Puppet Master
12 Inch Scale
By: Full Moon Toys

There was a time when Charles Band was somebody. Something like a cross between Steven Spielberg and Ed Wood (with an emphasis on the latter), Band managed to have his finger in just about every awesome low budget movie from the mid 1980’s to the early 1990’s. Everything from Troll to Ghoulies to Robot Jox to Puppet Master and beyond, Charles Band had some influence on it. Somewhere along the way it all fell apart and now Band makes movies that have all the acting of a porno and half the nudity.

In fact Band routinely sends me (and anyone on his mailing lists) requests for money to help fund the aforementioned abominations of cinema. I might be willing to fork over some cash to see Tim Thomerson in a new Trancers flick, but I have no money for Evil Bong 4. Even some of Band’s better recent efforts, still lack the passion and talent of his earlier works.

So why all this background about what is ultimately just another Puppet Master figure review? Because even though Decapitron is a Puppet Master character, he didn’t start that way. Decapitron was originally an Empire Pictures film, which had Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo writing at the helm. It was set to be the biggest budget production Band and company had done at the time. It was basically Robocop meets Worzel Gummidge.

Unfortunately Empire went out of business, Bilson and De Meo went to write the screenplay for Rocketeer and whatever, if anything that was shot or produced for Decapitron went sealed in a vault of legal entanglements. The same fate which also befell Pulse Pounders, a trilogy of short films by Empire, which contained an unseen sequel to Trancers.

Band must have loved the idea of Decapitron, because by the time Puppet Master 4 rolled around, Band recycled the idea and turned Guy Rolfe’s Andre Toulon into a puppet version of Decapitron. That film made a big deal out of the character and had him battle Totems. Puppet Master 4 and 5 aren’t the greatest entries in the series, but they do show off some of the fun spirit that was still left in a struggling Full Moon. Unfortunately, they would also pretty much spell the end of an era.

Despite the dire shape that they’re in these days, Full Moon was probably at it’s height around 1999. Retro Puppet Master was just released, seemingly just to shill toys and yes, there were plenty of toys. Full Moon had started making action figures of their creations and they were a big hit. Whether it was arrogance or Band’s love of the character, I don’t know, but for some reason Decapitron got a 12 inch release.

The box is quite nice and reflects the quality of Full Moon’s products in the era. Make no mistake, they were good. The toys, the boxes, they were excellent. Full Moon became infamous for releasing lots of unique variants, which were briefly worth a ton of cash. Decapitron here also has a “stealth” variant… Just because.

Still, Decapitron makes for an odd choice for a deluxe figure. It’s just that nobody really liked Decapitron. He wasn’t really a puppet. He was Andre Toulon. Sure I wouldn’t mind a Decapitron figure, but there were plenty of other characters that deserved 12 inch figures before him. Regardless, the packaging is nice. Including stills from the movie and even a shot of the aforementioned doomed Empire Pictures Decapitron movie poster.

Of course, if you didn’t know the history, that poster would make no sense at all. Ever the salesman, Band’s Decapitron package mentions a “bonus” morphing head. Of course, every figure included this bonus head… So it wasn’t really a bonus.

Although the original Decapitron concept had five interchangable heads with varying powers, we mostly only see three heads in the Puppet Master incarnation of the character. This means that all three heads need to be recreated here. It’s an ambitious task, but one that actually works fairly well and makes for a fun toy.

First up is the Andre Toulon head, which was superimposed on the body in the films. It’s a decent caricature of Guy Rolfe. It’s not perfect by any means, but it does the job. I wonder if Rolfe ever recieved any money off this figure? He has his leather coat which is a decent faux leather material, with a turtleneck underneath, along with rubber boots and cloth pants.

The face has a strange purpleish wash on it however, that’s a bit distracting in person. It doesn’t look so bad far away, but when you get up close, it’s not so pleasant. The head sculpt of Rolfe is definitely better looking than the replica that Band currently sells on his website. Actually, this figure looks superior to that one in every way.

The bonus morphing head looks about right. I’d say it’s just a little misshapen, but that could be a little bit of package warping. This head really isn’t interesting, but I guess it’s cool to have if you’re looking to do the whole transformation sequence.

The most important and best head, is the electric robot head. This is the head we all think of when you say Decapitron. It’s very well reproduced here and looks like actual metal, although it’s just a nice hollow plastic.

The heads fit on the body via an interesting system where you have to turn them to the side to “lock” in. It works quite well, but I’m not sure why they didn’t just go a more pedestrian route of having them pop on and off. This works fine, but make sure you know that’s how they go off and on. If you just try to force it off, you’ll break it.

Oddly enough the body also has some of the purple shading on it around the neck. I’m not really sure why, as the coat and turtleneck cover up any of the neck that you might see. It seems like wasted effort and the purple is sort of ghastly anyway.

The biggest issue here is that for a 12 inch figure… He’s not 12 inches. For those unfamiliar with the 1:6 scale, let me clue you in. Classic GI Joe is not 12 inches. He’s about 11 1/2. That means that poor Decapitron here is about 11 inches tall. It makes him severely undersized.

I had heard that this body was downright terrible, but I don’t think it’s that bad. The joints are a bit stiff and it’s definitely dated, but it’s not the worst body out there. Certainly it’s short, and this body wouldn’t have even been up to standard in 1999, but it’s still fairly poseable.

So long as you’re not trying to have him do too many dynamic poses, you should be okay. Decapitron wasn’t exactly the most flexible character in the films, so he’s not really lacking here. I’m sure those who obsess over articulation will not be as pleased.

The body has a good density to it and it doesn’t look like it was repurposed from another source.

The legs do have a few issues though. It’s hard to spread them very far and they’re sort of connected in a way that the more you move them out, the more they’re like a v-crotch. You can get some ball joint movement, but not as good as the arms.

The feet are just a simple joint, which is definitely lacking by today’s standards. Oddly enough, they have a fair amount of sculpting details on them. I’m not sure why.

The only real accessories here are the heads. It would have been great if this could have included some of the other heads. The original Decapitron design definitely would have made a better toy.

All of the clothing is removable, but I should note that the turtleneck sweater can only be removed by removing the head. In fact I’m starting to think this sweater is the same one that came on the smaller Pinhead figure. The pants are undersized as well, forcing them to be tucked into the boots.

The boots are a really hard to deal with rubber. I don’t recommend trying to take them off. If you do, it’s best to put them in warm water, but be careful because you can also soften up the legs in doing this. Basically, leave the boots on unless you’re doing a review and absolutely need to make him naked.

I want to say these were around $30 when they first came out, which would put them at about $50-$60 in today’s inflated market. They’re definitely not worth that. While this is a fine toy, Decapitron is a bit boring as a character and quality here is not on the level of Sideshow or Hot Toys. Heck, this guy isn’t even a real 12 inches!

However, if you look around, you can find this guy online these days for pretty cheap. I’d say the average price is around $20. For that kind of money, he’s worth it. It’s a pretty good version of the character and a cool generic villain if you want. Plus you get three heads, which could easily be repurposed on spare bodies as new characters.

Score Recap:
Packaging – 8
Sculpting – 8
Paint – 8
Articulation – 6
Accessories – Morphing Head, Toulon Head
Value – 7
Overall – 7.5 out of 10

Puppet Master fans will find themselves at odds with this figure. It doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the Puppet Master figures, but it’s the only decent represenation of this character. If it would have included some of the other heads, then maybe this would be a must have. As is, it’s just something kind of neat that was made and isn’t too bad to have if you don’t pay too much for it.

I don’t remember the exact year, but at some point in the early 1990’s I was a pretty avid Fangoria reader. Before the internet, this was the only place you could really go to learn about horror and science fiction movies. I was mostly interested in the stories they’d run on Godzilla and the like. In the back, they often had ads for masks and props. I believe even amateur prop and costume makers had ad space in many of those old magazines.

For a whole year I stared at an ad similar to this one. I can’t recall at the time if they had two Critters or only one. I think, they only had the cheaper $40 model. The point being, that I had decided that I wanted this guy. I loved the Critters movies (still do) and the thought of having my very own Critter was enough to blow my pre-teen mind. In the films the little space porcupines from hell were called Krites. I needed one, in the worst way.

It took me a long time to save up the $50 I needed (plus some money for shipping) to order my Critter. Even getting to send off for it was a big deal. When I was a kid my parents NEVER let me order anything through the mail. No mail-away GI Joes or anything. I’m not sure how I got the Critter past them, beyond persistence.

While I waited 6-8 weeks for my Critter to be delivered, I imagined how awesome of a toy he was going to be. He wasn’t just a replica, he was also a puppet! I just knew it was going to be the greatest thing ever. I also greatly underestimated the size of the little Critter and repainted an old Fisher-Price Little People Barn (the one that went “MOOOO!” when you opened the doors) to be the Critter’s house. It even said “CRITTER HOUSE” on the front.

When it arrived after what seemed like an eternity, I ripped the package open with big bright eyes of joy. Inside I found a crappy looking “puppet” made of cheap rubber like a Halloween mask. The most heinous offense, was that this Critter had rather clearly stolen William Shatner’s toupee! I was pretty devastated. It didn’t fit into the house I had designed for it(though I could have waded it up and shoved it in) and it couldn’t really be played with because it was hollow. I was expecting a wire model and I got a rubber mask!

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It’s been six years since the last Puppet Master movie, the abysmal Sci-Fi (now SyFy) channel production of Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys. That film, while not considered canon by fans or Full Moon, seemed as though it may have been the end for the franchise. Charles Band, owner and creator of the Puppets had actually temporarily sold his rights of the characters to the Sci-Fi channel, which gives you a pretty good indication of where Full Moon Features was at that point. Prior to that monstrosity, Band and Full Moon had limped out Puppet Master: The Legacy, which was largely comprised of stock footage. Finally after almost nine years, Full Moon goes back to it’s roots and has produced Puppet Master: Axis of Evil.

Right from the beginning, I should point out that this is leagues above anything Full Moon has done since the early 1990’s in terms of quality filmmaking. Everything from the opening credits to the closing credits looks as crisp and professional as Full Moon has EVER looked. In theory, now that people can make movies on YouTube that are of theatre quality, Full Moon should be able to string together a professional production without looking so low budget.

The film begins by establishing our new main character, Danny Coogan, who does odds and ends carpentry at the infamous Bodega Bay Inn. He’s upset that he can’t go off to fight in World War II, because of a limp he developed due to a bout of Polo when he was young. His uncle tries to reassure him that his carpentry skills are important as well. Danny, apparently has taken a liking to a visitor at the Inn, Andre Toulon, and his uncle suggests that he try to find some work with Toulon rebuilding his puppets.

If you’ve seen the original Puppet Master film, you’ll know that Nazis come looking for Toulon, leading to him committing suicide to prevent the Germans from obtaining his secret reanimation formula. Of course, we’re treated to that stock footage, which appears to be cleaned up and surprisingly is weaved in well with new footage of the Nazis ransacking Toulon’s room (perfectly recreated) and having a run-in with Coogan, after Andre’s death. In the original 1989 film, we flash forward to the future never knowing what happened with the puppets between 1939 and 1989, but Axis of Evil is the story of what happened in this interim.

Danny discovers the puppets and soon also discovers a plot by the two Nazi soldiers, who are apparently in cahoots with a couple of Japanese spies. The evil Germans and Japanese are planning to blow up an army base and Coogan, now with the puppets, decides that since he can’t fight in the war, he’ll stop this plot at home. This leads to his family being murdered and his girlfriend kidnapped, as it’s up to Danny and the puppets to save the day. It’s puppets versus the axis of evil!

As with all low budget films, none of the actors are known. They do a pretty bang up job however, with only a couple of weak spots. While Danny, his brother, uncle and the Nazis are all well played, his girlfriend suffers a bit. This is a period piece, so her accent and expressions just seem too recent. Danny’s mother goes in the opposite direction as she seems to be channeling Donna Reed or something and it comes off as a bit hokey.

Finally, the leader of the Japanese spies, a Dragon Lady named Ozu weighs the film down a bit. Her acting is decent, but while she is speaking English, it’s clearly not her first language. In fact, she seems to have been dubbed over, but it may just be a re-recording. In the behind the scenes footage, we do see her recording lines of dialogue but none of it sounds good. Her broken speech and nefarious over the top planning make her come across more like Rita Repulsa than a legitimate threat.

Then there’s the puppets… Several puppets return and we see glimpses of others, but for a movie about killer puppets, we rarely see any of them. When we do, they are often stiff and clunky. Why the film doesn’t use a little CGI here or there to give the puppets a bit more life, I’m not sure. There is a new puppet, Ninja, who gets a fair amount of screen time and looks pretty lifelike when he does. It seems most of the work went into him, whereas Blade, Pinhead and Tunneler barely move. On the plus side, Leech Woman kills someone.

Speaking of kills… This film is severely lacking in the gore area. It’s 55 minutes in before someone gets murdered and that’s not even via a puppet. Given that the film is barely 120 minutes, that’s not a good sign for a “horror” movie. We manage to get a couple of puppet kills, but they’re all pretty pedestrian by Puppet Master standards. Just when it looks like the film is about to kick it into high gear and unleash a bloodbath, the movie abruptly ends setting up a sequel which could only be more frustrating if they slapped a big “TO BE CONTINUED” logo on it.

Full Moon has always been top notch with behind-the-scenes featurettes and were doing them long before they were commonplace. This DVD surprisingly comes with very little, though. First it has “No Strings Attached” a documentary from the FIRST Puppet Master film in 1989. It’s a neat bonus, mind you, but Full Moon fans have already seen this. It’s also a bit confusing since it really doesn’t deal with this movie.

The only other bonus is a cut down compilation of the Full Moon Vidcasts which were broadcast on the internet while the film was being made. This feature is somewhat interesting, but a lot of it is just randomly walking around the Chinese sets where this was filmed. It would have been a much better presentation had something been filmed for the DVD instead of just patching together the vidcasts for each week.

Finally there is a pretty stark contrast between the documentary on the first film and the latest effort. In the original film you can see that there is a much larger crew, everyone is taking the work very seriously and the special effects team is massive. In the current vidcasts you see that most of the crew doesn’t speak English, the special effects team is comprised of one guy and nobody seems particularly proud of their work. Charles Band shows up in both featurettes, but in 1989 he comes across as a serious producer and in 2010 he’s trying to get Chinese guys to talk about tits (no I’m not joking), which more or less shows you why this film misses a lot of it’s potential.

In summary, Puppet Master: Axis of Evil is the best Puppet Master film since 1994’s Puppet Master 5. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite live up to it’s billing as a horror film, nor does it quite reach it’s potential as a film overall. Full Moon fans come to see cool puppet action and gore, both are things this film is definitely lacking. Bonus features used to be standard on Full Moon films and often elevate stuff from places like Troma, to the point where the DVD is worth a purchase even if the movie sucks. Full Moon missed the boat here by not including more bonus behind-the-scenes stuff. It’s still leagues above most of the recent Full Moon efforts and it’s not a chore to sit through, which is definitely a positive. If you like Puppet Master, this film is a decent entry into the series but it feels like half a film and without tying up a lot of the loose ends started here it’s hard to judge completely what the vision is.

It’s great to see Full Moon crank out a film that has production values again, but the puppet effects still need work and some of the acting is lacking. Both of those things could be overlooked if the film actually delivered on it’s genre promise, but it doesn’t quite. Hardcore horror fans are likely to be disappointed, but Full Moon fans will likely enjoy the decent story after some colossal Puppet Master failures in the last decade. C+

FAO Schwartz
Muppet Whatnot
By: Henson

I designed Mortimer Moongoon here on a whim. I’ve been wanting one of these for a while. I decided to create mine to be a bit like the old Muppet Newsman. I loved all the choices and I thought I’d share a bit more about the experience here. Obviously if you love Muppets, this is a cool pickup. I imagine it would also be a great item for children’s entertainers or as a nice puppet for someone trying to learn a bit about puppetry.

Your Whatnot comes in a large brown box. It’s a pretty impressive size. Once you crack it open you see the Muppet Workshop logo. Inside is your Muppet backpack bag with the your Muppet already inside.

The backpack bag is clear, but it’s of a nice quality. I don’t necessarily need this, but I know that some people enjoy them. They also apparently can let you not get one of these ins tore and it saves you like $10, but when you order them online, no dice.

His arm rod is already assembled, so he’s sort of waving at you when you crack him open.

It’s a nice presentation, but not quite as cool as say the Replica Gonzo box that I got last year. Of course it’d be pretty much impossible to get one quite as nice as that for the individual characters.

Obviously since you design the character yourself, how it looks depends a lot on how creative you are. I quite liked how mine turned out and it certainly looks better than the online model. This is really a high quality Muppet. That’s what you’re paying for, not just the Muppet name, but the quality.

Jim Henson designed the Whatnots years ago and there’s just something about the models he used. They have so much charisma and personality, instantly. Henson was a genius with that and that’s why when you see comparable puppets out there… They just don’t look as good.

You wouldn’t think that you could mass produce something like that. Henson’s Muppet Workshop worked very hard on creating these puppets and each piece is made to the specifications that Henson liked. Granted, it’s not the exact same quality as if Jim Henson’s company had made it, but obviously it’s of a high quality and feels that same design.

Mortimer Moongoon’s suit is a full outfit with shirt and tie and it’s not cheap feeling at all. I was really surprised. Everything here feels of great quality and it’s definitely nice. Inside the Muppet mouth, you can feel a little disk deal that works to help get some expressions. I’ve heard that’s broke on some people, but might seems sturdy enough. You just have to be reasonable in the usage.

Since it’s a Muppet, you got a lot of movement. You can move a lot of different stuff and get a lot of emotion from them. You only get one arm rod, but he’s hooked up for two. Even with one, you can do a lot. Even as an amateur puppeteer, you can do a lot. The better you are, the more you get.

You don’t get much with him. Obviously the outfit is removable and you can buy other outfits. Still you get the arm rod and you also get a nice little book that serves the same as the online one. It works like Colorforms, so you can design some others if you wanted.

These guys aren’t cheap, but I think they’re worth it. If you look around at comparable puppets, they certainly aren’t this good and most are just as expensive. The fact that you can design your own character, with hundreds of different combinations just ups the awesome factor ten fold. This would make a great gift for a eccentric uncle or a kid who appreciates this sort of thing. I imagine it’d be a cool gift and although the price is steep, it’s still a pretty darn good value.

Score Recap:
Packaging – 6
Sculpting – 9
Articulation – N/A
Accessories – Book, Arm Rod
Value – 8
Overall – 9 out of 10

I think if you could make one of these in store, it’s probably a 10 out of 10 experience because you’re able to tweak it a bit more, like not having hair. Online though the experience is fairly comparable and the end product is really nice. I definitely thought about getting another one and sometimes they run deals at FAO where they’re only $100. If you love Muppets or can catch one at that price, you should definitely bite. I hear they’re bringing this Workshop to Disney World as well, so I imagine it’d be a big hit there too.

In the early to mid 1990’s there was a great little B-movie horror franchise known as Puppet Master. The original story of a Nazi era puppeteer who used some evil magic to make killer puppets that, well… killed, struck a chord with the video market. Puppet Master went on to make several movies of varying quality and right at the turn of the century the puppets became toys!

Puppet Master
By: Full Moon Toys

In the 4th and 5th Puppet Master movies (filmed back to back) we were introduced to new antagonists, the Totems. While the Puppets themselves were originally considered evil, the genre had changed a bit as the films went on because of the increased popularity of the characters. The Totems made excellent foils for the Puppets, offering essentially puppet on puppet violence. The toys from the films turned out to be a big hit and the Totem stands as one of the more impressive models of the characters.

The package is pretty vanilla, but does include a bit of artwork from the film. Charles Band is a notoriously shrewd businessman, but whomever he got into bed with in relation to the toys worked well with the Full Moon company. Toys were just really starting to get collectible and Full Moon seemed to notice that.

The minimalist packages weren’t designed to lure in kids, but to entice collectors. Not only collectors of toys but of general horror/whatever Hot Topic shoppers like. The front shows off the figure well and it is definitely reminiscent of the Puppet Master posters of the era.

The back shows off some of the other figures for sale and includes a cut out trading card deal.

I always liked the Totem design, but the old VHS movies didn’t exactly show them off to any great detail. Having the figure in hand I can finally really admire some of the smaller, lesser seen qualities of these little evil demon dolls. There is a definite Aztec feel to these characters and it shines through quite well.

The Totems have more design elements than any of the other Puppet Master figures. I don’t recall the Totems being hugely popular, but they do offer a bit of an army builder element. This figure was also cast in a “glow in the dark” variant.

Looking at this guy up close though, I’m really amazed how well the design translated to the toy. This looks like a small scale replica of the actual puppet than say a action figure of it. Some of the puppets themselves tend to look like toys, but this guy looks like he could be on screen.

The paint work is pretty good overall and there’s more paint here than on any of the other figures, but it’s not without a few issues. There’s some slop and some scuffs here and there. In terms of the slop it’s hard to say where the intentional wash slop ends and the unintentional slop begins, although there are a few key cases. Still it fits in with the paint scheme for the most part and stands out only when highlighted.

Even though some of the colors are quite vibrant, this guy definitely looks evil. There’s some neat spikes and ridges throughout that help bring about the demonic element. He also has a pretty nasty hunch which just evokes a sense of nefariousness.

Overall the sculpt and paint and much better than you’d expect from a company that primarily focused on making low budget horror and skin flicks.

The figure aren’t particularly articulate, but they can get in a few poses.

The Totem is cut at the big five, with simple arm, leg and neck cuts. The leg cuts don’t give you much option in terms of posing, as he’s essentially got a V-crotch, but it’s better than nothing I suppose.

He mostly looks good hunched over standing. It works in several contexts, including creeping around.

Accessories were generally pretty mild for this line, but the Totem does get a “power gem” accessory.

As I recall there were several variants on these gems. This one is a fire colored stand with an orange jewel. It’s not the most realistic looking thing, but it works well enough.

Additional Notes:
I’m not sure what it is that ended the Puppet Master line. I’ve heard it had something to do with Full Moon’s financial troubles, but there could be a variety of reasons. The collector market sort of dried up around early 2000 before hitting another boom in the first few years of the new millennium and Full Moon could have been a precursor of what was to come. It could also have to do with the fact that there were far too many variants of the figures that quickly became very costly to try and complete…

It could also be that they simply ran out of cool Puppets to make figures of. I’m guessing the fact that there weren’t any new movies or at least GOOD ones coming out, played a factor too. Still, the Totem while not being one of the more popular characters is a great figure.

I believe these originally retailed for around $10. They were inflated in price for a few years, but they’ve come back down in recent ones. The Totem has never been too expensive and you can generally get him for about a ten spot if you look around and are patient. For as nice of a figure as he is, that’s not too terrible a value.

Score Recap:
Packaging – 6
Sculpting – 9
Articulation – 4
Accessories – Power Gem
Value – 7
Overall – 6.5 out of 10

There’s nothing particularly bad about this toy, aside from low articulation. It’s essentially a near perfect small scale replica of the Totem from the Puppet Master films. If you liked those movies, you probably should track down some of these figures. If you have no idea what Puppet Master is, you could still probably enjoy a Totem in your figure collection.