puppet master the littlest reich 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.

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