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New York native Larry Fessenden may be the Godfather of the mumblecore horror/mumblegore movement. His early brand of lo-fi, cinéma vérité, character-driven cinema physically and tonally resembles the currently popular work (at least popular in the microcosm of independent horror movies) of Ti West, Adam Wingard, and Joe Swanberg. This theory is strengthened by the fact that Fessenden’s production company, Glass Eye Pix, produced (or co-produced) a number of films that fall under the mumblegore banner (including Ti West’s House of the Devil, 2009). Before that, though, he wrote and directed a trilogy of movies that deconstructed the Universal monster movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s – No Telling (1991), Habit (1997), and Wendigo (2001) – and, after that, he applied his unique talents to an environmental horror film called The Last Winter (2006). All four of these films have been compiled here in this Larry Fessenden Blu-ray collection from Scream Factory and IFC Midnight, including the Blu-ray debuts of No Telling, Habit, and Wendigo.

Larry Fessenden Collection, The

No Telling


When Lillian Gaines (Miriam Healy-Louie) moves to the country with her husband (Stephen Ramsey) for a quiet summer retreat, she never suspects that meeting activist Alex Vine (David Van Tieghem) will force her to confront her deepest fears about the man she married and the bizarre experiments under way in his lab. (From Glass Eye Pix’ official synopsis)

Fessenden’s first horror film to have a real impact on the horror community was No Telling (aka: No Telling, or The Frankenstein Complex). No Telling is a deliberately paced and thematically dense take on classic monster movie mythology; in this case, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The narrative is muddled with ideas, including indictments of the pharmaceutical industry and corporate interference in the farming industry, but the crux of the movie is ‘what if Frankenstein had a wife.’ This is an interesting take on an old story and it’s difficult to downplay the success of Fessenden slow-building emotional and visceral crescendo. Unfortunately, he also hobbles himself with on-the-nose philosophical arguments and some typical deteriorating marriage motifs. There is an underlying amateurism at play in almost every scene, specifically in terms of pacing, tone, and coherent story editing (there is a major loss of focus in the middle of the movie). But the spirit of experimentation compels Fessenden to keep his camera moving, keep his angles interesting, and dabble in impressionistic editing techniques and these compelling choices constantly pull the film though its missteps.

Where No Telling’s narrative fails, the visuals often succeed. Before the characters fall into conventional bad marriage traps, Fessenden hints at their incompatibility with thematic imagery. He repeatedly fixes his camera on brimming trash cans, boxes of antique junk, plates of rotting food, and maggot-infested animal carcases. From a certain point of view, No Telling is all about the fate of garbage. With these motifs in mind, he develops a contrast Lillian and her mad scientist husband’s relationship with garbage. As her husband commits unspeakable acts against adorable critters, Lillian spends her time attending auctions and yard sales, decorating the house with rusty farm equipment, and photography, then painting a dead cow. In their own ways, both characters are reappropriating discarded things: one with a corporate-minded, scientific obsession, the other as quaint, homemade art projects. It’s no wonder that their relationship is doomed to fail. While No Telling has plenty more charms all its own, its greatest value to Fessenden’s fanbase is probably its place as a template for the director’s other films. Almost everything that makes a Fessenden film unique – dynamic camera work, abstract dream sequences, unusual musical choices, environmental concerns, and, of course, enigmatically retold classic monster mythologies – all make early appearances here.

According to Imdb.com, No Telling was shot on 35mm, but a quick glance at Glass Eye Pix’ official website reveals photos of Fessenden using a Super 16mm camera. This 1080p, 1.78:1 director-approved HD transfer certainly looks 16mm. This isn’t to say it’s an unattractive or unsatisfying transfer, but the heavy, larger grain, the muted colour qualities, and the limited wide-angle detail definitely all scream “smaller film stock!” Fessenden and director of photography David Shaw also spend a considerable amount of time using the blazing summer sun as the only light source, which makes subtle contrast difficult. There are a lot of blown-out highlights, crushed blacks, and over-sharpened edges. Considering all of these obstacles, this remaster is probably as close to perfection as we can expect from the material. Textures and patterns appear very tight in close-up. Artefacts (grain levels and the aforementioned blooming/crushing) are consistent. The neutral hues and skin tones are a smidge dull, while the more intense colours are quite vivid. The natural greens, in particular, practically leap off of the screen.

The Blu-ray comes fitted with two DTS-HD Master Audio options – the original stereo (in 2.0) and a 5.1 remix of that stereo. There’s actually very little obvious remixing at play here, at least not in the surround channels, and I’m pretty sure many viewers would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between them. For instances, during a heated argument, the buzz of frogs/crickets/night critters outside throbs into the stereo channels as the camera spins from person to person, but doesn’t really bleed into the rear speakers on the 5.1 track. I don’t really think this is a problem, though, because the remix successfully moves the dialogue and incidental effects into the center channel. Tom Laverack’s musical score and David Van Tieghem’s ‘sound and percussion score’ both sound nice on either track, though it’s a bit louder on the remix.

Extras include:
  • Larry Fessenden commentary – The always entertaining and engaging writer/director/producer delves deeply into his themes, technical choices, and the greater meaning of this occasionally opaque movie. He’s also pretty hard on himself for some of the less successful dialogue and other rough edges.
  • The Making of No Telling (24:20, SD) – This mostly shot-on-video vintage look behind-the-scenes has a nice sense of humour, a cozy DIY feel, and includes relatively extensive press-kit style interviews with the cast & crew.
  • Archival footage with introduction by Fessenden (26:40, SD) – More raw video footage from the set.
  • White Trash (9:20 including intro, HD) – A 1979 Fessenden Super-8 short (his second film) about a man disposing of a body in a bathroom. Because copyright-protected music was originally used, the director’s friend Will Bates (who scored Fessenden’s 2013 release, Beneath) composed new music exclusively for this Blu-ray.
  • Glass Eye Pix ‘Sizzle Reel,’ 1985-1990 (7:30 including intro, HD)


 Larry Fessenden Collection, The

 Larry Fessenden Collection, The

 Larry Fessenden Collection, The

 Larry Fessenden Collection, The

 Larry Fessenden Collection, The


Larry Fessenden Collection, The

Habit


Autumn in New York. Sam (Larry Fessenden) has broken up with his girlfriend, Liza (Heather Woodbury), and his father has recently died. World-weary and sloppy drunk, he finds temporary solace in the arms of Anna (Meredith Snaider), a mysterious woman who draws him away from his friends and into a web of addiction and madness. (From Glass Eye Pix official synopsis)

Before No Telling, Fessenden made a shot-on-video vampire movie called Habit (1981) and, following that film’s success, he returned to Habit, making a comparatively slicker and more heady version in 1997. If not for Fessenden’s affectionately aggressive editing and artsy compositions, this more robust version of Habit might be considered John Cassavetes meets Dracula. Despite its rougher look (sort of an even more cinéma vérité version of Scorsese’s New York Gothic) and less obvious narrative focus, Habit is a more accomplished movie than No Telling. Though it may appear to meander and even lose itself in the machinations of another doomed romance (the beach house scenes really break the momentum as well), the slow burn from everyday troubles to surrealistic supernatural madness is deceptively tightly knit. Admittedly, the most typically horrific moments sometimes fall short and there is one really awkward sequence that overstates the metaphor, but the overall subtly maintains. The performances are authentic and natural, anchored on Fessenden himself, who has never been better (and he’s always a highlight). Meredith Snaider’s low-energy, occasionally monotone Anna is the exception, but this lends her an ethereal quality that subtly separates her from the human characters. I had seen this particular film in parts a million times (I believe on the IFC channel) and was under the impression that it was devastatingly melancholy, but Habit is deceptively warm at its core and even quite funny at times – at least throughout the first couple of acts.

It seems that there is an unwritten rule that every arthouse filmmaker needs to make at least one movie that re-frames the rules of vampire lore as a scientific problem and/or a metaphor for a societal malady. Early examples include George Romero’s Martin (1977), Bill Gunn’s Ganja & Hess (1973), and John D. Hancock’s Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971). Clearly, Fessenden was already on the arthouse classic monster reimagination train with No Telling, but Habit definitely owes a debt to these movies, as well as Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983) and Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995). Shades of Habit later cropped up in Park Chan-wook’s Thirst (2009) and Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day (2011), proving Fessenden’s modest impact on vampire fiction.

Habit was shot on 16mm (imdb gets it right this time) and is presented here in Fessenden’s preferred 1.33:1 framing (it is a very boxy/vertically composited film and there’s no way it could’ve worked if it had been matted to 1.78:1). The 1080p image has its work cut out for it, because this is such a coarse, dark, and raw movie. The HD upgrade offers finer details and better elemental partitioning, but there is still quite a bit of texture lost to deep black shadows. Fortunately, Fessenden’s supervision appears to have kept the transfer’s producers from artificially bulking up the dynamic range to ‘correct’ the issue. Colours have been given a bit of a bounce, especially the warmer hues, but not so much as to ruin the effect of the more natural scenes. The footage has been well-preserved and the grain structure is consistent, but there are a couple of instances of notable damage (white dots) and other artefacts (mainly cigarette burns). Once again, IFC/Scream has supplied two audio options – DTS-HD Master Audio original stereo (2.0) and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix. This time around, the advantage belongs to the original track, which has sharper incidental effects and is generally louder. The 5.1 track successfully moves dialogue to the center, but otherwise offers little additional aural movement (a noisy trip to the fair and Sam’s auditory hallucinations are still mostly stereo affairs). Geoffrey Kidde’s score offers some warm and wicked strings, which are contrasted by a number of very late-’90s pop and folk-rock songs.

Extras include:
  • Larry Fessenden commentary
  • The Making of Habit (24:20, SD) – This vintage featurette includes footage from the early video-shot version of Habit and an ongoing narration/commentary from the director (the volume levels are frightfully low for some reason).
  • ”Save You from Yourself” music video (3:40, HD)
  • Trailer
  • Habit short film from 1981(17:40, SD)
  • The Making of Habit (5:40, SD) – The making of the 1981 version.
  • ”Frankenstein Cannot be Stopped” music video (7:30 including intro, HD)
  • N is for Nexus (4:10, HD) – Fessenden’s entry in ABCs of Death 2 (2014)
  • The Making of N is for Nexus (4:00, HD)


 Larry Fessenden Collection, The

 Larry Fessenden Collection, The

 Larry Fessenden Collection, The

 Larry Fessenden Collection, The

 Larry Fessenden Collection, The


Larry Fessenden Collection, The

Wendigo


A blue Volvo makes its way through the fading light this chilly winter evening in Upstate New York. Kim (Patricia Clarkson), George (Jake Weber), and their eight-year old son, Miles (Erik Per Sullivan), are city dwellers stealing a weekend away at a friend's country farmhouse. But a fluke accident sets off a chain of events that alters their lives forever and conjures up the ferocious spirit of the Wendigo, a Native American myth made manifest in Miles' imagination. (From Glass Eye Pix’ official synopsis)

Fessenden’s third feature-length horror film was Wendigo. The Algonquian myth of the Wendigo was referenced in an episode of The X-Files and Antonia Bird's marvelous horror/western/comedy Ravenous (1999), but, aside from the Marvel Comics’ character of the same name, the shape-shifting beast hasn’t really been given its due in modern horror fiction. For his film, Fessenden exploited the obvious parallels between Wendigo and its European-based werewolf cousin. These similarities offer him the chance to finish his deconstructionist Universal movie monster trilogy by turning the myth into an analogy for The Wolfman. Even if there is an awful lot going on here (enough to muddle some of Fessenden’s messages), Wendigo might be the best or at least the most interesting overall film in his repertoire. It tells a more straight-forward, self-contained story with fewer extraneous or repetitive sequences, yet the archetypes are mitigated with plenty of stylish and showy filmmaking techniques. Fessenden cuts loose with jittery editing techniques that ape stop-motion animation, time-lapse shots, dreamy lap-dissolves, and hand-held camera work. The surrealistic wendigo effects are created using fabulously impressionistic combinations of these elements.

Familiar themes (a family unit degrading after a big move, animal rights concerns, philosophical arguments at the dinner table, fascination with antiques/artefacts, et cetera) are revisited from different points-of-view – that of an imaginative, nervous child and a man frustrated by masculine standards. This sort of splits the focus. At times, Wendigo is a dark fairytale that preys on deep-seated childhood fears of the dark and closed closets. In this context, it is truly difficult to tell what is real and what is imagined, unlike No Telling or Habit, where the supernatural happenings are eventually explicitly explained (since children naturally ask questions, the inclusion of a child character also affords Fessenden a relatable excuse to over-explain some of the themes). The other half of the movie is Fessenden’s version of Straw Dogs with rural New York standing in for Cornwall, England. There’s almost a unique twist here, in that the emasculating rednecks may not even posing purposeful threat – that their carelessly destructive nature is wreaking havoc without malicious intent – but the story ends up more or less where you’d expect it to during the final act. Still, there’s a lot more ambiguity here than the other two films in the trilogy and the ending is satisfying in spite of its predictability.

I’ve read reviews comparing Wendigo with Kubrick’s The Shining] (1980), due to, I assume, the isolated, snow-bound location, nuclear family, and questions of manhood. The appearance of a package of baking soda that looks very similar to Calumet brand (the one with the Indian head logo) may be another clue, but there are some pretty vast differences in the way these themes are presented and handled.

[i]Wendigo
was shot on 16mm and blown-up to 35mm for its short theatrical run. This time around, Fessenden and cinematographer Terry Stacey really embrace the formats heavy grain, while also contrasting extremely dark and blow-out bright sequences. The darkness is enough to completely block out some elements and certainly fuzzes-up some of the finer details. Thankfully, the HD picture helps boost the elemental structure throughout. The edges are usually soft, but patterns are still complex. The coldness of the winter environments is most obviously represented by steely blues, which are augmented with poppy highlights and balanced by warm, often orange-tinted interiors. The thicker grain does create cross-colouration effects, but these seem to be an organic part of Fessenden’s palette. Unlike the earlier films in the set, Wendigo was mixed for digital 5.1 exhibition. Scream has still offered a 2.0 DTS-HD MA option, but the 5.1 is preferable in this case. The sound design is often understated, juicing all of the suspense from silence and spookiness from subtle effects. The climax, where the Wendigo attacks the villain and topples his car, is considerably louder with a decent directional enhancement. Michelle DiBucci’s score alternates between enjoyably ditzy faux-Native American folk and genuinely creepy scare cues. The music soars throughout all five channels and shows major dynamic range.

Extras include:
  • Larry Fessenden commentary
  • Commentary with actors Patricia Clarkson, Jake Weber, and John Speredakos – This cast commentary is a nice surprise in that it appears to have been recorded specifically for this release. Fessenden introduces the track as being a composite of Clarkson and Webber interacting from opposite sides of the Atlantic (I assume they each own a copy of the film), followed by a separately recorded appearance from Speredakos towards the end. The content is lacking, but the thought certainly counts.
  • Searching for Wendigo (32:00, SD) – This EPK includes more raw behind-the-scenes footage, test shots, production art, storyboards, as well as some outtakes. Once again, volume levels are very low.
  • Interview with Fessenden (8:20, SD) – This 2001 interview was included on previous DVD releases of the film.
  • Wendigo animated series trailer (3:10 including intro, HD) – A short promo for a never produced cartoon based on the film. It looks like it would’ve been similar to the Swamp Thing series, with the title character battling polluters.
  • Santa Claus short film (4:50 including intro, HD) – Another animated short made in the style of some of Wendigo’s special effects.
  • Trailer
  • Glass Eye Pix Sizzle Reel, 2010 (3:30 including intro, HD)


 Larry Fessenden Collection, The

 Larry Fessenden Collection, The

 Larry Fessenden Collection, The

 Larry Fessenden Collection, The

 Larry Fessenden Collection, The


Larry Fessenden Collection, The

The Last Winter


In the pristine tundra of Northern Alaska, winter is brutal. But, for one small team of oil scouts, the season is about to turn deadly. As an unseen evil stalks the isolated crew, nature’s violent fury adds to their fear and torment. Horrifying visions in the snow close in and they’ll soon discover that not everything buried below the ice is resting in peace. (From Glass Eye Pix’ official synopsis)

With his Universal redos behind him (his 2013 feature, Beneath, is arguably his version of The Creature from the Black Lagoon), Fessenden’s next horror film was The Last Winter, which (aside from Beneath) is probably his most ‘mainstream friendly’ movie. Fans tend to classify The Last Winter as the spiritual (and sometimes literal) sequel to Wendigo ( Wendigos?), but, otherwise, its closest cousin is John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) to the point that I’m comfortable calling it the Fessenden version of John W. Campbell, Jr.’s original Thing-inspiring story, Who Goes There? (1973).

Fessenden’s allegory is, once again, heavily stated and hard to miss. Obviously, The Last Winter is implicitly about the horrors of global climate change (as well as the ‘drill, baby, drill’ mindset of corporate conservatives), but, beneath that, is an angry condemnation of climate change deniers. According to the director’s statement on the film’s official web page, despite his vehement personal beliefs, Fessenden wanted to portray Global Warming deniers in a sympathetic light. He utterly fails in this respect. Hiring Ron Perlman as your corporate heavy is a pretty effective shorthand means to announce to your audience that you have no sympathy for the denier camp (Fessenden even makes him a bed-wetter). This isn’t a problem in itself, but a symptom of Last Winter being a bit uneventful and route – from character types and motivations, to the basic structure of the story – and Fessenden’s habit of amplifying his message is actually sort of annoying this time around. And this is coming from one of the most obnoxious ‘greenies’ (to use the film’s terminology) you’ll ever meet. Still, his filmmaking instincts overcome many of the biggest dips in narrative qualities as we are treated to another credible slow-burn from everyday antagonism to supernatural terror, rife with cool animation-like montage inserts and an overwhelming sense of mounting dread.

The Last Winter is the first movie in this collection (and maybe the first Fessenden movie?) to be shot on 35mm and, not surprisingly, this 2:40:1, 1080p transfer is also the sharpest of the four. Note that this is the only film in the set with an alternative Blu-ray release (from Tiberius Film in Germany) as well as an HD streaming version (currently on Hulu). Fessenden and cinematographer G. Magni Ágústsson base most of the films look on the cold, snow-blinding Alaskan tundra. The contrast levels have been pressed, similar to the Wendigo transfer, but are cleaner and significantly less grainy. And, unlike Wendigo, there are softer transitions and gradations hidden within the harsh levels that could be lost on an SD release. I’m going to assume that this was not a remastered release, however, because there are a number of typical Blu-ray mastering issues. Everything is a hair over-sharpened, leading to some haloes, the heavy contrast causes some banding, and there are some aliasing effects. Generally speaking, it’s all a smidge too ‘digitally.’ As with Wendigo, The Last Winter was mixed for digital 5.1 sound and is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio with a rather unnecessary 2.0 option. The sound design is less stylish than Wendigo, but the well-centered dialogue and incidental effects are nicely augmented with oppressive winds, flapping, cawing crows, and screeching creature noises. Jeff Grace’s score is probably the most typically horror movie-esque of the bunch. It’s mournful piano motifs and sharp strings are warmly represented and quite clean.

Extras include:
  • Larry Fessenden commentary
  • Making The Last Winter (1.46:50, SD) – This very long (longer than the movie itself) look at production had been originally released with Genius Product’s US DVD version of the movie, where it was divided into seven parts – location scout (raw camera footage), development (including conceptual art), pre-production (mostly footage from meetings), Myvatn shoot, Reykjavik shoot, special effects, and deleted scenes. Here, there is no option to skip through the ‘chapters.’
  • Archival footage (18:30 including intro, HD) – Additional behind-the-scenes clips. The first batch follows Ron Perlman to the Reykjavik mall. He goes there, because he hears a joke radio clip claiming he’ll be signing copies of a non-existent video game. It’s pretty funny.
  • Three short films that Fessenden made for Jim Mickle’s Stake Land (2010), which he produced:
    • Origins (7:50 including intro, HD)
    • Jebediah (2:30, HD)
    • Mister (5:30, HD)
  • ”Tired of Killing Myself” music video (5:40, HD)
  • Interview with Fessenden (22:20, HD) – A sort of wrap-up for the entire Blu-ray collection and of Glass Eye Pix’ achievements, shot in 2015.
  • Glass Eye Pix sizzle reel, 2014 (4:10, HD)


 Larry Fessenden Collection, The

 Larry Fessenden Collection, The

 Larry Fessenden Collection, The

 Larry Fessenden Collection, The

 Larry Fessenden Collection, The

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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