‘There’s a new Puppet Master in town’ screams the cheeky tagline from the third Robert the Doll movie; ironically, Andrew Jones may well be the natural successor to Charles Band, and here he tells Dave about his love for Full Moon and how anonymity suits him just fine.
Puppets, Nazis, a Toymaker, and the third film in a franchise.
While I could happily compose a love letter of doe-eyed obsession towards Charles Band’s Puppet Master movies, not least the pinnacle of the sequels directed by the relentlessly prolific David DeCoteau, this similarly-themed tale of murderous marionettes is fresh out of Swansea-based horror-maven Andrew Jones’s North Bank Entertainment movie factory.
After the success of Robert (2015) and it’s swiftly despatched sequel, The Curse of Robert (2016), this journey into the world of miniature mayhem has become an annual excursion for Jones and his close-knit team of cast and crew. The Toymaker aka Robert and The Toymaker (2017) is the natural next step for the series, crafting an origin story that the director insists is rooted in fact, creating the need for a forties setting.
“It came from something I read about the real-life Robert the Doll” muses Jones from his Swansea home this week. “Apparently the doll was originally made by a German toy company, so a World War II backdrop immediately came to mind. Obviously I love the Puppet Master films – I’ve been watching them since I was a kid, and I enjoyed the prequels set in Nazi Germany, so I was happy to take that direction for the Robert series. The dream project would of course be a crossover! Puppet Master Vs Robert the Doll actually makes a lot of sense now given the fact their origin stories take place in the same era!”
Misty-eyed teenage memories they may be, but for a filmmaker who’s had fourteen of his productions land front and centre in prime retail shelf space on both sides of the Atlantic in the last five years, rabid ambition and a savvy approach to what market forces are demanding is essential. “There’s a World War II trend going on in the industry right now” states Jones, “so this new direction for Robert made total sense”.
For some, this may be a creative process that wrings the unique individuality out of the craft, but there’s an argument that Jones has found a model that enables him both to work continuously, and pump out screenplays that still manage to contain an array of subtle nods to the movies that influenced him growing up. With The Toymaker alone there’s an array of homages as diverse as The Twilight Zone, Asylum (1972) and Critters (1986), while Jones’s previous movies have knowing tips of the hat to horror hall-of-famers like Lefty Enright from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) and Mrs. Blankenship from Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) to name but two.
“I enjoy referencing the films and TV shows that I love!” reflects the Welshman. “Most filmmakers are so deeply immersed in their influences and the stuff which made them fall in love with cinema, they can’t help but reference some of it. It’s not always done with prior planning either; sometimes your favourite films seep so deeply into your subconscious that you make reference to them without realising until later.”
So with a catalogue laden with horror movie references, and a genuine deep-rooted appreciation for the type of films that are ingrained in the psyche of any self-respecting horror fan, it’s a never-ending source of bemusement that Jones’s achievements seem to drift without recognition below the PR-dictated agenda of what the fanboys and girls should be watching. It’s something that Jones though is unconcerned about, shrugging it off in his typical self-effacing manner; “I make films simply because I love the process, so I don’t expect any acknowledgement from anyone. I’m just grateful to anyone that takes time out of their lives to watch one of my films. I wouldn’t want any kind of status or celebrity bestowed upon me, because it’s simply not real. For me, being under the radar is a positive thing.”
As refreshing as his approach is, it certainly hasn’t diminished any level of success, which is something his latest film bears testament to. “The Toymaker is the first of a fifteen picture deal” states Jones without a hint of arrogance, “It’s given us a little more budget for each film, which in turn means we can get a little more production value on the screen. In industry terms we’re still operating at what would be considered the micro end of the budget spectrum, but that little bit more enable us to be a bit more ambitious with our stories. We could never have attempted a Nazi Germany setting a few years ago! So while nothing has really changed from a business perspective, we do now have the ability to raise our game from the single location, character-based stuff that we were doing in the early days”.
To paraphrase the great Marvel Comics adage though, with greater budgets come greater responsibility, not least when you’re making a period piece set in an era where a whole host of experts are all too keen to point out just where you’re being factually inaccurate – something which Jones brushes off with his usual candour. “It’s just killer dolls vs Nazis isn’t it though? It’s not like we’re making Schindler’s List. People would be better served just enjoying the absurdity of a clown doll stabbing a Nazi colonel in the nuts.”
It’s clear to see just where the money has been spent in The Toymaker. By utilising key exteriors such as the lush South Wales countryside and the Gwili Railway in Carmarthen, he’s broadened the palette of a typical North Bank Entertainment production immeasurably. Add to that the inclusion of some key vintage interiors in Cardiff, and those expecting the usual single location claustrophobia will be bowled over by the scope of this.
This seamless use of increased resources bodes well for Jones’s upcoming slate which includes a return to forties Germany in Werewolves of the Third Reich, while Cabin 28 is firmly in home invasion territory. With a resume of fright-flicks, Jones is keen though to spread his wings a little further in genre terms; “Horror is such a crowded market place and supermarkets are stocking far less indie titles now. But, this gives us the opportunity to make different kinds of films, for example the first project we’re filming next year is a prison drama! Quite a departure from the previous films we’ve made.”
Indeed it is. For a true film aficionado like Jones though, there must be one dream project that he’s itching to get made? “Well, there is one” he concedes wistfully, “It’s a cross between Invasion of the Body Snatchers, They Live and The Prophecy. Sci-Fi / Horror with contemporary social and political themes running through it. I can’t seem to wrap that up in a marketable enough package for the distributors yet. One day though…”
And on that mouth-watering morsel of cinematic possibility, Britain’s most prolific filmmaker steps back into relative anonymity. With The Toymaker storming into the UK retail charts at the midway point last week, albeit above more publicised (and acclaimed) fare like Greg McLean’s The Belko Experiment (2016), it’s clear that against all expectations Andrew Jones has hit upon a filmmaking model that’s consistent, profitable, and definitely here to stay.
The Toymaker is available now on DVD and Digital in both the UK and US
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