Six Reasons ‘Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys’ is Basically The ‘Puppet Master’ Holiday Special
Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys, while it might be hard to believe now, was the most hyped movie of the entire Puppet Master franchise and remains so even now, just by default. Even harder to believe, its development time was longer than that of Freddy vs. Jason. Originally announced in a behind-the-scenes featurette for Seedpeople in 1992, when it was then planned to be Puppet Master 4, Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys was not shot or released until 2004. There were attempts made at various times, of course, but they simply never came together. In 2000, Full Moon Pictures ran a contest in Tomart’s Action Figure Digest to allow one lucky fan to win a walk-on role in Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys, which they planned to shoot in Los Angeles that year. They even announced major toy tie-ins, unveiling the prototypes for Demonic Toys as well as new, upgraded versions of the puppets called Cyber Puppets. They didn’t happen. The movie did not shoot in 2000; the toys were never released. When it finally did become a reality, Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys would be the first of what is to date only two Puppet Master movies not made by Full Moon at all. Knowing how badly fans had wanted this feature for so long, producer Charles Band sold the rights to the Sci-Fi (now SyFy) Channel. When the world finally saw Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys, it was on television as a Sci-Fi Original. This December, Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys is celebrating its sweet sixteen. Being the, um, Christmas Classic that it is, we thought it warranted a little reflection.
The Star Wars Holiday Special, meanwhile, premiered in 1978. It was the first time people got to see the cast of the film reunite, even predating The Empire Strikes Back. As low budget and hokey as this made-for-TV variety special was, in an age where it was the first Star Wars since Star Wars, it must have felt absolutely huge for those young, burgeoning fans. It was not, however, the Star Wars anyone wanted or expected. Yet it is something many have come to embrace over time.
Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys has had similar treatment. Some still rank it near the bottom of the series, which is now fourteen films deep. Others have come to sanction its buffoonery. Oh, the Horror even ranked Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys fourth out of the entire franchise. For someone who loves those early movies as much as I do, that’s huge. And yet, I too can’t help but sanction a little buffoonery myself. When I sat down to watch the premiere in 2004, even in high school I couldn’t believe it was actually happening, and I watched it with the biggest rose-tinted glasses I’d ever worn before or have ever worn since. I quickly realized that it was a whole lot of sizzle for a very tiny, overcooked steak. But now, I’ve come to realize that that’s just one of many things it has in common with the Star Wars Holiday Special, and other largely uncalled for Holiday Specials of the type. “Imagine,” fans might say, “being so excited for the first new Star Wars and getting Lumpy.” Well, yes, and imagine being promised a title fight that takes up under three minutes of screen time in the longest Puppet Master to date. Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys wears its flaws on its sleeve because it couldn’t even hope to hide them. And its mostly because of the way it flaunts those flaws that it’s become a holiday classic I have to watch every season. It’s a minor holiday special for a franchise that was never exactly major to begin with. Let’s examine why.
It Premiered on Television
As mentioned, like the Star Wars Holiday Special before it, Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys premiered on TV. It was the first—and still the only—of the series to do so. But even TV felt like the big time, considering this was coming just one year after Puppet Master: The Legacy had made its debut as a Blockbuster exclusive. This movie premiering on TV meant that for at least a couple of weeks, there were little teasers in between all of the things people actually watched on Sci-Fi. It felt like a kind of exposure that the franchise truly had not seen in some time. And the premiere actually did decent numbers, though replays were few and far between after that.
Constant Reminders That it is Christmas
There’s no Wookie Life Day here. This is Christmas and it really wants you to know. That’s largely because the plot is nearly identical to Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Here, instead of a doctor and a woman young enough to be his daughter, it’s a puppet shop owner and his actual daughter. Instead of an evil mask tycoon trying to kill all of the world’s children on Halloween night when their rigged masks explode as they tune into the big Halloween giveaway, we have an evil toy tycoon trying to kill all the world’s children when their rigged Christmas toys wake up and kill them on Christmas morning. I’m not complaining, though, because I honestly think the notion of the Demonic Toys being mass-produced is both absurd and fantastic. Though I have to admit, with Puppet Master being a franchise with so many inherently Jewish themes and the puppets themselves being canonically Jewish, at least seeing a menorah in the house at one point would have been nice.
Affordable Celebrity Guest Stars
While not the “television who’s who” of the Star Wars Holiday Special, Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys does manage to feature a couple of the most recognizable names to have ever appeared in the franchise up to that point. Corey Feldman stars in a role that was actually meant for Fred Willard, or at least a Fred Willard type. Watching Feldman with badly spray painted graying hair, doing an old man pirate voice is alone worth the price of admission, and credit where it’s due, he’s clearly aware of exactly how miscast he is and appears to be entirely in on the joke. Vanessa Angel, meanwhile, plays the villain of the piece, Erica Sharpe, CEO of Sharpe Toys and master of the Demonic Toys, and she chews every ounce of scenery so thoroughly that not even a single wall of the set remains standing when she’s done. And honestly, good for her.
Characters Sing Christmas Songs
“Jingle Bells,” really. Just “Jingle Bells.” The score plays its own rendition of “Jingle Bells,” or a snippet of it, at least fifteen times. We hear it over the opening and closing titles, we hear it every time the movie gives us its countdown clock to Christmas morning. The “Christmas Pals” song, this film’s version of Halloween III’s Silver Shamrock jingle, is just a reworded “Jingle Bells.” And if all of that wasn’t enough, while they don’t have the baritone pipes of Bea Arthur, the movie literally ends with the heroes—not, I should stress, the puppets, though—singing “Jingle Bells” as they hold hands and walk off into the sunrise.
Honestly, as time has gone on, this has become my favorite thing about this movie. Not only because I am absolutely the kind of person who is going to want to show Puppet Master to my kids, but also because I have such a soft spot for kids’ horror in general. When looking at this movie through the lens of what might as well be an extended Goosebumps episode, it makes more sense. Ironically, though, the lack of overt horror is the thing most fans hate most about it. It starts even at the onset, with the designs of the puppets and demonic toys themselves. All of the more frightening features are toned down, to the point that even Jester, cutest and most harmless-looking of the bunch from the beginning, no longer has even his slightly sinister downturned eyebrows. Instead, his eyebrows are turned up, expressing joy and surprise more than anything else. For the Demonic Toys, the design changes really make sense though. Given the story, there’s really no other way to go about it. Considering they’re now mass-produced Christmas Pals, they probably can’t look the way they’ve looked in the past. And I like how FX artists Jeff Farley and Chris Bergschneider achieved that balance. And aside from one jab at a henchman, the violence in the movie is toy-on-toy. And if you’re wondering why it’s not also the Demonic Toys Holiday Special, that’s because they’re really positioned here as the cartoon villains in what is clearly the latest Saturday morning Puppet Master adventure.
Parts of it truly feel like watching an ‘80s or ‘90s cartoon, in which censorship got so strict that you couldn’t see a bullet be fired, to the point that even the cops in Spider-Man carried laser guns. That’s exactly what happens here, too, as Six-Shooter’s guns are literally replaced with lasers. Plus, it’s not like this was an unnatural direction for the series. Puppet Master 4 and 5 had basically been kids’ movies with a few drops of blood and a couple of swears, and Retro Puppet Master had even been rated PG-13. Pretty wild, for a series that started out with a couple getting killed during bondage play.
If we’re talking Holiday Special, that’s got to be the big one. Unlike the Star Wars Holiday Special, Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys was released on DVD at one point, though even getting slapped to a featureless disc took over a year from its premiere. Now we live in a world where the early Puppet Master movies have received astoundingly good Blu-ray treatment. The entire franchise, save this one and the 2017 reboot, have been assembled in an incredible boxed set. All but this one are on Blu in general. Full Moon doesn’t even acknowledge this movie’s existence, let alone consider it a part of the franchise. (Another thing it has in common with the Star Wars Holiday Special, that) And with Anchor Bay, like most of the known Earth, not giving half a crap about it, it’s hard to imagine that the film’s availability status is apt to change anytime soon. People who want to watch it as a part of their holiday festivities are resigned to old bootlegs or clips on YouTube and that, truly, is where it and the Star Wars Holiday Special are fundamentally linked.
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