LARRY FESSENDEN (2023 105 mins, C500)
ALEX HURT, ADDISON TIMLIN, MOTELL GYN FOSTER, JOSEPH CASTILLO-MIDYETT, ELLA RAE PECK, RIGO GARAY, JOHN SPEREDAKOS, MICHAEL BUSCEMI, JEREMY HOLM, JOE SWANBERG, BARBARA CRAMPTON, JAMES LE GROS, MARSHALL BELL
A Fine Arts painter is convinced that he is a werewolf wreaking havoc on a small American town under the full moon.
BLACKOUT: A New Film From Larry Fessenden Wraps Photography
“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.”
Eric Kohn 10/29/2022
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.”
Independent production shingle Glass Eye Pix is pleased to announce director Larry Fessenden has completed principal photography on his seventh feature film, Blackout. The picture, which stars Alex Hurt as Charley Barrett, a Fine Arts painter convinced that he is a werewolf wreaking havoc on a small American town under the full moon, wrapped under the glow of October 8’s Hunter Moon, with pickups completed October 16. The film features an Altman-esque array of co-stars – some newcomers and many long-time members of the Glass Eye Pix stable – including Addison Timlin (Little Sister, Like Me, Depraved), Motell Gyn Foster (Marriage Story, Foxhole), Joseph Castillo-Midyett (Equalizer, Death Saved My Life), Ella Rae Peck (upcoming Crumb Catcher), Rigo Garay (upcoming Crumb Catcher), John Speredakos (Wendigo, I Sell The Dead), Michael Buscemi (Habit, BlacKkKlansman), Jeremy Holm (The Ranger, Brooklyn 45), Joe Swanberg (You’re Next, Offseason), Barbara Crampton (You’re Next, Jakob’s Wife), James Le Gros (Foxhole, The Last Winter), and Marshall Bell (Total Recall, Stand By Me). Casting was handled by Lois Drabkin, who previously worked with Fessenden on Beneath and The Ranger. The film was produced by Fessenden, James Felix McKenney, Chris Ingvordsen, and coproduced 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.” Fessenden’s 1997 film Habit is a vampire film of some distinction due to its gritty 90’s New York atmosphere and naturalistic treatment of the genre. Fessenden heads into post-production immediately, with his trademark impatience to get the work out in a timely fashion.
ALEX HURT, “Charlie” – Alex Hurt is known for Bonding (2018), Minyan (2020) and The Good Fight (2017) and Jack Fessenden’s FOXHOLE.
ADDISON TIMLIN, “Sharon” – Addison Timlin began her career with the 2000-01 National Tour of “Annie”. She performed every orphan role before taking over the role of Annie when she was 9 years old. Her love of stage continued to several productions of Annie including Papermill Playhouse and the Theater of The Stars Tour alongside John Schuck before going on to Broadway as Baby Louise in “Gypsy” with Bernadette Peters. Timlin was seen in the film “Isabel Fish”, directed by Lara Zizic for the Columbia Film Festival.
MOTELL GYN FOSTER, “Earl”- Motell Gyn Foster is known for Marriage Story (2019), Anya (2019) and Clickbait (2021).
JOSEPH CASTILLO-MIDYETT, “Luis” – Joseph Castillo-Midyett is known for The Endgame (2022), The Equalizer (2021) and Death Saved My Life (2021).
ELLA RAE PECK, “Alice” – She is well known for her portrayal of Lola Rhodes on The CW’s teen drama series Gossip Girl, she is also recognized for her role as Mia Bowers on NBC’s Deception. She spent her early years in Minneapolis, Minnesota and New York. She made her screen acting debut in a 2006 short film titled Lilly in the Woods and went on to play the role of Emma in the 2007 feature Freezer Burn.
RIGO GARAY, “Miguel” – Rigo Garay is known for Crumb Catcher, The Leech (2022) and Size Up (2021).
JOHN SPEREDAKOS, “Pastor Francis” – John Speredakos was born on August 11, 1962 in New York City, New York, USA. He is an actor, known for The Mind’s Eye (2015), Wendigo (2001) and Inside Man (2006).
MICHAEL BUSCEMI, “Andy” – Michael Buscemi was born on February 13, 1960 in Brooklyn, New York, USA. He is an actor and writer, known for BlacKkKlansman (2018), Blended (2014) and Smothered by Mothers (2019).
JEREMY HOLM, “Harry” – Jeremy Holm is best known for portraying ‘Agent Nathan Green’ on the Emmy© nominated Netflix series “House of Cards” and as ‘Mr. Sutherland’ on the Emmy nominated USA series “Mr. Robot.”
JOE SWANBERG, “Stuart” – Joe Swanberg was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1981. He moved around quite a bit growing up, even spending two years on an island in the Pacific Ocean named Kwajalein. He studied film production at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he developed an interest in emerging video technology and the creative possibilities of the Internet. He became an avid web designer in school, and did this to make money while he financed his first film, Kissing on the Mouth (2005). He also worked for the Chicago International Film Festival as “Travel Coordinator,” though he had no formal experience with this prior to accepting the job.
BARBARA CRAMPTON, “Kate” – Barbara Crampton’s career as an iconic figure in the horror/thriller genres has spanned three decades and continues to gain momentum. Currently, she is starring in and producing the genre thriller, Jakob’s Wife, which recently wrapped production in Mississippi. Immediately preceding Jakob’s Wife, Barbara completed producing a remake of the Stuart Gordon classic Castle Freak, based on the HP Lovecraft story with Cinestate/Fangoria. Prior to that, she completed work on The Colour of Madness, a thriller shot in Norway. Other features due to be released this year include Run Hide Fight with Thomas Jane and Treat Williams, and King Knight with Aubrey Plaza and Matthew Gray Gubler. Earlier she starred in and produced Beyond the Gates, which won best horror feature in its debut at LA Film Fest. More recent titles as an actress include We Are Still Here, Little Sister, Sun Choke and the award winning Adam Wingard film, You’re Next.
JAMES LE GROS, “Tom Granick” – It isn’t hard to make James Le Gros bust a gut laughing. Just call him Brad Pitt. Okay, so he doesn’t get $6 million a film or have his photo air-kissed by legions of swooning schoolgirls during recess. But if you’ve caught Le Gros’ quirky personality, you may wonder why he’s still toiling away. But this Minnesota native, despite being tight-lipped on Pitt, Le Gros will happily chitchat about his career. Le Gros says he isn’t very “LA”, although he did live there for a short while.
MARSHALL BELL, “Hammond” – A tall, imposing character actor with a penetrating stare, Marshall Bell has provided excellent support in a variety of roles and genres. He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on September 28, 1942, and had been working as a consultant, teaching senior executives how to improve their speaking skills, prior to starting an acting career relatively late in life. His connection was his wife, the veteran costume designer Milena Canonero, herself a winner of three Academy Awards and nominee for five more. He made his motion picture debut in the drama Birdy (1984), which was seen by enough people to effectively jump-start his career. One of his next few roles was one of his most infamous: the creepy Coach Schneider of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985). But the role that really got him noticed was as resistance leader George / Kuato in Total Recall (1990) (the role re-united him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, as he’d played a hit man in the comedy Twins (1988)). Other substantial film roles include a frightening homeless man terrorizing Bill Paxton in the movie The Vagrant (1992), Gordies’ emotionally distant father in Stand by Me (1986), and General Owen in the movie Starship Troopers (1997), re-uniting him with “Total Recall” director Paul Verhoeven. He’s done many TV series, including Good vs Evil (1999), Wiseguy (1987), The X-Files (1993), Tales from the Crypt (1989), Hill Street Blues (1981), House (2004), and Deadwood (2004). He’s also appeared in commercials and done voice-over work.
KEVIN CORRIGAN, “Bob Kraus” – A native of the Bronx, New York, Kevin Corrigan has been acting and writing since the age of 15. He made his film debut in Lost Angels (1989) and around that time, when he was just 17, his original play “The Boiler Room” was produced by the Young Playwrights Festival of New York. He has gone on to star in countless independent films and has made quite an impression. Corrigan is also an experienced guitarist and has played in several New York City bands.
MARC SENTER, “Ernie” – Marc Senter is known for The Lost (2006), The Devil’s Carnival (2012) and Starry Eyes (2014).
CODY KOSTRO, “Burt” – Cody Kostro is known for Harvest Bowl (2021), I’m Rapper Girlfriend (2020) and Mare of Easttown (2021).
ASTA PAREDES, “Asta Carter” – Asta Paredes is an award winning actress and filmmaker. She is most well known for starring in Troma Entertainment’s subversive horror comedy Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1 (2013) and Cinema Epoch’s indie slasher Sociopathia (2015) . Paredes’ career also includes a co-star role on Shades of Blue (2016) (NBC) as well as lead roles in acclaimed shorts The Shadow Scarf (2017), Eros Point (2018) , and The Creeper’s Curse (2020) .
CLAY VON CARLOWITZ, “Clay Carter” – Clay von Carlowitz is an actor and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. A graduate of Kenyon College, he made his feature film debut as actor, writer and director in ‘The House in the Woods,’ before scoring the role of Eugene in Troma’s ‘Return to Nuke ‘Em High.’ Between film projects, he’s appeared in satirical comedy play ‘Ophelia’ with Gotham Dance Theater, ‘Danny and the Deep Blue Sea’ at the Robert Moss Theater in the East Village, was nominated for Best Actor for the short play ‘Entr’acte’ at the Strawberry One Act Festival and had a lead role in the Zoom play reading of Simon Bowler’s ‘Forger.’ His flair for the subversive led to roles in Kafka-themed web series ‘Under InspeKtion,’ Liam Regan’s horror comedy ‘My Bloody Banjo’ and Michael Walker’s meta-slasher ‘Cut Shoot Kill.’ Through his Abandoned House Productions banner (co-owned by wife Asta Paredes), he wrote, directed and acted in ‘The Shadow Scarf’ and co-produced Paredes’ ‘The Slightest Touch.’ After appearing as Malcolm in two seasons of widely-praised LA drama series ‘Here Comes Your Man,’ Clay filmed three features in a row, including a lead role in Aimee Kuge’s toxic romance-horror ‘Cannibal Mukbang.’ He continues to pursue dark, original, emotionally-charged work in indie film.
BRAXTON SOHNS, “Joe” – Braxton Sohns is an American actor, writer, and producer from New York. His career started by being cast in independent films in Upstate New York. Filling a multitude of roles on set Braxton has worked as an actor, camera operator, writer, and producer. He is recognized for collaborating with people such as J. Christian Ingvodsen, Sean Price Williams, Larry Fessenden, Jack Fessenden, James Felix McKenney, Joe DeSalvo, John Weiner, Danny Kuchuck, and Michael Spiller.
GABY LEYNER, “Freida” – Gaby Leyner was born on June 26, 1993 in Hoboken, New Jersey, USA. She is an actress and producer, known for Cell (2016) and Mouchette on East 4th (2019).
LARRY FESSENDEN, Director/Writer: winner of the 1997 Someone to Watch Spirit Award, and nominee for the 2010 Piaget Spirit Award for producing, is the writer, director and editor of the award-winning art-horror trilogy HABIT (Nominated for 2 Spirit Awards), WENDIGO (Winner Best Film 2001 Woodstock Film Festival) and NO TELLING. His film, THE LAST WINTER (Nominated for a 2007 Gotham Award for best ensemble cast), premiered at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival and was distributed through IFC. Fessenden directed SKIN AND BONES for NBC TV’s horror anthology FEAR ITSELF and the feature film BENEATH for Chiller films. He wrote the screenplay with Guillermo del Toro of ORPHANAGE, an English language remake of the successful Spanish film EL ORFANATO. He is the writer, with Graham Reznick of the Sony Playstation video game UNTIL DAWN. Fessenden was awarded the 2007 Sitges Film Festival Maria Award for his work as a producer, actor and director in genre film, and he won the 2009 Golden Hammer Award for “being such an inspiring force in the industry.” In 2011, Fessenden was inducted into the “Fangoria Hall of Fame” and was honored by the UK’s Total Film as an Icon of Horror during the Frightfest Film Festival.
J. CHRISTIAN INGVORDSEN, Producer – Since 1982 J. Christian Ingvordsen has written, produced and directed 25 feature films which have been released domestically and internationally through HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures and more. Ingvordsen’s productions have starred Robert Mitchum, Shelly Winters, Telly Savalas, and Kathy Ireland amongst others. As a director, Ingvordsen has worked with Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Danny Aiello, Martin Kove, Dan Haggerty, Lance Henriksen, Robert Davi, Billy Drago and many others.
JAMES FELIX McKENNEY, Producer – Jim McKenney was born in Connecticut and raised in Maine. He spent much of the 1990’s working in Boston underground theatre with the House of Borax and Acme Theatr groups, as well as with their various offshoots, in many capacities: actor, stagehand, playwright, director and doorman. In 1995, he founded MonsterPants, then the publisher of underground comic books. Three issues of COW were published, for which McKenney was co-editor and publisher, contributing writer and occasional artist. Also from MonsterPants Comics was a special edition of PSYCHONAUT by Serbian artist, Aleksandar Zograf. McKenney lived in Los Angeles from 1996 – 2000 where he performed writing chores on numerous projects, including: comic books, music videos, internet magazines and motion pictures. After a number of feature film projects fell through at crucial points in their development, McKenney decided to take matters into his own hands and make his own movie, the tongue-in-cheek bloodfest: CANNIBALLISTIC! After returning to the East Coast, McKenney continued to work on independent films until he began his relationship with Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix in 2002. McKenney has been a collaborator on several Glass Eye projects, including THE LAST WINTER and THE WENDIGO animated series. He is the Associate Producer on the ScareFlix film series which includes director Ti West’s THE ROOST and TRIGGER MAN. McKenney is responsible for writing and directing the first film in the line, the quirky supernatural drama THE OFF SEASON, as well as the retro-styled killer robot film AUTOMATONS. Both are currently available on DVD. 2010 brought the debut of McKenney’s satire of Christian “scare” films, SATAN HATES YOU, which is now available on DVD and won Best Feature at the Coney Island Film Festival. In 2012, James hosted the weekly internet radio show “The MonsterPants Are On!” on Cult Radio-A-Go-Go. That year also saw the release of the creature feature HYPOTHERMIA starring Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Walking Dead), which McKenney wrote and directed for Glass Eye Pix and Dark Sky Films. McKenney currently lives in New York with his longtime girlfriend Lisa where he continues to make films, host the Before Geeks Were Cool podcast and create handmade toys assisted by his cats Oscar, Oliver, Gomez & Mothra and dogs Chumley, Nacho, Sanchez & Doomsday.