Most of the descriptions for The Meat Puppet just don’t really do the film justice, much like the back of the Girls & Corpses Presents DVD cover. At first glance, one can assume this fright night flick is something like a horror fueled romp akin to merging the concepts of 50 Shades of Grey with the torture series Guinea Pig, changing out the rich business man with a fetish to a sociopathic serial killer. With a tagline like “Some men are too controlling” as well as the title and DVD artwork, it’s easy to come to this assumption. Sure, there is a hint of this controlling aspect found throughout the film from various characters, but this isn’t the main goal behind The Meat Puppet. Instead it’s something a little more cut and dry when it comes to Andrew Shelton (Keith Collins) and his quest for perfection, especially with his meats.
As a child, Andrew grew up with an abusive father that would regularly beat him and his mother, a background told through various flashbacks. His aunt Clair Thomas (Geri Reischl) helped take care of him and raise him at one point, though things take a bit of an incestuous turn at some point during that nurturing. This doesn’t stop Andrew from hooking up with random women, all the while trying to land a date with a local waitress. He becomes infatuated with her motherly instincts to the point that it brings out a whole new side to Andrew, causing him to stutter and become shy and lose confidence in himself just by being in the same room as her, the polar opposite of the cold, calculated individual he has become when seducing other women in order to butcher and cook them. The main problem, however, is that the bodies are piling up, and so is the evidence, bringing the police closer to Andrew’s doorstep.
For the most part, the film is centered squarely around Andrew, his aunt, and the waitress. However, there are two nineties light drama television series police officers that get brought into the mix from time to time. Rarely do we ever see what’s going on beyond the scope of Andrew’s little world, which works very well given how nicely paced the progression is and the variances between Andrew’s personalities can become. While Keith Collins isn’t quite actor of the year, it’s impressive to see the rage he brings to the character. One minute he’s a bumbling dork that you can’t help but kind of feel sorry for, the next he’s a suave seducer of women as pointed out when he leaves the restaurant and picks up his first victim, and then can snap at the meer thought of imperfection to become a cold, remorseless individual hellbent on creating the perfect dish of human meat.
Andrew is the show here, a dynamic enough presence with all his personas that makes everyone else’s two-dimensional presences far more realistic than they actually become. Except for Brandon Ruckdashel (Co-Ed Confidential, Gravedigger) as Detective Dave Benash who does everything in his power to encapsulate the nineties in a Charlie Shean inspired character that heavily contradicts everyone else on screen except his boss Captain Michael Corben (Billy Sample, Reunion 108) who seems stuck in the same era. While the extra effort to become the character is always appreciated, it does damage the overall consistency of the film, tearing him out of the realm of believability similar to the cops in the original The Last House on the Left. This isn’t to say everyone is just coasting through either, as the rest of the cast does try their best to remain human enough and not come off like they are trying to act, even though most do, or like they were just picked up off the streets to fill a role.
Another positive about this film is the lack of gore on-screen. While there’s some clear gorehound intent behind this production, a good deal of the violence happens out of frame or in the dark, leaving it up to your own imagination to fill the gaps. Yes, there are times where some practical effects are used, such as when Andrew is dissecting someone overweight, yelling at them about their imperfections and how he can’t stand people who don’t know how to maintain their bodies properly, all the while disemboweling the individual in order to find the best cut of meat within the fat deposits.
Sadly, while The Meat Puppet proves to have a pretty engrossing story, the last twenty minutes is about when things start to fall apart. A date scene goes on way longer than it needs to, though its meant to show Andrew’s true human side before the final confrontation. The reason for the length becomes immediately obvious, though could have been trimmed of fat a heap more without really damaging the entire goal of the scene. The worst, however, is at the very end when a few groan out loud twists are shoehorned in for who knows what reason, effectively killing the payoff the film built up with a cheesy conclusion that ties up more loose ends than what exists through the whole near one hundred minutes of the movie itself. It seems like writers Billy and Joseph Pepitone were hoping to make a sequel or sell the title of the film, or Joe Valenti just edited the conclusion terribly to ensure another product for his company down the line (if one can even be made of it in the first place).
The Meat Puppet is one of those hidden gems in the film underground that got criminally overlooked, mostly because you seem to either love it or you hate it. Sadly, many of those at the end of that spectrum dislike the film for the small amount of nudity, bad acting, and/or the lack of on-screen gore. Really, this is a cannibal horror film in the vein of Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs that works by making the police angle a simple, well thought out one to accompany a surprisingly dynamic main character and the horrific world brought with him. Aside the end, barely anything feels forced save some lines of delivery that, even at their worst, are still pretty good for a lower budget indie like this. If you’re into serial killer thrillers, individuals like Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy, or just stories about cannibals in general, The Meat Puppet is something worth checking out.