There is no better friend to the independent horror filmmaker that Larry Fessenden; his work as producer and actor in many of the early films of the new indie horror movement, and his dedication and devotion to horror filmmaking as one of the only places left for a true film auteur, have made him something of a patron saint to the independent horror filmmaking world. It’s just the icing on the cake that he also happens to be a great filmmaker, too.
Getting involved in the New York art scene in the seventies and eighties, Fessenden worked with many artists to cultivate a reputation as a groundbreaking and adventurous filmmaker. His early work in film began a dual career for him; in one, he was a producer and director of independent horror films, and in another, he was producing and editing dramatic features with filmmakers like Kelly Reichardt (director the Michelle Williams films “Wendy and Lucy” and “Meek’s Cutoff”).
Quickly, he became known for his production of many horror films that launched a new generation of young horror filmmakers: Ti West (“The Roost,” “House of the Devil,” and “The Innkeepers”), Jim Mickle (“Mulberry Street” and “Stakeland”), and lesser-known filmmakers like James Felix McKenney (“Hypothermia” and “Satan Hates You”). He also became known in the industry as a passionate environmental advocate, and has altered his filmmaking techniques to be more sustainable.
He appeared this year in the siege horror release “You’re Next” (which also starred Ti West and fellow indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg) as the first victim of the film, and released his most recent directorial endeavor, a killer fish film called “Beneath.” Fessenden has an enormous and respectable body of work behind him, but there are a few films worth noting specifically.
Alternately known by the title “The Frankenstein Complex,” Fessenden’s feature-film directorial debut is a ballsy one to take on as your first film: a horrifying story of animal experimentation that takes a strong stance on the side of animal rights. The film is graphic in its depiction of the horrors of scientific experimentation, and the gritty, verite style of the film makes its realistic subject matter all the more disturbing. A film that is hard to watch, but for the right reasons.
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A troubled alcoholic dealing with a break-up and the loss of his father might just be starting a new relationship with a vampire… or he might just be completely out of his mind, isolated, and struggling with addiction. Fessenden’s second film (though he actually directed this story once on video before committing it to film), “Habit” is an uncompromising look at the psychology of one troubled man living in New York, seen through the lens of a possibly supernatural relationship with a destructive new girl in his life. This is the film that put Fessenden on the radar for filmmaking, and is possibly his most impactful film.
A beautiful and somber rumination on childhood fantasy meeting real-world violence, and the mythology that we build to protect ourselves from uncomfortable truths, “Wendigo” was the first film Fessenden made where he could afford real stars, and the performances from Patricia Clarkson (“The Woods” and “Easy A”) and Jake Weber (“The Cell” and the TV series “Medium”) add depth and emotion to an already affecting story about one family’s vacation in a cabin that turns into a struggle for survival. His most horror-themed film (there IS an actual Wendigo that appears in the film) is also oddly one of his sweetest and most touching stories as well.