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Frank & Zed

An endearingly original work of artistry and passion, “Frank & Zed” is a puppet movie full of humanity, blending blood-soaked horror with sublime humor.

Is it possible to be in love with a film before you even watch it? Like something out of a cheesy Hollywood romcom, I want to look longingly into the eyes of Frank & Zed and whisper, “I loved before I ever knew you.”

The story of this film alone is enough to win over horror hearts.

Frank & Zed is the gonzo brainchild of Portland-based writer, director, and puppeteer Jesse Blanchard, who has long championed the use of puppetry in film. It’s an entirely handcrafted feature film that took an unbelievable seven years to complete. Shot in stunning 4K on the RED camera, inside Blanchard’s garage and at a nearby studio, this gothic horror adventure required over 40 handmade puppet characters, intricate miniatures, practical cloud tank effects, and honest-to-god fire.

Blanchard founded his production company, Puppetcore, in 2011 with only two rules: “The characters are real; they just happen to be puppets” and “The effects are practical whenever possible.”

Putting those passions into practice on Frank & Zed, the result is a one-of-a-kind, visually spectacular, enormously entertaining film with as much heart and sincerity as balls-to-the wall, gory insanity.

In a very clear homage to Frankenstein, Frank & Zed tells the story of two best friends and outcasts, living alone in a rundown castle deep in the forest. Former servants to a wicked wizard, Frank is a monster constructed of parts from the wizard’s victims, and Zed is the reanimated corpse of a heartbroken lover who was tragically struck down at the wizard’s behest.

When the wizard was killed in a battle using cursed weapons, bestowed on the King by the God of Death — for a steep price, his two undead servants remained in the castle for two centuries. Frank, who has to be regularly regenerated by electricity, hunts squirrels in the forest to feed Zed. The two friends, who share a strong bond with virtually no words, help each other as they slowly begin to decay over time.

But their peaceful existence is about to be interrupted by a nefarious plot in the neighboring village. A warlord attempts to incite fear in the village, in an effort to grab power from the young, impressionable King. Resurrecting old rumors about an ancient curse known as the “orgy of blood”, he leads a group of ill-prepared villagers in a quest to slay the beast and save the kingdom.

Frank & Zed is nothing short of a minor miracle, both for the painstaking artistry required to pull off such an impressive feat and for the remarkable way it manages to be so horrifically violent and gory, while still remaining heartfelt and emotional.

It’s gloriously over-the-top in a way that echoes the work of Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi, but it still feels grounded enough to keep you invested in the characters and caring about what happens to them. It’s wonderfully sweet and funny, even during the epic, blood-soaked finale — a gruesome Grand Guignol that delivers the horror in spades.

You’ll revel in the creative carnage, all while one touching scene after another tugs at your heartstrings. And even though the violence is extreme, showcasing a smorgasbord of jaw-dropping practical effects, it’s all played completely straight. Against the backdrop of relentless action, this fantastical world feels surprisingly real.

You may even get a little choked up before reminding yourself that all this horror, heart, and humor is delivered courtesy of a film made up entirely of puppets.

It’s the very definition of movie magic.

Frank & Zed is the kind of movie that makes you feel like a kid again — transporting you back to a time when watching movies was an epic experience and films had the power to awe and inspire you.

It’s lovingly infused with everything from Jim Henson’s Muppets to Game of Thrones; from Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste to Lord of the Rings; from Universal Monsters to Army of Darkness. And it all just works… uncompromisingly well.

After running two successful Kickstarter campaigns in 2015 and 2016 to help fund this exceedingly ambitious project, Blanchard built a small studio behind his house to make the miniatures and more than two dozen set builds. Blanchard and his modest crew averaged 11 hour shoots a day when they were in full production.

For all FRANK & ZED’s significant wow factor and visually orgasmic orgy of blood, what really elevates this film to the upper echelon is the amount of craftsmanship and heart that bleeds through every glorious frame. A perfect film may not exist, but I’ll be damned if this one isn’t about as close as they come.

Frank & Zed doesn’t yet have distribution, which is nothing short of criminal. Hopefully that changes soon, because this film deserves to find a wide and receptive audience. Whenever you can, as soon as you can, see this film. It’s one of the most original, heartfelt, joy inducing films to come around in a very long time.

(When you watch, make sure you stay through the end credits. You’ll be treated to a brief but very satisfying bonus scene, followed by some spectacular making of/behind-the-scenes content that is nearly as much fun as the film itself.)

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies)

Frank & Zed made its Word Premiere at the Nightstream Film Festival on October 10, 2020. 

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