NIGHTSTREAM Review: Frank & Zed

Year: 2020
Runtime: 97 Minutes
Director: Jesse Blanchard
Writers: Jesse Blanchard
Stars: Frank, Zed, Jerry Bell Jr., Aaron Booth,  Randolph F. Christen

By Tom Moore

Although horror comes in all different forms, there’re none like writer/director Jesse Blanchard’s sophomore feature “Frank & Zed” – a puppet horror film that’s a labour of love for the genre. The film is a simple gothic tale about a village that’s been plagued by a gruesome myth that if their royal lineage ever comes to an end that the village will succumb to an orgy of chaos and blood. Constantly living in fear, the king of the village forbids anyone from venturing in the forest and is dependent on their next of kin. In the forest though, is no demonic presence awaiting to slaughter the whole village, rather just two monsters named Frank and Zed, just trying to live out their best days in a destroyed castle. However, when the death of the king and a plan of betrayal come into motion, the village believes that Frank and Zed are a big threat and possibly the ones who will make the daunting myth come true. As a big “Muppets” fan and a genuine lover of how Jim Hanson has impacted the world through puppetry, “Frank & Zed” was THE most highly anticipated movie for me at NIGHTSTEAM and my gosh did it deliver the gory and adorable goods. The character designs are simple and feel fitting for the gothic time period, but no one comes close to the amazing looks of the film’s titular monsters. Frank has a unique, stitched up look that’s perfect for his backstory of being put together from different body parts of different dead people. Zed is definitely my favorite design though as the crater in his head and bendy teeth just make him one of the most adorable zombies I’ve ever seen. Honestly, if there was a figurine out there of both of them, they would be mine in a heartbeat. The puppetry is incredibly impressive and has all of the great components that make for great puppet films – consistent and cohesive movement, great voicework, and very visual emotiveness. The actions are very fluid and there’re some really smart decisions made with how characters throw stuff and interact with the world. Frank having a rope tied to his favorite throwing axe creates really good movement as he throws it and pulls it back, there’s a very cool sequence of Frank putting Zed back together that’s really great, and how the big battle sequence at the end ends up being so clear within all of the chaos that’s happening is a testament to how much they nail the puppetry here. Blanchard also does a great job acknowledging the little details, like getting close-ups of characters picking up things and really great editing to create smoother movement, and it makes for a unique viewing experience. Oh, also, when this film promises a blood orgy, you get a blood orgy. While these characters might just be puppets, that doesn’t mean that Blanchard can’t make things gory as hell and my gosh does he. There’re little hints at the start that things can get bloody with some blood spurts as Frank cuts some squirrels heads off and Zed chomps on some brains, but nothing even comes close to everything that happens in the final battle. Nothing is off the tables for what Blanchard brings in this finale – arms getting torn off, puppets’ heads getting crushed, brains being eaten. It’s a gore hounds dream come true and the fact that he was able to do a lot of the things in this film practically is nothing short of an ambitious feat being accomplished. Not to mention, zombified puppets look creepy as hell and it still blows my mind how Blanchard created an adult-centric puppet film that makes The Happytime Murders look like kids’ stuff. “Frank & Zed’s” achievements don’t just stop at its visuals though as it also contains a rich and surprisingly emotional gothic horror story that grows on you through its titular characters. The lore behind the big village curse can be a little confusing at first, but it all comes together and sets in motion a really fun story of betrayal and misconceptions with a bunch of really fun characters with great personalities made even better through the stellar voice cast. Frank and Zed’s story is the real winner of this film though as sets up their simple, cozy home-life together and spins it into something with a genuine heart. Watching the two of them just interact with one another in their daily routine not only gives us a glimpse into how much they need one another, but also instantly captures your heart. As greater glimpses of how the two are connected and their larger roles in the curse are revealed, their presence carries a greater meaning, and the ending hits an unexpected emotional chord. It’s tragic and also uplifting at the same time and it the kind of ending you could easily be fighting back tears. Just after the film’s opening short, which is awesome, and before the film starts, Blanchard let’s us in on the fact that this film is six years in the making. After seeing it, “Frank & Zed” contains all of the genuine care, dedication, and visionary ambition that Blanchard has spent on this film that make that six years really meaningful. It’s a film that Jim Henson would’ve been immensely proud to see made and carries the same kind of love for puppets that made everything he touched so special. Horror fans, this is one film that cannot be missed. 4.5 stars

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