Starting today, DUMBO’s reRun Gastropub Theater presents a fortnight-long retrospective of the films of local grindhouse label Glass Eye Pix in general, and its godhead, local writer-director-producer-character actor-horror maven Larry Fessenden, in particular. (You may know him as the holdup man plugged by Jodie Foster in The Brave One, or the auteur of Habit, Wendingo and The Last Winter.) We spoke to him about horror, generally and specifically, in the days leading up to this momentous occasion.
The L: What do you think happened to the American horror film in the last couple years? Seems like most daring stuff that’s showing in the American market is coming from overseas, France especially.
Larry Fessenden: I mean, the fact is that when you talk to me you’ll find I’m not much of a cinephile, but I do feel in America we’re involved in a cycle of remakes, and more importantly the state of affairs is a cycle of violence, and I really feel that that is not all that horror has to offer. I’m much more interested in the metaphorical and the mythological and the other textures that horror has to offer. I’m much more interested in a film like The Mist. So that’s my thing. And I think Saw has its own resonance in that you’re given choices in life, but do you saw off your arm or face potential death? But I do think the Saw franchise, a lot of these things, just become depraved gore-fests, you know?
The L: Your films sort of grapple with the ideas of American iconography, like the titular spirit of Wendingo, that’s especially interesting because it tries to pinpoint a uniquely American kind of imagery.
LF: Well, I find America intriguing because I’m an American, I was born here, I’m a patriot. But I also think America is also engaged in this decline based on a sense of exceptionalism. And so I think of America as sort of the pinnacle of the Western experiment, and I think it’s failing, because we’re detached from the environment-capitalism is a distortion. A lot of the great American mythologies are unraveling at the seams because it’s unsustainable. So on that level America as a concept is worth exploring, but specifically I really believe in making films that are rooted in their location. So if I make a movie in upstate New York, it’s going to be as much about the landscape as the storyline. If I make a movie in NYC, I want to celebrate this town. Now, I did make a movie based in Alaska and I shot it in Iceland, but there again I am celebrating another frontier in this great country. If I could make movies only in America, it could be very varied.
The L: Do you think there are American traditions in the horror genre?
LF: Well I would say so because I don’t really know a lot of the other traditions. You have German Expressionism, which is of course a fabulous period in history, but in a way the Americans usurped that. The Universal films are still some of my favorite horror films, and they used the crooked angles and the exotic sets the Germans established. Recently, Night of the Living Dead is a great American film that seems quintessentially American because it has a literalness and a realism but it’s also very brutal.