There’s something seriously off about “Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich.”
Sure, the film spills so much blood and entrails it’s like a “Saw” highlight reel. It’s not that, though. It starts with leading man Thomas Lennon.
THAT Thomas Lennon, the scene stealer from roughly a third of the comedies produced in the past decade?
Even crazier? The script isn’t as cringe-worthy as the practical effects. More on why in a moment.
It all makes 2018’s “The Littlest Reich,” a grindhouse affair that’s light on ambition but compulsively watchable. The hitch? You need to be a serious gore hound to get the most out of this franchise reboot.
Lennon stars as Edgar, a recently divorced comic book writer trying to get his life together again. He makes progress by wooing a neighborhood beauty (Jenny Pellicer) and clearing out his late brother’s closet.
The latter uncovers a creepy puppet with ties to a legendary Nazi. Said puppet leads the new couple to a ghoulish convention where, well, you have to see it to believe it.
Never mind the plot breakdown. “The Littlest Reich” is all about the blood, the killing and the crude FX that bring both to life. And, of course, the black humor coursing through the cinematic veins.
This critic hasn’t seen the previous “Puppet Master” installments. You don’t need to know the saga to relish “Reich’s” ghastly sense of humor.
It starts with Lennon, playing it so straight you may not recognize him. The rest of the cheek-tongue connections are courtesy of S. Craig Zahler. The auteur behind “Bone Tomahawk” and “Dragged Across Concrete” is technically slumming here as the unexpected screenwriter.
He’s also having a blast.
Do the plot holes matter? Nah. What about a few less than spectacular kills? Nope. This is a ride, and you better hang on.
Some of the kills are so loopy, so over-the-top you can’t help but cheer. That’s essentially the point, particularly for the ancillary characters. We still care about the major players, from Edgar to a veteran cop who will be familiar to any horror fanatic -- Barbara Crampton (looking a good decade younger than her 60 years…)
Zahler’s script suggests a depth the wacky spirit has no time to ponder. Take Edgar’s stern father, a “Great Santini” type who nonetheless opens his house and heart to his adult son. Or fellow comic book geek Markowitz (Nelson Franklin), whose Jewish faith comes into play later in the film.
Charlyne Yi, a scene stealer when given half the chance, is relegated to cutey nerd, a true waste.
DID YOU KNOW? Charles Band, the co-creator of the “Puppet Master” franchise, co-produced “The Littlest Reich.” More importantly to him? He kept creative control over the saga, with the new film an off-shoot, not a takeover of the series.
The film’s Nazi ties are overt and clumsily so. Nothing here should be taken seriously. Still, the script gets a bit heavy handed in the third act as the characters suddenly realize hate is a very bad thing.
So, too, are puppets that disembowel with such glee. But we digress.
The film may emerge as a cult classic given the wit and gore on display. The reboot wraps with an overt plea for sequels.
WANT MORE: Bloody-Disgusting.com ranks the entire “Puppet Master” series -- all 12 installments (to date).