You can’t talk about independent horror without mentioning indie icon Larry Fessenden. He’s an actor, writer, director, and producer and his production company Glass Eye Pix has been behind some of the most stellar indie genre films ever made. He’s well-respected in the horror community not just for his extensive knowledge and talent, but also for his willingness to help up-and-coming filmmakers bring their visions to life through film.
Fessenden has a small role in the punk rock slasher film The Ranger which was produced by Glass Eye Pix and is currently playing the festival circuit.The Ranger was directed by Jenn Wexler, also a producer with Glass Eye Pix, and stars Chloe Levine and Jeremy Holm. The film tells the story of a group of punk rockers who find themselves on the run from the police. When they decide to hide out in a cabin in the woods, they cross paths with a park ranger who takes his job a little too seriously.
The Ranger embraces punk style through fashion and attitude and when all hell breaks loose the film erupts into a wild mesh of music, blood, and hair color, all while keeping it’s twisted sense of humor. Dread Central had the pleasure of speaking with Larry Fessenden about The Ranger, indie horror, his thoughts on “elevated horror,” and so much more! Read on to find out what we talked about.
Dread Central: Since 1985 your company Glass Eye Pix has produced several phenomenal indie films. You’ve helped so many other indie filmmakers get their work out there. What do you love most about independent film?
Larry Fessenden: I really wanted to create an environment that I wish had been created for me. I say that because I’ve also struggled to be a director since the eighties and I’ve had occasional successes, but it’s really tough. You want to provide a community of people who are like-minded and who love the genre, not just for blood and guts, but for all the stories that can be told in this fantastic genre and take it seriously. I just enjoy other people’s visions sometimes as much as my own and I’m kind of nurturing that, so it’s all been very organic. I didn’t set out to start a company or to produce all these movies, but over time while you’re waiting for your own production to come through you’re kind of like, “Hey guys, let’s do something. Do you have anything? What script do you have?”
That started a long time ago with Ti West and Jim McKinney and those guys. I got access to money through MPI and some other companies and I said, “Let’s make some movies.” It’s been a pleasure to make movies that I might not necessarily make like The Ranger, but to know that Jenn can do it with real passion and realize her vision, you get a little bit of a vicarious thrill. So I’ve made a lot of movies that I maybe wouldn’t have directed myself, but I still got the thrill. There’s everything from vampires and zombies and creature features and ghost stories; all sorts of good stuff.
Dread Central: You’re a producer and you also star in The Ranger. What appealed to you about the story?
Larry Fessenden: Well, I will start with the director and I like to believe their intentions are to bring something unique. There are a lot of movies being made and a lot of media out there and I feel like the one way to stand out is to bring something personal, even if you’re bringing sort of an eighties slasher throwback. I felt the main character and the sort of ambiguity of whether she’s good or bad was just a cool take on what would have otherwise been just a body count movie. Jenn’s produced a lot of stuff with me and I really trust her instincts so I knew that she has a great affection for horror and she wanted to bring something personal to it as well. Then we found Chloe Levine, which was fantastic. I’d been in a movie with Chloe and we were all on the festival circuit together and Jenn fell in love with her and wanted her to be the star and it just helped her build the production.
DC: You and Chloe were in the The Transfiguration together. I have a lot of love for that movie.
LF: Yeah, I had a tiny role. I didn’t even actually play with Chloe, but we all met at the screening. It was great. I love that movie and it’s another film I was really glad to be involved in. It had a certain personal approach to all the horror tropes out there.
DC: I’ve tried to spread the word about The Transfiguration because I don’t think enough people know about it.
LF: Well when you list the best vampire movies, people always love to drag out those old lists, I think it should be among them. I mean the ending is shocking and so relevant. The whole journey is so appealing. The main actor is so cool and Chloe and the brothers. It’s really well done. It’s important that critics or journalists draw people’s attention to what’s interesting in horror and try to celebrate that because that’s what gets these indie movies made and get seen. It’s really an important combination of things. I mean we make them, but who cares if no one will see them. It’s great when you champion underdog films.
DC: I’ve had similar conversations with other filmmakers about how important word of mouth is for indie film, so I try to tell people about movies I love and hope they will see them.
LF: Well, that’s what’s cool. That’s what I love about the horror genre is that people are really hungry for good, thoughtful, and you know, badass movies and there is still sort of an underground culture in the horror community and it’s very exciting. That’s what it should be. It is like punk rock. That’s one of the other reasons The Ranger was a fun movie to put together is that it has a punk aesthetic which is more than just the clothing. It’s a whole attitude of let’s throw this thing together with a lot of passion and noise and make something cool. Heather Buckley is our other producer and she has that aesthetic, so it was a great project for my company because that’s what we like to do.
DC: The Ranger is Jenn Wexler’s directorial debut. You’ve worked with her as a producer with Glass Eye Pix, but what was it like working with her as the director on the film?
LF: Well, it was mostly just fun because I love bringing people into the director’s chair. Unexpected directors like people who don’t know anything about the horror genre and that’s one experiment that’s really fun. In this case it was let’s get the producer who’s always been dedicated to other people’s work and let’s give them a shot.
I mean it wasn’t a huge surprise. Jenn had made some short films that I really liked so it was all a process, but what was exciting was to see her gripped by the creative passion because as a producer you’re dealing with numbers and schedules and the practical things like the car broke down in Brooklyn and we’ve got to get it over to Queens. There’s something so clinical about that, so to see Jenn really immersed in the passion was just very exciting and something I wanted for her because she had been so supportive of a lot of our other artists
One thing about Glass Eye Pix is that we often work with first time filmmakers because they’re still willing to work at the kinds of budgets we can raise, and of course it’s good to get new ideas out there. Jenn had been on a movie called Like Me and she had been on a movie called Most Beautiful Island and these are both first time filmmakers, so you have to give a lot of support and have patience while these artists learn their craft on the fly. So Jenn really deserved her first shot.
DC: Besides The Ranger, you’ve produced some of my recent favorite films like Darling, Psychopaths, and Like Me. Do you have a process that you go through when deciding if you want to produce a film and can you share the decision making process with me?
LF: Well, one thing I don’t do is sit around reading scripts like a big movie mogul and chomp my cigar, and basically often pining away trying to get my own films off the ground. Then I meet people and they have an idea and I talk with them and it’s very organic. Jenn had found Like Me and I met with Rob Mockler and there was a bigger budget and I think where my contribution comes in is sort of when I eventually say, “Let’s try to make this anyway. We’re never going to get that budget.”
You’re chasing after movie stars and all these things that get in the way of actual making of the art. What we were able to do was stand by him when the budget dropped considerably and ironically he was able to ask me to be in the movie since I’m not worth anything (laughs). We gave it our all and we got great artisans and that’s sort of the punk aesthetic. So it’s really out of spite for the industry how slow it is, how few risks the industry will take. I feel like somebody has to be down in the trenches fighting for the idea of cinema and making artistic projects and pushing the envelope and surprising audiences with authentic, thoughtful movies.
I still like horror so I usually work within that genre, but I also support other types of independent minded people. What I find compelling, I do think there is a tone to a lot of the Glass Eye Pix movies all the way back to Ti West films and it has to do with slowing down the pacing and being thoughtful of the moments and sort of reminding people of the power of these myths that we all love like werewolves, Dracula or whoever. I just made a Frankenstein movie (laughs). It’s sort of the opposite of exploitation even though you’re borrowing from a genre that’s often just thrown together for the money.
DC: You also star in a lot of the films you produce. How much input do you usually have as far as the filmmaking process and is it just a coincidence that your characters die a lot?
LF: (laughter) No, I’m always killed in movies and it’s almost become a tradition. A certain level of horror people call me up and say, “Will you do this scene? It’s so cool. I’ve got the best idea. I’m going to have your head get kabobbed.” And I’m like, “Well, alright.” (laughs) It’s just one of those things.
Obviously all kinds of careers have weird quirks and this has just become almost a tradition. “Oh and then we’ll kill Larry. That’ll be fun.” I literally have a death reel that I put out on my birthday every year (laughs) and it’s got, I don’t know, twenty deaths or something. I fall out of windows, I burn alive, I get my head cut off; you can look it up on Youtube. I don’t know if it’s a recent one there, but it’s pretty funny. It’s called Larry Fessenden Death Reel I think (laughs). I get shot by Jodie Foster! Even in Hollywood movies, they kill me (laughs).
The other thing is that I take horror very seriously. I’ve always been paranoid and basically one of those people who’s, what’s it called when you’re always getting sick? Oh, I’ve got a little heart murmur or I hate flying. Everybody knows this about me. It kind of seems appropriate that I’m rehearsing for my death in these movies (laughs).
DC: The Ranger has such an impressive cast and the characters are believable. What was it like working with Chloe Levine, Jeremy Holm, and the rest of the cast?
LF: Well, of course if you really analyze it I’m not in any scenes with them, but I was around the location. I just think Chloe is a real treasure and she really got into the role and she and Jenn struck up something that was very genuine and I think it makes the movie interesting. Without spoiling anything, it’s unclear if the ranger is the villain or if Chloe is the one with the real ferocity. All of that is part of the story and part of what makes it outside of the expected genre tropes. Chloe’s just a very compelling face of course and she just has an innate talent. I used her again in my movie just recently and she just brings something to it. That’s just talent and charisma.
Jeremy was fantastic. He really was fun and we had a lot of laughs because we shot some stuff in the state of New York where I have a house and he was just really charmed by the small crew and the community. He works on TV shows where everything is quite formal in showbiz and so to be able to get in with a small crew makes you feel like part of a little team, which I think was refreshing for him.
DC: You mentioned a new movie that you’re working on. What can you tell me about that?
LF: Yes, I’m editing my Frankenstein movie now. It’s called Depraved and it has Chloe Levine in it and also Addison Timlin from Like Me. A newcomer plays the monster, named Alex Breaux. So, we’ll see. Once again it’s not really straight out exploitative horror, it’s a very sort of melancholy take on Frankenstein and what it would really be like. What would it really be like to meet a vampire, if you’ve ever seen my movie called Habit, that’s what that’s about. And in The Innkeepers it’s a ghost story, but the whole time you’re like “Well, they’re goofing around. Is it really a ghost story?” I love that idea of where you make it feel real, all these things that we’ve always loved.
I’m so old that I don’t even romanticize the eighties. I romanticize the seventies (laughs). In those days in movies the acting method was straight out of the Brando/De Niro camp and everything was very gritty and real. Not so much the horror at the time, although you had Polanski doing Rosemary’s Baby, but just the flavor of movies. I always wanted to combine that with old Hollywood traditions like the black and white Frankenstein and Dracula and Wolfman, so that’s sort of my orientation.
The next generation had their own agenda, but it often comes out of a love of cinema like the Kubrick years and the Scorseses. Then somehow people get stuck in horror. Of course, there’s a great new wave of horror that does all the things I’m mentioning, but that’s really quite recent. Movies like The Babadook and It Follows, Hereditary and so on. Now it’s being taken seriously, but when I was coming up in the nineties you wouldn’t have a horror movie financed unless it was some goofy midnight movie. Some things have gotten better.
DC: You’ve probably seen the argument going around the internet about whether or not a movie is horror and the term “elevated horror” being used.
LF: I’m aware of it. I guess I believe in elevated horror, but it doesn’t have to be pretentious. I always like when people like movies. I don’t need you to agree with me. As for the argument and I guess horror lovers feel all these movies are getting on their turf, but I would say, bring it all on. I would say the more the merrier. I don’t know. What do you think? What is the final word?
DC: I agree with what you said about the more the merrier, but a lot of mainstream people aren’t comfortable admitting that they enjoy horror movies. They’re calling movies like It psychological thrillers, which is absurd in my opinion.
LF: No, that is a fucking outrage! You’re absolutely right. It’s the same thing with Get Out. You don’t have to call that a sociological humana humana. No, it’s a horror movie! There’s brain transplants and there’s zombies, what the fuck? The fact that it has a social component is fine. So does Night of the Living Dead if you want to analyze it, so you’re absolutely right.
They were falling all over themselves to say, “Well what won the Oscar?” Well, I’ll tell you what won the Oscar, a monster movie. It’s about fucking time, too. They haven’t seen an Oscar since 1932 with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, so fuck them. The only good thing is I like horror being an alternative, in the gutter experience because it should actually shake you up and so I don’t love the mainstreaming of horror. I also don’t like all the unwillingness to call it what it is, it’s a great genre.
Everyone experiences fear. It’s the most common thing we all have. In fact, look at our fucking politics. It’s all fear based. Bringing people fear is a service that we provide in the horror industry (laughs). And they want to take that away. They’re just fucking playing with words. I hate the psychological thriller thing. I mean we make psychological horror movies basically because they’re more torment than gore, but I find the whole thing so ridiculous. People don’t realize they’re living in a horror movie.
I was never a huge fan of torture porn, but the fact is movies like Saw perfectly expressed what we were doing as a nation. So the point is that horror is always of the moment, speaking to people’s anxiety and they don’t want to admit it. That’s why it’s effective and that’s why they want to pooh-pooh it. America denies death. They can’t even handle it. Horror people are the only people facing reality. I used to say there was basically horror and porn (laughs). They were both in the back of the video store, but now all that has changed. People spend too much time twitting and blogging, I’m telling you (laughs).