The Puppet Man…

Words by Lola Josephine

Dir – Jacqueline Castel.

The Puppet Man is an eerie, funny, and well-crafted pastiche of 1980s horror, with Castel’s own eccentric, idiosyncratic directing style giving this short its own unique insanity.


Homage heavy, the film has strong influences from Hammer Horror, and a grindhouse-esque feel. The plot centres on a group of cool, twenty-somethings, as they wonder into a seedy, basement bar just before closing for a nightcap. Initially the uncanny, bizarre barkeep (Bradley Bailey) tells the gang he’s closing up, but a $100 bill persuades him to pull out the bourbon. The female lead, Christine (Crystal Renn,) goes in search of the bathroom, but stumbles into the bars creepy backrooms in an almost hallucinatory sequence that plays out like a really bad trip.


Meanwhile, back at the bar, the barkeep tells the legend of the puppet man who “comes to visit when you’re bad,” as he plays Bob Morrison’s “The Puppet Man” on the jukebox, the upbeat fuzzy rock and the foreboding atmosphere clash, but this discord adds to the menacing tone of the syhuzet. Christine’s friend Susie (Susannah Simpson) is seduced by the barman’s slick, but sinister, charm; much to the envy of Tommy (Joe Castle-Baker,) the clean-cut rich boy she seems to be going steady with, who calls a cab moments as Christine runs back to the bar in a state of terror. By the time cab driver (John Carpenter) shows up it’s too late.


This could not be more visually or stylistically on point, if it was it would come-across as try hard. With low-key lighting, the use of deep, lurid reds and blues, and claustrophobic camera-work, bring with them an atmosphere of enthralling discomfort akin to Argento’s Suspiria (1977.) The ominous synthesized score, which comes from Carpenter’s Lost Themes collection, The final scene in Castel’s tight little fabula is dense with a chilling, adrenaline surging, tension that brings on the shallow breaths of true fear.

Words by Lola Josephine