Maestro of macabre media Larry Fessenden talks upcoming horror projects
By: Justin Stokes AXS Contributor Feb 7, 2016
Those looking for a good scare have, since the cultural inception of the horror film, had a tough time doing so. There’s so much content ground out with little highlight of the plot and an over-emphasis of the blood spilled that horror films have always been a little brother to more serious genres of cinema. Even in an age of streaming content through Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and niche services that cater to those looking to quench an adrenaline thirst only have a small supply of things that mass audiences would consider well made.
Among those scarce, scary few taking it upon themselves to make something that tells a story within the horror community, Glass Eye Pix has been in business for three decades. And the twisted brain behind the glass eye is familiar face Larry Fessenden, whose had a bloody hand in some of indie-horrors most dreadful darlings.
AXS recently had the chance to chat with Fessenden over the phone to discuss the myriad of projects he’s involved with, and just what it means to make a horror project that audiences consider “quality.”
AXS: A recent piece with Entertainment Weekly said that you were “fast becoming ‘the King of All Horror Media.’” What are your thoughts on such a label like that?
Larry Fessenden: I’m of two minds. One is that I believe in creating one’s own mythos, as some artists do, like Alfred Hitchcock or David Bowie’s on the mind as of late. So I do enjoy that aspect of showbiz.
At the same time, I don’t feel that I have the access to funding and the other things that would go along with being an icon. I have been a great supporter of a many voices in the genre, so I think that’s where it comes from. I’m not sure why it’s happened to me, except that I’ve been around a long time and I’ve always associated with cool projects.
AXS: What is your “mythos”?
LF: What I presume is an authenticity that gives new life to old cliches. I want to make a vampire movie that feels very real; that has an immediacy and therefore revises the sense of excitement and all the other emotions that the genre can illicit. I would argue that in all ways, I want to be associated with an authentic voice – both as a mentor and as a producer, and also in my own work.
AXS: Is authenticity missing within horror?
LF: I feel like… actually since Halloween and some other projects like that, that studios have realized that there is money to be made in horror. Once studios get involved, things get genericized.
The thing about horror is that it’s a very exploitative, shocking medium. If it’s not being done for a purpose, it’s actually very disquieting and not really inspiring. It’s just depraved (laughs). So there’s a responsibility to have it be about something. It’s supposed to be an outsider medium that shakes the viewer out of their complacency. I think you want to carefully guard that aspect of the genre.
AXS: You’ve helped do that with a few works. Let’s discuss We Are Still Here.
LF: It’s made by newcomer Ted Geoghegan, who has written a lot of horror and has also been a behind-the-scenes advocate. He invited me to be on board, along with Barbara Crampton. It’s inspired by the work of Fulci and other 80s horror movies. It’s exactly what I’m describing when I say “movies that come from the underground,” and make a difference. I was just an actor in it. I’ve known Ted for some time, and he says he wrote the part for me.
AXS: You’ve also got Tales from Beyond the Pale. What made you want to revitalize the days of horror to the 1950s EC style as a live-read radio broadcast?
LF: Tales from Beyond the Pale is a collaboration by myself and Glenn McQuaid. We were listening to an old radio play in the car, and thought “Wouldn’t it be cool to produce those through my company Glass Eye Pix?” So we invited filmmakers to offer up scary stories for audio production. The first season there were ten tales each by a different artist. What they are is very modern stories, they’re not “old-timey.” We’re really trying to take audiences to a very evocative place.
We’ve had three seasons since then, and we’ve worked with people as fantastic as Stuart Gordon and actors such as Ron Perlman, Vincent D’Onofrio… Just a great array of talent. What’s so special about Tales is that you can take an idea, and you can really follow it through at a budget level and schedule that’s doable. So we really get to get content out there that otherwise… Being a filmmaker is a waiting game. And this sort of alleviates some of that frustration. One thing that we try to push is to get away from dialog and see how much can be conveyed through sound. It’s a very thrilling experience experience, and of course because it’s all sound, it’s the same cost to make a Tale that takes place on a spacecraft as it is to make a Tale that takes place in a southern swamp or a haunted house.
AXS: February also sees you in a horror anthology titled Southbound, in which you play a DJ.
LF: I have a small role in that. You know, we’re a community of filmmakers, and Roxanne Benjamin, who’s actually in some of Tales, gave me a call. So very happy to do that. It is sort of an ongoing character in the film. It’s a bunch of cool stories by filmmakers that I know, including Roxanne and David Bruckner and some others.
AXS: You’ve fostered several professional relationships with filmmakers, including Jim Mickle and Nick Damici. Are you continuing efforts with those two?
LF: I’ve been hanging out with both of them of late. We both have new things that we’re doing. We’re working on a project now that we’re keeping under wraps. And Mickle… he came to New York and searched me out, and wanted to do some projects together, and we kept in touch. Eventually, I thought of him for Stake Land. I met Nick through Mickle, and we all collaborated on putting that together with my company Glass Eye Pix. Then I was an actor on some of his subsequent movies.
AXS: Like Late Phases?
LF: Yeah, well we produced Late Phases, my company. So then we went back to our financiers NPI, we’ve done a lot of projects for them. They’re the same company that made We Are Still Here and they made a lot of our movies… so they came to us and said “Do you wanna make a movie starring Nick Damici and some werewolves?” and I said “Whats the question? Of course.” And that’s how that happened.
AXS: You’ve had one promising work that’s been in development – a Drew Daywalt project titled The Hurting Man?
LF: It’s a great story. I’m a huge fan of Drew’s short films. They’re remarkable punch-you-in-the-gut pieces. They’re really efficient. I had a mutual friend, and we hooked up – Drew and I – and we said “Let’s make this movie together.”
We’ve put quite a bit of energy into that film, but the stars didn’t align. There’s a lot of films that don’t get made that we spend almost as much time on as the films that do get made. It’s one of the reasons we did Tales, because that’s something that we could control because the budgets are within our grasp. So Tales has been very cathartic for Glenn and myself, and now you can see why. Because a movie as cool as The Hurting Man – it’s a great script and we even had a cast sort of lined up- but it didn’t happen yet.
AXS: Those restrictions don’t seem to slow you though, as you wrote a ten thousand page script for a video game?
LF: With my partner Graham Reznick. We wrote Until Dawn, which was a surprise success for Sony PlayStation 4. It came out in late August of 2015, with very little fanfare, and it’s become a wildly successful horror video game. And the reason it’s good is kind of what I mentioned earlier; there’s a certain authenticity to it. It starts as a teen slasher affair with eight kids going to a remote location, and they all seem to fulfill various cliches of the genre. But things start to deepen, and it becomes a very engaging video game. What happens in a video game is that you have to create various, branching stories. Which is to say that “If this character goes down that road, we have to write that story. But if they choose to take this other road, we have to write that story.”
It’s a remarkable game because if one of the characters die, then they’re dead for the rest of that game. Of course, you can play it over again. But the decisions really matter, and I think that’s why fans enjoyed it. It feels more like you’re living inside a movie. And whenever you’re in a horror movie and you say “Don’t go in the basement!” now you have a choice. You can either go in the basement or hide in the closet, but then you realize it’s not as easy as yelling at the screen. You’re actually making those choices.
This is the community that I have at Glass Eye Pix where we call on each other if there’s an exciting project to see if anyone’s available to partake.
The Larry Fessenden Collection – four of Fessenden’s movies – celebrates the work of Glass Eye Pix and is currently available for purchase. Southbound is in select theaters and on iTunes February 9, and Tales from Beyond the Pale are available for individual download or purchase as a box set. Check out the trailer for Tales to get more info about the thrilling radio series.