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Robert A. Heinlein's the Puppet Masters

Directed by Stuart Orme. Starring Donald Sutherland, Eric Thal, Julie Warner, Yaphet Kotto, Richard Belzer, Will Patton.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 28, 1994

Despite having one of the best theatrical trailers of the year, The Puppet Masters falls short of its sci-fi/horror pretensions and ends up as listless and bloated as one of its dead alien visitors. Sutherland plays Andrew Stevens, an upper-echelon agent from the Office of Scientific Intelligence, who arrives in peaceful Ambrose, Iowa after reports of a mysterious UFO crash. Accompanying Stevens are his estranged son Sam (Thal) and Mary Sefton (Warner), a NASA biologist. Once in Ambrose, they find that the town has been taken over by small, hook-clawed aliens, resembling nothing so much as self-propelled manta rays. The alien parasites latch on to a victim's back with a barbed tentacle and then insinuate themselves into the host's brain, thereby controlling people's actions, thoughts, desires, and so on. The victims are literally reduced to the status of mere marionettes. It's up to Sutherland and co-workers to put a stop to the feisty critters before they can take over the world and reduce us all to day jobs at Mickey D's (which should take about a week, we're told). The interesting premise is shorted by Stuart Orme's staid direction and a weak, thoroughly predictable screenplay. We know, well in advance, just who's being secretly controlled by the aliens -- with all the dull, blank stares in this film, you'd think you were watching a documentary on the Texas gubernatorial race. The budding romance between testosterone-fueled Thal and prim Warner is wisely glossed over, but then, so is everything else, making this one of the most un-suspenseful suspense films ever. Wake me when they remake Invasion of the Body Snatchers again.
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