Friday, February 4, 2011

Test Tube Bozos

Watching today's Vertically Challenged feature, Attack of the Puppet People, I kept being reminded of a very different film.
No, it wasn’t another gloriously scale-playing flick from the master of big and little things, Bert I. Gordon.
It wasn’t Puppet Master.
Despite its efforts, it wasn’t even The Incredible Shrinking Man.
It was this. 
Sadly separated by 50 years and color, The Human Centipede’s Dr. Heiter and Attack of the Puppet People’s Mr. Franz would have had the cutest (grossest) bromance in all moviekind.
But anyway...
Quick Plot: A young woman takes a secretarial job at Dolls Incorporated, a one-man operation headed by John Hoyt’s Mr. Franz that’s as creepy and ominous (bom bom bommmmmmm musical cues keep us informed) as it sounds. Thankfully, there’s a dull traveling salesman who stops by for a whirlwind courtship, proposing an elopement at a drive-in showing of The Amazing Colossal Man.

Wait, maybe this guy isn’t so dull after all. Nope, he is.
When the ho-hum Bob stands her up for their Las Vegas wedding, the not-too-surprisingly named Sally’s suspicions of her employer (who also seems responsible for the disappearance of a previous assistant and unlucky mailman) finally grow to tell-an-unbelievable-story-about-a-man-turning-folks-into-dolls-to-the-dubious-authorities level. Not surprisingly, the police prove ineffective and Sally pays with her height.

Shrunk to the size of a Barbie (or, to be timely, the commercially successful Incredible Shrinking Man) Sally and now Bob meet Mr. Franz’s other mini-friends, two couples who have more or less accepted their itty bitty fates. Between dance parties and matchbox baths, there’s not too much too much to complain about. The kindly Franz even offers to shrink a priest in order to marry the sad lovebirds, but the ungrateful little people want nothing more than their big selves back.

Attack of the Puppet People is a weird little film, one clearly aiming for the Colossal/Shrinking Man’s 1950s audiences. There’s no real underlying metaphor or social significance worth gleaming, but this being a Bert I. Gordon film, there sure are plenty of rats shot to look giant. We get a lovely Phantom Menace-esque near-rat attack saved by a bigger cat attack, plus other cute sound and sight gags involving the Puppet People’s smallness. There’s never really any moment of fear or poetry, and the fact that our leads come across like that mildly successful couple you dread breaking ice with at a poorly seat-planned dinner party certainly doesn’t do the film any favors.
Still, oversized (real-sized shot big) rats, cats, and dogs!

High Points
A loopy little song-and-dance number called “My Living Doll” is a nice touch of surreal
Low Points
Though I like the self-pitying fate of Dr. Heiter--I mean, Mr. Franz--why are we left with the unanswered question of what became of four other main characters?

Lessons Learned
Be careful what kind of clothing you admire in front of your dollmaker boss. You never know when he’ll choose the wardrobe that you’ll be confined in as a tiny person, and while Scarlet O’Hara hoop skirts are flattering, they’re also quite difficult to flee a madman in

Before you can confess your sins to your employer, you must first be friends
Always spank your doll when it misbehaves

I have a soft spot for ‘50s sci-fi, one made quite cushy from my father’s taste and annual MST3K Turkey Day marathons. For someone like me, Attack of the Puppet People is an enjoyable enough Instant Watch, less than 80 minutes of misogynist ‘50s fun, adorably dated and charming special effects, and other grand nonsense. Not really a film worth tracking down, but if Netflix is your homepage, it’s a fun--and fast--enough time.


  1. Attack of the Puppet People wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be, not was it as good as I would have liked it to be....
    Great review, though!

  2. Thanks Andrew! Those are pretty much my thoughts on it. Decent for its time and Bert I. Gordon cred, but also clearly made on the quick to cash in. At least, I'll blame that for the unresolved ending.