Sometimes a monster is just a monster. However, most of the time, the horror genre has a habit of using terrifying creatures to explore all kinds of social, political and even psychological concepts. Over the years, ghouls, ghosts, and ferocious beasts have represented everything from pain to fear of the unknown, adding substance to the ancient scares that afflict us. More recently, there’s an underrated filmmaker who’s made a career out of repurposing and re-signifying classic monsters to tell startlingly human stories, and his name is Larry Fessenden.
A Manhattan native and lover of all things weird, Fessenden may not be a household name among casual horror fans, but this champion of indie genre cinema is far more influential than most people seem to realize. . Not only have his unconventional creature characteristics developed a cult following over the years, but Fessenden has also mentored and promoted emerging filmmakers like Ti West and Jim Mickle through his independently owned studio. Glass eye pix.
Of course, many people know Fessenden through his strange performances in movies like I sell the dead other Jug face (or even the popular video game Until sunrise, which we will talk about later), but today I would like to focus on another facet of his artistic production. For me, the most fascinating aspect of Fessenden’s work has always been his penchant for exploring the human soul through petty subjects. Using monsters to talk about serious topics is nothing new, but few filmmakers take these outcasts and their stories as seriously as Fessenden does, giving us creature characteristics that have a lot more to say than an average monster movie.
Even in 1991, Fessenden’s second feature film already tackled Mary Shelley as she recounted the tragic decline of a loving marriage. The director had dabbled in horror with his previous projects, but Do not say (also know as The Frankenstein complex) gave us a scathing critique of corporate science along with some gut emotions. The “monster” here may be more human than usual, with most of the movie’s scares relegated to unethical animal testing, but there are still some genuinely disturbing moments that lead to a gruesome climax. While it’s not exactly the most popular of Fessenden’s films, it certainly was a sign of things to come, laying the groundwork for many of the director’s future projects.
With 1995’s Habit, Fessenden cemented his position as an expert in subverting horror, revamping another classic monster by making this vampire-centric imagery take place in (then) modern day New York City. By turning blood-sucking affliction into a metaphor for addiction and the worst aspects of the human psyche (as well as a possible comment on STDs), the director somehow managed to do a deeply personal experiment without sacrificing the romantic charms of the vampire. classic. . Featuring compelling performances by Meredith Snaider and Fessenden himself in a delightfully ambiguous play with tongue-in-cheek references to vampire lore, this hidden gem is a great example of an artist projecting new meaning onto ancient tropes and giving them new life. .
Snaider’s seductive performance as Anna is quite a departure from your usual bloodsucker, as the film refuses to openly confirm her vampiric nature while drawing parallels between her supposedly monstrous qualities and the protagonist’s self-destructive qualities. It is suggested that this perverted vampire might be more of a mysterious goth girl than a supernatural entity, but Habit is still a groundbreaking revision of the vampire myth, which argues that there might be a little Nosferatu inside all of us.
This ambiguous approach to the supernatural would continue with Wendigo, a movie that ended up accidentally redefining the Native American legend that inspired it. A poignant take on America’s family ties and inherited ills, this 2001 thriller is far more subdued than the hype would lead you to believe. Through surreal images and changing points of view, Wendigo He combines the innocence of childhood with the fears of adults he can relate to while experimenting with an appropriate mystical version of the titular monster. The ending may not please everyone, but Fessenden’s commitment to down-to-earth drama, even when talking about otherworldly terror, is admirable.
Wendigo himself is largely absent for most of the film, only appearing in brief dreamlike sequences before the end, but the film depicts the creature as an ambivalent force of nature rather than a comment on cannibalism and cannibalism. human malice. Despite appearing for only brief moments, the film’s surreal vision of a deer-headed giant with an inhuman gait ended up influencing future horror media, and the unique design gained more notoriety than the film itself.
Fessenden would continue to explore his fascination with this particular monster in future projects, each time focusing on a different aspect of mythology. In the ecological ghost story of 2006 The last winter, the director reinterprets fossil fuels as something akin to the biological memory of our planet’s past and introduces a spectral Wendigo as an antagonistic force. Borrowing from Algernon Blackwood’s iconic short story, The last winter sees the monster as a vengeful spirit of nature that attacks humans and their destructive tendencies.
A few years later in Skin and bones, an episode of the Canadian anthology series Fear itself, Fessenden takes a more literal approach to the legend, having a family take on an enraged Doug Jones in one of the most disturbing roles of his career. While Fessenden only directed this story from a script by Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan, it still feels like another personal take on a beloved monster and clearly inspired the director’s next Wendigo-related project.
Stepping out of his comfort zone, Fessenden would try his hand at interactive horror co-writing and appearing in the Supermassive Games PS4 exclusive. Until sunrise. Despite its formidable filmography, this 2015 title is probably the director’s best-known work, repurposing various ideas from his previous projects into a shiny new package. While the game is initially featured as a slasher, Wendigos’ surprise appearance as vengeful mountain spirits unleashed by miners is in Fessenden Alley, with the tragic story making it one of the best horror games in the world. past generation.
Of course, the director dabbled in other monsters as well, even going so far as to feature a man-eating catfish in his unseen 2013 film. Under. While it’s a surprisingly straightforward endeavor from such a quirky director, Under is an unapologetic and goofy monster movie that confirms Fessenden’s self-proclaimed allergy to all things pretentious by simply having fun with a goofy premise. Regardless, the film was something of a palate cleanser between gloomy stories, and the director’s next film was one of his darkest projects yet.
Once again, borrowing from Mary Shelley, Fessenden created his most emotional film of 2019. Depraved, who stands next to Bernard Rose Frankenstein as one of the best modern Frankenstein adaptations. While it has more in common with Shelley’s original Modern Prometheus that Do not sayit is an ecological reinvention, Depraved is a singularly tragic and melancholic tale of loss and ambition that I would recommend to anyone who is willing to shed a few tears in exchange for a genuinely gripping tale. The setting may sound familiar, but Alex Breaux’s heartbreaking performance as Adam and the story’s intimate look at a human being learning to be a person again make this a beautiful retelling of Shelley’s classic and further proof. that the director is a true master of terror. .
Fessenden may have made a career out of reinventing traditional horror tropes, but his films aren’t good because they subvert expectations about classic monsters or turn them into poignant metaphors. They are good because they present genuinely compelling narratives with a lot of love and respect for their monstrous sources. Although he is willing to revise mythologies to create a better narrative, Fessenden’s work never stands above the pulpy stories that inspire him.
Its indie style may not be for everyone, but I think the horror genre is lucky to have an author who is willing to explore strange and interesting places with his horror movies. Whether they’re vampires, wendigos, or the undead, Fessenden has said that he sees monsters as a way to project our fears and desires onto the world, and I think that’s why his films always have a decidedly human heart under the fangs and claws. While it is unknown which creature he will face next, I know that I personally can’t wait to see another Larry Fessenden monster movie.