For two decades now, independent genre filmmaker Larry Fessenden has navigated the world of horror, fighting against other low-budget horror outlets to emerge as a gateway for some of the most promising talents in the horror community today. Without Fessenden at the wheel of his ship, subversive horror might have drifted too far into the realm of satire or exploitation. And while Fessenden works his magic with his production company, Glass Eye Pix, the man still continues to spread his talents elsewhere, whether it be directing, such as with his creature feature Beneath; producing, such as with his audio drama, Tales from Beyond the Pale; or acting, such as in Chad Crawfod Kinkle’s Jug Face and Glenn McQuaid’s I Sell the Dead.
And it’s in McQuaid’s directorial debut where most fright fanatics may recognize Fessenden’s face, aside from die-hard Brad Anderson devotee’s. Fessenden’s portrayal of the wily and cowardly Willy Grimes helped define I Sell The Dead as one of the most funny and enjoyable horror comedies in recent years, alongside genre vets Angus Scrimm and Ron Perlman, as well as a top-of-his-game Dominic Monaghan as Fessenden’s foil. Luckily for Diabolique, Fessenden dug up some free time between promoting his projects and developing new films and spoke a little on his graverobbing, genre acting and Glass Eye Pix…
DIABOLIQUE: One of the reasons I Sell The Dead works so well is not only Glenn McQuaid’s great script and visual flair, but the incredible rapport between yourself and Dominic Monaghan. How did you and Dominic establish the playful, naturalistic friendship between the two of you? Did the nature of the roles lend itself to improvisation or did you both play it close to the script?
LARRY FESSENDEN: There is very little improv in the film. Dom is smart and a generous spirit and we struck up a friendship quickly. He brought a lot of his own spunk to the role of Arthur and we found a natural chemistry; I can easily slip into the role of bewildered curmudgeon. Glenn runs a warm and enthusiastic set. He loves his characters and the good vibe behind the camera translates to the film. The movie was blessed with positive feelings all around.
DIABOLIQUE: I Sell The Dead showed off your prowess for comedic acting. Do you approach your comedy roles any differently than a dramatic or horror role? Do you prefer dialogue driven comedy roles or physically humorous roles?
FESSENDEN: My approach to acting is to intuit the character’s motivations, and from there, develop physical characteristics. Once I understand that, I can riff on the character subtly or broadly, depending on what’s required. I always like scenes with no dialogue. There are no distractions from the words; you are just existing in the story.
DIABOLIQUE: Since its release on home video and its subsequent availability on Netflix Instant Streaming, I Sell The Dead has been accruing quite the cult audience. As both an actor and a producer on that film, what do you think it is about the film that’s given it an appeal beyond the horror crowd? Was there any specific sequence that was the most memorable to film?
FESSENDEN: I think the film has charm and style, and people respond to two working stiffs just trying to make a go of it. The movie is funny without trying to be a comedy. It is the situations that are funny, with two mates surrounded by so much death and menace. It was all generally fun to shoot, but the vampire sequence was especially buoyant because Glenn had really hit his stride as a director and the scene was well thought-out and choreographed, and orchestrating all the beats was very rewarding. It was at the end of the shoot and we were all pals by then. It was absolutely frigid that night but no one complained because the vampire, Heather Robb, was wearing nothing but a nightgown.
DIABOLIQUE: You also appeared in Ti West’s horror-comedy Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever in a short but humorous role. Had you been a fan of the original film or did you board the project to work with Ti once more? Are you ever hesitant to board studio projects, even as an actor?
FESSENDEN: I only did Cabin Fever 2 because Ti invited me to be a part of it. It was the first film he’d done outside of Glass Eye Pix, so he gathered a bunch of unusual actors to be in the film like Mark Borchardt and me. I almost always take acting work and I have no problem working for the studios. Studio shoots are generally very well run and it’s illuminating to see how the big boys do it.
DIABOLIQUE: Many fans in the horror community consider you to be the Godfather of Indie Horror, with your mentor-like relationship to indie horror maestros like Ti West, Jim Mickle and Glenn McQuaid, and now Adrian Bogliano. What do you find specifically appealing about working with young horror filmmakers? With projects like The Comedy and Night Moves leaning closer to drama territory, are there any other genres besides horror that you’d like to work in, either as a filmmaker or an actor?
FESSENDEN: I am interested in seeing good work get made, regardless of genre. I have a point of view and a taste in cinema. I enjoy trying to perpetuate that perspective through not only my own work but also through the work of others. Ti West brings a patient realism and mounting dread; Mickle brings pulpy, big-hearted, gruff poetics to stories; McQuaid a Gothic whimsy; Rick Alverson has a ferocious aversion to narrative tradition; Kelly Reichardt is searching for authenticity in every frame of her work; Ilya Chaiken brings street pathos, Graham Reznick is a meticulous and heady craftsman; Joe Maggio and J.T. Petty are both wickedly smart writers; Jim McKenny loves the old horror tropes as I do.
The list of directors I have worked with that I admire goes on. I love their individual voices and am inspired by all of them as a collective. This is a movement beyond horror. It is a rebuttal to the mono-chromatic offerings coming out of Hollywood and the Indiewood of Sundance (and though many of our films play Sundance, I retain a resentment).
DIABOLIQUE: You have a pivotal role in the upcoming film, Jug Face, playing the father to the lead character. What attracted you to the project? Do you prefer horror stories that are rooted in the supernatural rather than human evil?
FESSENDEN: I was invited to do Jug Face by the producer, Andrew van den Houten. I had been in a previous film of his years ago, Headspace, and we had remained comrades in the world of low-budget producing. The script by Chad Crawford Kinkle was unique and I had lots of affection for Sean Young and Daniel Manche, both of whom I’d worked with before. A lot of my choices are based on timing, vibe and, of course, financial consideration.
I absolutely prefer my horror rooted in the supernatural. While there are some remarkable slasher movies, like Psycho, Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer and Angst, I much prefer the element of the unknown to inspire the horror. [Supernatural horror] gets at the bigger existential themes being able to speak in allegory rather than absolute realism. Pure human evil is depressing, but the yearning for meaning is an endearing human trait. In my own films, I try to show the struggle between these two aspects of reality.
DIABOLIQUE: Your next film, Beneath, brings your filmography into the territory of creature features. Why did you decide to make Beneath your next directorial project rather than your next production? Was there any element of the creature feature that you wanted to avoid in making this film?
FESSENDEN: I have scripts I am trying to get financed that I have great passion for, but they seem to defy easy categorization, so it has been hard to raise the money. Still, I love making movies and love the challenge of solving problems like, “How do you shoot on water on a limited budget with limited time?” I love the craft of film. I love working with restrictions like the eight act structure we were saddled with to accommodate ads, as Beneath is going to be airing on Chiller TV this fall. Most of all, Beneath had a script and a premise that spoke to me, both in its set up- with a giant fish- and philosophy- with people that will turn on each other under duress. I thought that I might be the best man for the job.
DIABOLIQUE: As someone who has acted and produced horror comedies, what is it about that comedy that lends itself to the horror genre? Do you personally prefer straight-laced horror or horror-comedy in your horror films?
FESSENDEN: I hope you won’t toss me off this interview, but I don’t like horror comedies. I really don’t like camp either. I like comedy that derives from the folly of life, our relationships, anxieties, dashed dreams, paranoia’s and the stark juxtaposition between our hopes and reality. Ironically, I would say those are the same basic themes of my scary stories. What I don’t favor is the know-it-all style comedy that mocks the genre and winks at the audience, serving up pop-references in a spiral of navel-gazing self-congratulation. I don’t really believe in empowering the audience at the expense of the characters on screen. I think it encourages arrogance and dismissiveness in the culture.
DIABOLIQUE: Do you have any genre projects on the horizon? Can you reveal anything about your segment for The ABC’s of Death 2?
FESSENDEN: No, I have to focus on that next… yikes
DIABOLIQUE: Glenn McQuaid mentioned he is working on I Sell The Dead 2, which he compares to be closer to a heist film or a train robbery film. Are you involved in developing that project as well? Would you return to the role of Willy Grimes?
FESSENDEN: If Glenn and the financiers would have me back, I will be Willy Grimes again, quite literally back from the dead. And yes, Glenn and I are talking about how the story would go. He’s written copious pages with fantastic new characters, but it all has to be shaped. There’s so much to do, so little time, so little money.
You can see Fessenden currently in Jug Face, now on VOD, iTunes, Amazon and other on-demand streaming services. Fessenden’s Beneath will air exclusively on Chiller TV this fall. Fessenden can also be seen in Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, in theaters from Lionsgate on August 23rd. For more on Larry Fessenden, you can visit GlassEyePix.com, and you can follow Larry on Twitter: @GlassEyePix. Fessenden’s audio drama series, Tales from Beyond the Pale, co-created and produced by Glenn McQuaid, can be found here at TalesFromBeyondThePale.com. For more on Fessenden, Beneath and Jug Face, check back here at DiaboliqueMagazine.com! And don’t forget to pick up Diabolique #17 later this month, which features more on Horror Comedy from the likes of Alex Winter, Doug Benson and Lloyd Kaufman!