New from A Reel of One’s Own by Andrea Thompson: Twisted Dreams Film Festival 2020: Misfit Heights

By Andrea Thompson

A film that proclaims itself a zombie puppet musical is either going to be terrible or something you’ll just have to go with. And “Misfit Heights” is mostly worth going with, if you’re into its sort of thing. And if you are, there’ll be plenty to enjoy.

Clearly, the movie will owe a lot to The Muppets, and the brilliance that was Jim Henson, and whether it can completely grow past its obvious inspirations is something of a question. The character design couldn’t be accused of anything resembling copyright infringement, and every cast member quickly proves they can shine on their own terms, although it’s strange that one particular duo, whose “friendship” bears a whole lot of resemblance to Ernie and Bert’s chemistry, refuses to take things to their fairly obvious conclusion.

Unlike some films that tried to take puppetry in a darker direction, “Misfit Heights” knows how to get gritty, and even blood-spatteringly violent, without losing much of its humor, however dark it may be at times, and even its sincerity, mostly by centering its weirdly sweet love story. It’s not too surprising, since “Misfit Heights” was clearly made out of a whole lot of fondness for its own tropes. If you occasionally see strings, and some of the puppets have human hands for more complex tasks, it’s easily forgivable, even enjoyable, when such budgetary restrictions are apparent. 

The one thing that “Misfit Heights” is light on are songs, which are surprisingly few and far between, featuring only two of them in the first 45 minutes. They’re fun, and you don’t notice their absence too much when unrepentant mad scientist villain Dr. Zoltar (director James Burzelic) decides to create a bunch of zombies to try and rule the world, only for them to wreak uncontrollable havoc in the apartment building all the characters reside in. Burzelic, along with virtually every other member of the cast, wore several hats, or rather, puppeteered them, and there’s more obvious jokes like a stoner turtle named Schlomo (Alex Frew) and smaller touches, such as flyers entitled, ‘I Will Punch You’ and those for lost cats who answer to ‘Dammit.” If things are sometimes a bit unfocused, it never makes the ride less enjoyable, especially when the extra effort is there for those who care enough to notice it.

Grade: B+

Misfit Heights is playing through Oct. 4 at the Twisted Dreams Film Festival. More info can be found at www.twisteddreamsff.com.

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