Larry Fessenden

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Monster Reviews: The Dead Don’t Die 2019

Monster Reviews: The Dead Don’t Die 2019

When it comes to zombie films, they’re traditionally all very similar. Lots of blood, guts and brains. They rely heavily on the gore and they’re usually rich with social commentary. The storylines are generally very light and its always about the aesthetics.

The Dead Don’t Die is written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. It stars Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tom Waits, Chloë Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Rosie Perez, RZA, Sturgill Simpson and Selena Gomez. The residents of Centerville are left to battle for their lives as the dead begin to rise and invade their once tranquil town.

Let’s face it, when it comes to the actors and characters in films, they can single handedly make or break a picture. They can make you fall in love with them, or they can make you hate them. You can root for them to survive, or cheer for their defeat. However, when executed properly, a legendary performance can be eternal and sometimes even immortal. 

The Dead Don’t Die is full of dry wit and laugh out loud humor that will tickle your funny bone to the core. It’s a killer horror comedy unlike any other, with the largest ensemble cast ever assembled for a zombie film. Just when you thought you’d seen it all, hold on tight as director Jim Jarmusch brings viewers a side splitting comedy about the end of the world.

This film is absolute genius. It’s managed to take the nearly beat to death subgenre and flip it on its axis. Instead of the tired old gore and blood drenched cannibal feasts that we’re used to, this film focuses more on gut busting laughs and hysterics from its amazing cast. Bill Murray and Adam Driver headline one magnificently talented lineup that’s guaranteed to entertain.

There are some seriously amazing performances in this. Murray was awesome as the cool, laid back Sheriff, and Driver was the perfect level headed sidekick. Chloë Sevigny was also great as the shy and awkward third wheel of the law, and Steve Busvemi was a riot as the crazy racist farmer. Tom Waits was savage as Hermit Bob, but the best has to be Rosie Perez as a news reporter with the hilariously similar name.

It’s not your average fast paced, chew em up and spit em out, insane, over the top type of zombie film. Instead it’s a much slower, more comedic based style where the zombies are essentially the background noise to the jokes and one liners. It’s a truly entertaining laugh filled odyssey.

Not evry film needs to employ off the wall kills or loads of gore. With the subgenre currently on a downslope, it’s pleasing to see a fresh take on the outdated monsters. It’s nice to see the undead reinvented and not taken so seriously, like they normally are. With all the zombie themed content out there, it’s hard to leave a mark on the genre and that’s exactly what this film has done.

The film looks amazing. The cinematography is great and the countryside sets are very soothing. Jarmusch’s storytelling is always slower paced, which seems to work really well with the Romeroesque zombies. It amps up the fun quotient and lightens the intensity. 

While fans might not be so accepting of a film like this, it’s definitely delightful and a worthy addition to the zombie subgenre. Stellar performances and a solid cast make it one of the best modern undead films to date. It’s a hilarious centerpiece and a great all around film.

If you’re bored of the same old tiresome zombie films, look no further. The Dead Don’t Die is an off the path, unconventional, entertaining undead film unlike the rest. Tons of laughs, awesome special effects and even its own theme song. It’s the best ZomCom yet.


Posted by Donovan Smith in EVENTS, GORE OR EXTREME HORROR, HORROR COMEDIES, HORROR HISTORY, MONSTERS AND CREATURES, MOVIE REVIEWS, NEW RELEASES, PARANORMAL, SCI-FI HORROR, ZOMBIES, 0 comments
MOVIE REVIEW: Pod (2015)

MOVIE REVIEW: Pod (2015)

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By Nick Durham

Well, this is…something.

What happens when your crazy, war-vet brother claims he’s found something in the woods that is some sort of blood-hungry, otherworldly beast? Well, you go stage an intervention of course! That’s pretty much the basis of Pod; a super brisk (about 78 minutes long) dirge of a thriller that has a quite a surprising amount of positive things going for it for about half of its running time.  After that though…well, read on and find out.

From writer/director Mickey Keating, Pod tells the story of bickering brother Ed (Dean Cates) and sister Lyla (Jug Face‘s Lauren Ashley Carter) who unite to take a road trip up north in an effort to stage a possible intervention for their seemingly mentally ill brother Martin (Brian Morvant). When they arrive at Martin’s cabin, they learn his dog has been slaughtered, the windows and doors are secured and boarded and taped up, and there’s something in the basement that Martin keeps referring to as a pod that he claims is responsible for his behavior and the death of his dog…along with much, much more.

Fairly minimalistic in its presentation, Pod has a lot going for it. From the initial trip and tour of the dilapidated cabin to the first encounter between the siblings, this film manages build a shitload of wonderful tense moments. The camerawork, editing, and acting are all wonderfully impressive given the film’s almost barebones nature. That’s all pretty much the first half of the film though, as all the good things that are built up initially are betrayed as Pod stumbles towards its conclusion.

The major flaw of this film is that from the beginning sequence onward, we pretty much know that this monster exists and that Martin isn’t totally crazy. Pod could have benefited as being more of a psychological-based thriller if this wasn’t known right away. If instead the film kept playing with the viewer, making you wonder if this thing is real or if Martin is as much off his fucking rocker as it seems. Instead it degenerates into a creature feature, with a predictable hoot of an ending.  Oh, Larry fucking Fessenden is here too in a small, yet pivotal, role as someone whose presence never gets explained. I swear, I can’t fucking escape him.

That’s the other thing about Pod: nothing is ever really explained. We don’t know if the creature is some kind of mutant or a fucking alien or what. The film’s promotional material kind of makes the film look like an alien abduction-style affair (which is what I thought this was at first glance) but in reality it’s little more than a monster-in-the-woods affair. The little to no explanation of things about the film is something I actually kind of dig. There’s no cell phones present and the cars are old models, so we know this film takes place in the past, but we’re never sure exactly what decade. Little things like this kind of elevate the whole thing, at least to me that is.

All things considered, if you’re looking for a brisk and somewhat enjoyable thriller that actually does tension (mostly) right, Pod may be for you. It doesn’t wind up being as promising as its first half makes you think it might be, but it isn’t horrible either. It was just added on Netflix, so give it a look.

Rating: 3/5

Posted by Alan Smithee in MOVIE REVIEWS, REVIEWS, 0 comments
LARRY FESSENDEN COLLECTION REVIEW PART 4: The Last Winter (2006)

LARRY FESSENDEN COLLECTION REVIEW PART 4: The Last Winter (2006)

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By Nick Durham

The fourth and final film in Scream Factory's Larry Fessenden Collection is 2006's The Last Winter. So far we've had science gone wrong with No Telling, love gone wrong (and a vampire) with Habit, and a family getaway gone wrong with Wendigo. With The Last Winter, everything you could possibly think of goes totally fucking wrong, for everyone and everything. To me personally, this is probably Fessenden's most well-put together film in his filmography. From a technical standpoint especially: this movie looks and sounds fantastic and is creepy as hell.

The Last Winter focuses on a crew of oil drillers in the Arctic where some strange occurrences are happening. After one of the crew is found naked and dead in the snow, an environmentalist (James LeGros) believes that some kind of gas that causes hallucinations and insanity is being unearthed by the drilling. Soon enough the group becomes trapped at their base, there's massive ghostly apparitions wrecking havoc, and the body count steadily increases as it looks like nature is telling humanity to fuck on off.

Ron Perlman is here, pretty much being Ron Perlman as the group's leader, while American Horror Story MILF Connie Britton is on board as well. There's a subplot of a love triangle between her, Perlman, and LeGros, but it feels really tacked on and out of place compared to the rest of the film. Other than that, the rest of The Last Winter is bloody wonderful. The atmosphere is brilliant and the performances are solid. In the hands of another writer/director, this whole affair would come off as fucking silly, but in Fessenden's hands, it's creepy and surprisingly poignant.

Then again, there are times when the whole thing comes off as a little too heavy handed as well. We get it: humans are assholes and we're slowly killing ourselves because of our dependence on fossil fuels. At least Fessenden manages to spin an interesting horror story around the whole thing. I had said before how deterioration always manages to play some kind of role in the films featured in this set. No Telling featured the deterioration of a marriage and science itself, Habit featured the deterioration of a self-destructive man and a relationship, while Wendigo revolved around the deterioration of the family dynamic and sanity itself. The Last Winter goes balls out with the deterioration of the whole planet and all of humanity as well.

The Last Winter is definitely the largest scale of the four films, and just might be the best as well. There isn't much else I can say about it other than check it out, it just may be Fessenden's crowning achievement.

Rating: 4/5

Larry Fessenden is truly a unique auteur in the world of independent horror, and it's wonderful that he's getting the recognition he deserves. Check out these films, this set, and everything else from Fessenden that you can get your little mitts on, you'll be glad that you did.

Blu-ray box set rating: 4/5

 

Posted by Alan Smithee in MOVIE REVIEWS, REVIEWS, 0 comments
LARRY FESSENDEN COLLECTION REVIEW PART 3: Wendigo (2001)

LARRY FESSENDEN COLLECTION REVIEW PART 3: Wendigo (2001)

 

 

 

 

 

By Nick Durham

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The third film in Scream Factory's Larry Fessenden Collection is 2001's Wendigo. Now this film actually managed to achieve a degree of mainstream success (I remember seeing this in heavy rotation on the Sci-Fi Channel...that's right, I refuse to this very day to call it the SyFy Channel. Fuck that shit.) and features some pretty well-known actors as well. This remains probably Fessenden's most well-known film almost a decade and a half later.

Wendigo revolves around a New York photographer named George (Jake Weber from the Dawn of the Dead remake) who is seriously stressed the fuck out. Seeking a getaway, George, his wife Kim (Patricia Clarkson) and their young son Miles (Malcolm in the Middle's Erik Per Sullivan) take a trek towards upstate New York, and slowly things start to go a little bit haywire. George manages to piss off some locals, and it becomes apparent that the family's cabin is inhabited by something otherworldly.

While its title and basic premise may make you think this is a creature feature at first glance, the horror of Wendigo is much more psychological than visceral. That's another thing about Fessenden's films: they always manage to intertwine psychological horror with more traditional horror elements...and just like No Telling and Habit before it, deterioration plays a big role here as well, this time with the deterioration of the family dynamic. George and Kim aren't quite a loving couple, nor are they even really loving parents. They're actually kind of assholes, and we really don't feel all that bad for them as the situations in the film become more dire either.

The acting from everyone is really good, actually it's damn good. This is probably the most well-acted film Fessenden has ever committed to celluloid in his whole filmography. The atmosphere is good and creepy as well, and there's a really nice sense of dread permeating throughout the film during its whole running time. If there's any drawbacks to Wendigo, it's that I feel the film's ending kind of betrays a lot of the mythology the film has already set up. I don't want to give too much away, but watch it and you'll see what I mean.

So yeah, Wendigo would end up becoming one of Fessenden's most well known films, so much so that he even continues to go back to the mythology of the wendigo legend for other projects like his Fear Itself episode Skin & Bones and the PS4 game he co-wrote Until Dawn. Watching Wendigo again for the first time in a long time makes me realize my memories of the film are better than the film itself, but I digress. You should definitely check this out regardless if you never have before.

Rating: 3.5/5

Posted by Alan Smithee in MOVIE REVIEWS, REVIEWS, 0 comments
LARRY FESSENDEN COLLECTION REVIEW PART 2: Habit (1995)

LARRY FESSENDEN COLLECTION REVIEW PART 2: Habit (1995)

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By Nick Durham

The second film in Scream Factory's Larry Fessenden Collection is the Independent Spirit Award winning Habit, which was filmed in 1995 and released in 1997. This was the film that really started getting the ball rolling on Fessenden making a name for himself within the realm of independent horror. While No Telling and his short films were interesting and original to say the least, it was this film that really announced his presence to the genre. It should also be noted that this is a remake of Fessenden's own 1982 short film of the same name, which expands on everything presented there in terms of character and atmosphere.

Habit is a vampire film in which our lead character Sam (Fessenden) finds himself at a crossroads in his life. His father has just passed away, and he's broken up with his long-time girlfriend as well. Finding solace in booze and his bohemian lifestyle in 90s New York City, Sam meets the sexy Anna (Meredith Snaider) at a Halloween party. They eventually engage in a kinky sex-charged relationship and soon things begin to turn a little strange. Sam finds himself getting sicker and weaker, while Anna continuously enjoys sinking her teeth into him. Eventually he realizes what she is, and then things start to get nasty.

As I said above, Habit received a shitload of acclaim upon its original release from the indie circuit, and it's easy to see why. This is a decently original take on vampirism, and it manages to overcome any of the clichés that come with it too. For being super low budget, the film is well-shot and features some great shots of New York City as well. The acting is great all around, particularly from Fessenden as our lead who finds himself deteriorating more and more with each passing day.

Special features wise, Scream Factory's Blu-ray contains a commentary from Fessenden as well as a making of documentary. The Habit short film is included as well, and so is Fessenden's N is for Nexus short from ABCs of Death 2 and a making of for that to boot. There's a weird music video thrown on here as well that Larry was behind too. So yeah, there's some good stuff here for sure.

So yeah, Habit is definitely one of Fessenden's best films to be sure. If you've never seen it before, I strongly recommend giving it a look. It's not likely you'll find a more unique vampire film from the mid-90s era.

Rating: 4/5

Posted by Alan Smithee in MOVIE REVIEWS, REVIEWS, 0 comments
LARRY FESSENDEN COLLECTION REVIEW PART 1: No Telling (1991)

LARRY FESSENDEN COLLECTION REVIEW PART 1: No Telling (1991)

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By Nick Durham

Larry Fessenden is a weird fucking dude man. He's a one man sow of writing, directing, producing, acting, and more besides. Go to iMDB and look at this fucking guy's filmography: he's produced and acted in so much stuff it's hard to comprehend. He's had his hands in almost everything in terms of independent horror (or close to independent horror) ranging from Stake Land, We Are Still Here, I Sell the Dead, House of the Devil, and tons more besides. In terms of writing and directing, Fessenden has made a hell of an impact in the world of independent horror. Scream Factory and IFC have decided to bestow upon us a wonderful collection of four of Fessenden's films in one handsome Blu-ray set. The Larry Fessenden Collection features No Telling, Habit, Wendigo, and The Last Winter; four films that are definitely different from the rest of the independent horror pack.

The set begins with 1991's No Telling; Fessenden's feature length horror debut after directing a string of well-received short films in the 80s. This film revolves around scientist Geoffrey (Stephen Ramsey) and his wife Lillian (Miriam Healy-Louie) moving to the rural countryside. What should be a nice and relaxing environment becomes nightmarish for everyone as Geoffrey sink deeper into his experiments and projects involving pharmaceuticals, animals, and some very, very bad things.

I'm going to tell you all right now: No Telling is hard to watch because of the graphic animal carnage. It's never super exploitative though, as Fessenden knows when enough is enough and when to make the camera pan away. The heart of the story is a mix between showing the degradation of the marriage between Geoffrey and Lillian as he becomes more obsessed and unhinged with his work. That, and the social commentary on animal testing/experimentation, makes for one shocking and intelligent flick. If there's any drawbacks to this, it's that like I said: this is really hard to watch. When the experiments take a Frankenstein-esque turn...holy shit. Fucking hell, this definitely isn't for everyone. The film's conclusion is also pretty abrupt and anticlimactic, and we never get the satisfaction of seeing those that deserve it get theirs in the end. Then again, maybe that's the point Fessenden was trying to make: this kind of shit continues to happen in the real world, even to this very day.

Like just about all of Fessenden's future work to come, No Telling is a startlingly original and thought provoking horror story. If it weren't for the depictions of animal mutilations, I would recommend this to everyone I possibly could, but that in itself stops me from doing so. It's not that the depictions are that extreme and over the top; it's just that shit like that gets to me. I can watch a guy get his cock chopped off and eaten by cannibals, but I can't watch bloody experiments on mice and dogs. Color me weird I guess.

Rating: 3/5

 

Posted by Alan Smithee in MOVIE REVIEWS, REVIEWS, 0 comments
MOVIE REVIEW: We Are Still Here (2015)

MOVIE REVIEW: We Are Still Here (2015)

By Nick Durham

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It's really not every day that you hear about a movie coming out that claims itself to be a tribute to the films of Lucio Fulci, but that is something We Are Still Here claims itself to be, and it's easy to see why. Written and directed by Ted Geoghegan, this is a surprisingly pretty damn good little horror dirge that not only pays a nice tribute to the films of Fulci, but manages to stand on its own as a very worthwhile haunted house trip.

The film takes place in 1979 as an older couple (Re-Animator and From Beyond babe Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig) moves to their newly purchased New England home following the death of their son. The grieving mother believes their new home to be inhabited by the spirit of their deceased son, but it doesn't take too long to realize that isn't the case, and it isn't just the haunted house that winds up causing the most trouble for our couple either. While all of that may sound a tad predictable, what unfolds ends up being kind of surprising, in a good way that is.

As I said before, We Are Still Here fashions itself on being a Fulci tribute, and in that regard it works pretty good. There is heavy atmosphere and inventive camerawork and scene boxing, along with a surprising amount of blood-letting as we hit the film's climax when shit starts hitting the proverbial fan. All of this happens in a brisk 83-minute run time, which I have to admit ends up being a perfect run time. If We Are Still Here was any longer, it would end up losing its luster and appeal; something which some Fulci films ended up doing in spite of themselves (I'm looking at you A Lizard in a Woman's Skin). The acting is pretty great (our good friend Larry Fessenden is here as the hippie husband to Lisa Marie's psychic friend of the couple) and the effects work is fucking wonderful as well.

All in all, We Are Still Here offers enough in terms of spookiness, atmosphere, and bloodshed to rightfully claim its place as being a Lucio Fulci tribute. It isn't anything too special, but it manages to be massively enjoyable for what it is, and you shouldn't have any problems eating this up. Check it out if you're looking for a well-crafted and brisk thrill.

Rating: 4/5

Posted by Alan Smithee in MOVIE REVIEWS, REVIEWS, 0 comments