On Netflix, Kevin S. Tenney’s (NIGHT OF THE DEMONS) 1996 film PINOCCHIO’S REVENGE earned the same rating by the powers that be as HOWLING III: THE MARSUPIALS which I’m telling you right now is such a load of horseshit because the latter hardly constitutes as a movie in the first place. Going by genre expectations alone, one suspects that with this film they’re going to be getting a lot of what the above screenshot promises. Indeed, I recalled the VHS cover to this bad boy from the days when Blockbuster still had a designated horror section. At the time, it looked comparable to other contemporaneous “gimmick” pictures like LEPRECHAUN (1993) and JACK FROST (1997) and UNCLE SAM (1996). But what a young fool I was! Tenney shows a remarkable–given the typical budget and classiness of the rest of his resume–knack for restraint and deceptive narrative that one wonders why he didn’t try his hand at a story of this precision again. It has a logline worthy of the 90s, the decade that equated horror films with scary books for adolescents: a lawyer (Rosalind Allen) defending a man who has killed his son acquires the murdered boy’s treasured puppet which her daughter (Brittany Alyse Smith) in turn accidentally receives as a birthday present, prompting an unhealthy relationship to develop in which the young lass begins blaming her new toy for the increasingly violent “accidents” that begin occurring around her. What follows is a surprisingly taut and well-controlled thriller that is always careful to never show its hand even when you’ve become convinced that you’ve seen through it all. Tenney teases out his script with the uncertainty of whether the doll is actually a real murderin’ boy or if it is all a matter of the curly-haired scamp’s delusional mind. The fact that Tenney even squeezes in a brief scene concerning the nature of evil and manages to keep it from sounding really fucking stupid is a sign of a filmmaker who knows how to pull the strings.

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