NIGHTSTREAM 2020: Hand Puppets and an Orgy of Blood – FRANK AND ZED Takes the Fest by Storm

There is always one of these kinds of flicks at every horror film festival. A film that pushes the boundaries of what the genre can offer. The out of left field, high concept, experimental and plain bat shit movie that makes these festivals a great place of discovery. The movie that takes that prize at Nightstream is, without a doubt, director Jesse Blanchard’s Frank and Zed , a loving homage to the monster movies of yore, all crafted and filmed entirely with hand puppets. Yes… hand puppets. Ninety minutes of R-rated puppet mayhem, and boy is it glorious.

After an ancient evil arrives to turn everyone in its path into undead servants, a desperate king makes a pact with another demon to destroy it, which in turn dooms his bloodline and the village he rules over to a terrible curse. Sometime later, former servants of the ancient evil, Frank and Zed, joyfully live in seclusion in the deep forest as companions. As the village feels the impending doom of their ancestors curse finally coming to fruition, a power-hungry magistrate and his cohorts concoct a plan to trick the gullible villagers into attacking the castle that houses our two monster friends, all in an attempt to ignite an ancient prophecy known as the Orgy of Blood and take back control of the kingdom, all while getting rid of everyone who could stand in their way.

Frank and Zed is just a wonderfully glorious celebration of the classic Universal Monster movies of the 30s and 40s, all done with a macabre, Sam Raimi-like glee of excessive blood and gore. The first thing you notice about this movie is the wonderful attention to detail that writer/director Jesse Blanchard has brought to the table. He clearly has a love for the old school monster movie, chock full of sweeping castles, foggy and haunted forests, simple villages and humans constant fear of the unknown. Every single character in this movie is brought to vivid life with insanely detailed cloth puppets, all who properly display the malice, humor, fear and intensity that is needed from the minor small part to one of the main leads. The crowning achievement of the puppets, however, is the main stars of Frank and Zed themselves. Frank is Jesse’s own version of Frankenstein’s monster, a wonderful puppet creation with a glass cranium, various types of skin stretched across its face, two different eyes with one even having two colored iris’. Zed is a rotting zombie, with his long rotting teeth that flap open and close with his loose jaw and a gaping hole on the side of his head. I simply love the basic day to day structure that they abide by. Frank starts the day by going out to hunt squirrels, he brings home their heads, scoops out their brains, feeds them to Zed. In return for feeding him, Zed helps Frank get hooked up to his electricity/weather machine so that he can get a recharge every night.

Some of the other characters in this movie that I adore are the Love four old men friends that feel like Jesse’s recreation of the cranky theatre critics from The Muppets and the Keanu Reeves-type villager who is constantly spouts surfer lingo and sounds consistently stoned (his name being Johnny, like Reeves’ Johnny Utah character from Point Break solidified that for me). The movie does take its time to set up these amazing character over the initial 45-50 minutes of the movie, not rushing to have bloodletting and gore every few seconds – though we do get some nice kills along the way – and letting us live with these character. However, this all changes during the extensive 40-minute climactic fight scene between all the characters we have come to know across this movie. We get zombies, heads sliced in half, arms ripped off, bodies torn apart and general mayhem and gore without a break in the action. It’s a true marvel of the craft and a beautiful display violence. I also wanted to call out that in a few scenes fleshing out the backstory of Frank and Zed, there is a lovely use of human shadows in to reflect what these monsters used to be in a previous life. It’s beautifully shot and has an emotional impact that I wasn’t expecting from this movie.

Frank and Zed is just pure bliss and joy for ninety minutes, reveling in a specific craft of hand puppets that is utilized to great effect to deliver us a classic movie monster film that will be a Halloween staple in my house for years to come. To finish off this wonderful film, the closing credits show us extensive behind the scenes making of the movie, showing us various scenes across the movie and the magic that went into making them come alive. It’s wonderful and lovely, and Frank and Zed  deserves your attention immediately.

 

Eric Mayo
Horror Hound / Playstation Guru
Graduated from Queens College with double major in film and media studies. The 1st horror movie he fell in love with was Evil Dead 2, which is still my favorite. My favorite horror video game is Resident Evil, and I have a specific love for the old school pre-rendered glory of the original Playstation trilogy. My goal is to live life by my rules, enjoy the hobbies and activities that I deem fun and NOT what the world expects of someone my age.
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