Tag Archives: Larry Fessenden

A Sin Called Victory

Brooklyn 45

by Hope Madden

A timely deconstruction of patriotism as convenient excuse for violence – xenophobia, homophobia, you name it – filmmaker Ted Geoghegan’s latest genre film costumes a contemporary message in WWII army greens.

Brooklyn 45 spends a single, specific evening with a handful of war buddies. It is Christmas Eve. The war has just ended. Lt. Col. Clive “Hock” Hockstatter (Larry Fessenden) probably shouldn’t be alone for Christmas. He’s been lost in grief since his wife Suzy took her own life on Thanksgiving, raving about Nazi spies in the building. So, pals Mjr. Archibald Stanton (Jeremy Holm, The Ranger), Mjr. Paul DiFranco (Ezra Buzzington), master interrogator Marla Sheridan (Anne Ramsay) and her husband, Pentagon pencil pusher Bob (Ron E. Rains) head to Hock’s Brooklyn apartment to make merry.

What they don’t expect is a séance, but to their surprise, that’s what they get. It doesn’t go well. Lights flicker, candles light themselves, there’s ectoplasm, phantasmic voices – and an unsettling knocking in the closet.

Geoghegan’s crafted a highly theatrical, even stagey, production. Almost exclusively set on a single space, as the full cast is trapped in Hock’s dining room for nearly the film’s full 92-minute run time, the movie could easily have taken shape as a stage play. Or, given the spot-on era the filmmaker creates, it could have succeeded as a radio play. The theatricality works, even when the dialog is occasionally overwritten or expected to deliver too much exposition.

The success comes in equal parts from fine performances and Goeghegan’s nimble thematic work. By pressing these people – war heroes of the “greatest generation” – hard enough, he not only depicts an all-too-familiar slippery slope to self-justified violence, but chips away at a whitewashed American history.

Ramsay is particularly impressive, her performance layered and authentic despite the movie’s theatricality. Kristina Klebe – a surprise guest – is a bit hamstrung with the film’s most stilted dialog, but she and Ramsay share an unsettling chemistry that heightens tension.

Goeghegan delivers some jump scares and some gore, but what his film finds scariest is what lies in a beating human heart.

The Lady Is A Vamp

Jakob’s Wife

by George Wolf

Her name is Anne Fedder. But Jakob’s Wife pretty much sums up the nearly invisible routine Anne (Barbara Crampton) is living.

Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden) is the well-known pastor of a small town church, and Anne is well known as his wife. Anne’s life seems to have only gotten smaller during her thirty-year marriage, and if pressed, she’d probably admit she wouldn’t mind a little shakeup.

A late-night meeting with old boyfriend Tom (Robert Rusler)? Intriguing, but his seduction skills got nuthin’ on The Master (Bonnie Aarrons, aka The Nun), who’s waiting on them both.

The next morning, Jakob gets the first clue that things will be changing.

“Did you make breakfast?” he asks.

Anne answers, “I’m not hungry.”

At least not for pancakes. After The Master’s touch, Anne is a brand new woman, sporting fresh hair and makeup, tight, low-cut dresses and provocative new appetites.

It’s no wonder this has been a passion project for Crampton (who’s also a producer), and she makes the extended feminist metaphor ring gloriously true.

Director/co-writer Travis Stevens (Girl on the Third Floor) wraps the bloodlusty tale in a fun retro vibe of ’80s low-budget practical, blood spurting gore, but it’s Crampton (and the chemistry with her fellow horror vet Fessenden) who truly elevates this beyond the standard vampire playbook.

To see a female character of this age experiencing a spiritual, philosophical and sexual awakening is alone refreshing, and Crampton (looking fantastic, by the way) makes Anne’s cautious embrace of her new ageless wonder an empowering – and even touching – journey.

Stevens revels in the B-movie underpinnings, stopping short of tackling any systemic issues inherent in a woman’s longtime restlessness. The focus stays intimate, and only on how Anne’s new freedom affects Jakob and their local community (which remains nameless, though filming was entirely in Mississippi).

But with Crampton and Fessenden so completely in their element, Jakob’s Wife is an irresistibly fun take on the bite of eternity. Here, it’s not about taking souls, it’s about empowering them. And once this lady is a vamp, we’re the lucky ones.

My Sister’s Keeper


by Hope Madden

Authenticity is certainly the main differentiator between Chad Crawford Kinkle’s latest horror and others of the genre.

It’s been eight years since the filmmaker released his underseen backwoods gem Jug Face. He once again pits a tenacious female against the unrelenting pressure of an unholy presence, but Kinkle has a more personal kind of dread in store with Dementer.

Katie (Katie Groshong), looking for a fresh start, applies for a job at a skills training facility that works with adults who have special needs. She’s hired, working with clients two days a week in the facility, then spending two nights in a group home with three of them.

Katie is especially concerned with Stephanie (Stephanie Kinkle, the filmmaker’s sister).

Kinkle’s sister is an adult with Down Syndrome, which not only elevates the reality of the situation but also the tenderness and anxiety around the character’s safety. You can almost feel the filmmaker’s own personal dread over his sister’s vulnerability in an untrustworthy world.

Aside from Larry Fessenden, who appears briefly, Groshong is the only professional actor in the film. Kinkle, working with a skeleton crew, films in an actual skill center. The majority of the staff and clients represented in the film are, indeed, staff and clients.

The approach gives the film a verité style often seen in horror films, rarely if ever seen in a horror film with a main character who has special needs. Dementer lacks any of the sheen or noble heroism you often find in films centered around a character with a disability. The realism adds a level of discomfort, a sense that vulnerable adults who need care could easily find themselves in a precarious situation.

Dementer also offers an uncomfortably realistic look at working poverty.

Kinkle mines these anxieties as Groshong begins to see and hear signs that suggest Stephanie may be in real danger. As she races against the clock to save her, Kinkle slyly upends plenty of horror tropes.

It’s an often fascinating deconstruction of a particular subgenre of horror, an approach that usually benefits from the verité style. But too much of the loose narrative feels like filler. We watch Katie buckle her seat belt no fewer than five times.

Unanswered questions can strengthen a film, but Dementer feels underwritten. Still, you get the sense that Kinkle made the best of what he had on hand and told a deeply personal story in the most authentic way he could.

Born Again


by Hope Madden

It is tough to find a fresh direction to take fiction published 201 years ago, let alone a tale already made into countless films. Is there a new way—or reason—to look at the Frankenstein fable?

Writer/director/horror favorite Larry Fessenden thinks so. He tackles the myth, as well as a culture of greed and toxic masculinity, with his latest, Depraved.

Adam (a deeply sympathetic Alex Breaux) is kind of an act of catharsis for Henry (David Call). A PTSD-suffering combat medic, Henry is so interested in finding a way to bring battlefield fatalities back to life that he doesn’t even question where his Big Pharma partner Polidori (Joshua Leonard, in another excellent genre turn) gets his pieces and parts.

Here’s a question that’s plagued me since I read Shelley’s text in 8th grade. Why take parts of cadavers? Why not bring one whole dude back and save all that time and stitching effort? Frank  Henenlotter (Frankenhooker) and Lucky McKee (May) found answers to that question. Fessenden isn’t worried about it.

He’s more interested in illuminating the way a culture is represented in its offspring. Pour all your own ugly tendencies, insecurities and selfish behaviors into your creation and see what that gets you.

Fessenden isn’t subtle about the problems he sees in society, nor vague about their causes. Depraved is the latest in a host of genre films pointing fingers at the specific folks who have had the power to cause all the problems that are now coming back to bite us in the ass.

It’s the white guys with money because, well, because it is.

Along with Leonard’s oily approach and Breaux’s tenderness, the film boasts solid supporting work from Chloe Levine (The Transfiguration, Ranger) and especially Addison Timlin, who is great in a very small role.

There is a sloppy subtext here, charming in its refusal to be tidy, about the man Adam used to be (or one of them), the girl he didn’t really appreciate, and the way, deep down, a mildly douchy guy can learn a lesson about self-sacrifice.

In its own cynical way, Depraved does offer a glimmer of hope for mankind. Fessenden doesn’t revolutionize the genre or say anything new, though, but you won’t leave the film wishing Shelley’s beast would just stay dead.

Deja Vu

Carnage Park

by Hope Madden

Writer/director Mickey Keating says his newest effort, Carnage Park, owes a debt to Sam Peckinpah and Peter Watkins – and their influence is certainly apparent, right down to the film’s title, cribbed from Watkins’s desert terror Punishment Park. Still, the film itself boils down to a poor man’s Wolf Creek as directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Actually, that sounds a lot better than it is.

It’s the California desert of 1978. Two armed men carrying a bullet wound, bag of cash and hostage flee a small town bank heist. They lose a trail of cops via a hidden, hilly dirt road.

Big mistake.

All the swagger, dusty boots and retro Seventies soundtrack in the world can’t shield Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hebert) and farm girl hostage Vivian (Ashley Bell) from the much larger danger they’ve just driven into.

Keating’s amassing quite a list and variety of indie horror films. His style is homage. Where Carnage Park aspires to the gritty look and desperate feel of the road pics of the indie American Seventies, last year’s Darling offered a stylish ode to both Kubrick and Polanski.

This approach need not feel derivative. Let’s be honest, Tarantino’s become among the most lauded and watched filmmakers of his generation by doing the exact same thing. The big difference is that QT’s take on all the cinema that has come before is filtered through his own lunatic genius, the final product becoming uniquely, fantastically his own.

There’s something more workmanlike, less inspired in what Keating does.

That’s not to say Carnage Park is an abject failure. A game cast keeps the film intriguing. Bell is deceptively savvy (aside from a few wildly idiotic mistakes, but let’s be honest, screenwriter Keating is to blame for those). Genre favorite Pat Healy chews some scenery, playing against type as the damaged Vietnam vet cliché, while Larry Fessenden (a regular and welcome contributor to Keating’s canon) shows up for a quick and gory moment or two.

But from the bleached out yellow of the scenery to nearly every set piece, Keating’s habit of lifting from other films takes on the feel of compulsion. Larceny, even: The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Reservoir Dogs – the list is bloody, hip and endless. And tired.

Keating has proven many strengths in his few years in filmmaking, but it is time for him to develop his own style.