The Puppet Masters (1994) – Stuart Orme

Somewhere in The Puppet Masters, despite its continuity errors, its plot holes and poor performance by its lead actor (who is surrounded by some fantastic character actors and recognizable faces) is probably a decent film, I mean it’s based on Heinlein’s novel, so it had a great starting point.

When something comes down in the United States, Sam Nivens (Eric Thal), his father, Andrew (Donald Sutherland), and a NASA exo-biologist, Mary (Julie Warner) head out to investigate. They aren’t ready for what they find, as they encounter strange behavior from the locals of the small town they arrive in.

An invasion is underway, as strange creatures attach themselves to their victims’ backs and extend probes into their brains, giving them complete control. And their spread across America is going to grow exponentially if Nivens and his cohorts can’t find a way to stop them.

I love the not knowing who you can trust side of the story, I like the creature effects for the aliens, but I kept getting pushed out of the story by Thal, the editing, the errors, and the plot holes. I’m not going to nitpick all the errors, but I do want to highlight the cast in this film, besides Warner and Sutherland, they are joined by Will Patton, Keith David, Richard Belzer, Marshall Bell, and Sam Anderson.

The whole film feels like a lower budget film than it should have been, the lighting looks flat, and while some of the sets look great, other things just feel like they were done on the cheap. And all of that is way too bad, because I like all the supporting actors, and Warner and Sutherland are both wonderful.

Watching this now, in 2021, I’m struck by the idea, once again, that a story like this would be better served (if one wasn’t inclined to read the original story, which was quite different) if it had been created as a limited event series.

I have always enjoyed and been creeped out by the idea of the silent invasion – I’m a sucker for The Thing, and almost every iteration of the Body Snatchers for that reason. The idea that the person you’re looking at, isn’t who you think they are, that they aren’t even human, and that we can’t understand their reasoning, their endgame, and they are spreading.

That story idea always fires the imagination, and this one could have really played into that, if a little more attention had been paid. Instead, we were given a film that was almost promptly forgotten, and has been lost to the sands of memory already.

But that happened a lot in the 90s, there were so many genre films that were made, and then promptly vanished from the collective consciousness. Usually for a reason, but there has to be a gem or two in there somewhere.

Any suggestions?

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