Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with horror icon Larry Fessenden, actor and CEO of Glass Eye Pix, whose latest film, “Psychopaths,” arrives on digital home entertainment January 2.
We recently sat down with Fessenden to discuss his creative simpatico with director Mickey Keating, why he loves working in genre films, and how he became an unexpected legend to fans of horror filmmaking.
TrunkSpace: In addition to acting in “Psychopaths,” you also served as executive producer. Could you see director Mickey Keating’s vision for the film when you first read it?
Fessenden: Well, I’ve known Mickey for some years now. He was an intern at my company, Glass Eye Pix. He was always just a real film enthusiast. I liked his early films, so we’ve been talking about movies for a long time together. Then he made a film specifically for us, called “Darling,” which I produced also with Jenn Wexler, who was on “Psychopaths.” He’s a real cinephile, so it’s fun. We talk about movies, in terms of old ’70s artists like Altman. So I could see “Psychopaths” pretty much in my mind once I was reading the script. It clearly is a mosaic of images, and appalling situations. It’s still impressive what Mickey and his crew can do for very little money. It looks like a really classy, beautifully lit film, with a lot of cool long takes, and other things that you associate with bigger budgets. So it’s always exciting to see what he’s up to. He’s always going to try to get a little bit of a different vibe. Mickey is a visualist, so you’re going to get something cinematic out of him.
TrunkSpace: Because you guys have worked together numerous times over the years, does that mean you sync up creatively?
Fessenden: It’s a friendship. We still argue about things, and that’s fun too. He’s truly an insatiable filmmaker. There’s always going to be something there that is compelling, visually or aesthetically. In that regard, we’re aligned in that I really look forward to his creative choices. As I’ve often said, his editor, Val (Krulfeifer), is very important to his process. Even after the film is shot, and you get a version of it, the work hasn’t been finished. There’s going to be a lot of jostling about the edit. Then comes sounds. Any filmmaker knows that sound is as vital as the picture, in a weird way.
TrunkSpace: Especially in the horror and thriller genres. It sets the table and heightens the emotional experience.
Fessenden: Absolutely, and this is something he is really, really masterful at. It’s fun to see his choices. He uses a lot of music. He uses really interesting music, and that’s one approach. Then there’s sound effect choices. As I’m talking about the movie, I’m always sort of picturing different scenes, like I’m running it fast on the screen of my mind. Once again, that’s really where my affection for the movie lies, is in the visuals.
TrunkSpace: Does both producing and acting in one of Mickey’s films go hand in hand?
Fessenden: Well, I’ve actually acted in every one of Mickey’s movies. Even when I didn’t show up on set, I did a voice in “Ritual.” I did the phone call. It’s just sort of a tradition. We’ll see how long we keep it up. But more importantly, he came to me as a producing arm. We had other producers, and guys who put the money in, but he likes to work with Glass Eye, because Jenn Wexler, who works with me, is really great – boots on the ground. She came out to LA and got things cooking. Then I think Mickey is loyal to Glass Eye, and likes to be under our banner, because we try to make cool, unexpected, indie horror movies. So we’ve had a nice association. We did a movie called “Darling,” which was quite different, just a single character, black and white, but also, another stylish, bold move in his little canon of films.
TrunkSpace: Is it important to you for Glass Eye to remain producing stuff within the genre brand, but at the same time, being diverse in the storytelling aspect, because your company seems to take chances that others would not?
Fessenden: I appreciate that. One of my talking points is that horror is an amazing, big tent. My least favorite is horror comedy, but we’ve done one that’s very charming called “I Sell the Dead” that’s about grave robbers in the 18th century. We’ve done robot movies. We’ve done movies like “The House of the Devil.” So I do love the diversity of tones, and styles, and even sort of degrees of pulpiness that horror can afford. We don’t only make horror movies, but when we do, we like to push the envelope. I sort of contrast it to everybody’s favorite producer, Jason Blum, who has always kept this single house routine going. We prefer to do different things. Even at a low budget, you can be very creative, and that’s the idea.
TrunkSpace: And there’s so many sub-genres within the horror genre. As far as a creative palette, there’s so much to paint with.
Fessenden: Yeah, it’s fantastic. My own films are not very violent, but Mickey gets pretty nasty in his stuff, and both of those exist. Horror is also about dread, and some of the deeper horror of self betrayal, and all of that. Horror is also about being arbitrarily chosen to be serial killed. Both are the dark parts of the human condition, so it’s fun to explore them all. Also, the horror comedy that interests me is the one that’s really just about the absurdity of life, and kind of almost a satire aspect. So yeah, it’s a big tent.
TrunkSpace: You’ve become a horror icon to genre fans. Do you view yourself that way and was it an active role that you sought out, or did fate step in and put you on that path?
Fessenden: Well, it’s funny. Fate had a huge amount to do with it. I have mentored filmmakers, and I think that’s where it all came from. But I remember when this icon status started… I felt I was very young. I’d only made three or four horror movies, and they weren’t big successes. They were sort of singular. I will take that credit – they’re specific to me, and no one else would make a movie like “Wendigo.” (Laughter) But then as I started supporting Ti West, and Graham Reznick, and Jim Mickle, and a lot of strange films like “Automatons” by James McKenney… I don’t know how it happened. I don’t mind playing that role, but it is funny how you get these buzzwords associated with you.
TrunkSpace: Do you think part of it is having an eye and taste for the types of films that genre fans enjoy?
Fessenden: I think so. Although, I would argue that all of us in the Glass Eye orbit are a little bit pegged as a slow burn, which is sort of a way of saying, not entirely commercial. It’s not the actual jugular of horror. It’s that, maybe, we have consistently found good directors. I do think that’s the case. As I say, Ti, Mickle, and some of these guys have made many classics, and that cements the reputation. Also, we’ve been at it a long time. We consistently have something every couple of years, something that really does elevate the genre. We just put out a movie called “Most Beautiful Island” and that’s an unexpected horror. You won’t assume there would be horror in it, mind you, because it’s actually subtle. But it’s cool to assert that the genre can have artistry, and control over tone, and seriousness.
And then what’s funnest to do is a Mickey movie, because that speaks maybe more directly to certain genre fans, but not everybody. I don’t know. Look, I believe in making stuff that is unique to the directors. Mickey is making films that are very much personal to him.
TrunkSpace: Has the various streaming platforms extended the shelf life of the films that you’re making and have they positively impacted the business side of what you do?
Fessenden: No. In fact, it’s frustrating, because you don’t actually see those numbers. In the old days, you’d sell your movie to a humble DVD company, and they’d give you some money for it. I made movies for 30 grand, and sold them for 60 grand. I think we have the illusion that streaming is sort of making movies accessible, but most movies can fall off the radar pretty fast and then they’re gone forever. There’s not even a video box lying in someone’s garage. So I don’t romanticize the streaming, quite honestly. Of course, it’s lovely to tell your kid, “Oh hey, let’s watch a movie tonight, and you just find one.” I don’t know, I don’t find the streaming particularly charming, to be honest.
TrunkSpace: With all of these various hats you wear on film sets, do you view them all as separate careers, or do they all fall under one bigger umbrella?
Fessenden: I appreciate the question. I mean, I have an approach to the arts… I play the saxophone pretty badly, but I always laugh that those solos have a certain vibe, not unlike my acting. Or the way I like to approach storytelling, and how I like to encourage other artists. I feel like it’s all coming from one voice. I really am master of none, no particular trade, but have my hands in all of them a little bit. So that’s all I can offer, is something unique to myself, and hope it sort of makes sense.
“Psychopaths” is available on digital home entertainment January 2.