Hot on the heels of the hugely successful Incredible Shrinking Man came schlockmaster Bert I. Gordon’s rip-off, Attack of the Puppet People. This shameless retread is an illogical, dull, and incorrectly titled mess that the viewer is asked to endure to see a baffling and abrupt ending.
Like Shrinking Man, Puppet People obviously involves a shrink ray which turns regular-sized humans into tiny doll-sized humans. This is done by a crazed doll maker who performs these experiments out of his widely visited shop, instead of the seclusion of his home. How the lowly doll maker (John Hoyt) has the electronic know-how to complete such a gadget is anyone’s guess.
Hoyt’s Mr. Franz keeps his creations inside tubes, creating a form of suspended animation. He proudly displays the actual little people as opposed to the paper copies he’s made, which makes as much sense as his entire plan. The hilarious science explanation is classic ‘50s camp. The best movies of the era made you forget the scientific exposition; the worst lingered on it. This is the latter.
As with countless other quickie cash-ins, sets are dirt cheap, especially the police station visited by June Kenney when she suspects something is wrong at the doll shop. Tired, dull, and boring dialogue sequences fail to further the plot, but they do help the film reach the required running time. An extended trip to the drive in to see Bert I. Gordon’s previous camp classic The Amazing Colossal Man is funnier yet.
Shrinking Man used convincing and detailed sets to enhance the audiences belief that Grant Williams was tiny. Puppet People uses ones that are consistently out of scale, whether items are too small or oversized. The jumpy matte shots don’t help, and the terrible effect of rats during the finale completely destroys what little dignity the film had left.
Puppet People ends with the main characters, now grown to full size, leaving Mr. Franz alone in his doll shop while they go call the police. They don’t restrain him, they don’t lock him in, they simply leave their captor to his own devices. It’s this type of carelessness that dominates the entire film, and leaves this cheapie in a bargain bin of countless other sci-fi films of the era.
Released on MGM’s line of “Midnight Movies,” the disc is a rare exception to the usual high-quality transfers from this set. Edge enhancement is thick and distracting. The proper 4:3 aspect ratio keeps the film intact, but the image is soft and looks overly processed. Contrast and clarity are fine, although the benefits are few. Light source damage, especially on effect shots, is noticeable. Aliasing is a problem on clothing.
Likewise, the aged mono source sounds strained. The stock soundtrack is muffled, and dialogue is lacking in fidelity. Truth be told, the audio is probably a step above the video comparatively, although that has more to do with a lack of digital tampering than any real quality.
The British title of the film is Six Inches Tall, something that actually makes since. Given that the so-called “Puppet People” never actually attack anything, the U.S. title is rather questionable and misleading.