This classic-era sci-fi movie is known for having a title that’s more than a just a bit inaccurate. As I’ve noted in a couple of other films, puppets can be fairly creepy little things. Same with wind-up toys. But here we’ve got a bunch of little people, thanks to doll-maker Franz (John Hoyt). But these guys aren’t exactly dolls, either. Franz has a cool gizmo that shrinks people, err, their molecules, which he explains in ’50s hi-tech vernacular. Even for this anything-goes genre, the premise is odd, and the tone flickers among sci-fi, horror, and fantasy themes.
Other than the principle couple Sally (June Kenney) and Bob (John Agar), the other doll-people seem strangely complacent about their predicament; one of them actually likes it, as she doesn’t have to do anything, having no responsibilities. The nonchalant attitude does allow for the surreal party scene with the girl singing a doll-themed rock-and-roll song. One gimmick that works is the movie-within-a-movie, especially as The Amazing Colossal Man on the drive-in screen features the opposite premise, a guy getting gigantic.
The actual puppet/doll interface is probably the best scene of all. Franz’s Mr. Hyde puppet scares the heck out of Sally; but soon her and Bob escape. Suppose though, that the dolls were used by Emil (Michael Mark), or both him and Franz together, to ‘liven-up’ Emil’s puppet shows. That would set up some quirky scenes, and inject horror diectly into the script.
I can’t see why Franz is so negligent as to show the little girl the whole deal; even without the suspicious detective, she could certainly blow the lid off of Franz’s secrets. After all, people who’ve had contact with Franz have been disappearing from the beginning.
There is a fairly tense escapade, as Bob and Sally have to get back to the lab to ‘re boot’ themselves, dodging domestic animals and cars along the way. The denouement occurs off-screen, as Sally confronts Franz after she’s ‘re-sized’. We do get a rather pathetic picture of Franz, whose little people have now abandoned him.
That hints at a stronger psychological sort of horror, with Franz as a tormented Dr. Frankenstein type; but, like the puppet show stuff, a character study is left lurking in the background, not fully explored.
Attack of the Puppet People is worth watching for the special effects and a few interesting scenes; but the story is kind of a let-down. 6/10