Nightstream: “Frank & Zed” is a charmingly gruesome tale of friendship

Frank & Zed Frank & Zed (Nightstream)

Jesse Blanchard writes & directs an all-puppet horror comedy that slightly overstays its welcome, but is always fun.

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(This review is part of our coverage of the 2020 Nightstream festival)

Things are hard out there, man. We need someone in our corner to look after us, make sure we’re safe, reattach our fingers if they fall off. Two unlikely friends anchor Frank & Zed, a medieval themed horror comedy acted out entirely by puppets, and believe me, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a puppet tear out another puppet’s eye and eat it like a grape.

Six years in the making, Frank & Zed is the work of Jesse Blanchard’s Puppetcore production company, and it really is a technological marvel. The puppets look charmingly ragtag, as if they were constructed with whatever happened to be laying around the workshop. The miniatures and set design seems to have taken a cue from the world of The Nightmare Before Christmas, and together it creates something wholly unique, even if the story itself is a little longer than it needs to be.

Frank is a Frankenstein’s Monster, his exposed brain barely protected by a glass dome. Zed is a long-decayed zombie, and despite a centuries-old rivalry, they now live together in the remains of a castle. Frank collects squirrel brains for Zed to eat, while Zed makes sure that Frank gets enough lighting zaps to keep his heart beating. It’s a peaceful, symbiotic relationship where they bother no one. Their quiet existence comes to an end when the evil Lord Regent, hoping to set off a long-prophesied “Orgy of Blood,” convinces a group of naive villagers that Frank and Zed mean to do them harm, and sends them off to meet their certain doom. Despite what’s left of their bodies rapidly failing them, Frank and Zed must team up against one last stand to protest their home.

It creates something wholly unique, even if the story itself is a little longer than it needs to be.

Come to Frank & Zed for the impressive puppetry, stay for the hilarious puppet gore. Heads are crushed, bodies are disemboweled, and a face is pushed into a sharpening wheel. In one scene, Zed eats a human brain with such gusto that he licks the plate it’s served on clean. Much like 2018’s The Happytime Murders (only, you know, not terrible), the presence of puppets doesn’t equate to “family friendly” here. Reminiscent of the over-the-top gore of early Sam Raimi movies, it’s undeniably fun to watch. 

The one issue is that it’s in service of an underwritten plot that overstays its welcome by a half hour. While Frank and Zed’s scenes are charming, and even unexpectedly poignant at times, far too much time is spent on the “human” characters, who mostly just scream and flail around. At certain points, Frank and Zed feel like mere supporting characters in their own movie, and audience interest begins to wane. It’s when the action returns to them that it’s a winner: funny, gruesome, and surprisingly sweet. Just watch out for the severed limbs, they’re a tripping hazard.

Frank & Zed is now screening at Nightstream

Frank & Zed Trailer:

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