Studio: North Bank Entertainment
Director: Andrew Jones
Writer: Andrew Jones
Producer: Lee Bane, Andrew Jones, Robert Graham, Jonathan Willis, Rebecca Graham
Stars: Lee Bane, Erick Hayden, Jo Weil, Bodo Friesecke, Nathan Head, Claire Carreno, Francesco Tribuzio, Ali Rodney, Harriet Rees, Rik Grayson
Nazi officers pursue a toymaker in possession of an occult tome capable of giving life to inanimate objects.
I previously self-imposed a moratorium on reviewing North Bank Entertainment releases because their quantity-over-quality culture peddles cheapo DTV hack jobs. Not only are their movies not enjoyable, but they show zero ambition to improve and the only horror on hand exists in consistently poor production values. Continuing to critically shoot fish in their barrel of B-movie badness isn’t an ideal use of anyone’s time.
Then I discovered that the German home video release of North Bank’s “A Haunting at the Rectory” (review here) falsely attributes positive praise to me when I said nothing of the sort. As far as I’m concerned, I’m now relieved of any conscientious courtesy to let North Bank go unnoticed as harmless. Someone should take them to task for churning out chunder because phony reviews and fabricated pull-quotes aren’t telling the truth.
As I similarly admitted in my review of “The Curse of Robert” (review here), which was the first sequel to “Robert” (review here) and predecessor to this third chapter in the dopey doll saga, partial blame falls on me for choosing to watch “Robert and the Toymaker” in the first place. After two dreadful movies, I know I’m signing up for a regrettable waste of 85 minutes. Although plans for an upcoming fourth film threaten to finally alter this tradition, I can’t seem to say no to additional installments when I’ve previously seen every other entry in a fright film franchise, no matter how dismal the series. If I suffered through three awful “Bunnyman” movies, I may as well endure three of these too.
“Robert and the Toymaker” opens in 1941 Nazi Germany, where everyone speaks English and scenery is set with black-and-white B-roll of submarines, airplanes, marching troops, and other stock footage clips having nothing to do with anything. For nearly a full half-hour, neither hide nor hair is seen of either title character. Instead, three German officers laboriously interrogate a farmer’s family regarding the whereabouts of a fugitive hiding in their house.
Why does “Robert and the Toymaker” spend one-third of its time establishing secondary characters during an absurdly chatty prologue? Because the script has so little substance that six people speaking inside a room for 30 minutes becomes a necessary tactic to draw out the film to feature-length.
Pressed for something positive to say, actor Erick Hayden as an evil Nazi colonel delivers the most (read: only) convincing performance I’ve seen in a North Bank production, which is akin to calling out the best layup scored by a losing basketball team in a 40-point blowout. Unfortunately for Hayden, the script forces him to prolong every appearance with pointless actions such as interrogating a man using questions he already knows the answers to. His Poor Man’s Christoph Waltz shtick grows old quick as another dull stalling technique.
These Nazis are after a stolen tome of ancient occult lore that, and I’m not exaggerating, someone handwrote in pencil on the crisp white pages of what looks to be a journal purchased from Office Depot. It may as well have wide-ruled blue lines and three holes punched in its margins.
It’s almost silly to bother mentioning how carelessly contemporary this prop is when the film’s more problematic eyesores involve the Robert doll, which still looks as ridiculous as ever, or the hideously amateurish makeup on Lee Bane. Bane’s toymaker looks like he is made from clumps of sweaty earwax with stretched-out cotton balls constituting hair.
The toymaker eventually gets his melting mitts on the mysterious book, which allows him to give life to inanimate objects. He resurrects Robert first, though the toymaker also animates a generic girl’s doll as well as a clown painted to look like John Wayne Gacy despite being 30 years too early. Don’t get too enthusiastic about the notion of creating a killer doll cult. The trio is criminally underused, appearing collectively for maybe three minutes tops, what with the rest of the runtime misspent on sitting and talking or talking and standing.
Technical execution is terrible everywhere. An erratic handheld camera can’t be bothered to position itself correctly, repeatedly featuring incorrect eyelines without regard for matching reverse angle directions. E.g. the camera will shoot down on a seated person looking toward the floor, then cut to a close-up pointing up at a doll’s face. Whether the filmmakers don’t know or don’t care, basic tenets of standard cinema fly right out the window.
Even though it rips off what Full Moon already did with its “Puppet Master” series, “Robert and the Toymaker’s” dolls versus Nazis theme should create a playground for midnight movie madness. Yet it ends up being even more intolerably stale and un-fun than the two movies that came before. By funneling the could-have-been craziness of black magic, Third Reich villains, killer toys, and a weirdo doll-maker through a lame story and lazy effort, boredom becomes the only thing built.
Professionalism normally demands creative decorum when criticizing even the lowest level of filmed entertainment. But here I aim to be purposefully uncouth and unequivocally clear. “Robert and the Toymaker” sucks. Let’s see marketing fabulists mince those words into a promotional blurb they can slap onto a box.
Review Score: 20