and a drinker, Sam always has Michael’s back when it comes down to it. 

Bruce was kind enough to speak to a group of us on a conference call Monday afternoon to promote season 3 of Burn Notice and I even had a chance to talk to him to ask a couple of questions. He really seems like a down-to-earth person who enjoys his work. 

So with that lead-up… Here are a few of the questions that were asked…

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>Suzanne Lanoue from TV MegaSite asked if Bruce’s work in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and comic book-related media was a planned effort on his part, or if it just sort of happened?

>Bruce: It’s a little of both. You are guilt by association, so when my first movie was Evil Dead, which is now 30 years ago when we made the movie – so yes, you are all very old, all of you who are listening – that film was pretty successful and allowed a couple of others to be made and what it did is, it just sort of put me in the genre world, right from the go-get. I suppose if I had made a romantic comedy when I was 21 and that did crazy, then I’d be the romantic comedy guy. It’s kind of how Hollywood works. So, it’s material that I’m sort of interested in, though, too, at the same time, so part of me perpetuates it in that I gravitate toward oddball stories, some genre stuff, not all horror. I like fantasy and sci-fi and that sort of stuff, too, but for me, I guess it’s the combination of starting out in the genre and then being attracted to certain material that could also be considered genre.

>BethAnn Henderson with NiceGirlsTV.com asked Bruce where his character Sam was heading this season.

>Bruce: Well, Sam by now is, we’re now past the point where we don’t trust him. He’s a hopefully valuable member of the team now, and so, like Michael Westen, Sam is taking the twists and turns as they come now. I don’t know that Sam is going to get married or any personal revelation. Sam is pretty much living in Michael’s mother’s house, a room in her house, so he’s just kind of a permanent loser, at least in this season. And he’s always there to help.

>Anthony Nepal with BurnNotice.com asked how Burn Notice was different from past TV shows he’d done.

>Bruce:  Well, the making of television is the same, it’s very fast. You’re doing between 6 and 11 pages per day, which is a lot. Features probably do three pages. Big features do one page a day. So that’s not different. What’s different, of course, is we’re in Miami, which is a completely out of the box thing for me because I live in Oregon, at the complete opposite end of the country. So it’s different in every way physically, and the dynamics are different. I’ve never really done a spy show before, so this is a first for me. I did a western show, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., and I did a – well actually, no, I did a spy show, Jack of All Trades, where I played the very first spy, but this is, I guess, you’d say sort of modern day, realistic approach where it’s not Hercules or Xena or something fantastic going on. What’s different is also the subject matter. It’s a fairly mature, adult sort of comedy/drama, with no fantastic special effects.

>I got to ask: “Obviously Burn Notice has a lot of action sequences, do you find the action sequences to be the hardest part of each episode to film, or are they one of the things that are the most fun during production?”

>Bruce: It all depends on what you’re doing. Fight scenes can be fun, but they can be very tedious and sweat-inducing, so those take a little more effort. I blew my hamstring last year during a fight scene, so they don’t have me fight as much these days, but action sequences are very broken up when we film them. They’re little tiny pieces that get all put together. So with an action sequence, you just have to hope that what you’re doing is fitting in, because you’re only getting a tiny sequence of view, like looking through a scope ready to fire, or something like that. So when it’s all put together is when it becomes an action sequence, but actually shooting an action sequence, unless you’re chasing somebody, they’re actually the least exciting to film.

>Anthony Nepal with BurnNotice.com asked between voice acting and live acting, which does he like better?

>Bruce: I like a little bit of everything. I like, the phrase we used in Detroit was “job rotation.” That meant that you could do different things at different times. So this fall there’s a movie, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs that’s coming out. It’s a pretty well-known kid’s book that they’re animating it to be 3D animation. That’s a lot of fun because you lay down a voice track and they create an entire world that you won’t see for months. I recorded this last year, and I won’t see it for a year and a half later. So that’s kind of an interesting thing. You forget about it and then it comes back and you see everything that they’ve done to it. And you realize you’re an integral part but it’s still, you’re a part of this big hole. Television acting is great. I like it because it’s so quick; you don’t have to wait around. And feature film acting is a lot of fun because you can do very in-depth stories, but it takes a long time to shoot them, and sometimes it’s more tedious to do a big budget movie.

>My second question (a very geeky one, but hey, I’m a geek!) was “Who do you think makes a better enemy, zombies from the Necronomicon, or the spies of Burn Notice?”

>Bruce: Apples and oranges, my friend. I would say zombies in general, I don’t think are that good of bad guys because you can’t understand them, like the true zombie, the shuffling zombie. You can’t communicate with them and they’re too slow. Evil Dead, they’re possessed people, not technically zombies, I guess. They’re okay. I think spies are a better bad guy, meaning they’re more challenging. You don’t always have to cut a bad guy up with a chain saw, you can just shoot him. So it might be harder to kill a zombie, but it’s easier to get away from a zombie, and it might be easier to kill a bad guy like a spy, but it’s harder to hide from a spy, because they have the tricks that you have. That’s my theory.

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There were a ton of great questions. You can read a bit more of the interview at BlogCritics here and some of the various other blogs I linked to above. 

It was great to have a chance to talk to Bruce and of course I wish him well on the new season of Burn Notice and in all future endeavors!

Be sure to check out the Burn Notice season 3 premiere tonight on the USA Network!

–Fitz

 

p.s. Pick up Seasons 1 and 2 of Burn Notice on DVD from Amazon:

     

 

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