Directed by: Jesse Blanchard. Starring: Jerry Bell Jr., Sam Mowry, Aaron Booth. Runtime: 1h 33 min. Released: This film had its World Premiere on October 10, 2020 at Nightstream Film Fest.
Sometimes watching a film, it’s easy to forget just how much craft goes into creating it. With the super unique gorefest Frank & Zed, though, it’s also easy to appreciate the effort that writer/director Jesse Blanchard – and the whole team, really – put into this nutty puppet spectacle that took seven years to make.
Two reanimated corpses – the titular Frank & Zed but known more commonly as Frankenstein and Zombie – have lived a peaceful life for the past 200 years in a castle by a nearby village. In that village, 200 years ago, they were attacked by a monster, and to save the people, the King made a pact with a demon to protect them.
In exchange, when the royal bloodline ended, the villagers would have to fulfill an ancient prophecy called The Orgy of Blood. Nudging this into action are two power-hungry villagers who trick the others into attacking the castle where Frank and Zed live.
Now, I’m going to risk sounding like that critic who wrote that review in the Guardian for The Haunting of Bly Manor, as I don’t like horror movies. I’m just screwing with you.
However, I am not the biggest fan of The Muppets. Please, stick with me. The characters never really interested me as a kid and that’s why the work of Jim Henson has never been a big part of my life. The only fair shake I’ve given them was with 2011’s The Muppets, which I enjoyed.
Now, Frank & Zed is the second feature-length film I’ve seen with puppets. I love horror and knew I had to watch it because it looked so unique. As I’m not an expert on anything related to puppet movies (let’s face it, I’m not an expert on much), I’ve learned from others that this is indeed very original. I can safely say I’ve never seen anything like it, and I really enjoyed it as a love letter to the work of Jim Henson and as a love letter to monster movies – and that monster movie aspect is what appealed to me.
I totally had a blast with this film, as the set-up is honestly brilliant and the world created here for these puppets feels so real. One of my favourite aspects of this film are the puppets in general, as their character design is so cool. This is especially the case for both Frank and Zed. Their design is so memorable and they completely feel alive. As characters I was super interested by their co-dependent dynamic.
Frank hunts in the day for squirrels as Zed eats their brains, and then at the end of each day, Zed hooks Frank’s screws on his head up to a contraption that summons a storm cloud every night that zaps a metal conductor and gives Frank his battery power for the next day.
It’s a charming co-dependent relationship, and also has some tension and stakes in it as Zed is falling apart and doesn’t always hook Frank up to the contraption in time. Their background and how they were created also holds some surprises that really shows how big of a heart this film has and what went into writing them.
This film’s impressive in terms of world building and being a visual marvel in its own right, but every other main aspect of the film satisfies, too. It’s hilarious with a lot of heart and it has such a fun story, and the fact that it’s also so entertaining is what I think makes Frank & Zed special.
The story has layers on layers from the power-hungry characters tricking the villagers into attacking, which obviously gives it a Frankenstein angry mob vibe, but it also brings in some Shakespearean betrayals into play. I liked some of the villagers a lot, especially a quartet of dimwits who bring a lot of laughs during the film’s finale.
A lot of the story is set-up for the Orgy of Blood which happens in the last 35 minutes or so, and that is well-worth the wait. It’s all the puppet gore you could ask for where a ton of fun kills happen, but to spoil more of this Orgy would be a great disservice. I will note: This Orgy is so action-packed it isn’t for the faint of heart and could be a sensory overload for some with its non-stop horror action.
However, I loved it. If you buy everything that happens throughout this horror love letter, you’ll be completely satisfied by the end of this Orgy of Blood. Watching this film, you also know exactly what you’re in for and you know this is what you came for. All the build-up to it put a smile on my face, and by the end of it I was really reaching for a cigarette.
In all seriousness, everyone involved here does a great job and the work over all these years paid off. I loved the horror aspect of it and where that went, but it also delighted me watching this kind-of horror story in a different medium than I’m used to. I’m happy to have given puppets a chance with this one, and I think you will be, too.