In this multi-part series we will be investigating the next wave of horror. The directors, actors, and producers of the current independent horror movement have formed a collaborative community. While their subject matter changes from project to project, the push for realism and characterization propels these films into a new category of horror. They have been labeled as “Mumblegore” films and also as a collective been called “Splat Pack Jr.” but I like to refer to them as Next Wave due to their link to French New Wave cinema.
In both sub-genres there is a camaraderie between the films and their makers. Goddard and Truffaut traded actors in the same way Adam Wingard and Ti West do – lets just hope Wingard and West don’t get into a career-long feud. Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer, Chabrol, and Rivette were all critics for the Cahiers Du Cinema which was co-founded by Andre Bazin, and through Cahiers they were able to tear apart France’s beloved classical style. Bazin is best known for giving the world auteur theory which states that the director is the author of his film and that there is a personal signature that permeates his work. Under the tutelage of Bazin and an iconoclastic feeling for current cinema, they set out to destroy preconceived notions of what films should be. By using improvised dialogue, portable equipment, miniscule budgets, themes of existentialism, genre mixing, and narrative ambiguity these renegades became some of the most influential filmmakers of all time.
Roughly 55 years later the concepts introduced by New Wave have infused themselves into the most unlikely place – horror. Adam Wingard, Ti West, Joe Swanberg, Simon Barrett, AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz, E.L. Katz, David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry are all currently involved in the shift of the horror paradigm. These artists are proving again and again that Hollywood horror is a thing of the past. By telling smaller and more personal stories the audiences are beginning to turn their backs on the remake machine. Between V/H/S and You’re Next all of the Next Wave has collaborated together, and it may have not been made possible without horror’s underdog Larry Fessenden. This leads us to our current Horror Spotlight.
Fessenden made a name for himself in the mid-nineties with Habit (1995). Between Habit and Abel Ferrera’s The Addiction, there was a movement toward vampire realism, though it did not last (we eventually got stuck with Twilight but that’s a different rant entirely). It seemed as though Fessenden was striving for a cinematic vision of the disintegration of humanity. This theme would later pop up in Wendigo (2001), The Last Winter (2006), and most recently in Beneath (2013). All of Fessenden’s films fly below the radar but provide original stories through low budget means. Although his directing credits are rather slim, it is his role as a supporter of the arts that makes Larry an extremely important figure in recent horror.
As a producer and owner of Glass Eye Pix, Fessenden helped Ti West with his debut The Roost (2005) and continued supporting him with Trigger Man (2007), House Of The Devil (2009) and The Innkeepers (2011). He also produced Jim Mickle’s Stake Land (2010) who has gone on to make the We Are What We Are (2013) remake. Fessenden produced and stared in I Sell The Dead (2008) which was Glenn McQuaid’s debut as a feature filmmaker. Fessenden and McQuaid are also the creative team behind Tales From Beyond The Pale, a horror radio show with two seasons available online. McQuaid began as a visual effects artist on Ti West’s The Roost and eventually went on to direct a segment of V/H/S (2012). Glass Eye Pix has two documentaries releasing this year, the George Romero doc Birth Of The Living Dead and American Jesus.
Fessenden shows up everywhere as an actor, but mostly in anything indie-horror related. He worked with Ti West and Eli Roth on Cabin Fever 2: Spring Forever (2009) which also featured Joe Swanberg in a tiny role as well. Ti and Eli formed their friendship through the production of Cabin Fever 2 and this eventually led to Eli Roth producing West’s The Sacrament (2013). Fessenden appears in Joe Swanberg’s Silver Bullets (2011) and All The Lights In The Sky (2012). Jeremy Gardner also had Fessenden provide a menacing voice on the radio in The Battery (2012). He recently starred in Chad Kinkle’s Jug Face (2013) and of course had a role in You’re Next.
Larry Fessenden’s penchant for realism within his own monster films makes it only fitting that he has lent himself to horror’s Next Wave filmmakers. With two decades of experience in the horror genre, he has never passed up an opportunity to show corrosive institutions and the folly of hubris. These elements are again featured in Tales From Beyond The Pale which brings together the writing talents of Simon Barrett, film theorist Kim Newman, and Glenn McQuaid. Beyond The Pale also teams Fessenden with the voices of Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, and AJ Bowen to name just a few.
In an interview with Eric Stanze from Fearnet, Fessenden describes what his segment of ABC’s Of Death 2 will be about, “sex, death, the pointlessness of it all. My usual concerns!” During his fascinating career, Fessenden has shown time and time again that the truly diabolical nature of mankind is what drives the horror genre. Audiences could care less about the often sympathetic monster or the film’s survivors, they want their suspicions about despicable people brought to life. Fessenden has created in his body of work a nihilistic landscape that, unfortunately, we can all relate to.