That isn't the image I wanted to use. I wanted the original VHS cover, but the only version that I could find kept uploading as grayscale. I didn't convert it to grayscale. No, I did my usual resizing routine, I boosted the contrast a smidgen (these are cabalistic insider tricks of the spade) and it was goddamn grayscale. Apparently, it was a problem with that specific file. Could it be that 1999's Totem cursed my machine? It's plausible. Back when I reviewed the entire Puppet Master series, a friend of mine - I'm not mentioning any Mexican names - jokingly suggested that I review Totem since it's tangentially related to Charles Band's tentpole franchise. I told him to suck a taco. NOTE: I'm a horrible, horrible racist. Not really. Please don't forsake me.
Of course, the plot has nothing to do with Puppet Master. I'm not even sure it has anything to do with the Totem creatures in PM 4 and 5. At. All. More than likely, I'll kick my friend's ass later, but that doesn't concern you, dear reader. Where does Totem take us? A cabin in the middle of nowhere. We join six folks already in progress, most of them teenagers. None of them know why they are there or why they felt the clamant compulsion to run in the cabin's direction. An enclosure of charged "kill-owatts" won't let them leave the premises. They can walk a few miles, but that's it. While shuffling in the open night air, our dick squad (I'll explain in a minute) chances upon a graveyard. They notice a totem pole standing to the side. It's gilded with three soulless kobolds. Hmm, that's probably not the right term...let's go with "bullies."
In any event, Totem is nonsensical, cheese-budget gab. Three-quarters of the characters are dicks, and yeah, the majority of the dicks are male. When the film starts, these people are strangers, so they have no reason to be dicks to one another. But they are! The dialogue is rasping and incessant. The acting ranges from solid to inanimate. By that I mean, I mistook a lass for a butane torch. I was going to say "dishwasher," but golly, I didn't want to come off as misogynistic. It could have been any home appliance. Actually, it could have been any inanimate object period, so I suppose a football would have worked. Fuck. Listen, she's a dreadful actress, whatever her name is. Be upset with her, not me! I wonder if the characters had names.
Totem's biggest flaw (and I count it as a single scrape) is its vague demons and their vague backstories. When the beat comes for mud to be made clear, we are shown stock footage from B&W viking flicks poorly superimposed over newly-shot footage of fire. Oh, and it's narrated. Something about spirits of war being unleashed. I don't know. I have a feeling that it was compiled in post-production. Call it a convalescent's intuition. The Totemites look neat, unless they're in transit. I know for a fact that they had multiple puppeteers toiling behind each puppet, so why is the movement shoddy? For twat's sake, you can see wires!
Thus far, this has been a 1-Z'Dar review. I'll get to the stuff I enjoyed soon, but Charles...CHARLES. You know as well as I do these pole-smokers didn't need to be midgets. What is your obsession with tiny terrors? It would have been cheaper to toss a guy in a suit! Get help. Band didn't direct Totem, by the way. That distinction belongs to Martin Tate (a.k.a. David DeCoteau, of course). The stuff I enjoyed? The climax is straight out of a Halloween theme park. It's ridiculous. Would it shock you to learn that zombies are involved? I'm assuming that authentic make-up effects were too exorbitant, so the undead actors are forced to wear zombie masks (!). The last 15 minutes straddle the line between epic and insulting. This freelancer is leaning toward epic.