Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

This is a sturdy entry in that genre of horror film where stuff is either way too big or way too small. In this case, you’ve got a bunch of people shrunk down by a mad doll maker instead of giant puppets running around killing people like the title tricked me into believing I’d be seeing!

As directed by Bert I. Gordon (master of cheap movies about giant and small creatures harassing one another), this film is a bit of psychological thriller about a dude who has gone around the bend since his wife ran away with some other guy. Why would a woman want to leave a guy who makes his living playing with dolls? Didn’t she know she could get all the special edition Barbies at a discount?

As with most psychological dramas, it’s a bit lean on action and the expected battles with common house pests like cats, dogs, and tarantulas just don’t materialize (there is a half-hearted encounter with dog late in the movie, but our heroes end up hiding in a box), so we get a lot of little people shouting for help at the top of their lungs and forming hairbrained escape plans, like writing a note on a paper airplane and trying to sail it out the window.

In spite of that, the movie is still entertaining as you have a sympathetic villain in the old, desperate Franz. All he wants is some friends. Is that so wrong? Well, it is when you shrink ’em down, hit ’em with knock out gas, and put them up in a display case next to your third season Will Riker and Ensign Crusher action figures!

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Franz has this doll workshop in the city where he makes and repairs dolls in between shrinking sessions with his secretaries and their friends. In Franz’s shop, whenever a secretary decided that it was time to move on and that Franz’s continuing babble about being lonely creeped them out so much that it just wasn’t worth the minimum wage and free doll parts he was paying, he would cut them down to size and that way she could keep him company whenever he needed her.

Franz puts an ad in the paper for a new secretary and into his life walks Sally Reynolds. Then we meet Bob. Bob is a salesman from St. Louis and I was never sure what he was selling, but Sally bought a buttload of it in a hurry.

Bob somehow manages to hang out in the shop with Franz for a few weeks so he can be close to Sally and then he takes her out to the drive-in to watch Bert I. Gordon’s War Of The Colossal Beast. It is during this movie that he proposes to her.

Once Bert’s infomercial ends, Sally gets a call from Franz the next day wanting to know why she isn’t at work. She and Bob had planned on going to Vegas to get married that day and Bob was going to go in and tell Franz of their plans. Franz tells Sally though that Bob had to get back to St. Louis and Sally is a tad distraught that her quickie wedding has been put on hold.

Sally goes to the cops to report that her fiancé, a salesman from out of town she’s known for just a few weeks and who is the kind of romantic that proposes at a drive-in while watching low-budget horror movies, has been shrunk by the mad doll maker she works for. She also mentions that several other people are missing and this convinces the obviously bored cop to mosey on down to the doll factory and check out this hot tip.

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Franz shows the cop his doll that he made up to look like Bob and then burns it up. Then he shows the cop and Sally a bunch more copies and explains that he makes dolls up in the likeness of all his friends. Man, I’ll bet that Bob the Salesman from St. Louis doll is a big seller!

The cop leaves and somehow or other Sally gets captured by Franz (why didn’t she leave, too?) and the next thing we know she’s all shrunk down!

Franz introduces her to all his other victims. Bob is also among the shrinkees and Franz tells them that he is going to have a party for them to celebrate their new companions.

Dancing and singing follow and it’s about this time, those of you waiting for the “money shots” of these types of movies are finally rewarded. I am of course talking about the presence of oversized props like telephones, pencils and dressers.

This nosy cop notices that there is yet another opening at old Franz’s House of Dolls and goes to check things out. The cop gets nothing out of Franz or his shop and he leaves and Franz goes into Jim Jones mode. Ultimately, Bob and Sally make their escape and everything gets wrapped up in a pretty anti-climatic fashion.

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John Hoyt (X – The Man With The X-Ray Eyes) does a nice job in the mad scientist role. He comes off as a sweet grandfather type who just wants someone to pay some attention to him.

John Agar doesn’t distinguish himself a whole lot in here, but he starred in so many of these 1950s sci-fi and horror flicks that he probably didn’t even know what set he was on when he made this one (Am I fighting large tarantulas? A bunch of mole people? A little help here! What’s my motivation?)

The movie has its fair share of ridiculous moments such as Franz’s explanation that his shrink ray is really the result of crossing a slide show projector with a tuning fork or something. Why don’t these people with these kick ass inventions ever do anything creative with them? You’ve got a shrink ray and all you’re doing is preventing your secretary from quitting on you?

The movie drags a bit and the little people never do too much that is that entertaining, but the fairly restrained performance by Hoyt and the sporadically decent special effects elevate this a few notches above what you would probably expect.

If you’ve seen The Incredible Shrinking Man this is a less thoughtful follow up that’s not too bad. If you haven’t seen The Incredible Shrinking Man, that would be the one to seek out before this one – it’s by far the biggest and best of the “littlest” movies.”

© 2013 MonsterHunter

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