My family had a very hard time letting go of Beta cassettes. Long after they had gone out of production and the rest of the civilized world had moved on to VHS, we were still using Beta. Basically, we would rent the VHS tape from Blockbusters and then copy it over to a blank Beta cassette so we could keep it in our collection. We had at least four Beta Maxes and well over a hundred cassettes.
Anyhow, back in 1996 (we didn’t switch over to VHS permanently until 1997) I rented Pinocchio’s Revenge and copied it onto a Beta cassette like usual, with the full intention of watching it. Unfortunately, I never got around to doing so. The cassette fell by the wayside and I forgot it existed. When the last of our four Beta Maxes broke down, I threw out all my Beta cassettes; the unwatched Pinocchio’s Revenge along with them. Then, in 1999, when I got the internet on my decrepit Apple/Mac, I read some reviews and discovered that Pinocchio’s Revenge was fairly well received by the horror community. Unfortunately, by then, no video store in my area carried it anymore. The ship had sailed.
And then yesterday I found it on DVD for $9.99!
It’s been five years since convicted serial killer Vincent Gotto (Lewis Van Bergen) was caught trying to bury the corpse of his murdered son and his favorite puppet, Pinocchio, in a shallow grave. Attempting to save Gotto from the death penalty, defense attorney Jennifer Garrick (Rosalind Allen) discovers that her daughter, Zoe (Brittany Alyse Smith) has become very attached to a certain piece of evidence: Pinocchio. Zoe was a disturbed young girl to begin with, but things only seem to get worse once she adopts Pinocchio. All sorts of terrible things begin to happen to the people in Jennifer and Zoe’s life, with Zoe at the scene of every accident. Zoe insists that Pinocchio is the troublemaker, but Jennifer isn’t quite so sure.
Pinocchio’s Revenge is structured much more closely to Don Mancini’s original intent for Child’s Play. In his initial treatment, it was much less cut and dry as to whether the creepy doll was alive, or if the kid was behind all the grisly murders going on. That’s pretty much how Pinocchio’s Revenge is from start to finish. We’re never quite sure if the puppet is alive and murdering people, or if the already mentally unfit Zoe has some sort of split personality. It actually works very well, making for a startling conclusion and a genuinely engaging plot. Any Child’s Play fan would do well to check this flick out, at any rate.
Although they try to make it unclear whether Pinocchio is alive or not, they do use various techniques to animate him. Of course, he’s only ever seen moving or talking when Zoe is around, thus leaving it up to the audience to decide whether Pinocchio is possessed by some force or just a delusion of Zoe’s mania. Pinocchio’s effects start out fairly well, working effectively as a gradual build-up. Initially, he never moves on screen, only appearing and reappearing in places as the camera pans around. He then proceeds to only move his eyes in his sockets or turn his head. Then when he first starts talking, he remains inanimate with his voice emanating from unmoving lips. Then, his face becomes more lifelike, with his lips and brow moving as he talks.
That’s about where it reaches its peak. After that, when Pinocchio really comes to life, he appears as a midget in a costume (played by Verne Troyer of Austin Powers fame, no less). They cloak him in shadows when this occurs, but the physique is noticeably that of a midget’s no matter how hard they try to conceal it.
One other issue I had was with Pinocchio’s voice. He’s voiced by a famous cartoon voice over artist named Dick Beals, perhaps best recognized as Davey from Davey and Goliath (trust me, you’ll recognize him when you hear him). This makes his every line unintentionally hilarious, particularly when he starts screaming expletives.
As far as the acting goes, well, it’s your standard straight-to-video horror fare. Brittany Alyse Smith is pretty good so far as child actresses go, but only good enough not to completely piss you off. The kids who play her classmates and school bullies, on the other hand, will have you in agony. The adult cast roll in some bland but acceptable performances, with Candace McKenzie (who plays the Italian babysitter, Sophia) making it all worthwhile with some gratuitous shower-type footage.
While Pinocchio’s Revenge can be classified into the “killer toy” subgenre of horror, much like Magic (that Anthony Hopkins movie about the “killer dummy”), it doesn’t really fit there all too well. It’s much more of a psychological thriller with the “killer toy” motif used more as window dressing than anything else. As for whether or not it’s scary, well, that depends entirely on if you’ve seen Davey and Goliath.