The Bodega Bay Inn is a hotel which has been around for decades, but it was in 1939 that our story begins as the puppet maker Toulon (William Hickey) was putting the finishing touches on one of his creations, well aware that not so much were his days numbered, but his minutes were. He had discovered a way of bringing his puppets to life with an Ancient Egyptian spell, and that information was much coveted by the Nazis who were commencing the war in Europe, so when they sent a couple of assassins over to Toulon's room he was waiting for them - dead by his own hand.
Producer Charles Band found one of his longest running series in the Puppetmaster franchise, a straight to video selection of quirky slasher movies where the marionettes threw off their strings and embarked on their own adventures, usually in the style of killing off characters in a variety of ways, many of them somewhat absurd. Band's Empire brand, and later his Full Moon Entertainment, were for reasons best known to themselves preoccupied with the idea of small "monsters" bumping off fully grown humans, and the killers here very much belonged to that strain of horror which Band made his own.
The director of this, David Schmoeller, was vocal in his grumblings that he had laid the groundwork for the series with little of the credit, but Band's liking for the little monsters had been well established before he worked with Schmoeller, though even so the director had written the script pseudonymously, so it was up to you who you preferred to award the plaudits to, or lay the blame at, depending on what you thought of the movie. Puppetmaster was released at the stage where Band was finding the home video market the best place to see his productions, so though this was intended for cinemas, it saw very few of them as it turned into a favourite rental of its day.
Watching it now you wonder how anyone managed to sit through reams of exposition as we are presented with here, with hardly a puppet in sight for a long stretch after the first ten minutes. We move forward to the present day where we find professor Paul Le Mat and some other psychics of various stripes gathered at the hotel though precisely why isn't wholly clear, other than the killers needed someone to kill. There is a young widow, Megan (Robin Frates), who has her evil husband lying out in his coffin, one Noel G - excuse me, one Neil Gallagher (Jimmie F. Skaggs) who has something to do with controlling the puppets even from beyond the grave (or beyond the open coffin, at any rate). After a lot of talk, the litle guys emerge to start with the execution of the cast.
This was the sort of movie where one character is a dream psychic simply because it offered the excuse to present a nightmare sequence where he wakes up, then finds he's still in the nightmare and wakes up again - this happens more than once to Le Mat's academic. But it was those puppets which were the main attraction, ranging from a pinhead with man-sized hands who gets flung around the place with near-comical regularity, to a hook and knife-handed skeleton in a fedora and one with a drill for a head, all the better for murdering his victims. Weirdest was the leech lady who opens her mouth for large leeches to emerge, which proceed to, um, suck the blood of the unlucky soul who has to be tied down or in some way immobile for her modus operandi to work properly; needless to say, this does happen. So what you had was a curiously dinky bunch of attackers wrapped up in an intermittently dull package, something you needed patience for to reach the setpieces. Music by Richard Band (of course).