Frank & Zed (2020)

I wish there were more movies like Jesse Blanchard’s “Frank & Zed” in theaters and midnight movie showings. It’s a movie that promises to become a cult classic and for good reason. Not only is it wildly inventive, and absolutely charming, but I was completely sucked in to everything from the story, the gruesome gore, and the shockingly incredible production values (40 Handmade puppets!). While the movie is low budget, Blanchard’s ability to make every single element of his film feel epic in scope, keeps “Frank & Zed” consistently brilliant and absolutely entertaining.

Long ago, a kingdom rose and slew an evil wizard plaguing their land. They unwittingly left behind the wizard’s two servants, Frank and Zed. For centuries, the monster pals have quietly survived unnoticed by forging a symbiotic relationship. Frank hunts animals to feed his zombie friend, while Zed ensures his Frankenstein’s monster-like pal gets his needed jolts of life restoring electricity. Seeking control over the land, though, a power-hungry magistrate tricks the villagers into attacking the castle, triggering an ancient prophecy known as the Orgy of Blood. Now Frank and Zed must defend their home, and restore some sanity in the villagers.

“Frank & Zed” (filmed over the course of six years) manages to accomplish a lot in such a small run time, exploring the idea of religious corruption, mob rule, and the surprisingly heartbreaking tale of Frank and Zed, two cursed monsters that are stuck in this eternal loop that promises to keep them confined to their decrepit castle. The character designs for “Frank & Zed” are fantastic, with much of the film feeling like a darkly demented version of Jim Henson’s muppet gallery. While the film does feel like a much more demented take on the aforementioned Henson, director and writer Blanchard never shies away from excessive gore, and incredibly gruesome special effects. Blanchard’s use of puppetry to convey gut munching zombies is endlessly amusing and I had great fun seeing how he’d implement guts and blood time and time again.

Blanchard even has a great time subverting our expectations, building on a classic hero’s journey only to yank the rug out from under us. It’s clear that Blanchard has the utmost sympathy for his titular monsters, and only his titular monsters, and it amounts to a lot of plot twists that threw me for a loop. Fans of films like Brian Henson’s “The Happytime Murders” and Dustin Mills’ “Puppet Monster Massacre” will click in to “Frank & Zed” immediately; Director and Writer Blanchard’s film is made with apparent love and passion from minute one. The production is so painstaking that Blanchard even makes every puppet feel so unique and original to where, once we reach the blood soaked climax, we understand what’s happening and to whom rather than just watching a bunch of random puppets running around.

Which is not to say that the climax is perfect; once the carnage is rolling, the narrative and heart are secondary to a lot of relentless carnage and action. I wasn’t too sure where the film would take me from the opening scene, but I was surprised with the great sound design, and intriguing narrative that paid clear homage to classic Universal, Mary Shelly, and in some instances even Tim Burton. “Frank & Zed” promises to surprise and delight, especially for horror fans craving something new and bold. I hope fans embrace it and enjoy it as much as I did.

Frank & Zed made its World Premiere at the Nightstream Film Festival.