The horror world needs more puppets.
Dear God I miss films like Ghoulies, Critters, and nearly anything produced through the Jim Henson Company in the 80s. Puppetmaster was pretty fun, and one of my fondest horror memories came courtesy of the Son of Ghoul show and the horror film Dolls. Of course, who could forget our dear friend Chucky? Dead Silence was a creepy film that utilized ventriloquist dummies recently, and I believe that the show Angel once did an episode where everybody was a puppet.
But, nothing seems to capture the fun of those older films that used puppets because they had to (and not as a novelty).
When I saw the cover art to Dead on Appraisal, my heart skipped a beat. It’s a small enough production (Brain Damage Films) that CGI may not have been an option. That puppet thing is just awesome. Could it be that I’d found the holy grail of puppet horror?
But, alas, while the film can be quite fun at times, it falls into a CGI mess often and the stories are merely ok. It is an anthology, which works well for the film as we don’t have too many issues highlighted for too long of a time before we cut away to another story. The gore is high, and the writing is unique. Overall, it works (but it’s almost on the verge of being “so bad it’s good”).
Dead on Appraisal is an anthology that focuses on a house with a history. This house has seen many odd events, and each occupant has met a horrible demise. This is quite a problem for real estate agent John Dante (Mike Pfaff). While he has managed to keep most of its events a secret, others are well documented. He begins recounting its sordid history to his unbelieving wife (Marguerite Insolia), and it is quite sordid. Each of the segments features Zack Fahey in multiple roles.
It’s first inhabitants were some college kids. One was an entomologist that discovered this previously undiscovered cocoon and attempts to dissect it in his bedroom while his friends get wasted throughout the house. As he slices into the thing, it begins oozing goo and spraying snot all over him and his room. A strange creature emerges (PUPPET!), and a total gorefest featuring more and more puppets ensues. It even has a character that took me a while to place as to where he could be based off, but I finally did: The all too eager ROTC candidate reminded me of Chet from Weird Science (who was played by Bill Paxton. WTF?). He had the same mannerisms, and the same exuberance about the armed forces, I actually wondered if there were going to be Gary and Wyatt knockoffs as well (or at least an appearance of a computer genie…)
We then jump to the opposite spectrum (in a segment called The Father Land) where a young veteran suffering from PTSD comes home from Iraq to his father’s care (James Howell). Dad is quite disturbed by his son’s behavior, and we are left with a slow-burn very-political short.
Dead on Appraisal brings back the puppets for its third feature, Freddie and the Goblins. The house is purchased by an awful heavy metal band that spends its days drinking, drinking, and drinking. They mix in some band montages as well, and they like to play cards. Unfortunately, Freddie ends up in a card game with some seriously demented puppets (This felt the most throwback to me.), and he starts to realize that something may have happened to his friends along the way.
This film was a very fun watch during the first story (The Morning After) and during Freddie and the Goblins. Both are upbeat horror that make pretty good use of practical effects while limiting the CGI (The first segment does the hole-through-the-abdomen CGI which just doesn’t work.). They are segments that just don’t take themselves too seriously (as does the wraparound with the real estate agent). The Father Land just doesn’t quite fit into this tone, and that one sticks out like a sore thumb. When the film does rely on CGI, it becomes another ho-hum film (I’m looking at you, finale.). All in all, it is far more enjoyable than most generic creature features because of those puppets.
Dead on Appraisal is a fun throwback film to the horror movies of the 80s. It’s not the best movie you’ll see, but it is better than those generic cookie cutter films.