When Full Moon first announced their Deadly Ten -- a proposed ten-movie slate to be shot and live-streamed throughout 2019 and 2020 -- among the most exciting titles was Blade: The Iron Cross, the first-ever spin-off from the Puppet Master series, the company's biggest and longest-running (10 movies an counting) franchise. A few years and one global pandemic later and most of the Deadly Ten never came to pass, though a few like Femalien: Cosmic Crush and the Demonic Toys spinoff Baby Oopsie have made their way to Full Moon Streaming and even some to DVD/Blu-ray minus any external "Deadly Ten" branding.
Sort of picking up where the "Axis Trilogy" left off, The Iron Cross opens as Elisa Ivanov (Tania Fox), returning from Axis Termination, is plagued by nightmares about the events of Puppet Master III, because that's the way this series works. She's also having visions that Nazis have relocated to California and are planning something terrible, for which she'll need the help of the puppet Blade to thwart. The two appear to be psychically connected and now Blade is able to move on his own despite being out of the magic juice that Toulon used to animate the puppets. Meanwhile, the Nazis are conducting their own experiments, aided by corrupt cops and even the District Attorney, in which they will use a death ray to kill the entire population and then reanimate them as mindless zombies willing to do their bidding.
I really try to be the person who reviews a movie for what it is and not for what I want it to be, so please indulge me for a moment as I do the latter when talking about Blade: The Iron Cross. It's not that I'm disappointed with the film as it exists, but it seems like a solo Blade adventure could have been a real opportunity to do something totally different from the rest of the Puppet Master franchise. Why else make a spin-off? Without taking the series in a different direction or digging deeper into the title character than you previously have, you're really just making Puppet Master 12 but without the rest of the puppets. That's basically what The Iron Cross is: another Puppet Master sequel in the "Axis" timeline that isn't so much focused on Blade as it is missing the other characters. It's fine as another movie in the series, but somewhat disappointing as a spin-off solo adventure -- especially for anyone expecting something different from this outing.
I've always considered myself to be a fan of the Puppet Master franchise, but the more I think about it, the more I realize I'm really just a fan of a couple of movies in the series. I love the first two, like the third, tolerate 4 & 5 for their weirdness...and that might be about it. When I say I'm a fan, it's probably because I'm thinking about what Puppet Master means to the Full Moon brand: it's the movie that launched the company, and its diminutive killers/heroes have been the face of Full Moon for over 30 years. Puppet Master is Full Moon and vice versa, so it only makes sense that I would conflate my fandom for one with fandom of the other even if it's not entirely warranted. All of this is to say that Blade: The Iron Cross probably lands somewhere in the middle of the franchise if I'm looking at it objectively; it's a better movie than most but the first three, but lacks some of the weirdness and insanity of 4 & 5 (aka The Decapitron Era [era]). It's saying something when I'm suggesting that a movie in which a puppet that looks like Klaus Kinski comes to life to help foil a Nazi plot to create killer zombies "not weird enough," but that's the bar that Full Moon has set for itself.
It's a function of both the budget and the truncated shooting schedule -- about which Full Moon was completely transparent with their Deadly Ten gimmick -- that much of The Iron Cross consists of padded out scenes of characters talking. That's par for the course. There's a lot of plot in this movie despite its only 70-minute runtime, which means there are a lot of characters explaining shit to each other and trying to move things along with words and not actions. When the action does kick into high gear, The Iron Cross is pretty cool. Using a combination of stop-motion, CG, and an actor wearing a Blade costume against a green screen, director John Lechago brings the movie to life in bold, bloody fashion. The kills and puppet attack scenes are gory and over the top, with Blade provided more mobility than recent sequels thanks to some creative effects, cleverly staged so that none of them are lingered on too long so as to be rendered clumsy. The good stuff is worth the wait, but it also makes me wish there was more of it in the movie.