Puppet Wars: Curse of the Puppet Master Production Notes
HISTORY OF THE PROJECT:
I was living and working in Los Angeles full time by 1990. In the beginning, I worked mostly as an editor, first at the American Film Institute for Raymond De Felitta and Matthew Gross on a short called BRONX CHEERS and then on a feature EDDIE PRESLEY: A TRIBUTE TO THE KING for director Jeff Burr. On that film I met Dave Parker, who was part of the crew. Both Parker and I were relatively new to LA, loved horror films, and wanted to get in at Charlie Band’s Full Moon Pictures (as it was called at the time). Dave had learned to edit working with me on my film THINGS and was as our inside man (so to speak) at Full Moon, having gotten a job cutting behind the scenes material.
We thought if we wrote a sequel to one of their films it might get their attention. I’d written a story that Dave liked called THE TREE OF SCREAMS and he thought we could adapt it to be SEEDPEOPLE 2. This we did, totally on spec, and submitted it. Full Moon loved the script but said, “Unfortunately SEEDPEOPLE is probably the only film we’ve ever made that we will never make a sequel to.” But this put us in the loop to possibly write various films for them, RAGDOLL being one. Finally,we pitched them not one but three films, sequels for their successful PUPPETMASTER series. The last two films in the series PUPPETMASTER 4 & 5 were considered to be too far off the mark on a story level by Full Moon so the idea was for some kind of return to the concepts of the earlier films.
We came up with treatments that would essentially pick up where part three had left off. These would take place at the end of WWII before Toulon, THE PUPPETMASTER, moved to America and killed himself in the original film.
Another inside man who helped us make our ideas more Full Moon friendly was C. Courtney Joyner. Courtney had written a number of films for the company and knew what they liked - or perhaps more importantly for us, knew how to express our ideas in ways they would like. This is an important thing to know about any producer, how to tell them your great idea in a way they will think is great. Usually this is guesswork.
Our basic plan was to submit ten page treatments for all three films; CURSE OF THE PUPPETMASTER, TOMB OR VAULT OF THE PUPPETMASTER, and the final one left untitled, but should have been called CASTLE OF THE PUPPETMASTER. The titles were our ideas, based of course more on the titles of the Hammer series of remakes starting in the 1950s.
Each would sort of feature a classic monster, the first would be a mummy film, the second a vampire film, the third a Frankenstein film. The safety net for Full Moon was that if we screwed up, Courtney Joyner would come in and fix the scripts. Starting from the treatments we had already worked out together. I would write all of the first film, Parker would write the second and we’d both write the third. Our goal was to make the ultimate Puppetmaster films. Okay, we were both pretty young but what other goal should you have, especially as writers?
Our hope was that though someone else, probably David DeCoteau who had directed part three would direct the first film, I’d get to direct part two and the Dave Parker would get to do part three.
We also wanted to do something that Full Moon usually didn’t do and that was shoot a film in Romania that was actually supposed to take place in Romania.
So I wrote the first film, turned in the script a few days ahead of schedule—always a good idea as long as you don’t tell anyone you planned this from the start-- and in that rare moment of “whatever” the first draft script was loved by all. No shit. It really happened once in my life at least. The rewrite was maybe an hour’s work and thus began a process and succession of years that led to no films ever being made from any of the scripts. Of course over those many years, the script everybody loved was rewritten both by us and twice by the notoriously pseudonymous Benjamin Carr who at that point, to our misfortune, had briefly replaced Courtney Joyner as Full Moon’s “go to” writer. One of our own rewrites reset the action on a boat instead of a train so it could be shot here in Los Angeles. At one point, Hitler, who makes a special guest appearance, was judged to be too horrifying to put into a movie so I substituted Herman Goring instead. At another point I would direct, but Jeff Burr would be my back up director. This all proves that anything can happen, as long as it isn’t something good, in development hell.
The high water mark was maybe when I was supposed to direct all three films back to back in Romania and segments for an interactive video game to be done at the same time. This came about because of my good relationship with Phillips who I had done Titanic, An Interactive Exploration for. They had a deal to do games with Full Moon. This finally and firmly put me in the director’s seat and the first script returned to something close to what it began as rather than the talkie oddity it had at times become since.
At one point Christopher Lee was supposedly to be available to play the PUPPETMASTER Toulon, but ultimately we signed Guy Rolfe to return and play the part. Turhan Bey came in and read for the part of the old Egyptian who may or may not be the mummy himself. He would have been great, being at that point, one of the few survivors from the original Universal movies that had inspired our 3 scripts. I spoke to him after he gave a very good reading and he said he tried to do it the way “BORIS” (Karloff of course) would have done it because that was the way the script read to him.
Many of the special effects were prepared for the film and the new puppets built. The original idea was that each installment would introduce a new puppet character. From a list I gave them, second unit footage was shot in Romania of all the train exteriors. But the bottom line was, to this date anyway; there was never enough money to make one film, let alone three. Ultimately a CURSE OF THE PUPPETMASTER was made, but I was told this was being done quickly and cheaply to fulfill an obligation and that they would make our film with me directing later when they could do it right. The train footage ended up in a RETRO PUPPETMASTER which had Guy Rolfe playing Toulon but that had nothing to do with most of our concepts. More footage of the train interior and exterior is featured in the film TRAIN OR LIFE 1998. The plan was we’d start our shoot as soon as that shoot was over and use those sets.
Recently the rights to the PUPPETMASTER 1-5 seem to have returned to Full Moon’s control, which should also then clear up any rights issues over our scripts. But so many years and so many other PUPPETMASTER movies have come and gone sine that it seems unlikely at that the film or films will ever be made.
But regardless, the following are a selection of sketches and photos from the various almost times the series got made and the original script for the first movie that got everyone so excited.
What I remember liking best about this screenplay is the general setting on a speeding train at night. I’ve always liked HORROR EXPRESS, the monologue that the Egyptian, Ahmad Bey, gives about his country’s history (the same one Turhan Bey read as an audition piece) and the scene with Hitler and Anubis. The quotes in the script from the Book of the Dead are actually taken from the real ancient Egyptian book. This is in keeping with a general principal of mine that if you are going to have mumbo jumbo in your script it’s best if it’s real mumbo jumbo. During one of the many preparation periods for this film, I actually traveled to Egypt. Getting the facts straight about ancient Egypt and its seminal religion was important to me.
Though this script was to be the first of three films it does ultimately wrap itself up and work as a stand-alone as well. One thing to watch for is how frequently the puppets get picked up and carried from place to place. We were told the toughest thing to do was make the puppets walk and to avoid scenes like that as much as possible.
Perhaps at a later date I can make the sequel scripts available if there is interest. All script rights are owned by Charles Band of course and this is only offered for your reading pleasure.
The script is my first revision dated May 31, 1994. Copyright Laws Apply. All works Copyright Jay Woelfel. NOT to be used without permission, nor transmitted on any other website without express permission.
Download Script [Puppet Wars Part II]
Download Script [Puppet Wars Part III]
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