'Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich' Co-Director Sonny Laguna On Creating The Franchise's Highest Body Count [Interview]

Back in the '80s and '90s, you could always count on a new Puppet Master movie showing up on your video store's new release shelf. Prolific producer Charles Band cranked them out beginning in 1989, not coincidentally a year after Child's Play premiered in theaters. A gang of old puppets would come to life and kill a hapless cast of actors each year.

Now Puppet Master has been rebooted, but Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich reimagines the original franchise in a far nastier form. Thomas Lennon stars as a collector who comes into the deadly puppets of Andre Toulon (Udo Kier), and they start killing in newer, more graphic ways than ever.

The Littlest Reich is directed by the Swedish duo Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund, whose previous credits include Wither and Animalistic. Laguna Skyped with /Film from Sweden to discuss the new take on Puppet Master, which is in select theaters today.

How did this come about? Were you and Tommy already Puppet Master fans? Did you present the idea to do a re-imagining?

No. The story goes like this. Tommy, me, and our other childhood friend David [Liljeblad] grew up together and we started doing feature films with virtually no budgets, like $10,000 back in 2008. We were convinced we could live off of it just by creating things, but then in 2015, 2016 we'd made four feature films that have been released all over the world but it was very hard to make a living off of it. So we had day jobs covering our bases, so to speak. But then, two years ago, the producer Dallas Sonnier called me up actually. He told me that the writer Craig Zahler had seen our movies and was a big fan. So it was super weird to hear that. He basically said on the phone, "Do you want to direct the reboot?" We read the script and a week later we were basically on board.

What day jobs did you work to get by?

Dave is a mailman. He still is. Tommy's working as a receptionist and I worked at an airport as a security guard. We had very different jobs and worked at different times during the day, so we had to puzzle the pieces together every day.

Were you familiar with the 12 Puppet Master films?

I just had heard about them, but I know Tom and David had watched them. I think Tommy had a Blade puppet and maybe a Torch puppet. He had seen three, four, or five of them. We just studied them immensely. I think we watched the first seven or so, basically in a row, and we wrote down stuff that we liked trying to get a feeling of what that was about – especially the first two. For me the first three are the best.

Are they consistent from one to seven?

No, not really. Have you seen them?

When they came out and played on cable, but my recollection is they all start to go in different directions.

Yeah, that was the strange thing to me. The puppets became good at one point fighting some other alien puppets that came from another dimension. It was a mess, unfortunately, so I thought the first three were the most interesting, especially the first one because it's so different from anything I've ever seen.

Are the puppets updated in The Littlest Reich?

The scriptwriter, Zahler, was very good at keeping what was best with the old stuff and bringing in some new puppets. Tate Steinsiek was a big part of designing the puppets. He sent us drawings or pre-stages of all the puppets and we had to discuss them together. It was a very fun process to do that but from our point of view, it was more like okay, this guy is really, really good. We love all of it. I don't think we had any complaints really because there was such a big variety of them also. We just thought the possibilities grew by each puppet.

Are all the models new, even for the classic ones like Blade?

They're all new models. Blade is the most classic one. He is of course getting the most critique from old fans like, "Oh my God, he doesn't look like he used to." From my point of view it's not that bad, but I can imagine if you're an old school fan and have all the movies, you might feel disappointed. If you look at Pinhead and Torch, they are very similar to their old counterparts. I would say just slightly better how they are created.

Even though they're new models that can probably do a lot more than the old ones, did you still want to have that classic shot of the camera attached to the puppet moving in for the kill?

Yeah, we decided to do that one time intentionally. "Okay, now there's the perfect opportunity to do that. It was very hard to work with the puppets. They are puppets after all. There was a reason CGI was invented. It was like "okay, that's why." So we looked at all the old stuff and tried to emulate that to some degree.

Could you use CGI enhancement now to remove puppeteers and stuff?

Yeah, I can tell you that I was basically solely responsible for removing all the rods myself because I'm a huge digital nerd. Tom and Dave are more the practical guys. I said, "yes, please, let me remove the rods." It was harder than I thought it would be, but anything is possible in post.

Does The Littlest Reich have the highest body count of any Puppet Master movie?

Yes, by far. There's no parallel. As a creator, I think you become blind to your own creation, like, "Oh, there goes another one." You don't think about it but if you really start counting all the bodies, there's a lot of them.

Were there any kill ideas you had to leave out?

Yeah, there were several. I can tell you that I gained a huge amount of respect for filmmaking. We had done four movies prior to this one, but that was when we could take as much time as we wanted. If we screwed up the production, it was our fault so to speak. Here we had to be accountable for a lot of elements coming together. We were constantly running out of time, so if it would have been a huge Hollywood budget, there would have been even more cool kills. I think it's good enough in that department.

Puppet Master The Littlest Reich Trailer

Do you want to share any of the kills that didn't make it?

Sure. Maybe not kills, but there were certainly things that the puppets would do that were just like, "Sorry, we have to cut this otherwise we won't make it." A certain puppet, I won't say who it is, could have been able to shoot out some things from its body, but that didn't make it. It would have been a cool thing, getting small little shapes flying and getting attached to people's bodies. It would have been totally doable, but it was just one of those things that had to go. Me personally, I wanted to do more with the Tunneler character. There's going to be a sequel I think, hopefully there's more drilling from his head. There is some of that Tunneler action, but as a director and a creator, I can never be satisfied.

It is set up for a sequel. Is the idea that you and Tommy would come back to direct?

I've not heard anything of it. I haven't had the guts to ask the producer about it. I think he's going to change that up, but I have no idea. I know he has announced a prequel, so I don't know what he thinks of that but I'll certainly ask him soon.

A prequel already when you just rebooted it?

I know. I actually don't know. I have to ask the producer that but I know early on before we even shot this thing, they said they want to make multiple installments. They had at least three movies in their heads or so. There's a lot of things to cover in a prequel, so in a way it makes sense, but I want to see a sequel first.

You said you're a digital nerd. What is Tommy's specialty and how do you divide things up?

In the directing department, I usually am the person that talks to the actors, talks them through a scene, talks them through the emotion or takes a step aside, like "what do you feel about this?" Tommy has always been about handling the camera and camera angles for the most part. I'm always there to be like, "Okay, is this really the angle you're going to use?" We collaborate on that, but he's the cameraman and he's also the cameraman on Puppet Master which is really cool. So what he's doing behind the camera, he's more directing the action. Like, "Sorry, Thomas Lennon, you've got to grab that thing faster." Stuff like that. I always jokingly say that Tommy's the George Lucas of directors, in a good way. He's more like, "Just do those things" and I'm more like "How do you feel about those things?" But, when it comes to practical, Dave is very much involved in the process. So Tommy and David, I often leave it up to them, especially in our own productions. Like what can they do? Can they build the stuff? How do you do that? Tommy's always asking me, "Can we remove this thing in frame" or "Sorry, I've got to be in the picture to move that puppet." I'm the one that usually says yes or no to that if I believe I can handle it in post. It's juggling back and forth basically.

Did Charles Band have guidelines for what he wanted to see?

It was only the producer that talked to Charles Band. I think maybe I said hi to him on the phone or something. He was going to come down to set but unfortunately he didn't make it, so he basically just gave his blessing, like good luck with this. I think he's satisfied. It's got a higher budget than any of his previous Puppet Master films and a lot of good actors in this one, too. I believe he's satisfied with it, but he was never involved in the creative process.

If it's not Puppet Master 2, what would you and Tommy like to do next?

We have two projects that we are writing scripts for. One is called Old Shadows that we talked a lot about having the actress Jenny Pellicer from Puppet Master as the main character in that movie. It's a movie set in the '60s. It's going to be a suspense horror thriller, much in the veins of The Conjuring and all those new ghostly movies. Our aim with that film is to make it as scary as possible with as much atmosphere as possible. So it's a very different type of film than Puppet Master was. I love to shake things up from our perspective. Every film we do is vastly different from the previous one.

That's one project and then we've got a sci-fi epic in the works that's called All Gone, which is basically set in the future, like 140 years from now. Everything is long gone, the last war has been fought and the last people on Earth are struggling to survive. So that's a far stretch from puppets, but it's fun.

Will you need a lot more money for All Gone?

If we would have complete creative control, we're very good at saving money, but we're looking at at least one million dollars, or maybe more. The script is written pretty smart, I think, so it fits our level of filmmaking but still manages to make it interesting, I hope. It's not about competing with Terminator, Transformers, or stuff like that because that would be stupid and wouldn't make any sense. We're looking more at the drama side of it, but with horrific elements like one to one knife fights or gunfights that feel realistic. We're looking a lot at Saving Private Ryan and stuff like that. How do you make this gritty, realistic, and dark?

So to you a million dollar budget is a lot of money. You're not thinking the $100-200 million studio level.

No. I would say if someone gave me $5 million for All Gone I would be super happy with it. Living in Sweden, we're so used to shooting stuff guerrilla style. If you shoot things in the woods here, you don't need a permit, you don't need anything. You just go out and shoot it. We have a very cheap office we run here. We've got all the tech already, so from a technical standpoint, it's going to be cheap. If you're looking at a lot of digital effects, of course it's going to eat up the budget and of course you want to have some really good actors. Without them, there is no movie. I think we can adapt. We made our second movie, Blood Runs Cold, was shot on $5,000. We basically didn't have food on set and it turned out okay at least. There's a lot of things I would change now, but that's more on the script side. On a technical side, it's fine.

Are you staying in the horror genre?

Yeah, I would say that. We've talked about all kinds of things except for maybe comedy. But it feels like you're never satisfied with the work you've done. I could do 10 more movies before I would look in another direction. A heist movie would be awesome, but that really requires a budget because you'd be shooting in a bank or hundreds of people on screen. That would be really hard.


Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is in select theaters now.