Nightstream 2020 Review: FRANK & ZED Brings a Classic Style, Classic Storytelling, Heaps of Heart And Puppet Gore
A kingdom lives under the shadow of impending doom that has been tied to the bloodline to the throne for centuries. The wheels are put in motion by conniving individuals in the village, looking to save their own necks, no matter how many villagers may die by the end. When the caretaker of the castle on the hill, Frank, and his ward, a zombie called Zed, are mistaken for this returning evil the village takes up ancient weapons against them in a showdown for the stitched velvet ages.
Frank & Zed is the demon spawn of more wholesome puppet movies. It’s as if Jim Henson had an evil brother, Seth (or any other random evil name - look it up!) who took it as a dare to create something that was the antithesis of his brother’s lifetime of work. Frank & Zed dares to tread the desicrated ground where few have had the fortitude to go.
And this is puppetry the old, analog way- breaking your backs hunched over or lying on the ground below the camera with your arms raised in the air while crewmates work pneumatic eyes and hands. Mostly all of the violence and gore effects are done in camera and are gloriously practical in their execution. There are also a lot of miniatures, a whiff of stop motion, and a sliver of animation as well, acting only as visual aids to the story.
But this is not a puppet horror flick that is all out evil. There is a whole lot of heart in it as well, particularly when it comes to the relationship between our titular characters. Frank will remember Zed’s origins which gives us hope for a pleasant end to the former’s story by the finale of the film.
Theirs’ is a relationship built on mutual preservation. Every day Frank heads out to ‘forage for food’ for Zed, and each night Zed plugs Frank in so he can recharge overnight. Any misstep could put their ‘lives’ at risk.
Back at the village the usurpers in their group get everyone riled up and a couple of chance and deadly interactions between them and Frank only intensifies the fear that they’re feeling. Tensions escalate which takes the story onto an all out assault on the castle. This is what everyone has been waiting for, the promise of puppet violence and gore, and Frank & Zed delivers. For a full half hour.
No, it’s not perfect. And that is fine. To watch Frank & Zed and expect perfection defeats the point of Frank & Zed and what we should be celebrating here. This is a grassroots production, created with love and passion, and it shows immense promise and potential. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears - some of it real, most of it fake - over a period of seven years. What Jesse Blanchard has done here is remarkable.
I think Frank & Zed is very good. I do not think that it is great, for a couple of reasons. I don’t look at these as criticisms but areas of growth for future projects. Humor is subjective, no? Yet the jokes don’t always land and the writing is the weakest link. The story is not the issue here, it is after all a classic tale of monsters versus monsters. Yes, some characters are weird tropes set in a land of horror and fantasy. For example, why is there a surfer dude in the mix? It yanks you out of this world of demons, monsters and fantasy for a fleeting, contemporary moment when they say ‘woah’ and ‘gnarly’. The dialogue serves only to propel the narrative forward until the very end, into the half hour bloodbath. To its credit when the story wraps it aims for an emotional response to Frank and Zed’s stories, and nails the landing. Surprisingly touching.
Another area of growth, or a challenge to Blanchard and the team, is in the elements of expressiveness and physicality, especially in comedy. Here, we’re comparing apples to oranges. We’ve grown up with legends in the field like Henson and his legacy and his teams and creations have always maintained such a high level of interactivity and expression. Without saying words you knew what a Muppet was thinking. Blanchard fed our appetite for puppet horror and gore but left us wanting the rest of the time.
I repeat, Frank & Zed is a grassroots production, created with love and passion, it is an amazing achievement that I think horror fans are really going to fall in love with. I also think that it shows immense promise and potential. Blanchard and his team are really onto something here and I would welcome any project from them in the future. It is exciting to imagine what he could accomplish with sharper writing, a larger tool chest from which to make his creations, and further growth in elements of physical comedy and expressiveness.