Tuesday, October 26, 2010
31 Days of Halloween - Day 26 - Movie 2
It's been so long since I've seen Attack of the Puppet People (1958) that all of my memories of it came from the trailer and not the movie itself. If you watch the trailer you'd expect the movie to be campy and certainly more comedic than horrible, but that trailer is incredibly misleading. The movie turns out to be quite a bit on the disturbing side, and very low on the comedic scale of things.
Sally Reynolds (June Kenney) takes a secretarial job with odd dollmaker, Mr. Franz (John Hoyt). She begins to notice some odd behavior on his part and that her predecessor mysteriously vanished, as did the mailman for the building. When her fiance, Bob (John Agar) also goes missing after visiting Franz, Sally goes to the police with a wild story about how her boss is turning people into dolls. Sally soon finds herself transformed into one, and meets several of his other victims, all of whom have to perform for Franz who is so afraid of being alone that he's created an entire miniature social scene for himself. As the police get closer to learning the truth, Franz decides that it's time to take his own life, and those of his dolls as well. He throws them one last party, and that's when they make their bid for freedom.
This movie was directed by size disparity obsessed Bert I. Gordon, and he does a great job of building up a sense of dread. The movie starts with the secretary previous to Sally, and when Sally comes in applying for her position one scene later, we know something is wrong. The clues that build up showing that kindly Mr. Franz is not who he seems really work at building suspense. John Hoyt is also really great as the off Mr. Franz who comes off as kindly and sinister at the same time. There's actually something really disturbing about his performance, and you worry about the safety of any character who is alone in a room with him. The movie also has a claustrophobic quality to it since most of it takes place within Franz's workshop and reception area. The special effects are rather good considering their low budget. Yes, the shrunken humans in the glass tubes are clearly photographic cutouts, but they still work. The matte work is nicely done and the oversized props are good as well. The effects don't get wobbly until two of the characters run out onto the city streets near the movie's climax.
Speaking of the climax, you'd expect a scene of exciting comeuppance with Franz getting his just desserts, but the more ambiguous ending is stronger, and unusual for this type of film. Gordon also dedicates quite a bit of screen time plugging another of his films when Bob and Sally go to the drive-in to take in The Amazing Colossal Man, and Bob proposes. Mr. Franz's friend Emil (Michael Mark) will be a familiar face from numerous other genre films, but particularly for his role as the father of Maria, the girl the monster drowns in Frankenstein (1931).