I will be the first to admit that I am not as culturally well-versed as I aspire to be. I am someone who reads articles daily and keeps up with the news and world happenings. Where I lack versatility comes in the form of books. Sure, I’ll read a book that interests me, like Bruce Campbell’s If Chins Could Kill or The Devil’s Candy by Julie Salamon—if you notice, both of those books revolve around the film world. That is an area I don’t mind diving into headfirst. Outside of those few books, I have struggled with finding one that holds my interest all the way through. Even esteemed authors such as Stephen King, John Grisham, or Robert A. Heinlein struggled to light my fire. I only knew of Heinlein based off his book, The Puppet Masters, and even then, my interest waned. Not to say that I’m not interested in Heinlein’s work, as he popularized a lot of what we now see in science fiction—I hate to say it, but books do not interest me the way film does.
When the 1994 adaptation of Heinlein’s film The Puppet Masters was released, I recall the film’s trailer as striking my fancy. Around this time, my memory is hazy, but I believe I missed this in theaters—relegated to renting the film on video. For an early teenager like myself, I enjoyed the hell out of the film adaptation. Released when this author was a teenager, it tickled the right corners of my imagination for maximum enjoyment. It had aliens and chases and gunfights—everything a kid could want in a film.
As I ordered my copy of The Puppet Masters on disc from Kino Lorber, I had some reservations. While I loved the film as a kid, it has been many years since I revisited the film. Would it hold up to the love I had for it as a kid, or would my adult sensibilities take over and let logic dictate the way?
Before I get to that, let’s look at what kind of love Kino put into the physical media release of The Puppet Masters. I’ll be the first to admit it, but I came upon Kino Lorber late in the game, so I was unsure how much care went into this special edition. Come to find out that this 1994 relic was treated very well by the fine folks at Kino Lorber.
The packaging comes inside a sleeve with newly commissioned artwork from Jacob Phillips. The disc case itself contains reversible artwork featuring the new artwork plus the original theatrical poster. The inclusion of reversible artwork, though not as glamorous as other bonus features, shows that labels care about their products from top to bottom.
Popping in the disc, we first find a commentary track with director Stuart Orme, cinematographer Clive Tickner, and editor David Yardley. From looking at the credits, David Yardley is not the editor of The Puppet Masters but is a frequent collaborator of Orme’s other projects. The commentators provide a serviceable commentary—nothing that will blow your hair back, but the participants are lively and provide enough insight into the filmmaking process.
Moving on, we begin with the first featurette on the disc: “Robert A. Heinlein: The Puppet Grand Master.” As the title would suggest, this documentary spends a bulk of the runtime dedicated to Robert A. Heinlein, the person. Several people from the writing community, including author Robert Gleason and literary agent Eleanor Wood, chronicle Heinlein’s life and works. For someone not well-versed with Robert A. Heinlein, I found this to be an enjoyable, if somewhat dry, documentary.
Up next, we have three interviews with cast members Julie Warner, Keith David, and Richard Belzer. “Get Slugged,” a ten-minute interview with Julie Warner, finds her talking about the acting process, how she came to be part of The Puppet Masters, and her time on set. “Strange Invasion,” another short interview, this time with Keith David, finds him reminiscing about the filming locations for The Puppet Masters and also hints at possible behind-the-scenes issues. Keith David takes the high road and keeps the interview positive, and is a treasure to watch. The final actor interview, “Alien Me, Alien You,” finds us spending a few minutes with Richard Belzer. While he talks about his time on set, Belzer also spends a significant portion of the interview speaking about conspiracy theories. If anything, it’s an unusual watch and certainly not what I would have expected.
Moving to behind the camera, “Larry Odien Pulls the Strings” follows the titular Mr. Odien as he talks about his career in practical effects leading up to his work in The Puppet Masters. Larry spends around 15 minutes dispensing his expertise and how he created the aliens. Larry describes the different prototypes, the varying materials, and how he made the Puppet Masters come to life. He also shares his sketches for discarded designs that never made their way to film. “Larry Odien Pulls the Strings” is the standout interview on this disc and makes you wish for more.
Larry Odien’s designs also provide a small animated gallery of drawings used and unused in The Puppet Masters. Completing the visual bonus features, the trailer for this film plus Deep Rising are included. Capping off this special edition, we have a small booklet with an essay, “Science Fantasy and Soft-Core Porn,” by Samuel R. Delany. By no means are the trailers and essay groundbreaking, but features like these are the backbone to someone like myself.
There you have it. A movie that most people have probably long since forgotten gets resurrected in a major way. Some labels give their releases the bare-bones treatment. Kino Lorber decided that was not the option they wanted to take and instead treated us with an edition that The Puppet Masters, arguably, did not deserve.
As I watched the film now, as an adult, the flaws resonated more with me than in my younger days. The film certainly did not hold up as well as it did during my childhood, but it’s not without its charms. For a movie that flopped at the box office—never really resurfacing as a cult hit and still getting a lavish release—that shows love and care. Not the love and care you get from streaming. Compiling so much on a movie that gives so little; it’s releases like this that gives us cinephiles hope, and why physical media still has a lot of life left.