Directed by Jesse Blanchard
Written by Jesse Blanchard
Starring Jerry Bell Jr., Aaron Booth, Randolph F. Christen
Premiering at Nightstream, Frank & Zed may just be the gateway horror film your kids will love. A medieval fantasy in a far away land where the undead walk, the all puppet epic was actually shot in a garage over seven years thanks to the painstaking efforts of director Jesse Blanchard and his team of puppeteers and practical effects technicians. The tale of two zombie friends slowly falling apart over the course of centuries, understandably, is a little slow going at first. Once it opens up to the larger story at play, a small scale passion project suddenly explodes into a joyous blood war where an ancient prophecy comes to collect and destroy the world of kings.
In the opening frames, one of the best effects of Frank & Zed is already introduced when the God of Death warns a desperate king that if he takes a deal to defeat the evil wizard The Moroi (Blanchard), the blood shed will come back tenfold on the land. Bestowed with five ancient weapons, the King takes Death up on the offer cursing himself as he begs his people for forgiveness. Fast forward a couple centuries and the King’s line is almost up as Frank and his caretaker Zed struggle to keep their limbs intact as they wait to finally decompose once and for all. Frank caries the souls of the dead in his undead dome that Zed must keep “alive” by electrocution, an obvious nod to the Frankenstein legend.
There’s a sweetness to their symbiosis until you see them chop off the heads of forest rabbits and brain the local musician for sustenance. This day-to-day existence has its charm and a few good jokes (including Frank struggling to keep a brain from sliding off a tray) but it wouldn’t be enough to carry a full feature and Blanchard and his team know it. That’s why they create an epic bloodbath for the final, extended stretch of the film that can best be described as a murder Muppets version of Braveheart without the slow motion shots. It’s glorious.
The Moroi wizard may have created Frank and Zed as a couple of medieval janitors maintaining a doomed castle but they really become their own characters over the course of the story. They’re easy to root for so when the full on carnage starts and the blood, guts and arrows start flying, you’ll want to see them fall apart on their own instead of being ripped apart at the seams. As the star puppets, their design has the most detail adding to their pathos; and the ridiculousness of their overall look helps the comedy bits, as well. The two Middle Age zombies almost look like they could have been ripped out from a page of Eric Powell’s brilliant comic The Goon and placed in Blanchard’s foam and felt, sword and sandals world.
To be fair, a lot of the other characters are fodder for the battle but if they don’t look like much on the outside, when their insides open up, all the intricate detail the effects team slaved over is front and center. Frank & Zed‘s version of Whatnots – the background artists for The Muppets – all seem to have a bowl of blood ready to spew out, controlled by an artist crouched under the table, so you never know what to expect.
During the credits, behind the scenes shots roll by showing just how much fun the entire team was having when they were making this and it shows in their faces and on the screen. Jesse Blanchard voiced and controlled numerous characters from The Moroi wizard, The Stone Sharpener, a Druid and another character named Jesse that was probably his puppet equivalent. Everyone became the characters and that comes through when, suddenly, you find yourself getting a little emotional when Frank & Zed reach out for each other in the final act.
Badges are still on sale for Nightstream HERE! The majority of the films and events are still available to view on-demand on the Eventive platform!
Frank & Zed may just be the gateway horror film your kids will love.Just make sure to have some felt, foam and some fake blood on hand in case they want to make their own zombie puppet.