It’s impossible to speak on independent horror/genre films without mentioning the name Larry Fessenden. A true auteur and renaissance man, Fessenden has not only written and directed his own films, but through his company, Glass Eye Pix, Larry has helped pave the way for up and coming filmmakers looking to tell personal and original stories, such as Ti West, Jim Mickle and Mickey Keating. A filmmakers, producer, artist and all around genre staple, Fessenden and his 30 years strong Glass Eye Pix is not celebrated in THE LARRY FESSENDEN COLLECTION, a four disc set from Scream Factory, featuring Fessenden’s films NO TELLING, HABIT, WENDIGO and THE LAST WINTER. We got a chance to check the collection out and while last year was the year of Scream Factory’s HALLOWEEN boxset, Fessenden’s set easily wins best boxset of 2015.
Kicking the boxset off, is Fessenden’s 1991 film NO TELLING, a film that not only tells a new and fresh Frankenstein-like story, but puts the subject of animal testing and pesticides under a genre microscope as well. It’s an in your face and sometimes very shocking film, that still, to this day holds up incredibly well. Dealing with an organic farming advocate who stumbles into a creepy reality in which a man does experiments and limb transplants from animal to animal, the film definitely shines a light onto the realities of animal crueltry and also cruelty to the environment, a theme that runs through a lot of Fessenden’s work.
While the film’s plot is an interesting one, the real standout of the film is the inventive camera work that Fessenden incorporated, camerawork that isn’t too far off from the Sam Raimi-style that made the EVIL DEAD series so much fun. There’s definitely an eye for creating interesting shots that you don’t see very often, and that approach, mixed with the very in your face and shocking material that fills NO TELLING‘s running time, it’s a very entertaining film and a perfect introduction to the filmmaker’s work.
On every film’s disc, there comes a large amount of supplemental features. NO TELLING‘s disc features a brand new HD transfer of the film, a new commentary from Fessenden, a making of shot for the film and the standout feature on every disc: Fessenden introducing various deleted scenes, archival footage, short films and a different sizzle reel for Glass Eye Pix, all focused on the era in which the four films included in the set were made. NO TELLING‘s disc features not only the short film, WHITE TRASH from 1997 but also includes EARLY YEARS: GLASS EYE PIX: 1985-1990, a short but entertaining look at the first few years of Fessenden’s production company. The footage of various art pieces that Glass Eye made is interesting, with everything from short films, to performance art and various other New York-based performances. It’s obvious from the first disc that Fessenden has always been more interested in creating thought provoking art, whether it be through his films, music videos or his desire to help nurture various other artists.
Disc two of the set features a film that is not only my favorite film directed by Fessenden, but is also my favorite vampire film of all time, 1995’s HABIT. bypassing the typical gothic elements and over the top approach to vampire films, Fessenden instead tells a very realistic and metaphorical story about Sam, a functioning alcoholic (played by Fessenden himself) who meets a woman named Anna at a party and soon begins an odd relationship with her, including having sex in public and the real kicker: being bitten by her in order to drink his blood. When Sam begins to get sick, it’s not like typical vampire films, and comes off more like an STD or virus.
What makes HABIT so interesting is that even with it dealing with a vampire, the film is grounded in reality, so when Sam confides in a friend that he thinks Anna is a vampire and is draining him of his blood and life, even he acknowledges how crazy it must sound. It’s a very down to Earth approach and works so very well, giving genre fans something different, interesting and completely inspiring on a filmmaking level. It’s one of the many things that Fessenden is continually able to do with every film he makes and even in just his approach: put an inspiration into up and coming filmmakers or people who want to tell stories in general. HABIT doesn’t look like a huge film, on the contrary, it feels very low budget and was very low budget, but that just shows that you can have very little money and still make an entertaining and important genre film if you have the passion and drive.
Like disc one, the second disc is full of HABIT based special features, such as a new HD transfer, a new commentary, a lengthy Making Of doc on the film and some fun others: the original short film version of HABIT that was made in 1982 (!), a music video directed by Fessenden, as well as Larry’s N IS FOR NEXUS segment that was in THE ABC’S OF DEATH 2 and a making of that segment to go along with it.
Disc three includes the 2001 film WENDIGO, which is, if you’re familiar with Fessenden at all, a lifelong obsession of his. Focusing on a photographer who takes his wife and son to upstate New York for a change of scenery and after accidentally hitting and killing a deer, pisses off a hunter played by THE MIND’S EYE‘s John Speredakos. The son, played by MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE‘s Erik Per Sullivan, soon hears of the legend of the Wendigo, a creature that is half animal and half human. Fear begins to mount inside of the young boy’s head and the Wendigo is used as a metaphor for some of the evil that lives in the hearts of some of the film’s characters.
Using monsters and various other themes as a metaphor for people’s flawed nature is a theme that Fessenden uses a lot in his films, and in WENDIGO, it’s front and center, with you as a viewer never fully knowing whether or not the Wendigo is real or if the human characters are just as evil as the legend they hide behind. While the film isn’t perfect (even Fessenden himself mentions how he wasn’t completely satisfied with the presentation of the Wendigo), it’s like NO TELLING and HABIT, a very different take on various horror tropes and one that for the most part, works very well.
As far as supplemental material goes, there’s a new HD transfer, two brand new commentaries, one with Fessenden and one with actors Patricia Clarkson, Jake Weber and John Speredakos. There is also a Searching for Wendigo mini-doc, that has Fessenden speaking about the film and its themes. Archival footage, a trailer for a pitched WENDIGO animated series, a VERY entertaining short film called SANTA CLAUS and a secon Glass Eye Pix sizzle reel that focuses on everything up to 2010 is included as well.
Closing out the boxset, is 2006’s THE LAST WINTER. An environmental horror film involving an oil company’s attempt to build ice roads in order to transport their oil, THE LAST WINTER follows a team discovering that the spirits of the fossil fuels used might be coming back for revenge, including Fessenden mainstay, the Wendigo. Half creature film, half environmental statement, the film does a fine job speaking on important issues without coming off too preachy or in your face.
With a cast that includes Ron Perlman, James LeGros and Connie Britton, THE LAST WINTER is bigger than Fessenden’s previous films, with filming taking place in Iceland, a far cry from the days of stealing shots on the streets of New York. Even with a larger film and cast, Fessenden is still able to make THE LAST WINTER feel like a personal film, an ability that his films continually showcase. What Larry’s able to do is tell genre stories that never feel like genre films. Whether it’s NO TELLING‘s Frankenstein story, HABIT‘s vampire story, or WENDIGO‘s creature in the woods, Fessenden’s films take characters we know and stories we’ve grown up loving and does something new with them, injecting them into very personal stories in which the monsters aren’t necessarily the villains.
THE LAST WINTER‘s special features include a commentary, a feature-length making of documentary, archival footage, a music video for Fessenden’s band (great song btw), a brand new video interview with journalist Adam Nayman, a brand new 2015 Glass Eye Pix sizzle reel and a set of character backstory promos that Larry directed for Jim Mickle’s STAKE LAND.
A true auteur, Larry Fessenden is a genre staple, a DIY legend, a producer responsible for so many great films, and also a very good actor. This set not only gives genre fans four of the director’s films, but also helps celebrate Fessenden and his 30-year series of accomplishments. A must own boxset, filled with must own films and special features (including a 24-page booklet with notes from Fangoria’s Michael Gingold), THE LARRY FESSENDEN COLLECTION is something that every genre fan should not only consider picking up, but should RUN to buy.