31 days of horror movies: Puppet Master (1989)! Which puppet is best?

HOLLYWOOD, CA - JULY 13: Charles Band arrives at the 2013 Viscera Film Festival Red Carpet Event at American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre on July 13, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Mike Windle/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JULY 13: Charles Band arrives at the 2013 Viscera Film Festival Red Carpet Event at American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre on July 13, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Mike Windle/WireImage) /

Currently available on Freevee, Peacock, Shudder, Tubi, and Vudu, David Schmoeller’s Puppet Master introduces some of horror’s most memorable killer puppets, and I want to pick my favorite one, as depicted in the first film. So what about the story? Might that figure into my ultimate decision? Maybe.

Here the original puppet master, André Toulon, is played by the late, great William Hickey. This character is not entirely villainous, but there is definitely something off about him, even as we first meet him trying to evade the Nazis. Being hunted by authoritarian maniacs might make him sympathetic, but one knows that, in all likelihood, he’s probably not entirely good himself, and Hickey, despite being an old man in a movie about killer puppets, seems to have really cared about his performance.

The original Puppet Master is largely about…psychics?

Puppet Master is a bit of an odd introduction for the franchise, as it focuses largely on a group of psychics ( Paul Le Mat, Irene Miracle, Matt Roe, and Kathryn O’Reilly) who seem only tangentially related to the overall story. The psychics suspect that supernatural forces are involved, and anyone watching will immediately understand it must involve those crazy killer puppets. Indeed!

Fortunately, as the crazy carnage unfolds, the freaky violence takes center stage over the plot anyway, and you probably won’t care so much about the movie’s flaws. After all, who watched a movie about killer puppets and expects some Shakespearean-level performances and storytelling?!

Puppet Master
Puppet Master – Courtesy Shudder /

Which Puppet Master puppet is the best?

In a way, Neil Gallagher (Jimmie F. Skaggs) is the main villain of the movie, but any horror fan is more likely invested in how the puppets confront their victims, whatever the reason for the attack. And yes, no one who values survival would wish to be harassed by these little devils! On that note, it can be really tough to pick a favorite puppet from the bunch, as they all are memorable and good at what they do. Still, I promised myself I’d work out fair, rational, almost objective criteria, if possible.

For me, the best puppet from the original Puppet Master is still Leech Woman, as she 100% embodies the horrific nature of what these puppets can do. I think the Pinhead puppet is great, and who doesn’t find Blade to be stylish AF? Still, when Leech Woman’s special power is “activated,” it is sure to bring about groans and faces of disgust.

There’s also more of a sense that this crazy puppet is alive, because those leeches seem pretty realistic, and one shudders to think about how that mechanism actually works. The other puppets are all cool, but this one is simply more successful at eliciting a shocked reaction from the audience.

Final thoughts on Puppet Master

Though I try to review movies more for their individual impact, I must say I have seen other Puppet Master movies, and I still think this one stands out for some of the kills. It also stands out due to the appearance of William Hickey, who always brings unique plausible qualities into his scenes, whether the movie is good or bad. As the Puppet Master franchise continues from this point, it tries to resume the scenes we all know and love, with those sneaky little micro-terrors at risk of slaughtering people en masse or blowing up the entire town.

Though (perhaps) not as widely beloved as horror films like Poltergeist, this is a movie with a substantial fanbase that never deserves to be lost to the outside world.  Plus, some franchises have far worse sequels (though I still say some Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequels are great).

I think scenes of puppets killing people can help bring the world closer together, one gross-out moment at a time. Each kill here is a little unique and beautifully strange in its own way. It’s not as poetic as handprints in a frozen lake, but it’s something you don’t expect to see in nature, and there’s sort of an inherent, stupid beauty to it.

The human characters seem mystified by these twisted puppets and attempts to figure out what’s going on only deepen the puzzle. As a fun fact, I can personally say I owned a Pinhead action figure, purchased from our local Sam Goody music store. To me, he was not just a toy. I don’t know where he ended up all these years later, but a small, irrational part of my brain might wonder if he’s actually out there wreaking havoc on innocent victims, and looking fabulous while doing so.

[WARNING: This trailer does depict some brief nudity and, of course, moments of puppet violence]:

Next. 25 greatest horror movie franchises of all-time. dark

What are your thoughts on Puppet Master? Let us know in the comments!