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  Puppet Masters, The Major Takeover
Year: 1994
Director: Stuart Orme
Stars: Donald Sutherland, Eric Thal, Julie Warner, Keith David, Will Patton, Richard Belzer, Tom Mason, Yaphet Kotto, Gerry Bamman, Sam Anderson, J. Patrick McCormack, Marshall Bell, Nicholas Cascone, Bruce Jarchow, Benjamin Mouton, Andrew Robinson, Dale Dye
Genre: Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Out in the Iowa countryside, near a small town, three boys are playing frisbee when there's a bright arrangement of light in the sky and something appears to have landed in the woods, so they waste no time in heading over to check out what has happened. But the U.S. Government has an agency which is on the case, and sends the head of one department, Andrew Nivens (Donald Sutherland) to investigate, leading a team with him which includes his son Sam (Eric Thal) and a scientist specialising in possible extraterrestrial biology, Mary Sefton (Julie Warner). They discover the boys asking for money of the locals so they may see the supposed crashlanded spaceship, but Mary has a bad feeling about going inside what looks like a rickety fake - with good reason.

How often do you think Mary's services are called upon, then? Anyway, good thing she was around as at the beginning of the X-Files craze there happened along this little item into cinemas (though it was straight to video in territories outside of America) which some regarded as a simple cash-in on the concept of a male and female duo of official investigators setting about a space alien mystery and finding a conspiracy in the process. In this however, the scheming was strictly of the alien variety, as the powers that be were only dodgy when they had been taken over by the invaders, which quickly turn out to be a sort of slimy triangular parasite attached to the back with suction and a probe that reaches into the brain from the base of the neck. Just as the nineties Invasion of the Bodysnatchers remake did little business, neither did this.

This was a remake too, of course, but an official one as the previous effort from the fifties had been the very unofficial The Brain Eaters, cheerily ripping off Robert A. Heinlein's original novel for a B-movie on the budget of this production's catering. And yet, while there had obviously been some amount of cash thrown at getting the aliens just right with some very pleasing practical effects rather than computer graphics (which were used sparingly, unlike the state of affairs should this have been made a few short years later), everything else had a functional, series television air to it, with only a little gore and swearing to remind us this had been made for the movies (well, that and the wide aspect ratio to the screen). If it hadn't have been for the ending, this would have made a decent pilot.

Donald Sutherland was the biggest name here as the actual leads never made it as major stars, Julie Warner found a steady career in television but Eric Thal was in the nearly but not quite category, as The Puppet Masters could have been his big break yet since it was a minor release it was not to be. She proved a brighter performer than he did on this evidence, but he offered a good-looking stoicism to his hero role which suggested a part in a regular series should have been his for the taking. They were supported by reliables like Keith David, stealing scenes predictably as the military man Sam teams up with to infiltrate the alien lair, Will Patton as the scientist, slightly pixelated as they used to say, and Richard Belzer barely getting a line as an official who falls victim to the parasites within a couple of minutes of showing up.

Back at the plot, many an alien takeover flick owed a debt to Bodysnatchers, not simply in the concept of it being so difficult to work out who was afflicted and who wasn't, but because it was so rich thematically: you could see the paranoia that seemingly ordinary people had been taken over by sinister forces as a parable for so many social fears it was easy pickings for the pop psychologist making their forays into science fiction. Here, on the other hand, any resonances from a decade that enabled paranoia to go mainstream were very much in the eye of the beholder as director Stuart Orme and his team of reputedly many screenwriters struggled to have their narrative echo with the concerns of the day. This left an oddly personality-free yarn, not even looking back to the era of the pulps that Heinlein wrote for or evoking his mile a minute prose; they certainly didn't include the nudity he posited as a solution to working out who had an alien and who didn't, which could have led to a very different - and far wackier - movie. You could see why this didn't make a splash. Music by Colin Towns.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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