WINNER — BEST ACTOR, Alex Hurt
WINNER — BEST CREATURE DESIGN, Gerner & Spears
WINNER — BEST ACTOR, Alex Hurt
Craig Ian Mann, 21 July 2023
Larry Fessenden has a long and storied history with classic monsters. Habit (1995) – probably his masterpiece – is perhaps the finest film to use vampirism as a metaphor for addiction, as a hopeless alcoholic (played by Fessenden himself) falls under the thrall of an enigmatic bloodsucker amongst the neon and noise of ’90s New York. Just a few years ago, he put his inimitable spin on Frankenstein’s monster in Depraved (2019), which deftly mixes pathos with politics in a film simultaneously about losing one’s sense of self and the irrevocably broken American healthcare system. It’s no secret that the multi-hyphenate filmmaker has long wanted to complete a monster trilogy of sorts by turning his hand to a werewolf story – a lycanthropic dream he has finally realised with Blackout, an adaptation of his Tales from Beyond the Pale episode of the same name (2019). And it was worth the wait; Fessenden’s tale of a cursed man trying to make peace with a crumbling world stands as one of the finest werewolf movies of the twenty-first century. Our Culture reviews the film here as part of its selection from the 2023 Fantasia International Film Festival.
It’s clear from the very beginning of Blackout that Larry Fessenden possesses a deep love for classic werewolf movies. This is, in many senses, a fairly traditional tale of lycanthropy in the vein of The Wolf Man (1941), a film for which the filmmaker evidently has great affection; the action takes place in Talbot Falls, a small town in Upstate New York named for Lon Chaney Jr’s tragic werewolf (and Chaney Jr himself is namechecked later in the movie). There, we find artist Charley Barrett (Alex Hunt), who has contracted the werewolf’s curse before the film even begins. Struggling with his newfound affliction, reeling from his father’s death and recently separated from his partner Sharon (Addison Timlin), he has picked up an old drinking habit and is spiralling out of control. Though he keeps talking of “leaving town,” he is driven to stay by the deep injustices he sees in Talbot Falls. He is particularly enraged by Sharon’s father, Hammond (Marshall Bell), a property developer who is causing untold environmental damage and exploiting migrant workers in the process of building a luxury tourist resort. Worse, Hammond is stirring up hatred against a group of his ex-employees by suggesting that one of their number, Miguel (Rigo Garay), is likely responsible for a spate of grisly murders that have been committed in the town – murders that Charley knows that he himself is probably responsible for.
In some respects, then, Blackout feels like the meeting of The Wolf Man and Habit. The Wolf Man is, essentially, the story of a man incapable of suppressing the monster inside himself – or the “beast within,” to use a phrase often associated with werewolf fiction – and here Fessenden uses that theme to comment on the self-loathing that often comes with alcoholism (hence the film’s title). Like Sam in Fessenden’s vampire film, Charley drinks because he can’t bare the weight of a lifetime of trauma, and the symptoms of werewolfism he experiences – memory loss, fits of unbridled rage, a total lack of self control once the monster takes hold – all function as metaphors for sinking ever deeper into the bottle. And, of course, when Charley isn’t under the influence of the wolf (or, in other words, when he sobers up), he simply can’t live with the terrible things he has done.
Charley has only one outlet for his anguish: his art. Not coincidentally, that is something he has in common with Fessenden, who has always been a political filmmaker. Much like Depraved, Blackout is a very personal, intimate story – but one that also has much bigger things to say. This is not just a werewolf tale about the “beast within” but the “beast without”; after all, Charley might be disgusted with himself, but he is also deeply disgusted by all of the ugliness he sees in his community, chiefly racism, ruthless individualism, unchecked greed and a total lack of care for nature. In this regard, Blackout shares themes with several other Fessenden movies from No Telling (1991) to The Last Winter (2006), but it also draws on a particularly political strand of werewolf horror in which insatiable beasts lurk in small-town America. See Silver Bullet (1985), for example, in which a werewolf priest feeds on his flock, or Late Phases (2014) – another film produced by Fessenden’s production company, Glass Eye Pix – in which a retired veteran finds a werewolf lurking in a retirement community.
However, both Silver Bullet and Late Phases are set in essentially conservative communities; Blackout, on the other hand, takes place in an ostensibly liberal town in Upstate New York. So this is a thoroughly contemporary werewolf movie that skewers the lycanthropic nature of modern America, in which partisan politics are basically meaningless and even the “good guys” are indistinguishable from the “bad guys” beneath their masks of civility. Just as Charley turns into a ferocious beast on the three nights surrounding a full moon, it doesn’t take much for the people of Talbot Falls to start tearing each other to pieces. And Blackout makes clear that, long before a werewolf entered their midst, the members of this seemingly idyllic, liberal community have been turning a blind eye to wanton corruption, environmental devastation and worker exploitation simply because it benefits them financially.
Driven by an excellent central performance by Alex Hurt (aided by frequent Fessenden collaborators such as Barbara Crampton, Joe Swanberg, John Speredakos and James Le Gros in scene-stealing supporting roles), Blackout thus emerges as one of the most intelligent and interesting werewolf movies of the twenty-first century. It’s also a pleasingly retro one; there’s a clear love here for the wolf men of pre-1980s cinema, with Brian Spears’s special make-up effects recalling the hirsute horrors of not just The Wolf Man but Werewolf of London (1935), The Werewolf (1956) and Moon of the Wolf (1972). Not since Rick Baker’s minimalist work on Wolf (1994) has there been such a satisfying return to the classic “wolf man” look pioneered by Jack Pierce; the special effects particularly shine during the film’s all-important transformation sequence (which does not disappoint despite the film’s low budget). All in all, Fessenden’s werewolf movie was more than worth waiting for.
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Emily Von Seele, 22 July 2023
Fantasia Film Festival 2023: Larry Fessenden’s BLACKOUT is a Treat for Werewolf Fans Everywhere
Werewolf fans rejoice! Fantasia 2023 hosted the premiere of the new film from horror legend Larry Fessenden and it is not to be missed. Blackout brings all of the blood, fangs and carnage that you want out of a werewolf film, while also incorporating the thoughtful contemplation and real-world connection that Fessenden is known for. Much like his early film Habit, Blackout fixes its eye on a mainstay of horror cinema and finds a way to remix the genre staples while at the same time adding his own fingerprints to the narrative.
As the film opens, Charley (Alex Hurt) is checking out of the small motel that has been his temporary home for several weeks. He is in the middle of a separation from his wife Sharon (Addison Timlin) and everything else in his life seems to be at a point of change. We follow along as Charley meets up with several friends and seems to be putting things to bed. He is wrapping up loose ends, setting a few things into motion, and trying to make a clean break “before he goes.” Where, is a mystery. Charley has the air of a man putting his affairs in order, but is cryptic about his motivations and master plan.
As Charley goes about his day, we begin to meet the fellow residents of the small, upstate New York town they all call home. Talbot Falls (clever wink there) is very much every small American town, complete with its darker side. A number of vicious murders have terrorized the community in recent months. Local businessman and self-proclaimed leader of the town, Hammond (played masterfully by Marshall Bell), has singled out Latino resident Miguel (Rigo Garay) as the culprit (partially due to his proximity to one of the attacks, but also due to blatant racism). Eventually, Charley’s errands take him to meet his good friend Earl (Motell Gyn Foster) and the whole story comes out. Charley is a werewolf and is responsible for the attacks across town. He has no memory of what he has done or how he came to be this monster, but he knows that he cannot continue to roam free. He has a plan to put everything to rest, once and for all, and hopefully leave the town in a better place in the process.
Talbot Falls really is the quintessential American town. People there have known one another for years, they enjoy the tranquility of their small community, and that community is being corrupted right under their noses. Hammond is a developer who was recently granted permits to build a resort. The project has divided the residents of Talbot Falls, but ultimately, money won and Hammond got his way. And now he is fighting to preserve everything that he has. He is the kind of man who is only out for his own gain and will run over everyone else who stands in his way, all while declaring that everything that he is doing is being done for the good of the community.
He mentions more than once that he wants the town to “get back on track.” He is frustrated with recent changes and events – particularly the arrival of the Latinx population into the little hamlet that he lords over. He wants to see his town returned to the perfect place that exists only in his memory. Because again, like every American small town, that perfect version never existed. But people still remember it fondly and will fight to see it “returned,” no matter who gets hurt in the process.
Fessenden uses this cultural friction as a solid framework over which to build his monster movie. It gives the story a relatable and somewhat sad backdrop for the events that will transpire, and integrates them perfectly into the things that Charley gets up to when the moon is full. Like most of Fessenden’s films, Blackout utilizes a minimalistic approach to its supernatural elements, grounding them in reality and really giving us something that looks and feels unique.
The effects are fantastic. The look of the werewolf takes a lot from Universal’s monster cycle and is more of a wolfman than an actual wolf. It’s incredible and something that isn’t often embraced in modern genre films. And the way Fessenden reveals the creature to the audience is extremely effective. He takes his time, giving us some fangs, some claws, and plenty of POV shots before finally revealing the full scope of the creature. Wolfman Charley is something to behold, and Hurt does an amazing job in bringing him to life in a way that separates him from the fully human Charley that we get to know over the first chunk of the film. He brings in a lot of differences in posture and movement that make it clear that when this side of Charley takes over, it is fully in control. The Charley that we have gotten to know is gone for the time being.
There is a sadness at the heart of this film that I love, and that really spoke to me. Some of the best werewolf movies have a sense of tragedy at their core. Because in these films, Lycanthropy is something that is inflicted upon innocents. Characters like Charley have no control and are at the mercy of the beast that now resides within them. They didn’t ask for this and they don’t want it. They hurt other people and ultimately, must make a personal sacrifice in order to set things right. That melancholy is something that is present throughout here, as Charley makes his preparations and tries to close this chapter on the best terms possible.
Blackout is a fantastic film. The story is solid, the characters are well-realized and believable and the werewolf moments are positively brutal. Corruption in a small town and the story of a man trying to set things right before he is taken by the full moon. If that doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what will.
Movie Score: 5/5
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Steven Scafie, August 6, 2023
Like Depraved, a modern retelling of Frankenstein, Blackout finds writer-director Larry Fessenden once again toying with classic monster tropes. The new film focuses on a tortured artist, Charley (Alex Hurt), whose name is just a few letters removed from “Chaney.” Charley is dealing with a nasty case of werewolfism, which is the same affliction that plagued Lon Chaney Jr.’s character, Larry Talbot, in 1941’s The Wolf Man.
Where Depraved was a commentary on modern warfare, PTSD, and the pharmaceutical industrial complex, Blackout narrows its focus to the business of being a modern white liberal in a small town. Charley is concerned about the environment, and he’s disturbed at the racist groupthink stoked by a local real estate magnate, Hammond (Marshall Bell), who happens to be his former boss and the father of his ex-girlfriend, Sharon (Addison Timlin). At one point, Charley asks a former co-worker what Hammond has to do that’s bad enough to make everyone finally stop working for him. We all make moral compromises to survive, though Charley is making perhaps the biggest one of all, what with people’s blood literally being on his hands.
The film is unambiguous in that regard. Prior to our first catching sight of Charley, Blackout opens with a roving wolf’s-eye view of a presence slowly charging upon a man and woman having sex in a field, before a hairy, clawed hand slashes the innocent man’s throat. Fessenden then cuts to the motel room where Charley awakens, carefully showing not only the art that he’s drawn, but also the newspaper clippings of various grisly murders that he’s obviously committed. Right away the film distinguishes itself from so many other werewolf stories before it for not being about its protagonist’s discovery of and disbelief over his condition.
Across the film, Fessenden foregrounds Charley’s hypocrisies and how they inform his behavior while still cannily drawing our sympathies to him. Charley, who’s certainly not wrong about Hammond, is fully aware of what he does by the light of the full moon, and Fessenden paints a compassionate yet clear-eyed portrait of him. And contributing to that nuanced portrait is Hurt’s wounded charisma, which is evident even when he’s under mounds of makeup.
But as the scope of Charley’s violence expands, it’s clear how he’s made his guilt into everybody else’s problem. As Charley tries to get at Hammond through legal channels, a migrant worker, Miguel (Rigo Garay), is blamed for the killings, and that there’s no concrete evidence to send Miguel to jail can’t dissuade Hammond and his supporters of his guilt. Later, when Charley shows up at Sharon’s door while she has another man over, he may be in werewolf form, but it’s impossible not to view his arrival like that of a jealous ex, throwing doubt on his assertion that he has no control over his transformation. And when he quickly sketches out a drawing of a victim, it raises the question of whether he’s using the suffering of others as fuel for his art.
Blackout’s do-it-yourself, low-budget approach is unmistakable, but its compositions are painstaking and its editing choices are purposeful. Some of the film’s talkier scenes cleanly transition to voiceover, while its latter half thrillingly inches toward something resembling the psychedelic. Throughout, Charley runs across landscapes in lengthy, sidelong shots that give the film an ethereal charge of adrenaline, his movements so effortless that he seems like an extension of the natural world rather than a supernatural interloper.
Blackout’s sheer craftsmanship by and large papers over some of its stumbles. One depiction of a crime scene investigation is stiffly written but captured in a single take that doesn’t call attention to itself as the camera follows officers from an overturned car all the way back up a hill and to the road from which the vehicle descended. Elsewhere, Fessenden overstates a few of his themes, as when a crack about “white guilt” is dropped late in the film, long after it’s been made clear that Charley suffers from that particular curse. And though the story departs from Charley’s viewpoint on occasion, the other characters feel half-realized by comparison.
If the reach of Blackout sometimes exceeds its grasp, that same shortcoming is emblematic of just how many ideas Fessenden is juggling here. That richness is what allows the film to stand apart from so many other horror efforts that play out as prolonged trauma therapy sessions against flimsily arty backdrops. Charley’s struggles with alcohol inform Blackout’s title, though they’re almost incidental to the story given how much ground it covers, especially once the man implodes on his self-righteousness. As in his prior work, the far-reaching curiosity and fascinatingly conflicted nature of Fessenden’s perspective is still his greatest strength.
★★★ (out of 4)
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Phil Nobile, Oct 20, 2023
Larry Fessenden Trusts You
by Phil Nobile Jr.
(Mild spoilers for the as-yet-unreleased Blackout follow.)
This week at Brooklyn Horror Fest I watched Blackout, the new film from indie genre legend Larry Fessenden (Habit, Depraved). I loved it; it’s a haunting, haunted, old-school werewolf tragedy with equal parts horror, hair, and heart. It continues Fessenden’s career-long conversation about addiction issues while delving into timely sociopolitical topics and the unsolvable tangle of father-son relationships. It’s also hilarious and frequently gory, with great practical FX from Brian Spears and Peter Gerner. It’s a singular, handmade work from one of our great American storytellers. I can’t wait for Fango readers to see it.
This is not a review of the film. But in watching it, I was very taken with one particular aspect of it, and I’ve been chewing on it for days. (Here’s where the mild spoilers come.) The film has no opening credits, so actors are not called out by name until the end of the movie. Charley, the lead character, is played wonderfully by an actor of great depth and an unmistakable air of familiarity. Before I could put my finger on it, the film is discussing Charley’s late father, and Fessenden cuts to pictures of… William Hurt.
That’s because Charley is played by the late actor’s son Alex Hurt, and in retrospect the family resemblance is obvious. But without explicitly knowing ahead of time that this actor is the son of William Hurt, I was yanked out of the movie for a moment as my brain put the pieces together.
And the amazing thing is: Fessenden is fine with this, because he trusts his audience.
And this is exciting, because for the most part we haven’t seen filmmakers trusting their audience like this in a minute. Sometime between Christopher Nolan explaining in 2005 exactly where in Asia Bruce Wayne ordered his Batman cowls and the advent of social media platforms that accelerated media illiteracy, filmmakers and audiences have all shifted toward this priority of making things line up perfectly; bulletproofing plot points and creative choices so that an increasingly unsophisticated audience will continue to suspend its increasingly stubborn disbelief. Movies — especially and tragically, genre movies — now have to be grounded and believable, and asking your audience to stfu and take the ride has become a heavier lift on both sides of the transaction.
And here is Larry Fessenden, who’s been making movies for 45 years, reminding us that movies are dreams, and that we can all choose to be grownups about it and go on a journey whose layers transcend the current cultural need to be completely, thuddingly literal.
So, sure, pics of the late William Hurt might have your mind wandering for a second as you ponder the deeply meta layers of Alex Hurt’s casting — Fessenden says he saw in Alex the wounded weight of legacy that Lon Chaney Jr. brought to 1941’s The Wolf Man — but that’s okay. Fessenden trusts you to come back to the plot after you’ve processed this info, and he’s not worried that he’s lost you with this bold, honestly great choice.
Similarly, Fessenden’s werewolf story is more concerned with lycanthropy as a character exploration device than as some showcase for animatronics or cgi, so when you see the aesthetic route that particular aspect of the film takes, Fessenden trusts you to be on board. If you are, you’re gonna open yourself up to a very special film indeed.
Again, this is not a review, but every aspect of Blackout — its pacing, its beautiful character work, its very specific structure — seems to gleefully abandon expectation and convention, and trusts that audiences will take this sad/funny trip crafted by a wholly original cinematic voice. Certainly this is not the only film doing just that right now, but it feels increasingly important to call it out and celebrate it when it happens.
So many films spend precious time in the weeds trying to sell you their reality, making their verisimilitude airtight and critic-proof, and in 20 years all it’s really done for film is made audiences lazier and dumber while penning in storytellers. Blackout and its director have different priorities, and the film is all the better for it. Ultimately the film presents something that’s more authentic than realistic, and that’s an important and exciting distinction to learn — or, maybe, to re-learn.
Nick Allen, July 31, 2023
Fantasia kicked off its 2023 edition with “Blackout,” the latest from revered horror veteran Larry Fessenden, who brings the horror genre another distinct take on a creature feature (after the likes of “Wendigo” and the Frankenstein-inspired “Depraved”). Here, he has a wolfman played with grit and shame by a heartbreaking Alex Hurt, son of the late William. Hurt’s Charley is a painter whose life is reflected in his work. But it’s not just the pastoral brook for a painting he gave his estranged and then deceased father; it’s also the screaming faces of his victims, the subjects of his carnage when he goes out at the full moon and becomes a tried-and-true werewolf. As a vagabond painter with a drinking problem, he says he blacks out in these circumstances and wakes up confused, in the middle of nowhere, with blood on his clothes.
The film’s tone is mournful and moody, folded into a story of coming home and not knowing who you are. When Charley becomes aware of what he has done, he has a great deal of shame and terror about it; he wants to be put down. This inner sadness piles on his lost relationship with his lover Sharon (Addison Timlin), his fractured bond with his father, and a corrupt plot from a big wig named Hammond (Marshall Bell) to open a gaudy resort called Hilltop. “Blackout” swirls with these emotional problems along with the whole werewolf thing, which has riled the town in conspiracy and hate (some of the locals assume with no evidence that it’s the work of a man named Miguel [Rigo Garay]). The film’s first half is filled with scenes where dialogue-heavy conversation between two characters lazily takes us back to the past. These visually staid scenes usually consist of two people bantering, and their weak rhythm is broken up by werewolf carnage.“Blackout” is artful and compelling where it counts most, including a tremendous transformation scene that depicts Charley’s changes as if they were his paintings. The film has appealing big heart even when its violence comes off as more comical or cheesy, with characters sometimes falling into deadly slapstick or clumsily letting the wolf get away. But Fessenden is not precious about these details. As much as some of the movie’s wolf-iest scenes (attacking people, scaring them) might invite a viewer to scoff, they aren’t the main point and can nearly be taken as good gory fun. Even when the movie is little more than Fessenden riffing on the human side of a werewolf story, “Blackout” has a compelling, truly disarming earnestness for its deeply wounded soul to be recognized under its shaggy dog cover.
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Eye For Film
Jennie Kermode, 21 July 2023
The werewolf is one of the longest-established monsters in human history, dating back more than 4,000 years and making its first recorded appearance in The Epic Of Gilgamesh, but it’s only over the last two centuries that storytellers have really begun to reflect on the internal experience of a man undergoing such a transformation, rather than on the terror created externally by the wolf. Such treatments are still fairly rare, especially when one strays beyond the bounds of lightweight mainstream movies or pulp novellas. Larry Fessenden’s latest work, which screened as part of the 2023 Fantasia International Film Festival, shows us the impact of wolf-like predation on the denizens of a small town, but is essentially a human story.
That town is Talbot Falls, to which fortysomething fine art painter Charley (Alex Hurt) is returning after a lengthy leave of absence. He has been rethinking the way he lives his life, something which may or may not be related to the bloody deaths of tourists in the woods surrounding the town, or to the strange bruises which he finds on his body when he wakes up. Parts of the woods are being cut down to make way for a new estate. It’s a project which Charley’s father worked on before his death, and Charley has a bone to pick with the deceased man’s business partner, Hammond (Marshall Bell), after finding information which points to dodgy dealings.
Small towns being what they are, all of this is complicated. Charley used to live with Hammond’s daughter, Sharon (Addison Tiimlin), and there is still a degree of romantic tension between them despite a mysterious and messy break-up and her having found a new relationship. Charley takes the papers to local lawyer Kate (a sultry Barbara Crampton), one of a series of actions in which he seems to consign his own future to fate, but there are things he can’t do, and Sharon might be the reason for that. Meanwhile, local police officers Luis (Joseph Castillo-Midyett) and Alice (Ella Rae Peck) investigate further brutal killings and try to protect local construction worker Miguel (Rigo Garay) from angry locals after Hammond accuses him of being behind the crimes.
Violence is everywhere in this town, simmering just beneath the surface, preoccupying the minds of even those least likely to commit it; but there is also a sweetness. It’s most palpable in the interactions of the two cops, whose affectionate banter provides a welcome thread of humour and points up the absurdities surrounding them. Like some of Fessenden’s earlier work, the film is deceptively unstructured, unspooling like a yarn shared with strangers at a country inn, like a recollection of events which actually took place. There is talk of Umwelt, which highlights the experiential duality of the werewolf but also calls attention to the separateness of all the townspeople, the impossibility of them ever fully understanding one another in spite on the close interweaving of their lives.
Woven into all this, often so smoothly that you will need to be actively paying attention to spot them, are a number of werewolf myths. They invite us to try to figure out the rules of what’s happening even as Fessenden suggests that these are unimportant – that what really matters is something much simpler. Though a couple of graphic scenes present us with the classic imagery of the werewolf movie, there are also suggestions that what’s happening might hinge on delusion. The possibility that there could be a serial killer at work is treated with an expression of horror which the werewolf does not merit, suggesting that the latter, for all its unlikely nature, is seen as more natural – nature itself acting according to its own rules.
Despite the violent actions of the beast, this is a gently paced film which builds up emotional capital so subtly that you won’t realise it until characters you have come to care about start to die, or until its quietly devastating end. We see only as much of the visceral horror as we absolutely need to. Fessenden is more concerned with its psychological and sociological impacts. What emerges is thoughtful and deeply humane, whilst retaining that sense of otherness essential to folkloric tales. It’s a film which will haunt you.
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J Hurtado, 28 July 2023
Indie horror icon Larry Fessenden is back in the director’s chair with Blackout, a film about the pain of addition and becoming something you don’t want to be. Having tackled vampires in 1995’s Habit and Frankenstein’s monster in 2019’s Depraved, Fessenden finally has his werewolf movie in the solid creature feature Blackout.
Opening with a classic stalking sequence following a pair of adventurous lovers in a field, Blackout introduces us to the werewolf terror immediately as the monster tears the canoodlers to shreds before the opening credits roll. We quickly move on to meet Charley Bartlett (Alex Hurt), the above-mentioned monster, only he’s currently in human form and obviously in search of absolution for his many sins. He’s determined to not only set things right with an old flame (Addison Timlin as Sharon), but also to expose the dirty business dealings of local developer Hammond, who just happens to be Sharon’s father.
When the beast within Bartlett begins its reign of terror the police are dumbfounded, but Hammond insists he has knowledge that the killings are the work of a local Latino laborer named Luis. Though he has no real evidence, he’s riled the town folk enough that they are gathering a posse to bring him to justice. The local sheriff wants nothing to do with it, but that train may leave the station whether he likes it or not.
Meanwhile, Bartlett’s attempts to made nice with Sharon, who has wisely moved on, seem to be falling on deaf ears. But this is just one of many tasks that Charley’s aims to accomplish before he takes care of the werewolf problem himself. A bucket list of sorts, though there will definitely be a lot of civilians kicking the proverbial bucket before Charley’s massacre is over.
Like a lot of Fessenden’s work, Blackout uses the werewolf mythology to tell a very human story. Charley is a flawed man, but one who has mostly overcome a serious drinking problem to acknowledge those flaws and who wants to make amends. The werewolf thing puts a ticking clock on his atonement schedule, pushing him to leave this world having done some good before he does too much more bad.
Hurt lives this role to his core, and with a solid supporting cast behind him, Blackout works incredibly well in fleshing out the character and making this into more than a simple monster movie. Being a Fessenden film, there is a lot of talking, it’s not a bad thing, but it does cause the film to stretch out perhaps a bit longer than necessary. Most of the dialogue in helpful in building a very lived in world, though there are a few scattered moments where Fessenden throws in references to the classics of lycanthrope cinema that are just for funsies, but it’s not too distracting.
Balancing out the drama are some very gruesome kills scattered throughout the film. Blackoutisn’t afraid of doling out the red stuff, and even more fun for monster movie fans is that we get plenty of good looks at FX artist Brian Spears’ wolf man. There isn’t a transformation scene flashy enough to rival An American Werewolf in London or The Howling, instead, Fessenden stays with the Lon Chaney, Jr. method of revealing the monster in phases, which aligns with the film’s obvious love of the original 1941 classic.
Fessenden fans (Fan-ssendens? Fessen-fans?) will delight in the filmmaker’s gory take on yet another of the classic monster tales. Blackout, as they say, does exactly what it says on the tin. It takes a story horror fans know well and puts it through a modern lens with a writer who as concerned with the human elements of monstrosity than the mythological ones, but who has immense respect for both. There aren’t a lot of filmmakers out there who’ve been making horror as smart and emotionally gripping as Larry Fessenden over the last several decades, and Blackoutshows us that he has no intention of slowing down.
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Megan Navarro, 21 July 2023
In 2019, indie horror filmmaker Larry Fessenden reimagined Frankenstein with a contemporary lens in Depraved. His follow-up, Blackout, takes his exploration of classic movie monsters further with a unique take on the Wolf Man. Alcoholism and lycanthropy afflict an artist in Blackout, the title’s dual meaning apparent, but Fessenden takes it a step further by exploring the volatile nature of a community and the catastrophic yet absurdly funny toll a monster’s destruction wreaks on a small town.
Talbot Falls artist Charley (Alex Hurt) is at a significant crossroads. His binge drinking has made a mess of his life and relationships, including former love Sharon (Addison Timlin) and her ruthlessly power-crazed dad Hammond (Marshall Bell). His drinking has left him prone to blackouts, complicating matters when he begins to suspect he may be the werewolf savagely ripping people apart during the Full Moon. Never mind that he has deep-seated father issues to work through well before he’s introduced. This leaves Charley retreating from society while desperate for closure, especially as the body count rises.
Multi-hyphenate writer/director/producer/editor Fessenden captures Talbot Falls’ predicament with an almost documentary style that captures the town’s interiority. Charley may be the central Wolf Man, but his story is told as much through his perspective as his neighbors’. Fessenden unspools an unhurried hangout movie as the camera drifts through the town, capturing the varying direct and indirect conflicts of Charley’s nightly hunts. Charley is the throughline that connects the characters that come and go through his story, reflecting the current social climate with authentic poignancy and, often, a dry absurdist sense of humor.
In that way, Blackout plays almost like a series of vignettes as Charley’s morning walks of shame or errands see him pass by or encounter friends, former lovers, town police, a pair of town racists, or eclectic passersby that impart vital narrative details through casual conversation. That unconventional approach to storytelling gives thematic and emotional weight to the Wolf Man’s destruction, but it also means that Blackout leans more into drama than horror.
That’s not to say Blackout is devoid of horror, though; Fessenden opens with a retro horror scene featuring a copulating couple getting gory just desserts under the full moon. The filmmaker also demonstrates how night shots should look. Fessenden may approach Talbot Falls with documentary-like authenticity but he also injects stunning cinematic moments that underscore the filmmaker’s tenured experience. Charley joyously running through a field under the full moon doesn’t just harken back to The Wolf Man; it lends an infectious cinematic quality.
It’s authenticity that sums up Blackout well. Hurt ensures Charley isn’t a one-note despairing Wolf Man. Charley comes with hefty emotional baggage from the outset, and photos of young Hurt with real-life father William Hurt used in the film suggest perhaps Hurt is familiar with his character on a personal level. Whether that’s the case or not, Hurt does a tremendous job ensuring Charley remains emotionally honest, complicated, and profoundly conflicted about his lycanthropy, let alone how to address it.
Blackout draws obvious inspiration from a classic monster but couldn’t be further removed in execution. Fessenden captures the mundanity of small-town life while demonstrating just how precarious society can be as one rampaging Wolf Man plunges its residents into chaos. Those expecting a more straightforward, conventional werewolf movie won’t find it here. Charley is the catalyst in a broad picture tale, removing an easy throughline for audiences to grab hold of that’s further compounded by a laid-back pace. Instead, Fessenden offers a veritable, funny, sometimes sluggish yet poignant slice of life with a violent and bloody horror twist.
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Alan French, July 20 2023
Fantasia 2023: ‘Blackout’ – An Intimate Look at the Monsters in Our Towns
While Larry Fessenden has caught acclaim for his performances in recent years, he has built an excellent independent career in the director’s chair. The multi-tooled creative fuses grindhouse sensibilities with high-level commentary. His latest horror feature, Blackout does the same. Following a semi-traditional horror plotline, Blackout features a deep examination at prejudice and hate in local communities. Fessenden’s werewolf spectacle delivers on most grounds, even if some of the performances cannot rise to his ambition as a storyteller.
Late one night, a couple dies in the woods. Their bodies appear mutilated. The only witness – a Latino named Miguel (Rigo Garay) – tells the police about a monster. The established members of the town, including local developer Hammond (Marshall Bell), do not believe Luis and accuse him of the killings. Charley (Alex Hurt), the son of a local legend, comes to Luis’ defense. However, Charley has more skin in the game than anyone realizes.
Small-town dynamics fall away to larger comments on political discourse. Blaming the other, the creation of disinformation, and corruption come crashing into the township. The importance of allyship and belief comes out, allowing those with more privilege to navigate the complicated world more effectively. This ultimately pays dividends for Fessenden. In fact, he proves concepts of toxic masculinity, racism, and socioeconomic strife present in 1941’s The Wolf Man still echo in our current climate.
Fessenden crafts a beautiful story over the runtime, and his night photography gives us a perfect throwback feel. With DP Collin Brazie, they are able to craft a unique 1970s vibe, despite setting the film in the present. The opening of Blackout pulls heavy influence from grindhouse pictures, complete with a humorous sex sequence ending in a kill. As Blackout evolves, Brazie captures the beauty of the gore effects while also allowing the camera to function as a subjective view of the events. At its best, we feel horror history flowing through the blocking.
For the third time in his career, Fessenden delivers a unique take on a classic monster. While The Habit brought back vampires and Depraved included elements of Frankenstein creatures, this feels like his most accessible. For much of Blackout, the werewolf effects are hidden or obscured. Yet when they take center stage, they shine. The angles from the camera elevate these practical effects, allowing the transformation and hunting sequences to truly scare the audience. The creature of Blackout feels every bit as real as any we’ve seen in years. Additionally, the performance from Hurt as a wolf-man creates electricity that’s rare to duplicate.
However, Hurt and others do not quite bring enough realism to their performances to sell Fessenden’s material. Some horror takes itself too seriously, and as a result, self-importance hurts the story. However, Blackoutfeatures an integral story about race and undue anger in a post-Covid world. The material and metaphor work, but not all the actors can sell the dialogue as essential. Hurt struggles at times, as do a few other members of the cast. It puts a cap on how good Blackout can be, even with the ideas in place for it to contend for top-tier status.
Ultimately, a few missed emotional opportunities stop Blackout from being one of the best horror films of the year. Yet few will be filled with more ideas than Blackout. The power in the visuals and pure storytelling is undeniable. In the context of Fessenden’s career and his talent as a filmmaker, Blackoutshould still draw attention for years to come. It’s got too many good ideas and gore effects that are too good to ignore.
Alan’s Review: 7/10
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The Film Stage
Jared Mobarak, 21 July 2023
Larry Fessenden’s Werewolf Feature Blackout Brings Impressive Effects and Narrative Loose Ends
As with Depraved, writer-director Larry Fessenden returns to the world of classic, Universal-inspired monsters in Blackout. Whereas that title brought the mythos of Frankenstein’s monster (and its ample room for social commentary) into the present-day, this latest update shifts focus towards the so-called “wolfman.”
How does knowing he potentially killed innocent people affect Charley (Alex Hurt)? How can he keep pretending his life is simple and his love (with Addison Timlin’s Sharon) pure when a cloud of uncertain violence looms above the three-day nightly windows he cannot remember each month? Because while his actually being a werewolf is presented with enough ambiguity to make the truth part of the intrigue, Fessenden pulls no punches insofar as making certain we know Charley is at fault. He sees glimpses of his victims’ faces and, as an artist, paints them to try severing their hold. So while he might not be a “monster” in the literal sense, he is a haunted soul guilty of unspeakable horror.
That’s why he runs. He cannot risk harming Sharon or the town of people who all know him by name. It’s also why he’s resigned himself to putting an end to the bloodshed: it’s not just about the lives he’s already destroyed, but also those being targeted as perpetrators of the carnage in his absence. So while Charley’s ordeal carries a good helping of emotional drama as he attempts reconciling the complexities of his father’s (seen in photos as Alex’s real-life dad, William Hurt) complicity in empowering Sharon’s father, a power-hungry millionaire (Marshall Bell’s Hammond), and his own conflicted nature as a man who has thus far avoided confronting the consequences of his own actions, Blackout is strongest when it turns towards those external reverberations.
When a man like Hammond starts passing out goodwill and money to one section of the populace while sowing seeds of hatred for the other, his sway with public opinion can’t help creating monsters in his image. Because the citizens of this town want answers. They want whoever is brutally maiming folks to rot behind bars. And who better to target than the leader of the community’s Mexican contingent––a group that put down roots at Hammond’s behest so he could exploit their labor before inevitably tossing them aside? Miguel (Rigo Garay) was at the scene of the crime, after all. He’s the one who called the police to report a gruesome murder at the hands of an “hombre lobo.”
Thus it’s easy for the white population to interpret that implausible declaration as evidence of guilt. Werewolves don’t exist. Miguel was there. So Hammond riles up his faithful into a witch hunt that serves his own purposes. It becomes the final straw for Charley, who will not hurt anyone else––whether literally or as a product of his actions. Unfortunately, stopping himself won’t be easy. And turning himself in without knowing his full strength might even make matters worse.
Give Fessenden credit for really jam-packing this low-budget affair with as much political and social commentary as possible––even if a lot of it might come across somewhat half-baked and reductive. (See Motell Gyn Foster’s Earl as a means to messily relay how cops will always shoot a Black man with a gun first and never ask any questions later.) The topics are broad: Mexicans as “killers” hot on the heels of Trump’s presidency; quick reaction shots involuntarily othering a gay couple rather than simply including them; and an untouchable tyrant of wealth acting as though his “charity” entitles him to demagogic rule over those benefiting. But they’re also relevant and keep to the theme of mirroring Charley’s inner struggle with that of the town itself.
Fessenden talks about how he wanted to keep the production fast and loose while letting spontaneity rule the day. Doing so might create some really interesting tonal shifts––I loved the hard-boiled nature of Officers Luis and Alice’s dialogue delivery, played by Joseph Castillo-Midyett and Ella Rae Peck, that’s fully incongruous yet welcoming just the same)––but it also leaves some narrative loose ends. The experience is worth those hiccups, though.
Hurt delivers an effectively introspective performance that does at times remind us of his father’s soulful depth. The creature effects are top-notch too (Fessenden also states that his desire to keep costs down by hiring friends and offering “relationships” never meant skimping on what the film needed to be a success) with both the transformation scenes and murders leaving no question that the eyes we’re watching through wholeheartedly believe Charley to be that monster.
If some things could perhaps be narratively tightened, you always get the gist of what Fessenden is going for while knowing those moments which might be lacking aren’t a product of intent. And if you somehow find yourself unable to get past them, it’s impossible not to enjoy the stellar cast of supporting players: Barbara Crampton, Joe Swanberg, James Le Gros, Kevin Corrigan, Jeremy Holm, and others all make appearances to lend their one or two scenes the weight they deserve while leaving the whole better for it.
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Overly Honest Movie Reviews
Chris Jones, 21 July 2023
Horror Meets Socio-Political Drama in Unique Twist
Our adventure begins in the deceptive calm of Talbot Falls, an idyllic locale nestled in upstate New York. Here, we find Charley (Alex Hurt,) a local artist who transforms a motel room into his creative refuge. But this tranquility doesn’t last long, as a chain of frightful killings, driven by Charley’s “curse,” begins to unravel the peaceful facade.
We’re soon introduced to the nemesis in our plot: the morally bankrupt mogul, Hammond. Marshall Bell’s portrayal carries a devilish charisma, making his character a worthy adversary. Our hero, Charley, finds himself embroiled in a bitter fight against Hammond’s unethical ventures, even as he seeks reconciliation with his ex-love, Sharon (Addison Timlin), who has more in common with his enemy than anyone would expect. An escalating tide of prejudice emerges as an innocent worker is wrongfully implicated in the brutal murders.
One full moon becomes the ultimate turning point when Miguel (Rigo Garay) is painted as the monster responsible. Despite Miguel’s claims about a ‘man-wolf’ and all of the evidence in the world pointing elsewhere, Hammond’s character still focuses his investigation on him. Charley causes a storm of events to be unleashed in the quiet town. He works to clear Miguel’s name and sought assistance from his trusted confidante, Earl (Motell Gyn Foster), even hiring the legal expertise of attorney Kate (Barbara Crampton).
Larry Fessenden interlaces time-honored horror motifs and contemporary socio-political issues in BLACKOUT to spotlight the evils of avarice, corruption, and violence. The narrative surges beyond the parameters of a standard horror movie, delving into the depths of ecological concerns and societal fears. Shrouded in desolation and guilt, Charley bears the weight of his impending self-destruction throughout his sorrow-laden journey. With traits echoing divisive political figures… Hammond exploits racial tensions for his gain. Meanwhile, Talbot Falls serves as a symbolic microcosm of the divisive strife seen in modern America.
As the film hurtles towards its climax, Charley embarks on a path to self-redemption and acceptance and seeks solace in setting right his past sins. BLACKOUT melds horror and social commentary into a layered, introspective narrative that echoes Fessenden’s direction. This isn’t merely a horror flick; it’s a mirror held up to society, revealing the beasts lurking within our collective conscience.
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Anton Bitel, 21 July 2023
When, in an open field under a blood moon, a couple making the beast with two backs is murdered by someone – or something – with animalistic brutality, suspicion falls on the sole eyewitness to the killing, the migrant worker Miguel (Rigo Garay), who claims the perpetrator was an hombre lobo, or ‘man wolf’. A much more obvious candidate for the killer is local painter Charley Barrett (Alex Hurt), who, immediately after the incident, disappeared from Talbot Falls for an entire month, leaving his restaurateur girlfriend Sharon (Addison Timlin) behind without word – but Charley has the advantage of being white, at a time when Sharon’s father, the land developer Hammond (Marshall Bell), is cynically stirring up racial divisions in the populace to create a powerbase for himself, and is all too happy to make a scapegoat of an outsider like Miguel.
Now Charley is back in Talbot Falls, with a list of tasks that he wishes to complete during the day before finally meeting with his good friend Earl (Motell Gyn Foster), to whom he says over the phone ominously: “This is it, man, I hope you’re ready.” First he visits Hammond at a resort’s construction site, trying to convince his former boss to stop writing op-eds in the local paper that falsely accuse Miguel; then he asks the lawyer Kate (Barbara Crampton) to look into some filed papers from his deceased father that might incriminate Hammond in corrupt dealings and business malpractice; and he visits Sharon for one last time, knowing and accepting that she is now with someone else (Joe Swanberg). Like someone with a terminal illness, or like the suicidal protagonists in Louis Malle’s The Fire Within (Le Feu Follet, 1963), Sono Sion’s The Room (Heya, 1992) or Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st (2011), Charley has the air of someone on a farewell tour. Everyone notices. “You seem a little wounded,” Karen observes. “I know you’re hurting,” says Sharon. Even Talbot Falls’ pastor (John Speredakos) is worried about Charley.
In fact Charley does have a condition, and euthanasia is very much on his mind. For having brought us vampirism in Habit (1995) and updated the Frankenstein myth in Depraved (2019), now writer/director/producer (and all-round godfather of indie horror) stalwart Larry Fessenden turns to a different Universal monster, the werewolf, for his own special treatment. Blackout is so-called for the empty or at best impressionistic gaps in Charley’s memory on nights when the moon is full. These might be regarded as an ambiguous space where alternative explanations become possible to supplement the narrative lacunae. As Earl puts it: “I hope you are a werewolf, and not a serial killer, because that stuff is nasty.” Really, though, Charley’s unconscious rampages unequivocally involve a monstrous metamorphosis, seen not just through his own but others’ eyes.
In fact, the subtext of Blackout is less psychological than political. Talbot Falls is a microcosm of the United (yet increasingly polarised) States. At its centre is Hammond, a corrupt, divisive property mogul who, in his readiness to demonise Mexicans, to dismiss environmental concerns, to override rules and regulations, and to co-opt armed gangs of local vigilantes, is a clear Trumpian figure, described by Charley as the “self-appointed mayor of this liberal-leaning hamlet trying to rile up the locals, turning everyone against each other.” Hammond has an open antipathy towards the town’s Hispanic sheriff Luis Sanchez (Joseph Castillo-Midyett), and intends for his own gun-toting white henchman Tom Granick (James LeGros) to replace the official lawman. And if Charley, despite having a number of personal enemies, lashes out indiscriminately in his nocturnal attacks, targeting complete strangers, ‘good Samaritans’ and even a young boy, then guns here too – a real human technology rather than a mere creation of myth – similarly have a funny way of hitting the wrong targets, be they bystanders shot accidentally, or Black people shot more on purpose. This is America.
Amid road-lining campaign banners for and against ‘Proposition 7’ (concerning the construction of Hammond’s Hilltop resort), Charley is himself, like his community, split between being a champion of the local ecosystem and a danger to the social fabric. Whether his lycanthropy is an id-like expression of his shifting artistic spirit (the beginnings of his physical transformations coincided with the moment when he abandoned landscapes and “started painting these big gestural canvases, really letting loose”), or an embodiment of wild nature getting its own back on human encroachments and savagely restoring an imbalance (in a film where hunting and logging are highlighted), or just the result of another werewolf’s bite, Charley is a tragic figure, weighed down with horror and guilt for the atrocities that, however unwittingly, he has carried out, and still trying to find a way to draw something salutary from an impossible, involuntary predicament. Still, Charley is, as Earl says, “a man that got radicalised”, lured by the injustices around him to violent, destructive action. This is an ugly picture of America at odds with itself, although as Miguel, arguably the film’s true hero, says of the place that he has made his home (and that currently is seeking to imprison or even lynch him with extreme prejudice): “It’s a tough country, but we all love it.”
So once again, Fessenden takes very traditional horror materials, and weaves from them an utterly modern sociopolitical and ecological allegory. Here Lon Chaney Jr, who played Universal’s original Wolfman (in five films), may be duly name-checked, but this is as much for contrast as comparison. For Fessenden, as ever, takes an entirely independent route through these well-worn tropes, throwing up questions about our modern species’ connection to – and disconnection from – nature in a modern age of venality, chicanery and patriarchal greed, where senseless “combat and carnage” are in the ascendant, and a liberal, artistic outlook easily leads to despair.
Blackout comes with a strong sense of an ending. Decent, haunted Charley seems driven to carry out a plan involving apologies, amends and even corrections for past wrongs – not all his own – before facing up to an end that is very much his own. Yet the end need not be the end, as is suggested by an enigmatic, oneiric roadside coda, slightly defocussed to resemble one of Charley’s landscapes, and featuring an encounter between Charley and a second, mysterious figure played by Alex Breaux (resurrected from Fessenden’s Depraved), at a limbic intersection between two very different tragedies in what is now Fessenden’s own loose MonsterVerse. Meanwhile Charley’s late estranged father, a locally celebrated lawyer but “not exactly the man his reputation made him out to be”, is ‘played’ in Charley’s old family photos by William Hurt, actor Alex Hurt’s real late father – in a film full of characters with daddy issues, and dedicated to Fessenden’s own dad. Here art eerily preserves, and the d(e)ad can live on.
strap: Larry Fessenden’s werewolf allegory uses a small town to stage the polarisations dividing America from its own humanity
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Douglas Davidson, July 20 2023
Larry Fessenden’s “Blackout” seeks to eviscerate more than tender flesh.
Monster stories, creature features, if you will, generally are tales of outsiders. Dracula is but a lone survivor of a people trying to rekindle his species, Frankenstein’s creation is but a homemade newborn trying to find a place in a world not built for him, and there are ways in which to interpret the Mummy, the Wolfman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and many others as allegories for other issues of social exclusion or biological concern. It’s perhaps why the ending of Transylvania 6-5000 (1985) amused and touched me so much as a child as each of the so-called monsters were revealed to be people with various medical conditions, the misunderstanding of which or ignorance of created fear rather than compassion.
In his latest project, writer/director Larry Fessenden (Habit/Depraved) uses the wolfman as a vehicle to explore interpersonal relationships, social exclusion, ecological fallout, and the pursuit of capitalistic gains over human compassion. In just a few months, Charley’s (Alex Hunt) life has managed to spiral out of control. Beginning with the death of his father, then he and his longtime girlfriend Sharon (Addison Timlin) started having trouble, and now there are murders taking place across the last three months that have placed his friend, Miguel (Rigo Garay), in the cross-hairs. Some are coincidence and some are the result of xenophobia, but Charley holds a strong belief that much of what’s happened isn’t just the result of corruption left to rot his town, but the work of a werewolf and it is he.
Fear is at the heart of Blackout. As a creature feature, there’s slashing and tearing with plenty of red crimson splashing the screen, something which will delight midnight movie fans. Each scene is executed via practical applications and makeup that harken back to the days before CG, where the illusion between reality and fantasy blurred, each gushing pump seemingly bringing with it the ending of a life. From the opening of the film to its challenging climax, horror fans desiring that most precious life blood will get their fill. However, the killings, disquieting as they may be to the viewer in presentation, are not what pump through the film, nor are they the main feature. They are merely a blood offering to amplify the terror and anchor the film within the horror genre. The werewolf isn’t the thing, in ideation or physical construct, which drives Blackout. It’s fear — fear of being a killer, fear of the unknown, fear of clear communication, fear of taking responsibility. Some of this fear is manufactured, purposefully and specifically, by characters in order to take advantage of it. Some of this fear is coopted in order to give characters permission to be their worst selves. Some of it is fear of shedding their public self in private, sharing of themselves with another in order to become the being they’re meant to be. My favorite fear being whether or not Charley really is a werewolf or has he experienced a psychotic break wherein even we see him as a beast and no longer a man. That’s a fear that truly chills and the execution of the confirmation holds nothing back. In this way, Fessenden’s writing seeks to eviscerate more than tender flesh, but also the ideas that make man the worst villain to himself and others.
Well into the film a character brings up the German word “umwelt,” explaining it as a perception bubble that all living things live within. In their words, animals can’t exist in a world of morals because animals only have their perception to drive them, a notion that separates humankind as our umwelt employs a social contract where right and wrong, good and evil, are defined and enforced (one way or another). In a way, this conversation brings a little philosophical weight to the narrative, itself lean and focused on keeping us mostly confined to Charley’s fairly isolated existence. Are the people of the town acting out of their own umwelt, therefore free of the social constraints that bind humanity, or is their fear permeating their perception, thereby weakening their moral constitution and making them susceptible to the will of terrible people?
If you’re unaware, this isn’t Fessenden’s first foray into horror-as-metaphor as his 1995 project Habitexplored addiction through a vampiric lens and his 2019 project Depraved examined untreated trauma through a reworking of Frankenstein. Additionally, Blackout has its roots in an audio story from the audio podcast series Tales from Beyond the Pale that Fessenden co-created/produced with Glenn McQuaid until December 2020. Currently, the audio version of Blackout is listed as “coming soon” on the site and it’s unclear when or if it will release, based on the posted information. (Fans of the audio series will be delighted that there’s a near-exact callback image in the film to the audio story’s poster.) That stated, Blackout does include several Fessenden past-collaborators such as Timlin (Depraved), Barbara Crampton (Jakob’s Wife), James Le Gros (Stray Bullets), and Alex Breaux (Depraved). This translates to a film that’s already small in its execution feeling even more intimate. There’s comfort among the cast, coming across as familiarity in the performances — a necessity when trying to tell a small-town horror story in which everyone knows everyone and just about all of their secrets.
In keeping things as spoiler-free as possible, allow me to compliment Fessenden in marrying the expected with the modern in telling a werewolf story that’s more than just transformation, murder, and regret. He uses all of this to shift Blackout so that it’s also a story of the ways in which we allow ourselves to be manipulated by fear. How it doesn’t matter if you come from a liberal state like New York, in which the film is set, or a conservative one, if someone can tap that primal part of yourself, to work you into a frenzy, it matters not if one is man, beast, or something in between. Blood can flow. Though the film can be viewed as an ensemble piece, Hurt (Foxhole) as Charley is the anchor and it’s a performance that deserves being incorporated with other tortured protagonists whose choices don’t always go as planned and can’t be saved by good intentions. It’s a soulful performance that makes the project as a whole worth experiencing. So even when there are small, persistent items that stand out as, perhaps, too rushed to be considered realistic or so far into the supernatural as to detract from the stalwart anchors set, one lets them go as Charley’s pain and fear push us onward.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
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Film Freak Central
Walter Chaw, 25 July 2023
★★★1/2 out of 4
Blackout is a werewolf film in which the werewolf, Charley (Alex Hurt), “loses control” now and again, as he calls it, blacking out for a bit only to wake up bruised, bloody, and naked, covered in bits and pieces that are not his own. He has dreams of flight, and of violence, and rather than deal with his malady in a substantive way, he drifts from place to place, avoiding attachments–though because he’s charming and good-looking, attachments tend to find him anyway. I like the in-jokiness of the film’s pivotal location, “Talbot Falls” (Larry Talbot being the name of Lon Chaney’s Wolf Man), and I love how Fessenden structures his movie as a series of doomed-feeling conversations between friends, family, and old lovers helpless to save one another from the demons afflicting them. It’s the best film about mourning a person you love before they’re dead since Rob Zombie’s extraordinary Lords of Salem.
Hurt has a bit of father William Hurt’s eccentricity. He’s gangly, unconventional-looking, a little off in his delivery; watch him in a conversation with spooked local Miguel (Rigo Garay), who tells him that he’s seen a wolf man running around, murdering naked women in gorgeous Bernie Wrightson tableaux-by-headlight, and been reassured it’s just “Mexican superstition.” But, Miguel protests, the wolf man is a white man’s myth, not a Mexican one. Charley knows he’s talking about him, so he smiles a bit too wide and, in an unnerving editorial flourish, holds it for a beat too long. Charley is a complex, ambivalent antihero, horrified by what he becomes–an alter ego he tries to suppress with alcohol–but also amused by the fear he causes and more than a little drunk on his power over the small community that has rejected him and is now falling into insolvency before the economic catastrophes ravaging the connective tissues of the United States. Blackout is a laconic nightmare fuelled by the madness of our social unknitting. It’s Fessenden’s best, most freighted work since Wendigo. We’re all wolves, we’re all Little Red Riding Hoods, and there aren’t any more trails through the woods. It’s all woods–and it’s dark as fuck out there.
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Father Son Holy Gore
C.H. Newellin, 07/27/2023
BLACKOUT & The Straight White Male Beast
★★★★1/2 (out of 5)
The following essay contains
Turn thine eyes away,
lest ye be spoiled.
Larry Fessenden has been making monster movies for the past 30 years, bringing his love of the Universal Monsters into the present, from the Frankenstein-like No Telling (1991), to the vampire film Habit(1997), to a more direct take on Frankenstein with 2019’s Depraved. And now, premiering at Fantasia 2023, Blackout is Fessenden’s own vision of a modern-day Wolf Man. In Talbot Falls—named in homage to Larry Talbot, the main character of 1941’s The Wolf Man(played by Lon Chaney Jr.)—there have recently been brutal murders at the hands of some kind of creature, but one of the town’s developers keeps trying to pin it on an immigrant who works for him. An artist called Charley (Alex Hurt) knows more than he lets on because it seems that every full moon he goes through extraordinary changes that he doesn’t quite remember the next day when he wakes covered in blood.
Fessenden has always recognised the allegorical potential of monsters, just like many of the original and classic Gothic authors. Blackout works perfectly as a werewolf movie without having to read any deeper, yet if you do go deeper there’s a lot happening centred on the conscious, and unconscious, damage straight white men cause in the lives of women, people of colour, and queer people. Charley, even being a well-meaning person, doesn’t understand how much destruction he’s caused until it’s too late, and by then he’s damaged nearly every single person who still cares about him. In reality, straight white men, on a global scale, have caused untold damage, and, in Western society, we’ve only just started to seriously address it over the past handful of years. The problem is, it’s hard for a beast to see the error of its ways because it’s blinded by the instincts that were bred into it, and there is no doubt about it: like in Blackout, men are beasts.
On an individual level, Blackout parallels the werewolf curse to alcoholism, as the first time we witness Charley’s transformation it comes as a result of drinking. On a societal level, Fessenden’s werewolf represents many traumatised men, too ingrained with toxic masculine values to go to therapy and blindly obsessed with the issues they have with their fathers/the legacies of their fathers. Charley’s so wrapped up in trying to figure out if his father was a good or a bad man, or worrying that he doesn’t have his “father‘s balls,” he winds up forgetting to worry about what sort of man he is, and the issues with his father, as well as his mother who left when he was young, become repressed emotions that he takes out on the rest of the world.
The werewolf curse in Blackout symbolises those bottled up male emotions that toxic masculinity doesn’t allow out, so they transform into a beast and explode from beneath Charley’s skin. In one scene, Charley talks to a priest who’s known him all his life and was friends with his father. The priest can see Charley’s pain barely contained beneath the surface: “It‘s okay to acknowledge trauma.” But Charley, like the typical macho male, brushes this off, believing his emotional pain is merely caused by the regular circumstances of life, unwilling to admit he’s been wounded. Everyone can see how tortured Charley is, to the point Miguel remarks: “You got the haunt in you.” No matter how many people try to help Charley, he continues to lock his emotions away, and they never fail to boil over, affecting those around him in shocking ways.
There’s no coincidence that Fessenden depicts Charley as a werewolf killing a couple the police reveal were gay and eventually attacking his ex-wife. Women and gay men have suffered at the hands/values of straight white men and the hegemonies of masculinity and heteronormativity. Charley’s werewolf killings reflect the damage of real men in the world, which often affects those most vulnerable or marginalised in society. The bloody icing on the terrible cake is when Earl (Motell Gyn Foster), a friend of Charley’s genuinely trying to help with his werewolf issues, winds up getting shot by a local cop. This is one of the most significant, devastating pieces of collateral damage in Charley’s werewolf wake: the mistakes and violence of a white man comes violently to bear on a Black man, and the fact it’s at the hands of police is even more relevant in America today than ever. Yet another bit of sad collateral damage in Charley’s life is Miguel (Rigo Garay), the Mexican immigrant whom the local developer is trying to have arrested for the murders. Charley, though trying to look after Miguel in some shape or form, is the reason Miguel is nearly torn to shreds by the locals. Because of Charley’s actions, a Mexican man is falsely accused of a horrific crime, and a Black man is shot to death by police. This might be a werewolf movie, but it’s awful close to real life.
Blackout is ultimately about the price others pay when straight white men refuse to deal with their traumas and daddy issues; or any emotional issues at all. In Fessenden’s film, men will literally become a werewolf and murder people instead of going to therapy. The werewolf has long been a metaphorical vessel for beastly urges inside because the transformation and the violence fit so well with the idea of repression. The beast inside Fessenden’s werewolf is that of toxic masculinity and its refusal to deal seriously with trauma.
Like the men who point outward at the world with rage, those who blame others (and often an Other, whether racial, sexual, gendered, etc) for the dissatisfaction in their lives, Charley is so eager to find a scapegoat for everything that’s wrong in his life that he leaves a trail of shattered life behind him wherever he goes. The saddest part of it all is that we can see Charley wants to do good: he tries to help his town, and tries to mitigate the damage he’s deflected accidentally onto Miguel. But, just as it is in real life, wanting to do good doesn’t matter if you, even inadvertently, still harm others. Charley’s the fictional reflection of many straight white men who consider themselves good men yet continue to do harm and make things worse in their communities. And there are simply too many of them; we’ll never have enough silver bullets.
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The Hollywood News
Kat Hughes, 21 July 2023
In 1995 Larry Fessenden gave the world his spin on the vampire movie with Habit. Later in 2019 came his version of the Frankenstein story, Depraved. Now comes his take on the werewolf mythos, Blackout. Set in a small American town, Blackout joins Charley (Alex Hurt), a man who believes himself capable of transforming into a werewolf.
As with any good monster movie, Blackout opens with murder. Filmed from the perspective of the hunter, the camera hones in on an amorous couple. Their frivolities are quickly interrupted and before you can blink there is carnage on the screen. The next day, as the police are investigating the scene, comes the information that this is yet another in a string of killings. Coincidentally, all the killings are spaced around a month apart. For well versed horror fans this information screams werewolf, but the town’s police are looking for a more grounded explanation.
The townspeople themselves are also looking for a scapegoat and have targeted one of the local Hispanic men, Miguel (Rigo Garay). Their reasons for this deduction are many, but they are mainly driven by racism and classism. Miguel himself is one of the first to recognise the threat to be that of an ‘hombre lobo’ – werewolf. He has reached this conclusion after a near miss with the beast, but he is of course accused of lying. Charley, though, knows Miguel’s words to be true and is on a one man mission to save himself and the town around him. As he tours the rural setting one final time he intersects with a variety of residents which shed further light on the equilibrium of the place.
Slow and steady, Fessenden takes time in setting the status quo of Charley’s community. The camera flits from citizen to citizen, offering glimpses into the lives and beliefs of those who inhabit the world. It is an expansive and eclectic array of both actors and characters, but the collection perfectly builds an ideal ecosystem for this story. Far more time is spent with these strangers than with Charlie, but it is all for a clever reason. The pitchfork wielding townsfolk were a recurring motif in the old Universal monster days, and these snapshots present Fessenden’s interpretation of them. By spending time with these people you start to understand their fears, though Fessenden is sure to never indulge their attitudes.
In Charley, Fessenden presents a sympathetic ‘monster.’ He is not the traditional archetype for the wolf-man. Yes, he feels remorse for his actions, but he is not as hysterical as some others throughout history have been. Instead, he is rational with the truth about himself and has a plan to ‘fix’ the problem. More focus is placed on Charley trying to mend bridges, especially with his ex, Sharon (Addison Timlin).
Whereas Depraved was an intricate reworking of the Mary Shelley classic, Blackout is far looser with its kinship to werewolf films. The bulk of Blackout is set during the daytime. There is less onus on the importance of the moon, and far fewer night time scenes. This is because Fessenden is more interested in the man behind the monster. When the beast is unleashed however, it is brutal and bloody. The design itself is kept classic, a clear homage to Lon Chaney Jr. A low-fi and low key approach grounds the fantastical
Whilst Universal tried, and failed, to rejuvenate their classic monster movies with the ill-fated 2017 movie The Mummy, Fessenden has been successfully recreating them right under their noses. His reading of the vampire, creature and werewolf are vastly different to the classic icons of yesteryear, but it is their difference that makes them excel. Fessenden’s cinematic universe (pay attention during the film’s coda for how they connect) highlights that audience’s do still care about these monsters, they just require a more stripped-back and human approach.
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Reel News Daily
Liz Whittemore, 21 July 2023
Opening with a bang, quite literally, horror auteur Larry Fessenden gives Fantasia 2023 audiences the premiere of his latest film, BLACKOUT. With previous titles like Depraved and Habit under his belt, it’s clear he is a classic monster movie fan. His complex modern-day versions give you the shivers and make you think. BLACKOUT is yet another perfect chapter in what I suspect to be a long line of Fessenden cult classics.
The ensemble cast is enormous. Joe Swanberg, Jeremy Holms, and Motell Gyn Foster add to the validity of Fessenden’s horror community building. Barbara Crampton, horror legend extraordinaire and a woman who appears in more movies than I thought humanly possible, plays Charley’s family lawyer with a touch of cougar for extra hotness. Rigo Garay brings relaxed authenticity to Miguel. His chemistry with Alex Hurt is electric.
Joseph Castillo-Midyett and Ella Rae Peck are a great team as the local cops. Their scenes together are a welcome break. Marshall Bell plays Hammond as the wealthy town villain with the precise amount of elitist disdain we need. Alex Hurt plays Charley with a passion and relentless do-gooder attitude despite his surmounting inner turmoil. His physical work is magnificent. He has a strangely calming presence, even through his sullen outlook. I could watch him all day.
The second half takes several tonal shifts, but you’re already into the narrative. Fessenden injects family legacy, environmental and racial politics into the narrative organically. Small town and small-mindedness read universal, never forced. We even get a subtle glimpse of MAGA idiocy. One of the most intriguing aspects is the film’s overall look. It could have been made in the same year as An American Werewolf in London, down to the ominous era soundtrack. The special FX makeup progression also possesses a timeless monster movie feel. Beautifully painted animation illustrates Charley’s physical and innermost turmoil.
Part nostalgia and part modern-day commentary, Fantasia 2023 gets Fessenden at his best with BLACKOUT.
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Canon C500 Cooke Panchro Lenses
COLOR 144 minutes
1.85 Aspect Ratio
Charley’s secret is he thinks he’s a werewolf. He can’t remember the things he’s done but the papers report random acts of violence taking place at night in this small upstate hamlet. Now the whole town must rally to find out what is tearing it apart: mistrust, fear, or a monster that comes out at night.
Charley wakes in a well lived in motel where he appears to have been living for some time. He packs and leaves for good. He spends the remainder of the day connecting to various people in the small upstate town where everybody knows your name. Charley is saying goodbye to the long-suffering love of his life Sharon, daughter of the town Patriarch, and settling his affairs with a strange urgency that culminates with a call to a friend Earl, saying: “You better be ready, I’m coming.” But Charley never makes it to his friend’s house: When the sun goes down he has convulsions while driving his car, goes off the road and ends up in a ditch. Charley is a werewolf. He attacks his rescuers and moves through the outskirts of town wreaking havoc.
Waking the next morning on the forest floor, he tries again to find his way to connect with his friend to fulfill the unknown mission. When he finally arrives at Earl’s the two confer on what has lead to the decision by Charley to end his life by a silver bullet. It does not go well for anyone involved, and Charley once again wakes by a stream with blood on his hands. Now the town is alarmed, calling for remedies to the unknowable menace, blaming convenient scapegoats like the local Immigrant workers who are employed to build a luxury resort by the town patriarch.
Worlds converge on the last night of the full moon and a town is rattled to its core with little resolve as to the real culprit: legitimate fear, innocent paranoia, deliberate misinformation, or the fantastical existence of a werewolf in their midst.
With BLACKOUT I wanted to continue my exploration of the classic iconic characters first seen in the Universal monster films of the 30s and 40s—Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman—just as I had done with my 2019 film DEPRAVED, which explored the Frankenstein story in a contemporary context and HABIT (1997) which was a modern-day vampire tale. In embarking on these stories, I let the character of the monsters speak to me; the specificity of their afflictions suggest broader themes to explore. In the werewolf I saw a man at odds with himself, just as contemporary America as a nation is divided along political and cultural and economic lines. And as the Pastor in the film remarks: “A house divided will not stand.” Also, as always with my monster stories which deal with the fantastic, I try to explore subjectivity and the slipperiness of reality. With BLACKOUT, the main character is an artist, who by definition sees the world through a prism of interpretation and he is also an alcoholic, which is another condition that affects perception. Faced with these afflictions, Charley must ask: “Do I go on?” And that becomes the central preoccupation for the character.
This is a story I have been contemplating for many years; One fraction of this narrative was presented as an audio drama performed live on August 2nd 2019 for the Glass Eye Pix series TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE. And so the story lived in the back of my mind for some time and while producing the film FOXHOLE by my son Jack Fessenden, I started to envision a low budget way to make BLACKOUT with the same producing and key talent. On that set I met the actor Alex Hurt, who confided that he had great affection for the old Universal monster movies. I was also intrigued with the fact that his dad, William Hurt, was one of the great actors of the 80s. The potency of the patriarch and fatherhood is an ongoing preoccupation in my work. And I saw in Alex a pathos that I felt was perfect for the main character Charley Barrett. It gave me the encouragement to expand the script and try to launch the film. I returned to two private investors whom I have worked with before (gluttons for punishment), and I was able to capture the tax credit from DEPRAVED that came in after three years: one film paying for the next. I had a budget.
I was determined not to let an extremely humble bank account impede my forward movement and leaned heavily on my collaborators to begin putting the film together. My boots on the ground producers from FOXHOLE where able to commit, as did the Cinematographer Collin Brazie. I called the project a “Hybrid Film” to be shot with the smallest possible crew: mobile, nimble, like a documentary, except for certain big ticket sequences where we might need additional crew. Oh, and there was also a werewolf. I enlisted my regular makeup collaborators Gerner and Spears to design the monster. I wanted a flat-faced werewolf, less common nowadays than the snouted design from AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, THE HOWLING, or DOG SOLDIERS. But I was also heavily influenced by the drawings of Mike Ploog in the Marvel comic “Werewolf by Night” that debuted in the 1970s when I was a teenager and of course Lon Chaney and most recently, THE MONSTER SQUAD. Our creature was to be more psychological in its presentation to preserve the overall ambiguity about the affliction really affecting Charley Barrett. And because Hurt was so committed to the physicality of the role, he achieved a sculpted physique like the character drawn by Mike Ploog so many years ago.
The rest of the cast I assembled with the extraordinary help of Lois Drabkin, with whom I had worked on BENEATH, THE RANGER and FOXHOLE. Because of the nature of the story, cast members were asked to appear briefly and make a strong impression as members of this troubled community. I also worked closely with the Brooklyn-based painter John Mitchell who had contacted me out of the blue in April of 2019 and asked me to do a sitting for a portrait, one of the many random hapenstances that converged and became the DNA for the film that would become BLACKOUT. Locations, Cars, sets, props; all were enlisted through hand-shake deals and very direct negotiations with the people and vendors in Woodstock, Andes and Bovina. I wanted to put the film together holistically with little dependence on money, but more emphasis on relationships and smarts. At the same time, we did not skimp when an effect was needed as with our crane shot at the car wreck.
We shot quickly from a strict design of shot-lists and diverse talent in front of and behind the camera. I like to point out that the film is a master class in acting styles, there is such a range of approaches to the craft, and I would like to believe that the shooting style highlighted everyone’s contribution. In comparing this film to my recent Frankenstein story and my early film HABIT, I like to contemplate that it is the fundamental nature of each monster that has effected the creative parameters under which each film was made: The Frankenstein movie was stylized, created on a set with complete control. This film was made with great spontaneity like the wild animal it depicts and the tormented artist at its center.
I enlisted regular collaborator Will Bates (BENEATH, DEPRAVED) to create the score and he made a tactile soundscape of winds and strings that seem to emanate from the forest itself, with an overtone of bebop cords, my favorite era of Jazz. Sound design was essential as well, for only in the sound can we explore the real psychological depths and triggers that effect our experience.
While I shower great affection on these outsider figures that populate the Glass Eye Pix monsterverse, with characters possessing traits and personalities like Gods from Greek Myths or The Marvel world, I never want to lose sight of the fact that the essence of horror is that there is much despair in these characters, as they are dangerous, primal and destructive, they are a mirror up to our desperate selves. I think we can still learn from these horror tropes.
PRESS ANNOUNCEMENT OCT 2022
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.