[Nightstream Review] ‘Frank & Zed’ Injects Grand Guignol Splatter in Heartfelt Monster Puppet Movie

One glance is all it takes to know that Frank & Zed is unlike most horror movies you’ve ever seen, if any. Made entirely by hand, this Grand Guignol-style feature blends high fantasy with Gothic horror, starring a sprawling cast of puppets. Yes, puppets. A significant DIY labor of love, the blood, sweat, and tears it likely took to make the film permeates every facet to create an infectious horror movie with endless charm.

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 electricity. In a bid for 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. Life just got extra-complicated for the two reanimated corpses at the center of it all.

Written/Directed by Jesse Blanchard and filmed over six years, Frank & Zed packs as much as it possibly can in its roughly 90-minute runtime. Dark fantasy, treacherous characters vying for the throne, cursed castles, tragic pasts, an obscene amount of bloodshed and disemboweling, humor, and a ton of heart. It’s an ambitious piece of work, both visually and narratively in some aspects, perhaps a little too ambitious.

There are two contrasting worlds building toward inevitable confrontation; the quiet life of solitude at the cursed castle and the bustling yet deceitful kingdom of the living. It’s the latter that proves a little trickier to navigate as there are so many characters and so much happening that it can feel like sensory overload finding a foothold in this plotline. Frank and Zed’s more uncomplicated, poignant tale proves far more accessible and more compelling to follow. It helps that the character designs are far more distinct and visually arresting. The initial setup of unwitting servants of evil being left behind to fend for themselves creates an instant sense of Gothic tragedy that engenders this monstrous pair to the audience straight away. Their struggle to survive in a world unkind to monsters, as they uncover painful truths about their pasts, imbues the plot with as much awe and splendor as the artistry on display.

Enough can’t be said about the painstaking artistry involved. From the sprawling cast of characters to the sets and the miniatures, everything is made entirely by hand. It’s densely packed with detail. A precursory glance at the trailer would be enough to understand why it took six years to make this film, but seeing it in its full-feature glory is nothing short of inspiring. This isn’t the type of film we get very often, and it makes Frank & Zed all the more special. That it builds to an insanely gory finale is a thrilling bonus.

If Jim Henson and Peter Jackson had a love child, it’d likely be Frank & Zed. At the crossroads of Jackson’s splatstick humor and the touching soul of Henson’s fantasy work, Blanchard’s film forges a new path that brings the comedy and horror in equal measure. Most of all, it leaves you feeling crestfallen when Frank and Zed’s story reaches its conclusion because you’re not ready to say goodbye yet to this unlikely monster duo.

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

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