Puppet Master (1989) Explained

An Average Movie-Goer’s Review

Spoilers! If you don’t want spoilers – check out the Spoiler-Free post

I love horror movies and if I’m going to watch them anyway, why not write an entertaining/funny review from the POV of an average movie-goer and not a professional critic.

Today we’re looking at the 1989’s cult classic Puppet Master

A group of psychics reunite at a hotel to find an old colleague who was after an ancient spell that could bring inanimate figurines to life.

Is Puppet Master (1989) Scary?

Puppet Master doesn’t take itself too seriously and therefore isn’t too scary but it does get a bit gory at times. But if you’re afraid of dolls or puppets, you’re going to have a hard time with this movie.

Puppet Master Plot Summary:

The film opens in 1939 at the Bodega Bay Inn in California. Puppeteer Andre Toulon (played by William Hickey) is painting his Jester puppet as another puppet, Khan, is staring out the window, keeping watch. Andre finishes the Jester puppet and brings it to life simply by saying “Life for my life” while waving his hands around its head; the absolute laziest way I’ve seen a movie bring something to life.

From the POV of another puppet that is running around outside, we see two men in black walking into the hotel. While Khan alerts Andre of the men, the puppet, who is revealed to be Blade, runs into the hotel and makes it back to Andre before the German men in black arrive. 

Blade the puppet in 1989's Puppet Master
Why not call him Hook n’ Blade or Knife-Hook 

The Jester puppet appears worried but Andre is prepared for the men’s arrival. He quickly stashes all the puppets into a large case and hides it in a panel in the wall. As the men knock on his door, Andre sits down in a chair and shoots himself in the head. 

Cut to the present day where we meet one of our main characters, Professor of Anthropology Alex Whitaker (played by Paul Le Mat) taking a nap in his office. Alex has a dream where he sees a man dancing with a woman and then pulls a gun on her while telling Alex that he can’t save her. Alex wakes up to multiple leeches on his stomach but this was another dream as he wakes up completely fine. Maybe Alex should lay off the mid-afternoon naps.

Later at a carnival, we meet another one of our main characters psychic Dana (played by Irene Miracle) who sees the future of a couple but is clearly making it up. During the reading, Dana has a vision of herself in some hallway where she’s attacked by something with a knife. We as an audience know it’s Blade but Dana doesn’t know this so she should stay away from anyone with a knife for a hand and any hallways.

Irene Miracle as Dana in 1989's Puppet Master
“Damn it, now I have to cancel my knife-hand hallway meetings.”

Cut to New York City where our next two main characters, couple and psychical researchers Frank Forrester and Carissa Stamford (played by Matt Roe and Kathryn O’Reilly respectively), are in the middle of a psychic experiment when they get a call from Alex. 

We learn that Alex, Dana, Frank, and Carissa have all been called to the Bodega Bay Inn by a fellow colleague Neil Gallagher who discovered that is where the puppet master Andre used to hide out. A short time later the group arrives at the Inn and are shocked to learn Neil was married. 

The group meets Megan Gallagher (played by Robin Frates) and the housekeeper Theresa (played by Mews Small). A bigger shock comes when Megan reveals that Neil (played by Jimmie F. Skaggs) is dead. The group sees the body and we find out that Neil is the man in Alex’s dream that was holding the gun to Megan’s head. So his death pretty much solves that problem.

Megan tells the group that Neil shot himself and left specific instructions to not be buried until after the group arrives. After Megan leaves the room with Theresa and Alex, Dana sticks a long needle in Neil’s chest to ensure he really is dead and I question why she’s carrying around a Make-Sure-Persons-Dead needle. Turns out Neil was a bit of a dick while he was alive and the group were less than friendly with him.

Later as Theresa is setting up Dana’s room, Dana feathers her with the smoke from a concoction of hickory and dragon’s blood. The creeped-out Theresa rightfully questions “what the fuck” and Dana warns her that she is in great danger and needs to stay away from the fireplace. Theresa leaves the room but spies on Dana from the peephole where we see Dana carrying around her taxidermied dog named Leroy.

Meanwhile, in his room, Alex finds a hotel pamphlet with a photo of the dining room which is the same room in his dream. Touching it, Alex gets the extended cut of his dream and sees Neil dancing with Megan before pulling a gun on her.

That night the puppet Pinhead climbs out of Neil’s coffin. Has he been hanging out there this whole time for this dramatic reveal? Why? Who is this for?

The puppet Pinhead in 1989's Puppet Master
Why didn’t Andre just give him a proportionate body?

At dinner, Megan tells the group she owns the hotel after her parents died and met Neil while he was staying there years ago. After her parent’s death, Neil helped Megan get through the tough time and they fell in love leading to their marriage. Dana questions the story since Neil is a dick, was obsessed with his work and would have never put that aside for marriage.

Alex asks Megan about Neil’s work and Megan says Neil didn’t share the details of it but after her parent’s died, he focused on renovating the hotel. After several months of renovations, he ordered the workers to stop and Neil would lock himself away to continue his work.

Dana then rudely implies that Neil only married Megan for her money and states that Neil screwed over the group years ago so they’re only there for revenge. This causes Megan to leave the room and step outside with Alex following after her.

Outside Alex tells Megan about the group and we learn that, years ago, Frank and Neil discovered the ancient Egyptians had a method of bringing inanimate figurines to life. Dana is a white witch who can also see visions of the future and helped Neil figure out that Andre was the last person who had knowledge of the Egyptian ritual or spell. 

The problem is they didn’t know where Andre left his secrets. Frank then brought Carissa, who has the ability to see the emotional history of objects just by touch, on board to help. Finally, Alex who has dreams of the future agreed to help, but the group was never able to locate Andre’s secrets. They eventually lost contact with Neil and assumed he discovered the secrets to keep them for himself.

Alex tells Megan about their psychic abilities in 1989's Puppet Master
Hey, Alex tell her about your dream where Neil shoots her in the head… no?

Later Theresa is by the fireplace because fuck warnings and hears something hit the keys of a nearby piano. Putting the fire poker down she checks it out but finds no one there. Meanwhile, we see Pinhead grab the fire poker behind her. Theresa returns to the fireplace where Pinhead appears and strikes her with the fire poker.

After some time Megan is heard screaming and the group rush to find Alex placing an unconscious Megan on the couch. He points over to the chair where someone has placed Neil’s dead body on a chair. While Megan, Frank, and Carissa return Neil to the casket, Megan wakes up and questions who would have moved Neil’s body. Alex says they believe it was Theresa as she was nowhere to be found.

That night while Carissa and Frank prepare to have sex, which includes Carissa tying Frank to the bed, we see a puppet stalk Alex in his room but it leaves instead of attacking him; possibly due to a protection spell Dana gave Alex. The puppet is revealed to be Blade who uses a chair to peek through the keyholes of each of the rooms. 

Leaving Dana alone, Blade and another puppet with a drill on its head, Tunneler, enter Frank and Carissa’s room. Carissa hears the door open and gets scared that someone is in their room. She leaves the blindfolded Frank tied up on the bed and looks under the bed where the Tunneler kills her by drilling into her face.

The Tunneler puppet in 1989's Puppet Master
“Oh hey… uhh… well this is awkward..”

Meanwhile Frank thinks that Carissa is playing some kind of game with him and somehow doesn’t question why there was a drill sound under the bed. Another puppet the Leech Woman climbs onto Frank and vomits out multiple leeches onto Frank’s chest. WTF.

As he screams in pain, Frank’s blindfold raises a bit and he sees the puppet but for some reason decides not to scream “there’s a puppet killing me, please help. Oh god, it’s puppet killing me.”

Leech Woman doll in 1989's Puppet Master

Later after grabbing a bottle of wine, Dana returns to her room and finds Neil’s body sitting in her room. Dana isn’t shocked and instead performs a spell to ensure that he is truly dead… again. After doing so, Pinhead appears and twists one of Dana’s legs, breaking it. Pinhead attempts to choke her but Dana throws him across the room easily because he’s still just a puppet.

Crawling out of the room, Dana reaches the staircase but so does Pinhead who punches her a few times with his manhands. Dana grabs him and throws him down the stairs but then sees Blade appear at the end of the hall.

Blade attempts to kill Dana in 1989's Puppet Master
“Yea I don’t understand why we didn’t give Pinhead a weapon, I got an extra.”

Blade chases after Dana but she’s able to make it to the elevator in time. Reaching the lobby, Pinhead opens the door but Dana once again fights him off easily. Unfortunately, this gives Blade enough time to open the escape hatch on the elevator, jump down, and kill Dana by cutting her neck open.

Meanwhile, Megan knocks on Alex’s door, wakes him up, and asks to show him something. She takes him to a renovated portion of the hotel where Neil used to work and says she found something in one of the rooms. Entering the room it’s revealed to be the same room from Alex’s dream and Neil appears from behind one of the pillars.

Neil and Megan dance and when they’re done, Neil pulls out a gun and is about to shoot Megan when Alex wakes up. Yep, it was all a dream again. Alex feels something in his bed and pulls the covers to reveal the decapitated heads of Dana, Frank, and Carissa because someone is a fan of The Godfather. 

Alex wakes up yet again and I can’t trust anything that happens anymore. Megan knocks on Alex’s door and the scene plays out exactly like in the dream until they reach the room in the renovated part of the hotel. The room is revealed to be… just a room. Megan shows Alex she found Andre’s old diary which confirms he used the Egyptian spell. This also confirms that Neil found it and has been using it making him now the puppet master.

Megan finds Andre's diary in 1989's Puppet Master
Looks like Andre forgot how to write once he reached that second page.

Alex gets a vision of Neil sitting in the dining room holding Leroy the Taxidermied Dog and rushes down there with Megan. In the dining room, Alex and Megan find the dead bodies of Carissa, Frank, and Dana around the table. A very alive Neil then appears from behind a pillar and it’s time for a villain monologue!

Neil Gallagher in 1989's Puppet Master
“Join us for a totally normal, not evil; why would you even think that; dinner!”

With the puppets listening in Neil reveals he is dead but brought himself back to life with Andre’s secrets making him functionally immortal. Neil gathered the group there and used the puppets to kill them because he knew they would eventually discover his secrets as their minds are linked from their years working together. 

He then reveals that he plans on using their dead bodies to continue experimenting with the Egyptian spell as he’s now tired of working with puppets. With that statement, Neil throws the Jester puppet in disgust which enrages the fellow puppets. Neil continues his evil revelations and says he was the one who killed Megan’s parents in order to test the Egyptian spell first before using it on himself.

Megan lunges at Neil but he easily smacks her away. Alex and Neil then fight as the puppets look on. Megan hits Neil with a glass vase allowing her and Alex to run but they’re stopped by a revived Theresa now under Neil’s control. She doesn’t do anything though besides just stand there menacingly so that’s a waste.

A reanimated Theresa appears and disappears in 1989's Puppet Master
“Boo! Remember me, I’m still in this movie. Okay, I’m going to go disappear now.”

Neil catches up to Alex and the two fight again. Alex is able to get the upper hand and throw Neil into the open elevator where Pinhead shuts the door trapping Neil inside with him. The two fight but Neil easily decapitates Pinhead. The Tunneler then appears and drills a hole into Neil’s leg as Pinhead puts his head back on.

Seeing the open escape hatch, Neil tries to climb out of the elevator but Blade appears and cuts his fingers off. Neil falls to the ground where Pinhead holds him in place, Blade pins Neil’s hand to the ground by driving his knife through it and uses his hook to hold Neil’s mouth open. Tunneler drills a hole into Neil’s head while Leech Woman drops a leech directly into Neil’s mouth. Pinhead then snaps Neil’s neck, killing him.

The puppets work together to kill Neil in 1989's Puppet Master
… I’m never getting puppets.

By the way, while all of this is happening, Alex and Megan are begging the puppets to stop which makes absolutely no sense to me. Dude killed Megan’s parents and the rest of the cast and just tried to kill you so he could experiment on you, maybe let the puppets do what they do?

The next morning Alex bids farewell to Megan and leaves to catch a cab. After he leaves, Megan grabs Leroy the Taxidermied Dog and walks up the steps where she magically makes him come back to life… the fuck?

Megan brings Leroy the dog back to life in 1989's Puppet Master
Also what about the undead Theresa? What did they- Aww who’s a good boy?

The ending implies that Megan learned a bit more than she told Alex about when she discovered Andre’s diary. Essentially she learned the spell that could bring things back to life and she might now be in charge of the puppets.


Puppet Master is good. It’s a B-horror movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously and I can completely see why it developed a cult following. It’s somewhat well-acted, the dialogue is iffy, and the story is wacky but it makes sense within its own universe.

Probably the only negative I have with Puppet Master are some of the characters do feel like cardboard cutouts with no real motivation, there’s not a lot of backstory given about them and we have no idea what the plan is in regards to finding out Andre Toulon’s secrets. We learn Neil’s plan is to be basically immortal but what about everyone else?

At one point Carissa asks Frank what he plans to do with the secret and he jokingly responds that he plans to take over the world. So we never know why these characters want what they want but luckily that isn’t the main focus of the movie.

This also applies to the puppets, at the beginning they appeared to be almost baby-like when they were with Andre but with Neil as the puppet master, they were murderous beings. Why did they change? Is it because of a spell and if so, then why were they able to betray Neil in the end? Basically, the puppet master’s abilities and the rules on how they control the puppets aren’t well explained.

Overall I recommend giving Puppet Master a watch if you’re looking for something not too scary, entertaining, and a movie that doesn’t take itself seriously but is not entirely a comedy.


Stuff to Ignore

Rotten Tomatoes – 43%

Metacritic – No Score

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