The word is out! Fessenden wraps photography on werewolf movie BLACKOUT, starring Alex Hurt.
A Fine Arts painter is convinced that he is a werewolf wreaking
havoc on a small American town under the full moon.
by Andrew Mack
A Fine Arts painter is convinced that he is a werewolf wreaking havoc on a small American town under the full moon.
“My approach was to blend a naturalistic docu-style with the mythological tropes of the werewolf story, an ongoing interest to blend realism with stylization, and to fuse themes of contemporary society with classic monster movie clichés.”
The film was produced by Fessenden, James Felix McKenney, Chris Ingvordsen, and co-produced by Gaby Leyner. Collin Braizie was cinematographer, following his previous stint on the Glass Eye Pix production Foxhole. Paintings for the main character’s artwork were created for the film by Brooklyn-based artist John Mitchell.
Blackout was shot at local shops and locations in New York’s Hudson Valley and serves as a portrait of the area including Woodstock, Olivebridge, Andes, and Kingston. Many local merchants generously supported the independent production. Fessenden explains, “My approach was to blend a naturalistic docu-style with the mythological tropes of the werewolf story, an ongoing interest to blend realism with stylization, and to fuse themes of contemporary society with classic monster movie clichés.”
Makeup and special effects were handled by long-time Glass Eye Pix collaborators Brian Spears and Peter Gerner, who previously created the Frankenstein monster for Fessenden’s 2019 film Depraved. Comments Fessenden, “Yes, I’m competing with Marvel and Blumhouse to create my own Monsterverse, but at a very different price-point.”
Larry Fessenden reveals news of his new horror movie “Blackout” and why the genre needs substance to survive.
I am excited to report that Larry Fessenden has wrapped production on his seventh feature, “Blackout,” which stars Alex Hurt as a painter in a rural community who’s convinced he’s a werewolf. If you don’t know Fessenden’s work, you may as well remit your horror buff credentials now — or keep reading, because the persistence of this filmmaker’s lo-fi approach to horror over 40 years is a case study in its own right.
On the subject of horror movies with something to say, well, that’s what the 59-year-old Fessenden has done for generations. At 22, he launched his New York production company Glass Eye Pix and he’s built a remarkable filmography out of spooky horror movies doused in social commentary. (You can also thank him for serving as a producer and general advocate of fellow New York filmmaker Kelly Reichardt.). With the very recent exception of Jordan Peele, nobody has mined more for substance in modern monster movies than Fessenden, but the industry has yet to embrace his work to the extent it deserves.
“I’ve been living in this world of low-budget impatience for years,” Fessenden told me over Zoom this week. After spending nearly a decade scraping together the budget for his last movie, the stellar 2019 “Frankenstein” adaptation “Depraved,” Fessenden decided not to wait. He took a communal approach to the production, shot in New York’s Hudson Valley with local merchants donating props. He self-financed the production with a handful of investors in part using residuals from previous Glass Eye productions. “I just wanted to skip all the angst on this project,” he said. “There’s a rock ’n’ roll aspect to just going out and making movies quickly.” Fessenden laughed as he declined to comment on the precise budget. “Let’s just say it’ll be eligible for the John Cassavetes Award,” he said. (The Spirit Awards category highlights projects made for under $500,000.)
With his missing tooth and tousled hair, Fessenden looks like a genuine creature of the underworld. His movies feel that way, too. Their themes range from global to intimate, starting with the alcoholism at the center of his masterful vampire thriller “Habit” (1995) and continuing through the climate-change allegories of the “Frankenstein”-inspired “No Telling” (1991) and “The Last Winter” (2006). During that time, Glass Eye became a kind of mini-factory for substantial horror stories produced on a small scale, with Fessenden helping launch the careers of directors like Ti West (“Pearl”) and Jim Mickle (“Sweet Tooth”).
The typical Fessenden movie is made for a few hundred grand and looks like it, but not in a raggedy way. The smallness of his movies enhance their intimacy and give the eerie impression of a world coming apart at the seams. When I profiled Fessenden for the New York Times in 2011, I compared his collective and its support of no-frills genre filmmaking to Roger Corman, but Corman ultimately wormed his way into a Hollywood system that Fessenden keeps at arm’s length. “I was never good at the parties,” he said with a chuckle.
After acclaim for “Habit,” Fessenden navigated a number of studio offers that didn’t gel, for obvious reasons: He wanted to bring substance to the genre, and studios wanted market-ready products. They batted away his pitches for “Mimic 2” and a reboot of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Perhaps the greatest irony from this period is that Fessenden once pitched Miramax genre label Dimension Films an adaptation of Marvel Comics’ “Werewolf By Night,” decades before the MCU took off.
The recent black-and-white “Werewolf By Night” adaptation on Disney+ certainly provides an innovative riff on Universal monster-movie tropes, but it’s more of a superficial homage than an attempt to grasp the fundamental horrors at the root of the originals. “We’ve seen all kinds of werewolf movies,” Fessenden said. “To me, it’s a Jekyll-and-Hyde story, a form of madness, and a lot of my concerns are there. As the political system unravels, do you keep fighting for democracy or just keep leaning into the hysteria?”
Notions like that don’t translate into a tidy pitch deck. “In the end, maybe this is the zone I belong in,” Fessenden said. “I don’t mind. It’s a more organic approach to filmmaking. I have my hands in every department.”
Fessenden wasn’t wowed by the original “Halloween” in 1978, arguing that much of the discourse around that franchise was less about the movie than the life it took on later. “I thought it was just horror for horror’s sake,” he said. “I really liked the metaphorical grit of movies like ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ whereas ‘Halloween’ was just scary music for the sake of the next kill. It just felt like a spookfest.”
After “The Last Winter,” there was a period when WME represented Fessenden. For a few years, he was attached to direct an English-language adaptation of the Spanish horror film “The Orphanage” for New Line, with Guillermo del Toro as the producer. That project fell apart due to budgetary constraints while the rapid-fire pace of Hollywood’s IP hunger annoyed Fessenden again and again.
“My favorite agent email read, ‘Stephen King’s ‘It.’ Any int?’ He just wrote ‘int,’” Fessenden said. “I wrote back saying, ‘Sure, what about it?’ He’d never respond.” After the “Orphanage” project fell apart, Fessenden found out that his agent had dropped him. “If you haven’t had a hit by now, I don’t think they’re really looking for your cooperation,” he said.
Fessenden isn’t the biggest fan of Blumhouse, which resurrected the “Halloween” franchise among other commercial horror coups. While the company has managed to produce complex horror successes like “Get Out,” there’s a reason why Peele went on to start his own production company.
The Blumhouse model prioritizes low-budgets with the potential upside for key creative forces, but it’s still a factory and that can lead to a lot of rush jobs, like “Halloween Ends.” For all the talk of its box office being hurt by a day-and-date release on Peacock, I suspect this second sequel to a quasi-reboot might have found legs if audiences weren’t already exhausted by yet another “Halloween” movie. “Let’s be honest,” said Fessenden, who has yet to see the film. “We’re talking about the commodification of something that is supposed to be pointed and say something real about society.”
He cited the original “Night of the Living Dead” as the template that all modern-day horror filmmakers should consider. “It’s about society breaking down during Vietnam and the racial struggles of the time,” he said. “At their root, horror movies have to discuss things that are horrific. So I think it’s a problem to commercialize this genre.”
Need something scary to watch this Halloween weekend?
Celebrate the spookiest time of the year by streaming
some of your favorite Glass Eye titles.
Now streaming: THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL on the Criterion Channel. DEPRAVED on Hulu. HYPOTHERMIA, THE INNKEEPERS, LATE PHASES, STAKE LAND 1&2 on Peacock. THE RANGER, HABIT, BIRTH OF THE LIVING DEAD on Shudder. DARLING, PSYCHOPATHS on Amazon. NO TELLING, THE LAST WINTER on IFC Unlimited… And the list goes on and on!
GEP pal and Vermont local Jeremy Holm (THE RANGER) curates SCAREFEST, a spooky celebration, now in its 3rd year. Fessenden’s DEPRAVED unspools at the Vergennes Opera House, followed by a live Q&A with Fessenden, tix available!
Saturday, October 29, starting at 7pm.
Followed by a Q&A with Fessenden,
dance party and costume contest.
“This is our third Scarefest in the Opera House and it’s an honor to partner with them to produce this event, this year’s event is extra special because we get to show off Vergennes to my friend Larry Fessenden, director of hundreds of films, including our featured film “Depraved.” We are looking forward to a robust turnout for both the film and dance party and raising a lot of money for the Vergennes Opera House.” – Jeremy Holm.
From AV Club: When a group of teens flee into the woods after a confrontation with the cops, they find that not even nature is a safe haven from the oppressive threat of authority in The Ranger. Chelsea (Chloe Levine) is forced to fight for her freedom when a park ranger (Jeremy Holm) from her past sets his sights on her and her friends. Jenn Wexler’s punk rock slasher is the film that got me hooked on Shudder, possessing the kind of go-for-broke energy and low-budget ingenuity that serves as a reminder that great horror is happening in more than just the studio system. Its “fuck the police” themes and exploration of America’s generational divide and fight for space as a means of relevance is a precursor to this current era of slasher revivals. It’s a bloody good time with plenty to say underneath its bloodletting.
A long overdue UK premiere of Larry Fessenden’s gritty independent New York vampire film is the perfect way to celebrate Glass Eye Pix
Twenty-seven years since its premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival and a quarter century after its initial US distribution, why a UK premiere of Habit now? With Kelly Reichardt’s Showing Up screening in competition at Cannes, and Ti West delighting horror audiences not once but twice this year with his retro-horror features X and Pearl, highlighting the influence of Larry Fessenden’s New York-based production company Glass Eye Pix could hardly be more timely. Recently celebrated in a twenty-six film retrospective at the New York MoMA, Fessenden’s “fiercely independent” production company has produced more than forty features, and almost an equal number of shorts, over the past four decades, the most notable being shown last April as part of the MoMA programme, including Fessenden’s own horror-infused directorial projects: No Telling, Habit, Wendigo, The Last Winter, Beneath, and Depraved; Reichardt’s first features, River of Grass and Wendy and Lucy; Ti West’s House of the Devil and The Innkeepers; Rick Alverson’s The Comedy, Ilya Chaiken’s Liberty Kid, and James Felix McKenney’s The Automatons, together with other Glass Eye Pix films by directors Graham Reznick, Beck Underwood and Joe Maggio. In an article for MUBI entitled Larry Legend, Adam Nayman described the retrospective as, “welcome – and, for the uninitiated, essential.” Sharing the spirit – if not the scale – of the MoMA programme, this ICA special event features a screening of Fessenden’s break-through film Habit – never previously shown in the UK – together with a conversation about the film, his career, and the legacy and influence of Glass Eye Pix.
Shot in 16mm by Fessenden and a small group of collaborators for only $60,000, Habit tells the story of Sam (played by Fessenden himself) who having recently lost his father and split with his girlfriend Liza (Heather Woodbury), finds solace in alcohol and sex with the mysterious, unpredictable Anna (Meredith Snaider), who he meets at a Halloween party hosted by his friend Nick (Aaron Beall). But there’s something strange about the seductive Anna, who appears and disappears unpredictably, and as the relationship progresses Sam begins to suspect that Anna is a vampire.
Filmed in 1994 and premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1995 to a positive Roger Ebert review, Fessenden was at first unsuccessful securing a distributor and so with characteristic determination decided to self-distribute the film, working directly with individual theatres to book screenings and driving a
35mm print to each location himself. On one occasion when displaying advertising material, he was briefly
arrested and thrown in jail for “graffitiing” city property without a permit. Fortunately, he was quickly released.
His unorthodox approach also paid off and soon afterwards Habit secured a US theatrical distribution and release.
Habit shares many of the qualities of Fessenden’s output as a writer/director (and editor – on all his films since No Telling (1991)), his take on genre is decidedly modern, charact-eristically reinterpreting classic horror themes within the contemporary world. He’s produced two Mary Shelley “Frankenstein complex” films, No Telling (1991) and Depraved (2019), the first set within the frame of unconstrained animal experimentation,
and the second rooted in a doctor’s war-induced posttraumatic stress syndrome. Habit is his reworking of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in contemporary New York, The Last Winter (2006) revisits John Carpenter’s The Thing as a man-made ecological disaster, and Wendigo (2001) reanimates the Native American legend through the eyes of a child within a disintegrating family unit. Produced on modest budgets, Fessenden’s films are often confined and claustrophobic, populated by few characters and set in a limited number of locations. They unfold as relationship dramas, accompanied by a growing sense of dread. As we watch these relationships disintegrate, horror elements are introduced gradually and often ambiguously. These are not typical genre films; Fessenden’s work tends to find its own unique place somewhere between independent filmmaking, art house, and horror. His films are extremely well-acted, often by relative unknowns, and where unseasoned performers can bring a risk of amateurishness to low-budget productions, Fessenden’s films excel in the opposite direction with wonder- fully authentic characters and performances. The New York Times wrote, “Fessenden approaches the themes and thrills of the classic American horror movies through a determinedly modern approach, as if John Cassavetes had been working for Universal in the early 30s.”
What makes Habit unique within Fessenden’s filmography is the ambition of its scale and audacity of execution. Where many of his films feature small groups of people in few settings, Habit roams all around New York with scenes set on Long Island, the Staten Island ferry, the east village, the San Gennaro festival in Little Italy, a church, a graveyard, and a Hospital. Ambitious setpieces include a car crash, a nude public photo shoot, and a rabid dog attack in Central Park. Often shooting without permits and with only available light, Fessenden’s team led by cinematographer Frank DeMarco deliver astonishing production value from these practical locations, and in the process provide an essential time-capsule of 1990s New York. With an aesthetic more akin to Taxi Driver than contemporary horror the emotional landscape is of loss, addiction, loneliness, and the subjective nature of reality. It’s also arguably Fessenden’s most personal film: Fessenden himself plays the lead role of Sam, and this is his second rendering of this story – an earlier version having been produced on video in 1981 when he was a film student at New York University. Habit explores “the subjectivity of life’s experience” and the film remains ambiguous to the end – its final shot leaving the audience with a variety of possible interpretations and resolutions.
With only six features over a period of thirty years Fessenden is selective as a feature director, but he’s extra-ordinarily busy as a filmmaker with over eighty credits as a producer, greater than twenty as a writer, and more than one hundred as an actor. His acting roles are often cameos, the lead role in Habit being something of an exception, as is his co-lead in Kelly Reichardt’s River of Grass (1994), but as recently as 2021 he co-starred with horror icon Barbara Crampton in Jakob’s Wife, and he’s also worked for New York contemporaries Michael Almereyda in Hamlet (2000), and twice for Jim Jarmusch in Broken Flowers (2005) and The Dead Don’t Die (2019). He appeared in Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead (1999) and recently revealed he has a small part in Scorsese’s upcoming project, Killers of the Flower Moon. Due to Fessenden’s long association with New York and cinematic back-catalogue some of his roles feel like homages, such as his bit-part in Michael Shea’s New York vampire film, The Transfiguration (2016).
Fessenden formed Glass Eye Pix in 1985, initially so he could own the rights to his own work, and at the same time he established a set of principles that remain unchanged to this day, including a mission to “support individual voices in the arts.” In an article for Roger Ebert’s website, writer Simon Abrams suggests Glass Eye Pix could be seen as “the indie horror equivalent of a neo-romantic artists’ collective” and certainly the MoMA retrospective encourages such an assessment. With rarely screened items such as the Creepy Christmas stop-motion animated shorts by former production designer Beck Underwood and Graham Reznick’s David Lynch inspired “psychedelic campfire tale” I Can See You (2008), the creative freedom of these individual artists is unquestionably on display.
Although we’re not hosting a Glass Eye Pix retrospective on the scale of the NY MoMA programme, we hope you’ll enjoy this special UK premiere of Habit and join us in an equally sincere celebration of Larry Fessenden’s fiercely independent cinema.
Geoffrey M. Badger
10 Creepiest Psychological Horror Movies
2015’s Darling by Mickey Keating is a movie that’s deeply indebted to not just Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, but his entire alienating “Apartment Trilogy.” Deceptively simple in its premise, Darling is a black-and-white descent into madness that’s told across six stark chapters as a frail woman feels increasingly targeted after she takes on a caretaking gig.
The success of Darling has so much to do with Lauren Ashley Carter’s hypnotic and captivating performance in the lead role. Darling is light on answers, but every micro-gesture that Carter transmits conveys an economy of emotion.
SUMMONERS, to World Premiere at Brooklyn Horror Film Festival. Directed by Terence Krey. Starring Christine Nyland, McLean Peterson, Madeline Grey DeFreece, Margaret Reed, Meghan Jones, Kate Warren and Fessenden as “Doug Whitman”.
Former witch Jessica Whitman hasn’t casted a spell in almost ten years. When her childhood friend Alana Wheeler desperately seeks her help in performing a dark spell, Jessica is plunged back into a world of witchcraft more dangerous and powerful than ever before. Terence Krey and Christine Nyland, the filmmaking team behind 2020’s indie gem AN UNQUIET GRAVE, followed their witchy hearts with this deeply humanistic chiller co-starring indie icon Larry Fessenden. —Joseph Hernandez
Need spooky decor for your Halloween festivities? Order your
Glass Eye Pix Shocktober Advent Calendar TODAY!
Glass Eye Pix wants you to celebrate Shocktober this and every year by joining us in counting down the days to our favorite night of the season: HALLOWEEN! What better way than with our new Shocktober Nights calendar. Behind each of the 31 die-cut passages lurks a monstrous and ghoulish delight, brought to life by Glass Eye Pix Art Director Brahm Revel.