The Puppet Masters (1994)

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The Puppet Masters (1994)

Post  BoG on Sun Oct 19, 2014 3:25 pm

Based on a sci-fi novel & premise by the famed Robert A. Heinlein, this employs a distinct type of alien invasion threat - parasites which take over humans and use their bodies as hosts for the invasion (see the Star Trek TNG episode Conspiracy as one other example). In the plot, the whole thing begins in rural Iowa, by the town of Ambrose, with a sudden & quick entry via a wormhole and several kids being the first victims. Pretty soon, there's a tourist trap type of site set up with a supposed downed spaceship. Government agents led by Donald Sutherland, including Eric Thal, Julie Warner and Richard Belzer, soon investigate the mystery; only it doesn't stay a mystery for too long - most of the local residents have already been compromised, their bodies and minds controlled by foot-long slug-like aliens which are affixed to their backs (hidden by clothing), with tendrils stuck deep into the brain. Humans so controlled have enhanced strength and resistance to pain. The agents barely escape with one of the aliens, but the recurring plot twist is that one is never sure who has been taken over; the surest way to remove suspicion is to have people expose their backs.
This is a throwback to seventies alien thrillers and even the fifties, a small scale invasion which never goes beyond the town and county, though the potential is there for worldwide takeover - the multiplication of the alien suckers mentions a figure of 250 billion at one point. It also resembles the famous Invasion of the Body Snatchers concept and I'm also wondering if Sutherland was cast here as a recognition of his role in the Snatchers '78 remake. Sutherland is probably the best thing about this film, an old operative in a 'more-secret-than-the-CIA' organization who, due to his cold ruthlessness, may be the best bet in combating such an alien threat. Sutherland makes the most of such a role, limping about with a cane and directing everyone with a callous style. Thal, besides being a top agent, also happens to play his son, which sets up some unusual tension.  There are also good secondary roles for Keith David as another combat agent and Will Patton as an eccentric scientist who admires the alien biology but is helpful in fighting the threat.
There is much talk on the net, in blogs and discussion boards, about how this film flubbed its adaptation of the early novel of such an invasion (also, the novel took place in a future, similar to the Star Trek TNG episode), mostly due to studio interference and bureaucracy, and this does sort of lose its way in the 2nd half, throwing in a final unnecessary plot twist in the last minutes, but it's not bad for fans of the genre. The other drawback for me was a fallback to the cliche of how the main characters manage to survive being controlled while secondary expendable characters are treated like disposable vermin for the sake of exploitative death-dealing. BoG's Score: 6.5 out of 10

Puppet Trivia: Andy Robinson has a very small role, suggesting that his scenes were cut; he was mentioned as one of the stars in the Wikipedia article on this film, until someone rewrote it to place Thal's name in place of Robinson's.
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