Paramount Home Video

Puppet Master 5 (1994, Jeff Burr)

Puppet Master 5 opens with the series’s (unfortunately) standard lengthy opening title sequences. There’s nothing exciting about it, just white text on black and Richard Band’s theme in the background. The film’s single surprise in the titles is Band just getting an “original music by” credit. Michael Wetherwax is here to adapt it. He’s the Ken Thorne of Puppet Master movies.

He actually does a great job. Puppet Master 5’s music sounds different. It’s got more energy during the slasher sequences. It gets so weird during one of the chase scenes, it sounds like the wrong music track was laid down. But it works. It’s lively.

A lot of Puppet Master 5 is lively. But the film does a lot to delay that energy. After the opening titles, there’s a scene with Ron O’Neal as a police detective interrogating lead Gordon Currie. Puppet Master 5 takes place right after 4. Currie is a genius scientist who gets chosen to be puppet master to an assortment of sentient, animate puppets. They’re all being hunted by an evil Egyptian demon. O’Neal doesn’t believe Currie’s story. Lawyer Diane McBain makes concerned faces. For a moment, Puppet Master 5 seems like it’s at least going to be a little different. The actors will be better. O’Neal might not have great lines and his part might be mispelled in the end credits, but he gives a professional performance. Same with McBain. She has maybe one line. It all feels strangely competent.

Then, of course, the movie fumbles and flashbacks back. A five minute flashback of the last movie’s events. For all those people who thought Puppet Master 5 would be a good jumping on point for the series.

The first puppet sequence doesn’t impress. A puppet escaping from the police lock-up while the officer-in-charge listens to musak. In fact, it’s an ominous sign for the film’s music, so it’s rather cool it turns out to be okay.

But then Ian Ogilvy shows up. He’s playing Currie’s boss. Not of the animate killer (but only bad people) puppets but of the science thing. Ogilvy’s kind of great. He’s hamming it through, the stuck-up British guy who’s actually not entirely proper. Turns out Ogilvy’s in league with the Pentagon to weaponize the puppets. “Holy shit that WAS Clu Gulager” Clu Gulager cameos for a scene as one of the Pentagon suits.

Anyway. Ogilvy hires these three idiots to help him steal the puppets. Nicholas Guest is the boss of the other two idiots. He’s no fun. Willard E. Pugh is fun and nearly good, certainly the best of the three. But Duane Whitaker is more fun, though not actually good. Even if you remove the “Holy shit that’s Maynard; is he going to go get the gimp” factor from Whitaker, he’s still more fun. Because the good puppets spend some time beating him up for being a jerk. They can’t kill him, because they’re good, but giving him a solid beatdown is something else. It even leads to an amusing moment when the puppets hide Whitaker’s unconscious body from female “lead” Chandra West.

All the killing from the puppets is the little demon monster. The big demon humps–literally–his life force into a little demon monster. It’s the same model as the last movie’s little demon monsters, which look like the little Lost World: Jurassic Park dinosaurs but without tails. And done with puppets, not CGI.

And it’s also supposed to be a puppet. Because there’s a long scene with the big demon–presumably a larger than life puppet, but terribly designed and detailed (though the hand effects are amazing)–talking to the little demon monster and it sounds like he too is a “puppet master.” Or at least he really likes to talk to his action figures.

The little demon monster is different from last movie’s because it’s got bling. It starts hunting down Ogilvy and the three idiots.

Those scenes, played equally for humor and suspense, work out well. They take up a lot of Puppet Master 5’s second act and, even when it’s Guest and there’s even not a unspecific bemusement quality, the scenes work. Adolfo Bartoli’s lighting actually has personality. He and Burr all of a sudden decide to have some style. And with Whitaker dressed as a cowboy, Pugh as a Shaft knockoff, Guest as a sports fan, and Ogilvy as a British square–it’s a lot. In the right way.

Sadly, Puppet Master 5 isn’t just these four idiots getting in the middle of the little demon hunting the puppets. There’s still Currie and West. And Teresa Hill, who plays West’s friend who the demon monsters attacked last movie. She’s in the hospital–not one of the film’s more convincing sets–but she can see the big demon and his plans. Like the one where he stands behind the little demon and tells the toy he’s going to hump his life force into it.

That footage is repeated at least twice in the movie.

So at first it seems like Currie and West might have a storyline together. Currie has this sex dream about West being all sultry in a bath tub full of blood; see, the puppets are bleeding her out and she feels all naughty for Currie.

It’s weird. Unpleasantly so. It also goes nowhere. Because once Currie and West get to the closed hotel (along with the long opening titles, another series standard), West gets nothing to do beyond scream and try to save Currie. Currie meanwhile gets to do his computer magic to communicate with Hill. She’s projecting her consciousness into the computer. Oddly, there’s not a lot she can do because the computer’s DOS, after all.

Eventually the little demon comes for West and Currie and the puppets get involved and Guy Rolfe is back. He’s the original puppet master. Now he shows up with his head superimposed over one of the puppets so he can give words of wisdom to Currie.

Currie starts the film a lot better than he ends it. He’s intolerable by the third act; somehow him being knocked out and West trying to save him is more annoying than when he’s pretending to read the computer screen and it’s hard to imagine anything more annoying than that one. Except maybe his inability to deliver one-liners.

Ogilvy’s kind of great. Though his glasses change lenses. Or sometimes appear not to have lenses at all. It’s distracting.

The movie would’ve been a lot better with just Ogilvy and the idiots getting hunted by puppets. The more Currie, the more West, the worse Puppet Master 5 gets. It’s unfortunate. Director Burr, cinematographer Bartoli, editor Margeret-Anne Smith, and composer Wetherwax (sorry, adapter)–they push through the budget restrictions and deliver some actually horrific little demon kills. When it’s not going well, they just keep going until it works. It’s impressive (and unexpected).

Shame about the rest of the movie, which can’t even get a good voice performance out of Jake McKinnon as the big demon. Movie knows to cameo Clu Gulager but not get a good voice performance for the villain. Of course it doesn’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jeff Burr; screenplay by Steven E. Carr, Jo Duffy, Todd Henschell, Douglas Aarniokoski, and Keith Payson, based on characters created by David Schmoeller; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Margeret-Anne Smith; music by Michael Wetherwax; production designer, Milo; produced by Charles Band; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Gordon Currie (Rick Myers), Chandra West (Susie), Ian Ogilvy (Jennings), Nicholas Guest (Hendy), Duane Whitaker (Scott), Willard E. Pugh (Jason), Teresa Hill (Lauren), and Guy Rolfe (Toulon).


Puppet Master 4 (1993, Jeff Burr)

Puppet Master 4 is in a race with itself. Can it deliver on the animate puppet action before the cast becomes too intolerable? Can it deliver before the stupid scenes get to be too much? No, as it turns out, it can’t. Puppet Master 4 doesn’t succeed. Not even a Frankenstein making-the-monster homage with the puppets can make up for the film’s problems.

It’s a high concept sequel about these research scientists doing bleeding edge work into artifical intelligence. They’re really close to computers being able to figure out how to get computers to play with blocks. But first, square scientists Stacie Randall and Felton Perry need to get renegade, rebel scientist Gordon Currie to do his work. Currie’s work with LaserTag-equipped robots has the power to change the world. And not everyone is happy with it. Like this painfully animatronic demon who sends little lizard monsters out to hunt down the scientists. The film opens strong with the promise of Pupper Master puppets versus these little… well, frankly, they’re little tailless Compys, basically. Full Moon predating Spielberg by a few years.

The painfully animatronic demon has some flunkies and they’re in a secret, skull-filled temple cave thing. Puppet Master 4 gets away with it for a while because it’s Full Moon, it’s Puppet Master4. As long as the puppets come through, it’ll all be fine.

Except when the annoying humans find the puppets, the story doesn’t stay with the puppets, it goes back to the annoying humans. See, in addition to being the smartest man alive, Currie is also the caretaker of the hotel where the first two Puppet Master movies took place. He’s the only one there. He calls up possible-girlfriend-but-the-script-never-clarifies Chandra West for a booty call. She comes over, but brings with her Currie’s childhood nemesis, now yuppie scientist Ash Adams, and psychic Teresa Hill. Apparently West and Hill are friends. It’s never actually clear if West knows Adams knows Currie. West gets absolutely nothing to do in Puppet Master 4.

It also means she gives the best performance, because it’s not like the movie gives anyone anything good to do. Five screenwriters on this film… it’s a bland script too. For the first half, the blandness is what saves it. When the plot gets busy–like Currie outfitting the puppets with miniature LaserTag guns so they can play together while listening to heavy metal and West can just sit and watch because girl–Puppet Master 4 gets worse. Adams is lousy as a sniveling opportunist, but he’s a lot worse when he’s got to do a oujia board or get attacked by the little lizard creatures. Same goes for Hill.

After staying reasonably steady in the tolerable bad range, the movie makes some big drops all at once. That halfway point is rough.

When Puppet Master Guy Rolfe–superimposed over a puppet’s head in some of the film’s less successful effects work–returns, it’s not successful but it does help get the movie out of its funk. Currie too gets much worse with more to do.

None of the actors get any help from director Burr, who’s best at the puppet stuff. Not the puppets fighting stuff, because Burr’s terrible at all fight scenes and most action scenes, but the puppets being animate on their own. Those sequences work. Puppet Master 4, when so inclined, can deliver its puppets. It just can’t deliver them enough.

Budgetary limits also show in the computers. Having Currie doofus around a computer, which is clearing not turned on, unable to pretend he’s doing any computer things… it doesn’t just make him unbelievable as a computer scientist, it makes him unlikable. Any investment in Currie in the movie is a waste. He just gets more and more annoying. Five screenwriters and they characterize him as an eleven year-old boy. The movie would’ve been far more successful if it had been about an eleven year-old boy genius.

That actor might have known how to use a computer.

So, Puppet Master 4. Good puppets, not enough of them. Bad acting, way too much of it. Burr’s direction is also a big problem.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jeff Burr; screenplay by Todd Henschell, Steven E. Carr, Jo Duffy, Douglas Aarniokoski, and Keith Payson, based on characters created by David Schmoeller; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Mark S. Manos and Margeret-Anne Smith; music by Richard Band; production designer, Milo; produced by Charles Band; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Gordon Currie (Rick Myers), Chandra West (Susie), Ash Adams (Cameron), Teresa Hill (Lauren), Stacie Randall (Dr. Leslie Piper), Felton Perry (Dr. Carl Baker), Michael Shamus Wiles (Stanley), and Guy Rolfe (Toulon).


Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991, David DeCoteau)

Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge is Puppet Master Origins. Set in WWII Berlin, Guy Rolfe is a concerned old man. He sees his neighbors in fear of the Nazis so he got some string and he got some wood, he did some carving and he was good. Anti-Nazi civilians–mostly kids–came running so they could hear the old German puppeteer. Except maybe Rolfe’s playing a French guy?

Doesn’t matter.

Rolfe’s puppets are living creatures, however. He constructs the puppets, then brings them to life through scientific means; the newly animate puppets hang out with Rolfe and wife Sarah Douglas.

Enter Nazi amateur puppeteer Kristopher Logan, who reports Rolfe’s apparently living puppets and his anti-Nazi sentiment to Gestapo major Richard Lynch. Lynch already has his own subplot going about he and scientist Ian Ambercrombie are trying to reanimate dead soldiers.

From the start of the film, it’s clear director DeCoteau is being thoughtful. Even with clear low budget trappings, DeCoteau is enthusiastic and inventive. He does extremely well with the empty Berlin streets–empty means less set decoration and no extras–creating this sandbox where the action can play out.

Because it turns out Rolfe’s puppets aren’t just made to entertain kids, they’re also made to kill Nazis. And they kill a lot of Nazis. Toulon’s Revenge actually turns the corner once it fully embraces being a Nazi-killing movie. It comes at the perfect time too.

C. Courtney Joyner’s script gives the actors a mixed bag as far as material. Rolfe’s better with the puppets than with other actors. The scenes with he and Douglas never quite connect. Douglas’s scenes aren’t well-directed. DeCoteau does much better away from Douglas. Even though the opening sweet scene between Rolfe and Douglas is a strong scene and an early sign Toulon’s Revenge mightn’t be predictable.

But Lynch and Ambercrombie are great together. They’ve got the same boss–general Walter Gotell–and they try to get one another in trouble. It’s juvenile; Lynch is this humorless Gestapo bastard, Ambercrombie is a kindly looking scientist. But they’re still Nazi bastards. The film never forgets no matter how likable any of the characters might get in a scene, they’re Nazis.

And the puppets are going to kill them.

DeCoteau has some excellent puppet set pieces. There’s this Old West shootist puppet with six arms (called Six-Shooter, I believe) and those sequences are particularly fun. The puppet does a dance with the arms (in stop motion) and it’s awesome. Sure, the Leech Woman puppet is gross, but… again, they’re killing Nazis. Like they don’t deserve to have a puppet spit leeches all over them. It’s a rather effective way to do a horror movie where you cheer the killers.

Technically, Toulon’s is fine. Adolfo Bartoli’s photography is fine. Editor Carol Oblath has some really well-cut scenes, but also not. Billy Jett’s production design is excellent.

Ambercrombie’s good, Lynch’s good. Rolfe’s great with the puppets. Logan’s not good–Joyner writes all the Nazis real thin and Logan’s the annoying, sweaty, snitch one. Gotell’s good. Douglas’s likable. Her scenes seem like they hadn’t been rehearsed or maybe even written before shooting. But she’s effective nonetheless.

The stop motion is often excellent. The composites are never good, but it’s excusable. Toulon’s Revenge gets away with a lot–like a rocky first act–thanks to Joyner’s plotting, Lynch, Ambercrombie, and the puppets. Rolfe’s usually fine too. At least after the first act.

It’s incredibly entertaining and shockingly effective.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by David DeCoteau; screenplay by C. Courtney Joyner, based on an idea by Charles Band and characters created by David Schmoeller; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Carol Oblath; music by Richard Band; production designer, Billy Jett; produced by DeCoteau and John Schouweiler; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Guy Rolfe (Andre Toulon), Sarah Douglas (Elsa Toulon), Richard Lynch (Major Kraus), Ian Abercrombie (Dr. Hess), Kristopher Logan (Lt. Eric Stein), Aron Eisenberg (Peter), Matthew Faison (Hertz), and Walter Gotell (General Mueller).


Puppet Master II (1990, David Allen)

Puppet Master II opens with a mostly successful animate puppets resurrect their long-dead master in scary graveyard sequence. It’s a mix of stop motion and live effects; it just has a nice tone about it.

Then the endless opening titles start up and the film loses track of that tone. The Richard Band music doesn’t help things. In fact, it puts one more on guard against the music. It’s a genial, playful carnival-sounding score. Band’s score might work on a genial, playful movie, but on Puppet Master II, it exacerbates other problems.

Because for all the eventual violence–and the mean-spirited nature of the film (the puppet master, Steve Welles, is sending the puppets out to collect brain matter from fresh victims to make an ancient Egyptian rejuvenating serum)–Puppet Master II feels rather wholesome. It even manages to feel like a wholesome, low budget family picture when one of the puppets is terrorizing an annoying kid.

Director Allen’s composition is boring and predictable. Direction of actors is nonexistent. Shots will occasionally hang an extra second on Leads Elizabeth Maclellan and Collin Bernsen after they’re done delivering dialogue and their blandness becomes an all consuming black hole.

It’s why Nita Talbot is so important in the first act. She’s always got a self-awareness none of the other actors have.

So Maclellan, Greg Webb, Jeff Celentano, and Charlie Spradling are psychic investigators for the U.S. government. They make fun of the supernatural, but seem to believe in it. Talbot is their consultant psychic. Maclellan is entirely passive in the first act, reacting mostly to Webb. He’s her alcohol-abusing brother. He wears tight jeans. Celentano is the cameraman. He wears shorty shorts and shirts open to his navel. Puppet Master II likes some beefcake. Bernsen’s oiled up for his shirtless action scenes in the finale.

Anyway. Webb’s a somewhat mean drunk. It gets in the way of their job, which is fairly uneventful for a while. The puppets don’t bother the twenty-somethings, instead going out to murder the odious redneck farmer couple (Sage Allen and George ‘Buck’ Flower). The film’s got a low budget and Allen and Pabian aren’t good at innovating under constraint. The film’s never campy (though it might’ve helped). Cheesy? Almost cheesy? Soap opera-esque?

Soap opera-esque is a little unfair. Thomas F. Denove’s photography is competent. It’s not moody or scary and completely lacks personality, but it’s competent. It’s not Denove’s fault all Allen wants to do with the camera is set up a medium shot and then pan to other action. Allen’s direction lacks both ambition and artfulness; more importantly the former.

With the puppets otherwise engaged, the film brings in Welles. Resurrected Welles is completely wrapped up in gauze à la Claude Raines in The Invisible Man. He gives this broad performance with a terrible German accent but it works. Because none of the other characters react to him being a living mummy with a strange outfit and a black fedora.

And, thanks to Welles, the second act is almost always amusing. It’s got rough patches. Bernsen shows up and he and Maclellan have their painful flirtation sequences. Or when Spradling seduces Celentano–the second act is actually plagued with plotting issues and Allen not having any idea how to convey passage of time between scenes, but still. Welles is around in his get-up and it’s funny. He’s got this cheap steampunk but still steampunk outfit and he’s macking on Maclellan and she’s acting like it’s totally normal even though it’s clear through the bandages his lip is probably rotted off. Turns out Welles thinks Maclellan is a reincarnation of his dead wife and he’s got a plan to get her back.

The film gets so strange it should be better. I mean, there’s a scene with decomposing steampunk mummy Welles and Bernsen bickering over getting to dance Maclellan. And the film plays it straight-faced. The weird almost wins the day.

Puppet Master II is never well-acted (though Talbot at least doesn’t embarrass herself, everyone else does–except George ‘Buck’ Flower because how could he), it’s never well-directed, it’s certainly never well-written. But it does drum up enough potential energy to be a disappointment when it botches the finale. And the stop motion effects are good. There aren’t near enough of them.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Allen; screenplay by David Pabian, based on a story by Charles Band and characters created by David Schmoeller; director of photography, Thomas F. Denove; edited by Bert Glatstein and Peter Teschner; music by Richard Band; production designer, Kathleen Coates; produced by David DeCoteau and John Schouweiler; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Elizabeth Maclellan (Carolyn Bramwell), Collin Bernsen (Michael Kenney), Greg Webb (Patrick Bramwell), Nita Talbot (Camille), Jeff Celentano (Lance), Charlie Spradling (Wanda), Sage Allen (Martha), George ‘Buck’ Flower (Matthew), and Steve Welles (Chaneé).


Puppetmaster (1989, David Schmoeller)

Puppetmaster has some great stop motion. The stop motion is nowhere near enough to make up for the rest, but there’s some excellent stop motion. The stop motion is so good, in fact, the lighting on it is better than Sergio Salvati’s lighting for the rest of the film.

Salvati’s lighting is a problem. He doesn’t do mood. John Myhre’s production design doesn’t do mood either. Yet Richard Band’s music does lots of mood. So the film’s constantly clashing. But when it’s stop motion effects of the murderous little puppets, then the mood is in sync.

The film opens in the past, with William Hickey cameoing as a puppet maker who can bring his creations to life. Jump to the present and someone has found the puppets. So the motley crew of principals have to go to this huge empty hotel to meet their friend, Jimmie F. Skaggs. They’re all psychic. Sorry, forgot. They’re all psychic. Anyway, it’s Paul Le Mat the Ivy league professor who dreams the future, Irene Miracle the Cajun fortuneteller, Matt Roe and Kathryn O’Reilly are a couple–he exploits her psychic powers, basically.

Only Skaggs is dead, leaving wife Robin Frates to contend with the puppet-hunters. Except none of the principals ever really talks about the puppets. Director Schmoeller’s pseudonymous script is light on detail, content, character, and, of course, mood. Le Mat sort of wanders through the film in a daze. Not just when he’s left to wander the empty hotel because everyone else is busy getting killed by the puppets.

In the flashback, Schmoeller does a lot with the puppet-vision–when it’s a puppet running around, interacting with an unknowing human world. When it comes time for him to do it in a thriller sequence, he completely chokes. It’s already a bad, long sequence–Schmoeller drags out the death scenes. He’s big on showcasing suffering, even if it’s limited by budget. His direction doesn’t have any of the humor Band’s music lays over the action. Again, Puppetmaster never feels in sync.

It’d be hard, given the performances. Everyone is awful except maybe Frates. And Mews Small as the maid, who disappears and no one cares why. Small’s okay.

Roe at least intentionally exaggerates. It’s unclear what anyone else is doing. Le Mat shuffling around is his entire performance. He’s got the least amount of character and he’s top-billed. At least Miracle has a taxidermied dog. It’s creepy and Miracle underplays it–while somehow going way too far on the accent–but it’s something. Le Mat’s just got a shaggy mullet.

Puppetmaster puts a lot of thought into its special effects. There’s no thought into anything else, though. The third act is better. Once Le Mat gets something to do, even if it’s only for five minutes. Schmoeller’s script has a pulse for a bit. The film goes needlessly far into gore soon after, not just because it’s narratively pointless, but also because the film doesn’t have the effects budget to do it. Schmoeller is always showcasing suffering over the gore in the scene. Not tension, not suspense, not gore, just suffering. It’s kind of weird, actually. Because he doesn’t do anything with it. It doesn’t build to anything.

Because Puppetmaster’s pretty bad. Cool stop motion, some cool puppets, some bad acting. Some really awful direction and writing.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Schmoeller; screenplay by Schmoeller, based on a story by Charles Band and Kenneth J. Hall; director of photography, Sergio Salvati; edited by Thomas Meshelski; music by Richard Band; production designer, John Myhre; produced by Hope Perello; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Paul Le Mat (Alex Whitaker), Robin Frates (Megan Gallagher), Irene Miracle (Dana Hadley), Matt Roe (Frank Forrester), Kathryn O’Reilly (Carissa Stamford), Mews Small (Theresa), Jimmie F. Skaggs (Neil Gallagher), and William Hickey (Andre Toulon).


Trancers 5: Sudden Deth (1994, David Nutter)

There are no good parts to Trancers 5: Sudden Deth. The best parts, however, are when you forget you’re watching an actual motion picture–or even a direct-to-video release on a name label–and think you’re instead watching some terrible fantasy movie shot by the staff of a renaissance fair. At one point there’s a magic map and it looks like an eight year-old’s treasure map to their Halloween candy (hidden under their bed). It’s ludicrous. Not in an endearing way, but definitely in a way slightly more amusing than anything else going on in Trancers 5. Because Trancers 5 is really, really bad.

Tim Thomerson escapes as unscathed as humanly possible. He doesn’t have a single good line in the entire movie, not a single good moment because Nutter’s direction is so lame and Peter David’s script is so weak; he never embarrasses himself further than the inherent embarrassment of being involved with such a production.

Almost every other performance is horrific. Clabe Hartley, Ty Miller, Terri Ivens. They’re all awful. Mark Arnold is awful in a different way; he tries and fails. No one else tries.

The story has Thomerson and Miller going to a haunted castle to get a time diamond to send Thomerson back home. It’s occasionally a lot like a tone-deaf, terrible Army of Darkness knock-off. The plotting is dumb. Just about halfway through, it gets a lot worse as Miller gets the first of his many “I’m an energy vampire but I’m okay” speeches. Bad writing, bad directing, bad acting. Thomerson gets credit for not rolling his eyes in the two shots during these deliveries.

The boringness of Trancers 5–the relentless lameness throughout–is the worst part. It opens with too long opening titles, then a seven minute recap of the previous film (poorly narrated by Arnold). Then it’s only like an hour of actual movie and every minute of it is lame.

Also lame are Adolfo Bartoli’s photography and Gary Fry’s music.

Trancers 5 is dreadful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Nutter; screenplay by Peter David, based on characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Lisa Bromwell; music by Gary Fry; production designer, Mircea-Dudus Neagu; produced by Michael Catalano, Oana Paunescu and Vlad Paunescu; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Ty Miller (Prospero), Terri Ivens (Shaleen), Clabe Hartley (Lord Caliban), Stacie Randall (Lyra), Mark Arnold (Lucius), Jeff Moldovan (Harson) and Stephen Macht (Harris).


Trancers 4: Jack of Swords (1994, David Nutter)

I’m not sure where to start with Trancers 4 except I don’t recommend anyone else ever watch this film. Especially not if you like Trancers or even Tim Thomerson. That definite discouragement aside, for a direct-to-video sequel shot in Romania and set in a different universe like an episode of the original “Star Trek” just so they could use castles and magic and dumb shit, Trancers 4: Jack of Swords could be worse.

It’s bad. It’s a very bad film and director Nutter completely misses the chance to give it any charm whatsoever; he’s really bad. But it could be worse. Peter David’s script is quirky in its plotting. One can only imagine who he had in mind for playing the villain. Instead of anyone good, it’s Clabe Hartley, who kind of acts like a Chippendales dancer trying out to be a magician in 1984. But I’m not even sure Hartley gives the worst performance in the film. He’s energetic. He’s bad at his job but he’s trying.

But Hartley’s still bad because Trancers 4 is bad. It’s just affably simple. Once you get past all the stupidity in the production–like rebel leader Terri Ivens having on a leather bikini top–David’s script is reliably predictable. Nutter butchers whatever pacing the script’s got and doesn’t seem to direct the actors at all.

The not always bad performances are from Stacie Randall, Ty Miller, Alan Oppenheimer and Stephen Macht. Mark Arnold for some reason gets the worst direction in the film as Hartley’s sidekick and it appears to be because Nutter doesn’t understand the script. He probably should’ve asked David to explain it to him. And Arnold, who’s lost, but occasionally seems like he thinks he’s trapped in a terrible comedy.

Lochlyn Munro is bad.

Technically, it could be worse. There are no crew standouts but it’s obvious Nutter’s bad at the whole shot composition thing so there’s only so much the cinematographer and the editor can do. Gary Fry’s music is pretty lame. And the stupid thing has three minute opening titles; they’re desperately trying to pad this thing. It’s seventy-four minutes and has some boring stretches.

Maybe the worst part is the opening with Thomerson in future L.A. was terrible but not without potential. Thomerson’s lost here. The direction’s bad, he’s sharing too much of the script with the supporting cast, it’s a bad part. Thomerson does try and he’s still Thomerson, but Tracers 4 fails him worst of all.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Nutter; screenplay by Peter David, based on characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Lisa Bromwell; music by Gary Fry; production designer, Mircea-Dudus Neagu; produced by Michael Catalano, Oana Paunescu and Vlad Paunescu; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Stacie Randall (Lyra), Clabe Hartley (Caliban), Ty Miller (Prospero), Mark Arnold (Lucius), Terri Ivens (Shaleen), Lochlyn Munro (Sebastian), Alan Oppenheimer (Farr) and Stephen Macht (Harris).


Trancers III (1992, C. Courtney Joyner)

There’s a certain exhaustion about Trancers III. Director Joyner doesn’t have much chemistry with star Tim Thomerson, leading to way too much time spent on the evil super-soldiers. This Trancers sequel, in addition to a really lame Terminator 2 vibe with a novelty android, is all about explaining the origins of Trancers. But not in an interesting way, but a really boring one.

Thomerson and Helen Hunt, on the rocks since the previous sequel, get one scene together. Hunt has two scenes (one on the phone with Thomerson) but only the one actual scene. She tries really hard, but there’s no way to make anything out of it. Joyner is awkward at integrating information from the previous movies, which means dialogue problems, and he’s bad at directing the actors trying to articulate that dialogue.

It should be sad, seeing the heart of the franchise fizzle out, but it’s not because by the time Hunt and Thomerson have their moment, Trancers III is already in the dumps. It starts in the dumps, what with the secret military experiment laboratory underneath a strip club. Actually, maybe Trancers III starting with that tell tale sign of trouble–a “theme by” music credit, which means the filmmakers weren’t able to bring back the original series composer–it lowers expectations. Then there’s a dumb TV commercial with Thomerson advertising his PI business (a Robocop nod) before he disappears, except a weak voice over. Joyner doesn’t know how to make Thomerson fun. It’s not a question of trying to make him funny, it’s about making Trancers and Thomerson fun. Joyner fails at it.

Real quick–Andrew Robinson. Robinson’s the evil mad scientist, only he’s a macho army guy mad scientist, which should be funny. It’s not. Maybe if Adolfo Bartoli were a better photographer, the bad sets would look better but he isn’t. And Robinson’s performance suffers. He’s going crazy–his accent goes from country to Scottish and back again–it just doesn’t amount to anything.

Melanie Smith is okay as Thomerson’s new sidekick, but not really any good. She’s okay for the Trancers III regular cast, who are mostly bad. Decent cameo from Stephen Macht though and it’s fun to see Telma Hopkins. Megan Ward’s bad, unfortunately. Not really her fault, but she’s still bad.

There’s no reason for a Trancers III, so if you’re going to make one, don’t make it lame. There’s just no reason to make such a lame Trancers movie. It wastes Thomerson, it wastes Hunt, it wastes Robinson.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by C. Courtney Joyner; screenplay by Joyner, based on characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Lauren A. Schaffer and Margeret-Anne Smith; music by Richard Band, Phil Davies and Mark Ryder; production designer, Milo; produced by Albert Band; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Helen Hunt (Lena), Megan Ward (Alice Stillwell), Melanie Smith (R.J.), Andrew Robinson (Col. Daddy Muthuh), Tony Pierce (Jason), Stephen Macht (Harris) and Telma Hopkins (Cmdr. Raines).


Trancers II (1991, Charles Band)

Without its cast, Trancers II couldn’t possibly succeed. It’s an unfortunately limited success as is, but without everyone’s enthusiasm–regardless whether they have a good role or not–the film just couldn’t work. There’s a whole bunch of charm to Trancers II, but only the cast is actually able to deliver on any of its potential.

Jackson Barr’s screenplay, for example, is pretty solid. It’s not great, but it gives all the characters something to do–well, most of them. It’s director Band who screws up the execution of it; all of the film, he goes between this boring close-up one shots on each actor. It’s not editors Andy Horvitch and Ted Nicolaou’s faults, it’s pretty obvious there’s just not the coverage. And it sucks because there’s a lot of good work and even more potential to Trancers II.

I mean, for a very cheap, awkwardly (in terms of acknowledging it) campy, sci-fi thriller, it’s got a lot of potential. Certainly for better parts for its cast, who do a lot with often very little. Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt and Biff Manard are all good. Manard’s performance suffers because of Band’s direction. Thomerson and Hunt run into the limits of Barr’s screenplay–and how Band directs those scenes–but they’re good. Richard Lynch is good as the bad guy. Alyson Croft is good as future cop Thomerson’s partner’s teenage ancestor. Megan Ward is all right as Thomerson’s future wife (Hunt being his modern day wife). She tries. She doesn’t get the support she needs from Band, but Ward does try.

Phil Davies and Mark Ryder’s music is occasionally good, occasionally bad, often mediocre. But there are some definitely high points. Bland photography from Adolfo Bartoli doesn’t help matters. Not to mention Band wasting Jeffrey Combs.

Trancers II is this odd but great concept poorly executed.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Charles Band; screenplay by Jackson Barr, based on a story by Barr and Band and characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Andy Horvitch and Ted Nicolaou; music by Phil Davies and Mark Ryder; production designer, Kathleen Coates; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Helen Hunt (Lena Deth), Megan Ward (Alice Stillwell), Biff Manard (Hap Ashby), Art LaFleur (Old McNulty), Alyson Croft (McNulty), Telma Hopkins (Cmdr. Raines), Martine Beswick (Nurse Trotter), Jeffrey Combs (Dr. Pyle), Sonny Carl Davis (Rabbit) and Richard Lynch (Dr. Wardo).


Dollman (1991, Albert Pyun)

Wow, I’ve never written about an Albert Pyun movie for the Stop Button? I hadn’t realized how lucky I’ve been over the last five years not to see one. Actually, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a Pyun movie as an adult.

Dollman went straight to video. Some of it looks like it might have been shot on video too, really bad video, but it’s not like good film stock was going fix this one.

The film sort of defies description. I was expecting The Incredible Shrinking Man with a wisecracking cop (played by Tim Thomerson). But it’s nothing along those lines. Even though Thomerson’s human-looking alien cop is only supposedly to be thirteen inches tall, there’s not a single scene of him interacting with some oversized prop or an exaggerated set. Dollman‘s too cheap for those effects.

It’s too cheap for a lot, apparently. Thomerson has a double for long shots, one with completely different hair. The double does some of the process shots too, for when Thomerson’s on screen with regular-sized people.

The script’s a disaster–it’s more of a social piece about the Bronx than a sci-fi action thriller–but there’s occasionally hilarious dialogue.

Thomerson’s pretty disinterested, but his lines usually go over well. The film also stars Jackie Earle Haley, playing a gang banger out of the seventies. Haley occasionally does really well. The script’s weak for him, but he’s got a lot of charm, even as a vicious moron.

It’s lame.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Pyun; screenplay by David Pabian and Chris Roghair, based on a story by Charles Band; director of photography, George Mooradian; edited by Margeret-Anne Smith; music by Anthony Riparetti; production designer, Don Day; produced by Cathy Gesualdo; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Brick Bardo), Jackie Earle Haley (Braxton Red), Kamala Lopez (Debi Alejandro), Humberto Ortiz (Kevin Alejandro), Nicholas Guest (Skyresh), Judd Omen (Mayor), Michael Halsey (Cally), Frank Doubleday (Cloy), Frank Collison (Sprug), Vincent Klyn (Hector), John Durbin (Fisher) and Merle Kennedy (Maria).


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