While Full Moon has made many films and a few franchises, The Puppet Master series is their prized flagship property...
...Blade: The Iron Cross acts as a spin-off of sorts and follows the events set up in 2017’s Puppet Master: Axis Termination and 2018’s Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. Despite not being a fan of every single film produced by Full Moon Features, I do view their production company as a fun and sometimes vital pioneering force in the world of horror. ‘Iron Cross’ falls under the ‘Deadly Ten’ collection, which are ten feature length films produced by the fan beloved production company. It’s a really neat little project they’ve put together. The production of each film is monitored by webcams, in order for film enthusiasts and amateur filmmakers to observe the guts and inner workings of film production. The ‘Deadly Ten’ concept is admirable and forward thinking, but it doesn’t ensure the success of a singular film. Does this spin-off deliver the goods that fans want, and more importantly, is this film even necessary?
Elisa Ivanov (Tania Fox), who first appeared in Puppet Master: Axis Termination (2017) returns here and is now a war journalist who uses her premonition dream powers to predict and solve murder cases. Elisa senses a terrible evil brewing as crazed Nazi scientist, Dr. Hauser (Roy Abramsohn) Is suspected of terrible crimes. It’s not long before Elisa unveils a nefarious plot by Hauser to create an obedient undead army. In order to combat the coming evil, Elisa uses her psychic talents to conjure series fan favorite, Blade, to put a stop to Hauser and his goons.
To be perfectly honest, I’m a bit of a causal when it comes to the Puppet Master series. Growing up as a kid in the late 80’s and 90’s, I frequently stopped to look at the rows of horror movies at my local rental store, knowing full well that many of them wouldn’t be coming home with me. Still, I enjoyed looking at the box art and was always struck by the Puppet Master films. It wasn’t until I was much older that I would periodically catch some of them on late night cable TV. Still, I watched many of them out of context and wasn’t able to really connect the dots canonically. As much as I enjoyed these 2 AM peaks into the Puppet Master universe, I knew going into this review that I would have to judge this film on its own merits and not as a super fan. Many of the references and story extensions were lost on me, but I had just enough context to at least understand the here and now.
‘Iron Cross’ does a very good job when it comes to easing newcomers into the world they’ve spent so many years building. The immediate plot is easy to follow and while none of it is especially unique in terms of structure, it gives you enough to get interested and more importantly, stay interested. A lot of this goes to the credit of the characters and actors who inhabit them. While I haven’t yet seen Puppet Master: Axis Termination (2017), the character of Elisa is quite intriguing. She isn’t what she appears to be at first. Our introduction to her is one of obedience and congenial politeness. Once the relationship between her and Blade is established, a slightly darker, more ambitious side of Elisa is revealed, and she becomes a multidimensional character. Considering the plot, film aesthetics and themes are so pulpy and noir, the idea that we have a character with some depth is quite an accomplishment. This isn’t to say she has a huge arc or anything, but I was engaged throughout due to how well her character was written and how well Fox brings that writing to life. To double back to Blade and Elisa’s relationship, I found it to be one of the more interesting aspects of the film. One scene involves Elisa undressing while Blade watches. Instead of feeling violated, she responds with a charmed smile and simply redirects his attention in a loving, tender way. There is a strange sexual tension between the two of them and while most of it is only implied, it does solidify them as a strong team and one that’s interesting to watch play out. I only wish that there were more scenes with them conversing.
Originally, the film was set to release in December of 2019, but sources suggest they wanted to focus more time and resources on the special effects, so it was pushed back. The delay certainly pays off, as the effects are top notch for a rather low budget film. Blade himself looks excellent and unchanged (in a good way) from his original design. The stop motion is nostalgically pleasing as well as a great testament to why it’s still a viable effect today. While it certainly isn’t appropriate to use in some films, the uneasy feeling that stop motion produces can be quite scary and I think still has a place in horror. Outside of the more obvious technical excellence, the set decoration, costume design and use of lighting all come together to create a very consistent look. This could have been a very boring looking film, but they really play up the pulpy noir detective atmosphere in a big bad way. Each aesthetic component on display compliments the next and it all connects seamlessly.
My only major complaint of the film lies with the strange underuse of Blade himself. There were many times throughout the film that I forgot this was a story surrounding him. Because I was already engrossed by the story and characters, this didn’t always bother me, but for die-hard fans of the series, I can see this being a major problem. Fans have waited many years to see their favorite puppet get his own standalone film and to see so little of him is a shame. It’s almost offensive to his legacy, because he becomes a mere plot convenience toward the end of the film, rather than a vital player in the larger whole. Blade gets to engage in some anarchic horror fun at times, but I have a feeling that fans will be expecting a much bigger, louder entrance from their little mischief maker.
Blade: The Iron Cross works for me on several levels. What it lacks in horror is balanced out with interesting characters and beautifully rendered production design. Of course, this is all coming from a casual fan, but this film has become a bit of an appetizer for me, hinting at a much larger universe, rich with deep, fun lore. I look forward to taking a deeper dive into the franchise and seeking answers to some of the questions that piled up while watching this. Longtime Puppet Master fans may be left wanting more or even something else entirely but consider me a new, fresh blooded fan. Highly recommended.
Full Moon releases Blade: The Iron Cross exclusively on the Full Moon Features channel and app on June 26th.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth