April 9, 2011

Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

If I had to describe this film in one sentence at gunpoint, I would say that it is the perverted great-uncle of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. But that comparison doesn’t adequately convey how disappointing this movie is. “Attack of the Puppet People” was clearly the name the studio cooked up in a desperate attempt to attract moviegoers. This movie does not contain puppet people. There is no attack. The snarling dog so prominently featured on the movie poster turns out to be totally lame. (It’s not even the same dog from the movie.) For that matter, there are no "doll dwarfs" or "crushing giant beasts," as per the byline from the poster. Or even big shiny knives.

Plot Summary

A dollmaker named Franz (John Hoyt) went nuts after his wife left him. (Don’t they all.) Since then, Franz uses a ray gun to shrink his secretaries, mailmen, salesmen, etc. into living dolls—think Barbie and Ken-sized creatures. 

When he’s not busy watching the “dolls” dance or holding creepy conversations with a little girl, Franz keeps the dolls in a state of suspended animation inside glass containers. (You kind of have to wonder what else he’s made the dolls do.) 

"Now let's spice things up a little..."

Two of the dolls, Sally (June Kenny) and Bob (John Agar), decide to break free from the maniac’s grip. Will their ant buddy save them from the giant evil scorpion? (Oh, sorry, got mixed up with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids for a second.)

Nutrition Facts

Vitamin B-Acting: 30%

The acting is pretty mediocre overall, with no particularly atrocious performances. (Except for the little girl, who was a classic obnoxious child actor.) But John Hoyt did a fair job of portraying a psychotic old man who is just one step away from full-blown serial killing. Or child molestation, in the little girl’s case.

Vitamin B-SFX: 80%

The movie came out in 1958, and I strongly suspect the effects looked dated and cheap even back then. The “giant” fire hydrant and scenery that appear when the “dolls” wander NYC’s streets are very fake. One can see where the photographic backdrops of NYC streets meets the studio floor. 

Featuring the floor of Studio 10!

The “dog attack” scene basically consists of Sally and Bob superimposed on footage of a snarling, barking dog. A giant box stands between them and the dog—the dog doesn’t even get really close to them. The Rottweiler (or Doberman?) on the movie poster was much more convincing, and it’s just a freakin’ drawing. 
They don't exactly seem terrified, do they?

The moviemakers avoided showing the actual shrinking procedure—they just give us shots of the ray gun, interspersed with droning sounds and bright lights. This ray gun looks a lot like the one in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and a few of the “scientific” principles touted in both movies are similar. I can’t find any evidence that Honey paid homage to Puppet People in this respect, though (or else just “borrowed” the gun design).

Vitamin Fun: 60%

Despite the uncomfortable pedophilic moments, the hokiness of the movie makes for good heckle fuel.

Sugar: 10%

All of that 10% comes from the cloying performance of the little girl.

On a different note entirely, this movie never made me wish that I hadn’t popped off my Barbies’ heads when I was a little girl.

Plot Fiber: 5%

Imagine if the climactic scene between Buffalo Bill and Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs had gone like so:

Clarice: “FBI. Your murderin’ days are over!”
Bill: “Damn! Hey, can I at least keep the girl who’s in my pit o’ death right now?”  
Clarice: “No.”
Bill: “Oh, damn!”
Bill lets Clarice lead the senator’s daughter outside to safety. Then he feeds Precious some Bacon Bits. 

"Then Daddy's widdle baby can have a bubble bath!"

Anticlimactic, right?

The “climax” of Puppet People feels exactly the same way. Franz returns to his apartment after losing the “dolls.” Sally, now back to full human size, confronts him. Franz begs her not to leave him. She tells him that she’s going to the police, and walks out. And Franz LETS HER GO. No fight, not even any yelling. That’s IT. The film ends with Franz just staring at the door after Sally leaves. What a total gyp.

1 comment:

  1. This is my favourite movie of all time. It should not be underestimated the joy sheer fantasy is able to instil in someone. I would love to know how the dolls were made that were in those glass canisters, they looked identical to the real people. And for it's era, the effects were truly fantastic, and the acting was believable. Thankyou for creating something I was totally in awe of as a child, and well I have to admit I am still as an adult.


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