Thursday, October 1, 2015

Spooktacular Savings #1: ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE (1958)

So what is this series now?  I did used to do these, didn't I?  I still do!  (More Madadayo, Used DVD's to come by the way).  This is basically just... well, it's October, how about some horror movies?  Or things that I approach that I believe ARE horror at first.  Whether they turn out to be that, who knows... this will be a series that'll last the month, but whether I review a movie a day (or more) I don't know yet. 

But let's get down to brass tax: anybody remember Bert I Gordon

This was a director who has worked steadily since the 1950's; his first movie was King Dinosaur in 1955, and his most recent credit was from last year (!) with Secrets of a Psychopath.  He's worked mostly in B (and probably Z) grade schlock, with two HG Wells adaptations in the 1970s, including Empire of the Ants (which I imagine would fit right at home with this title).  Indeed it's strange how he seems to be all about movies dealing with changes in size: The Amazing Colossal Man, Village of the Giants, Earth vs the Spider.  Perhaps that was just what audiences were craving for (albeit old timers such as Bela Lugosi would rail against these types in a brief aside in the movie Ed Wood - "All these movies, giant bugs, giant spiders, such nonsense"). 

But what about this one, Attack of the Puppet People?  Can I get a lot of words out for this goddamn review?  I can surely try.  First off, the premise: a man named Mr. Franz (John Hoyt) is a dollmaker and operates out of the 5th floor of a building, where little girls sometimes come to check out his wares.  He also keeps rather life-like figures in a special glass case (why he even does this I'll question in a moment).  He also is on the look for a new secretary after the previous one, uh, left.  So Sally Reynolds starts up (typical B type star June Kenney, though not as bad as most), and she starts up - and also gets into a (very quick) romance with a guy who wants to take her out of town.  But it turns out, as Mr. Franz tells her, he's left town.  Oh, but what now?  Well, she might be suspecting something, like... why is my man now a little person in a glass case? 

Turns out he's been turning people into little people - the 'Puppet' people of the title is a way to not have to say 'Doll' I suppose - and all for his own amusement.  The technology this marvel of modern science has made is just remarkable, folks!  He has figured out that by the same principle as, well, the tuning fork that when activated smashes a glass in pieces can be transformed using a ray to make people into smaller proportions (the example he first uses is how a projector makes things really small when you change the lens or whatever the hell).  My question is: why doesn't he share this technology with anyone else?  Oh, he couldn't do that, heavens no!  He has his own amusement to think of - these people he's shrunken like it, after all (or, well, a couple do, which is insane on its own anyway).  But will these 'little people' fight back?  There's no Ant-Man suit or special communication with those things after all. 

This movie is crazy.  That should be the first thing noted, and I apologize that it's coming so late in this review.  But this guy Mr. Franz is rather bonkers, and yet, for the most part, in a kind of benign way.  All this character wants is for his little people to dance and (yes) sing when he plays records for them, and, right before he plans on a (not joking) suicide pact with them all so that no one finds out about them, he puts on a little puppet show in a full (but empty) theater.  Why is he doing this in a theater?  He has a little diorama where he has it set up for his little creations to interact with his creepy-ass marionettes.  But... Why am I putting this much thought into this movie?  Because it's kind of fascinating. 

Is it a bad movie?  In a manner of speaking, but I don't think it's actually THAT incompetent... ok, it is, though it's mostly at the script level.  The actors Gordon got are actually not bad; Hoyt himself is one of the more interesting mad-scientist type of villains in a movie in that he is just so affected and calm and trying to be kind.  Maybe that makes him more terrifying, how he just never realizes that he's a demented kidnapper/storer of people in glass cases, encased for months at a time.  But he never comes off as mean, on the contrary he's like that kindly uncle who only wants to do well by his little creations; naturally, it takes the introduction of just two new little people - our main male and female heroes - to convince the others that it's time to get the hell out of Dodge. 

There's problems all around in this thing.  Why can the little puppet-people communicate and be heard just fine by Mr. Franz, but when they call on the telephone to the police (after a comically-long time trying to turn the rotary-style phone) the operator on the other end can't hear them?  How does the other theater operator working at night not hear/see them either, with them in plain sight?  When a couple of them do get loose in the streets, how does a dog (not the one pictured in the poster above, of course) not get them IMMEDIATELY as dogs are usually want to do?  And most of all, how does anyone not buy these figurines if they're sitting on display - or, more to the point, why does Franz even have them out for display at ALL if they are his secret?  He supposedly makes extra dolls - he shows off some of Bob (John Agar) at one point - so is he producing these *missing* citizens for the public to consume?  Wouldn't someone, not simply the cop who kinda-sorta doesn't follow on the trail after first hearing about this from Sally, go after this twisted bastard? 

Again, probably reading too much into this nonsense.  But what entertaining nonsense it is!  I have to think (or hope) Gordon knew this was a comedy he had on his hands; the way the actors play it is really silly, but there are moments where it carries a kind of demented fervor, like in those few moments where the puppet-master is not obeyed and kind of whines (still in a way that makes him sound nuts) about his creations being tainted.  It's maybe closer to the spirit of a 'Honey I Shrunk the Kids' than an Ant-Man movie, and yet some of the effects are actually not half bad - the rear-projection is occasionally just a (bad) photograph of a street or a set behind the actors, but hey, why carp?  Considering the budget was $3.50 (not 350 thousand, three dollars and fifty cents, don't worry, I counted), it's not badly put together. 

Attack of the Puppet People may be silly sci-fi, but at least it lets you know it throughout.  It probably isn't very scary - no, not probably, it isn't - and it's certainly among those "horror" movies of the period, not unlike Corman's Attack of the Crab Monsters, where the poster is just so much greater than the movie could ever be.  It almost counts as false advertising really (again, the dog seems like it would be a pivotal threat, not some lame little aside in the climax).  However, with these actors, and some of this dialog, I can't complain too much.  Oh, and did I mention one of the characters SINGS at one point?  They actually have a THEME SONG (sort of) for this movie!  Joy.

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