Filmed in HEDZ-O-VISION
Living in a traveling theater cart, the Puphedz are four puppet performers who put on "horrer" spectacles full of "sap and sawdust." In this premiere episode of their show, they recreate Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart, renaming it The Tattle-Tale Heart. It's still the same story of a man driven to murder by his housemate's malignant eye. Want to know even more about the plot? Well, then go read a book, you lazy load!
Puphedz, as a concept, is wonderfully inventive. The idea of a roving band of puppet actors, each with a distinct personality and look, is ripe for endless episodic explorations. Like any classic concept of a "show within a show," the incredible attention to detail serves it well. From the moment the mad monk cart puller shuffles across the barren desert backdrop past a Dark Ages style skeleton that functions as the troupe's trademark, a strange and surreal new world is created and carried forward with undeniable skill. The art direction has a very German expressionist/European intricacy to it, combining elements of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Carlo Collodi, and even The Resident's Bad Day on the Midway. From the grain lines circumscribing the characters' features to the recognizable vocal types, the wooden "thespians" are fully realized and amazingly complex. And articulate. From scenes of high comedy to grisly terror, the Puphedz are some of the most expressive inanimate objects ever created. Put it all together, and you have something with the potential to redefine marionette magic, to move these macabre muppets into the realm of rabid cult, or perhaps even pop culture stardom. Their old world meets brave new future shock sensibility seems a perfect fit for today's melting pot of mixed media entertainment offerings.
But there is a problem here. Unfortunately, the end result of all this creative brainstorming and imagination is just not as clever as the creators want it to be. In its first offering, Puphedz is a tad underwhelming. Perhaps it's the source material. There was a time when Edgar Allan Poe's name was associated solely with terror and torment. Now he seems to be the poster boy for Michael Jackson's cinematic obsessions and any ancient writer's opiate induced mental instability. And The Tell-Tale Heart, no matter how well done, is still the same old tired tale of a manic explaining his mania. The whole "Am I Crazy?" first person narrative has been so overdone that it now rings of parody. Still, the creative team behind the Puphedz tries to goose this granddaddy of a ghost story, and they almost succeed. Particularly applause worthy is the rendering of the malevolent eyeball. Basically a wildly spinning out of control orb, oversized and inset crookedly within the character's cranium, it is one of the best optical representations of a Poe ideal ever. Anyone who's ever wondered how a simple sight socket could cause carnage need look no further than this perplexing peeper. And some of the humor is well thought out. Giving the main character a "YEEEEESS" voice like Frank Nelson's is borderline genius. Every time it opens its waxed mustached mouth to shout a line, a sense of nostalgic giddiness overcomes the viewer. Still, it can't save "The Tattle-Tale Heart" from feeling underdone. Perhaps it's a case of source material deflating the imagination present. Or maybe it's an instance where immense creativity came calling, but really had very little new to say in the end.
Presented by Elite Entertainment in a smart DVD package, Puphedz feels like a website offering reconfigured to yet another digital medium. The image is great, bright and detailed. The full screen transfer really loads the cathode ray tubes with the inventive vision of the show. There are actually two versions of Tattle-Tale offered. The original version is censored, using goofy Batman inspired cartoon balloon words to block out some excessively gory details. The unedited version adds back in the mostly hilarious over the top carnage. Sadly, some rather weak stand-up comedy style asylum scenes are also included to pad the running time. Both versions are decent, but the edited edition wins out for overall cinematic success. Some things just need to be left on the cutting room floor. As for extras, we get a clever slide show that grows bored with itself, speeding up purposefully until the images are a blur. We also get trailers and teasers and a very humorous set of cast bios. And remember, the players are wooden puppets, so lumber puns reign supreme. But the best extra is the behind the scenes documentary which interviews the human inventors of this interesting idea. Filmed while changing tires or shaving his face, director/creator Jurgen Heimann has a slightly demented look that bodes well for future installments of the series, even when he insists they will do another Poe story as their next offering. We learn about set scale, the articulation of the puppet creations, and the countless hours required to complete the simplest of sight gags. All of which indicates that there will be life for these wooden thespians beyond this DVD presentation. While more ingenious than engaging, Puphedz: The Tattle-Tale Heart is still a gigantic artistic leap above other independent live action animation. Here's hoping they locate material suitable for their perverted, pastoral playhouse.
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