The Wendigo has some way to go before it joins the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein in the Monster Hall of Fame. But horror director Larry Fessenden clearly feels there is plenty of terror to be mined from this terrifying creature, which derives from Native American mythology and has been depicted in a variety of ways over the years. The filmmaker has directed two movies directly inspired by the beast (2001’s Wendigo and 2006’s The Last Winter) as well as an episode of the NBC horror anthology show Fear Itself starring Doug Jones as a man who develops a taste for human flesh — a recurring theme in tales about the creature.
The Wendigo even features in last year’s video game Until Dawn, which Fessenden wrote with longtime collaborator Graham Reznick. “This just shows a man who clearly has very few ideas but can really milk them for all they’re worth!” jokes the filmmaker, whose other directorial credits include 2013’s killer fish movie Beneath and is also one of the creative forces behind the Tales From Beyond the Pale spooky audio play series.
Fessenden’s latest project to concern the legend is a collection of essays and other materials called Sudden Storm: A Wendigo Reader, which the filmmaker has curated and will be published by Fiddleblack on Feb. 16 (the book is now available to preorder from the publisher’s website). Deliberately broad in scope, the chapters range from one penned by President Theodore Roosevelt, in which he recounts a “goblin story” he was once told by an old hunter, to a consideration of the creature’s appearances on the small screen by horror expert Samuel Zimmerman. Sudden Storm also boast illustrations from Gary Pullin, Isabel Samaris, and renowned poster artist Graham Humphries. “We discuss it in terms of folkloria, in terms of crypto-zoology, but then we talk about it in movies and TV,” reveals Fessenden. “There’s a lot to chew on, if I can use the expression.”
Fessenden first became interested in the Wendigo as a child. “When I was in second grade, this teacher would tell us stories and he described this deer creature running through the woods crying ‘Wendigo!’” the filmmaker recalls. As an adult, Fessenden investigated the myth further and, in time, the subject became something of an obsession. “It’s an Ojibway legend that proposes that if you are in the wilderness, and you succumb to cannibalism, you will then absorb the spirit of the Wendigo, and become a voracious, hungry, creature that will keep growing, and you’re hunger will never be satisfied,” he explains. “It was a cautionary tale against cannibalism — rather specific, I think, but maybe in those times it was an issue. What’s interesting is, unlike the werewolf, or the vampire, or the Frankenstein monster, it really is an elusive creature. It’s depicted — which I think is so delightful — like a dwarf, or like a giant, or like a stag-monster, which is how I’ve sort of seized on it. What I love is that it does sort of slip through the fingers and therefore it becomes more mysterious.”
Given Fessenden’s well-known interest in the subject, it is little surprise that Fiddleblack sought him out to oversee Sudden Storm. “It’s a fun collection of strange and odd things,” he says. A lot of people are covering the same ground but not approaching it in exactly the same way. I have somebody (Flavorwire writer Alison Nastasi) who insists that Cannibal Holocaust is about the Wendigo. So, it follows an interesting trajectory. And this speaks to this thing that obsesses me about the Wendigo, which is that it’s slightly intangible and yet you can get an essence of it.”
Fessenden may not be finished with the Wendigo — or, maybe, the Wendigo is not yet finished with him. The director admits he would consider remaking his film Wendigo, which originally starred Jake Weber and Patricia Clarkson. “I feel like I never depicted the creature right,” he says. “I think I captured some of the mood in The Last Winter — the sort of oddness and off-kilterness. [But] I agree with Guillermo del Toro and a few others who say, ‘I want to see the creature! F–k all the Val Lewton bullshit! Let me see it!’”
Above, you can exclusively see artist Hugo Silva’s depiction of the Wendigo — which decorates the cover of Sudden Storm — while, below, you can see Isabel Samaras’ illustration of the creature.