From Entertainment Weekly: Jenn Wexler’s directorial debut, which recently debuted on the streaming service Shudder, is a mayhem-filled punk-rock slasher with a stand-out performance from Jeremy Holm as the titular wilderness-protector and oddly likable maniac.
This Father’s Day weekend, revisit Jack Fessenden’s directorial debut feature, STRAY BULLETS.
Starring James LeGros, Kevin Corrigan, Jack Fessenden, Asa Spurlock, John Speredakos
and Proud Papa Fessenden.
Explore the father/son filmmaker dynamic on set in “Sweating Bullets: The Making of a Kid’s Movie”
and watch Fessenden’s zombie-horror short film “Riding Shotgun,” exclusively on iTunes.
From Morbidly Beautiful: I have always loved the Frankenstein mythos and have been heartbroken time and again by what happens to the poor soul, usually known as The Creature. At the Portland Horror Film Festival, I got a chance to screen the latest adaptation of the classic tale from indie movie rock star Larry Fessenden. Depraved is a fantastic film! It is soulful, disturbing, unique in its modern setting, and I adored it. We watch the entire film through the eyes of the creature, who in this film is given a name: Adam.
I had the honor to catch up with this busy guy and ask him a few questions about Depraved and what he is up to next. I hope you enjoy the interview. Look for this film to be out in select theaters starting September 13th, 2019.
Los Angeles Zombie Girl: Thanks so much for talking to me Larry. I loved Depraved! What made you decide to make yet another reimagining of Frankenstein?
Larry Fessenden: I have always loved the Frankenstein story and was deeply affected by all the old Universal movies that feature the monster. But I also wanted to tell a version that was more personal, from the monster’s point of view in a contemporary setting.
LAZG: Why do you think that the Frankenstein story has been such a classic all these years and continues to fascinate audiences?
LF: The story hits on four basic enduring themes: The human hubris of a scientist-defying God; The fear of losing control over something you have created; The fear of the “other,” be it deformed or brutish and; The loneliness of being a monster.
LAZG: Why did you decide to make the film from the monster’s point of view? (That was brilliant, BTW)
LF: I am very interested in subjectivity, how every individual has a unique experience. I approach horror tropes with the question. “What would it really be like?” I had read a book called “My Stroke of Insight” (Jill Bolte Taylor) about a woman who had had a stroke. And it got me thinking about the brain as the source of our identity. All these influences converged in my approach to the classic tale.
LAZG: At the film fest, I heard quite a few people refer to Adam as the “hottest” Frankenstein monster they had ever seen! Did you make a conscious decision to make the monster an attractive person who could walk the streets and not have people immediately run away from him?
LF: Yes, I asked Alex Breaux the actor to work out in order to articulate his physic. I wanted to draw attention to basic idea inherent in the story of a man made out of body parts by showing him nude and svelte like an alien creature. I wanted a repulsion / attraction from the audience. I cannot define any one thing I was going for, but I was after several aspects at once in the monster.
LAZG: I know that Depraved was truly a low-budget indie film. But when watching it, it certainly doesn’t look low budget! How were you able to get the film to look so high quality?
LF: I believe that with careful planning and the assembling of a smart, like-minded team, you can produce results beyond the budget. That is the mantra at Glass Eye Pix.
LAZG: How long did you take to shoot it? Were you in New York?
LF: I think we shot 24 days. We shot the film in New York, mostly in a walk-up studio on the second floor in Gowanus, Brooklyn.
LAZG: This film is about loneliness, relationships, alienation, and what we learn from other people for starters, correct? Can you talk about that? Is there another theme in it I didn’t mention?
LF: Those are the themes for sure. And the theme of parenting is in there. And how we treat our vets. And how capitalism corrupts, and how cynicism is toxic. And it’s about the brain and memory. There are a lot of ideas in there, along with the main themes.
LAZG: Adam starts out so innocent, but just like a toddler, wants what others around him have. Is this a case of Nature vs Nurture? Henry refers to himself at one point, as a bad parent.
LF: It’s about Nature vs Nurture in the sense that it asks what is innate in a person and what comes about from the influence of others. Because we know who Adam was before he was created, we are aware that traits like being good at racket sports and scratching your head when you are nervous translate to the next body. That’s “Nature”. But Adam’s corruption comes from the vibes he’s getting from those who are “nurturing” him. Anyway, that’s how it plays in the film. A lofty topic like Nature Nurture cannot be settled in a fiction film; the idea is to raise these themes and stimulate further thought.
LAZG: You showed us the bad side, or the depravity as it were, and the good side of humanity. I think most viewers will empathize with both Henry and Adam, and that’s pretty cool. How did you accomplish that?
LF: I mostly just thought about what would make a person make a man out of body parts in a Brooklyn loft. And I thought about a surgeon from all the unjust wars we’ve been fighting in the Mideast. And I thought that might be where a Mad Doctor might come from nowadays. I felt like Henry was a victim of sorts, trying to do the right thing, but very deluded. And then his asshole friend takes advantage of his brilliance and vulnerability and poisons the impulse for good in this misguided experiment.
LAZG: The colors that showed thoughts and emotions were amazing. It’s the kind of thing you see when you close your eyes at night. What did you want the audience to understand from that?
LF: I like that you mention that. I’m just like a kid. When I close my eyes, I try to see what those shapes and colors are. I felt like you never see that in movies. In fact, no one ever talks about that. They are called Phosphenes. It was fun researching all that stuff, stuff about the brain and perception. It’s not all in the film literally. But it influenced my thinking and the imagery that resulted.
LAZG: If Henry had such bad PTSD, why would he want to bring something so wrong into the world? Was it because of what he did while in the military? It’s obvious he came back a different and damaged person after the war.
LF: I think if you have PTSD, you aren’t seeing the world correctly anymore. Henry is making bad choices; emotional and erratic choices. I think he came back from the war with intense guilt that he couldn’t save everyone on the battlefield. He has almost a Christ complex thinking he can fix everything by cheating death — standard Frankenstein-story logic, but with a contemporary context.
LAZG: As a contemporary tale with cellphones and pharmaceuticals, what was the message about our culture that you wanted to share with the audience?
LF: Well, I didn’t have a checklist. There were just things I wanted to explore about the problems in modern life that all seem connected in some way. We have surrendered our spiritual and tactile lives to technology in the name of convenience.
LAZG: We are left wondering what happens to Adam as he runs off into the park. It was such a sad moment. Could there be a sequel to answer that question?
LF: I have a sequel in mind. In fact, I have a television series in mind. But I doubt I’d get the funding.
LAZG: A sequel would be fantastic, as would a TV series!!! I hope it happens, Larry! Where and when will people be able to see Depraved? DVD/Blu-ray, VOD, Digital?
LF: DEPRAVED comes to select theaters on September 13. VOD and Blu-ray to follow!
LAZG: What’s coming up next for you?
LF: I’m producing a few things right now. Then I hope to direct again soon. I’m writing and scheming.
‘The Dead Don’t Die’ Review: Jim Jarmusch’s deadpan apocalypse
It’s funny to see an esoteric “I-don’t-care-what-you-think” filmmaker like Jim Jarmusch get a critical drubbing in the aftermath of him arguably returning to form. When his latest project, the zombie film The Dead Don’t Die, premiered at Cannes in May, people, perhaps, were expecting something more along the lines of his recent output — the dark, cool depth of Only Lovers Left Alive or the understated beauty of Paterson — and inevitably, what followed would defy expectation as much as Jarmusch’s turn towards the populist did years ago.
The Dead Don’t Die is shaggy as fuck, a deadpan zombie comedy that finds Jarmusch exploring things that he finds funny, perhaps to the detriment of what the audience might find amusing, but buried underneath it all is a cutting, painful bitterness about the end of both the genre and the world itself. In a way, you could call it The Last Zombie Film, though, much like the ghouls at its heart, it won’t stop coming back no matter how many times you pump it full of lead.
Boasting a cast billed as “the greatest ever… disassembled,” Jarmusch takes us inside the town of Centerville, an average ho-hum American town outfitted with the full tableau of the director’s wondrous losers. There’s Chief Cliff Robinson (Bill Murray), whose laconic vibes mesh well with that of his co-workers, the stolid doom-sayer Ronnie (Adam Driver) and the sensitive Mindy (Chloe Sevigny). There’s Hank (Danny Glover), the hardware store owner, who often shares conversation over a cup of coffee with Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi) at the local diner, despite the latter’s “Keep America White Again” hat. There’s Bobby (Caleb Landry Jones), the horror-loving gas station attendant who asks Dean (RZA), a spiritual mailman, for nuggets of wisdom alongside his packages; and Danny (Larry Fessenden), the motel owner who keeps close watch on three visiting “hipsters,” among them Zoe (Selena Gomez), who has a rad ol’ car.
Spying on all of them from the cover of the woods — and providing the film with its key narration — is Hermit Bob (Tom Waits), who Cliff went to high school with and then spirited off into the forest to live in perfect isolation, in touch with nature. Bob kicks off the movie by taking pot shots at Cliff and Ronnie when they come out to see if he’s stolen one of Farmer Miller’s chickens, and, after that encounter, the three characters, having gone their separate ways, realize that something a little weird is occurring.
The days are growing longer, for whatever reason; odd plants are growing in the woods, and the birds themselves seem to be fleeing some oncoming disaster. The townspeople take this into account, and begin to suspect something involving “polar fracking” occurring thousands of miles away, but there’s not really much they can do. And, after all, the government is telling them that it’s fine, and won’t harm anything. Yet, late that (long) night, a pair of rotting corpses (Iggy Pop and Sara Driver, Jarmusch’s longtime producer) rise from their graves and attack the local diner, killing the owner (Eszter Balint, re-teaming with Jarmusch after 30-plus years since Stranger Than Paradise) and the janitor (Rosal Colon) in the process of acquiring hot and fresh coffee.
Yes, that’s right: The zombies in this movie are attracted to the things that they used to love when they were living, and see their favorite things out after they’ve consumed some flesh. Arriving on the scene in his SmartCar, Ronnie quickly deduces that the attack was committed by the undead, and the trio of officers begin to prepare the town for the inevitable. Sure enough, it happens soon: Oddball mortician Zelda (a scene-stealing Tilda Swinton), who also happens to be a katana-wielding Scot, discovers that her corpses are coming back to life, and a corpse (Carol fuckin’ Kane) being kept in a jail cell reanimates and scares the hell out of the officers. It’s the end of the world, and, as Ronnie fears, it’ll all end badly for our cast of characters.
So, this isn’t Zombieland, and if you really want something in that vein, I highly recommend you save your pennies for the sequel that’s coming later this year. A lot of The Dead Don’t Die concerns things that Jarmusch himself would find funny, rather than things he thinks you, the audience member, might find humorous, and that approach — in that he’s trying to make himself laugh, and if you do it’s just a happy coincidence — feels deliberately tuned towards alienation. A good example of that might be the constant labelling of Gomez’s traveling pals as “hipsters” by the police officers and the motel owner, which reflects a sort of dissatisfaction on Jarmusch’s part with how he’s been treated in the press over the years.
Driver’s given the meat of the film’s jokes, as the man has never met a deadpan line that he can’t sell like hell, and it’s astonishing how much milage he gets out of the film’s two real recurring jokes (there’s also a great Star Wars gag in here as well, and I hope to get a GIF of his reaction to it as soon as I possibly can). One’s about the film’s theme song, which was penned and performed by alt-country virtuoso Sturgill Simpson, and the other is, as mentioned above, his quiet predictions of the horrors that await them, which pays off in a way that will piss people off, though I found it hilarious. Swinton’s deep commitment to her odd character is delightful as well, and Sevigny is, not-so-secretly, the heart of the film, as she brings a much needed emotional perspective to the film’s ironic distance. Her scenes with Murray are oddly affecting bits of honest sadness that have a shelf-life especially crafted for the dark days ahead.
But as the film reaches its conclusion, the more metaphor starts weighing down the film, and when, over the film’s final shots, Jarmusch has Waits explain exactly the point he’s trying to make, it feels a bit like the end of Burn After Reading, where JK Simmons demands to know what we’ve learned from our experience. It’s an unfortunate misstep in an otherwise interesting film, where there’s so much to chew on from the moment-to-moment substance of the film itself that one honestly might have benefitted from a more vague reading of events. But those pieces stand in opposition to Waits’ hasty thesis, and the perfunctory ending doesn’t stop it from being effective. The Dead Don’t Die is, in essence, about the collapse of all narrative in-and-of itself in the face of nihilistic extinction, where “reality” and “genre” are forced to collide in a way that ultimately undoes the both of them (see the constant collapse of the fourth wall, or the metafictional jokes that pepper Driver’s dialogue).
There are no happy endings here — no helicopters coming to the mall’s roof to be found, no military intervention outside the Winchester will happen — and ultimately, it feels more in line with Romero’s original creation than a lot of the films in Night’s wake. There’s just the collapse of everything we’ve worked so hard as a species to make — community, friendships, lives, an agreed-upon reality — and the environment, our one wondrous gift from the cosmos that we’re slowly obliterating in the pursuit of our in-the-moment needs.
The Dead Don’t Die is a hard film to recommend to zombie fans, or even fans of the director’s previous forays into the world of genre, given just how dedicated Jarmusch is to burning the very crowd that would turn out for it, but it may be of its moment in more than many have given it credit for.
From Talkhouse: The great horror director, producer and actor Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter, Habit) also brought his kid up in his chosen craft. Jack Fessenden, who’s still a teenager, has already directed one feature, Stray Bullets, and is in pre-production for his next. The two sat down to chop it up on the highs and lows of coming up in a cinematic family, why Larry likes to mentor young people, and the reason Jack hasn’t seen many of his dad’s films.
Jack Fessenden and Padre flanked by the undead at the Premier Event for
Jim Jarmusch’s THE DEAD DON’T DIE, opening nation-wide on Friday, June 14.
“The film is surprisingly sweet and melancholic – it aches with the soul of a poet. And the make-up effects used to bring Adam to life are convincingly icky. I went into Depraved wondering if we needed yet another Frankenstein adaptation. I left realizing I had just experienced one of the best.”
“Depraved works like a master class in DIY horror filmmaking. Fessenden has always been able to create heady, emotionally centered horror on a shoe string budget, and this is still the case here. And yet it’s a gorgeous film that looks grander in scale than it is. The title cards, the psychedelic imagery that show off Adam’s synapses firing or drugs entering his veins, and a third act homage to Universal’s classic monster make for interesting visual choices that adds to this love letter to Frankenstein. This is Fessenden’s Frankenstein, not just in how he narratively stitches pieces of these characters’ stories together but in his visual approach, too.”
After DEPRAVED unspooled at the 2019 Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans,
Fessenden joined a live recording of Post Mortem Podcast with Mick Garris.
Exclusively on the Fangoria Podcast Network.
From Fangoria: “From Wendigos to Frankenstein, we’re still blown away by the
conversation that just recorded at the Overlook Film Fest.”
Fessenden attends Overlook Film Fest where the opening night film was
Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die, featuring an all-star cast
and Fessenden too!
Bloody Disgusting says: “The cast is utterly charming, especially Driver and Fessenden.”
followed by a chat with Mick Garris.
From Pajiba: Celebrated New York auteur Larry Fessenden’s first film NO TELLING was subtitled THE FRANKENSTEIN COMPLEX, and now he tackles a more direct modern adaptation of Mary Shelley’s timeless tale. As always, Fessenden finds a distinctly personal way to shape classic themes, this time by telling the story from the point of view of the “monster.” Official selection: What The Fest?! 2019, Overlook Film Festival 2019. Sydney Film Festival 2019. Canadian Premiere.