Nazi puppets. Hate crimes. Gore. Taking place in an alternative timeline to the original Puppet Master (review) and its many, many sequels, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (review) reboots the previously established mythos, offering scene after scene of bold, in your face, comedic violence, and a death count that is higher than any previous entry in the series.
After co-writing and co-directing almost a decade of blood-soaked horror alongside Tommy Wiklund and David Liljeblad, including Wither (2012) and Animalistic (2015), Sonny Laguna is no stranger to gore – which Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich provides by the bucket-load – and was kind enough to answer a few questions for Attack from Planet B.
Ken Wynne: Hi Sonny. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. It really is appreciated. How did you and co-director Tommy Wiklund find yourselves getting involved with Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, and was it at all daunting knowing that you were both heading into the thirteenth entry of long-running franchise?
Sonny Laguna: Me, Tommy and our lifelong friend David Liljeblad had been first creating short films starting from our teen years, and then moving on the start creating feature films with almost no money at all. After four very different styles of horrors, but obviously with our distinct style attached to it, we were wondering if we ever were going to move on to bigger things. Little did we know that the writer of the script for the upcoming reboot/reimagining had seen our films and was a fan of the style we had developed. So, nine months prior to shooting, producer Dallas Sonnier called me and after a few minutes, flat out asked me to direct it. I told him that I needed to have all of us onboard for this, and shortly after, we agreed on the terms. It was a little scary to try and work with someone else’s original creation, but we felt confident nevertheless.
Ken: The Littlest Reich is a re-imagining of the series previously established mythos, allowing scriptwriter Steven Craig Zahler a certain degree of creative control, whilst also displaying reverence for the 1989 original. What was your initial reaction to the script, and were you previously familiar with Puppet Master and/or its sequels?
Sonny: Tommy had seen a few of the old ones as a kid, I had only vaguely heard about them. Our initial reaction to what was handed to us was that this was an enormous undertaking. Dallas Sonnier even said so himself, that it was big. So we could only give our take on it, what could work on screen.
Ken: You have co-written almost every film project you have previously worked on alongside Tommy and David Liljeblad. Was is strange taking on a project where the script was already established? How much creative control were both you and Tommy allowed during production?
Sonny: It felt strange at first, but also a relief. To know someone else had given us a script to work with is often times the standard, so our job was to translate that. It’s hard to say how much creative control we had, that’s debatable. We had several ideas we thought were cool that either was shot and then cut in post, or ignored, so we felt like it was tough at times.
Ken: How is directional responsibility shared between yourself and Tommy?
Sonny: I work through the emotions with the actors and try to be their best support, while Tommy frames the shots (he was DP on this as well) and acts more as an action director, where he can sometimes micromanage the action and the beats when moving around. He can of course suggest alternate takes on things, but he goes through me first so the actors can feel confident in knowing there is one more personal voice to it when working close to us.
Ken: The reboot has a strong, unique cast; perfectly suited to the franchise, and representative of the horror genre. Were there any challenges in casting for this movie? Scheduling conflicts for example? I believe Barbara Crampton had a cameo in the original Puppet Master!
Sonny: Producer Dallas Sonnier did an amazing job putting all of the cast together. But yeah, it was hard with some of the parts to get the right material onboard and hitting deadlines. But there’s so many characters in it, we felt confident early on we were going to have an interesting cast. It wasn’t stressful to us at least.
Ken: How much involvement did you have in the design and creation of the new puppets? It was great to see classic Puppet Master designs, like Blade, get a fresh coat of paint for the reboot.
Sonny: We looked at designs early on in mail chains, since we were stuck in Sweden until a couple of weeks before shooting would start. But honestly, we were so happy with the designs, we didn’t want to interfere with them, they were all great.
Ken: The Littlest Reich has an insane bodycount! Was the decision to utilise mostly practical special effects difficult in execution?
Sonny: In theory, you could put almost anything on screen, but it requires so much budget and time. There was money for it, but very little time, so it was a nightmare to be honest. At times we felt this was never going to work, and to be honest, sometimes it didn’t.
— CINESTATE (@CINESTATE) March 31, 2017
Ken: Did you have any further ideas that you were hoping to include in The Littlest Reich, but couldn’t due to the time constraints? What other challenges did you face during production?
Sonny: We really wanted the puppets to gather around in a hotel scene, where Blade would feel like the leader and try to spread the others out. We wanted to have full walk cycles and moving camera shots for it, but there was simply no time for it. Ideas are not the problem, but how to tackle them.
Ken: How involved was Charles Band, and what was his impression of the final cut?
Sonny: Charles was going to be an extra in the bar scene, but couldn’t be there on the day of shooting. Other then that, I am sure he’s quite happy of what was achieved.
— Charles Band (@RealCharlesBand) May 6, 2017
Ken: Would you say that The Littlest Reich is a reflection of everything you have learnt over the last 10+ years of filmmaking?
Sonny: No, honestly not. This film doesn’t reflect at all what we can achieve, not to sound like a prick. The day has yet to come for us to show what we can really do as creators.
Ken: What genre movies do you feel have had the most influence on you as a filmmaker, and why?
Sonny: A fun question but pretty tough to answer. There’s just a ton of amazing stuff out there that have given us knowledge over the years. Obvious choices would include, but not limited to: Alien, Halloween, The Thing, The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Conjuring, The Others and yeah, a hundred others.
Ken: Do you have any projects you are now currently working on?
Sonny: We have developed two feature film scripts over the last year for starters: All Gone and Eternal Darkness. One is sci-fi/action and the other is supernatural horror. We hope to get these off the ground one day. But right at the moment we are collaborating with some lovely UK folks to develop a slasher, more to come soon…
Ken: Sonny, thank you again. I wish you, Tommy, and David further success in the future, and look forward to your next projects!