Tag Archives: Larry Fessenden

CAPSULE: LIKE ME (2017)

DIRECTED BY: Robert Mockler

FEATURING: Addison Timlin, Larry Fessenden, Ian Nelson

PLOT: A teenager embarks on a low-impact crime spree in support of her burgeoning social media presence, but feels pressured to escalate in the face of blistering online criticism.

Still from Like Me (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Off-kilter sound, picture, and editing all combine to keep viewers on unsteady footing throughout, but Like Me ends up being a lot like the cereal its heroine grossly consumes: empty calories, all color and no nutrition.

COMMENTS: To be a creator of any kind—whether your forum be art or music or performance or, God help you, a writer of online movie reviews—is to crave an audience. Even if you yourself want no part of the attendant fame and controversy, the compulsive need to be heard remains. Sia may hide behind surreal dance routines and bichromatic wigs, Banksy might destroy his own work by remote control, even the mind behind the reboot of “Nancy” might prefer to fly under the radar, but they all still have something to say and want you to listen. You may have already noticed me , waving meekly at you in hopes that you will heed what I have to say about offbeat cinema. It’s no small knock on this writer that the most comments I have ever received on this website came not from a careful consideration of an epic montage or a dissection of the cinematic adaptation of one of theater’s seminal works, but rather for that time I caused a controversy by mentioning an alert to sensitive material with insufficient care. I mean, we all just want to be loved.

Kiya, the teenage protagonist of Robert Mockler’s debut feature, understands instinctively the importance of being heard, and she’s coming to realize how it is equally valuable to have something to actually say. Twice, she asks another character to “Tell me a story,” as if she knows that she is an empty vessel who desperately needs something hearty and substantial to fill her up and give her meaning. She never really gets that need met, though, and instead fills her days with hopelessness and her nights with making videos of humiliating pranks which a portion of the population devours as rich content.

Mockler has real visual flair. His jittery camera, rapid-fire editing, random imagery, and electrified color palette all speak to a deliberate and ambitious cinematic strategy. He isn’t shy about using his bag of tricks, most notably in a nightmare sequence where Kiya’s beat-up clunker motors through a candy-colored underwater bubblescape in a 900-degree long take, like Children of Men on shrooms. But what soon becomes apparent is that the weirdness is less of a mission than it is joint compound; cinematic spackle smoothing over the emptier, more aimless stretches of the thin plot. Unusual imagery does help put us inside the mindset of our quixotic, sometimes drug-buzzed protagonist, but more often than that it’s padding.

Like Me is undoubtedly titled ironically, as it’s next to impossible to like anyone in it. As Kiya’s online nemesis, Burt, spews venom at her online art project, it’s possible to agree with his harsh assessment of the pointlessness of her efforts and the vapidity of those who would lavish their attention on her while simultaneously concluding that he is an obnoxious blowhard. Her hostage-collaborator, Marshall, is both a pitiable figure for his predicament (I kept worrying about his unattended motel) and a wretched, pathetic loser. Even a little girl we meet at a service station is corrupt, shooting everything she sees with a toy gun “because it’s fun.” And then Kiya herself, played with real movie magnetism by Addison Timlin, is strangely the most compelling of all, managing to be intriguing despite having no clear inner life whatsoever. Not likeable at all, mind you. But fascinating.

There’s a lot of talent on display in Like Me, and enough of an understanding of the allure and the method of the wired world to give it verisimilitude rarely found in more mainstream films. But the whole of the movie is so much less than the sum of its parts; it can warn of the hollowness of our way of life or stoke incipient distaste for affirmation measured in followers and thumbs-ups. But once it has our attention with its sharp imagery and flowery language, nothing of consequence lingers. Which I guess is a red flag for all of us who insist on sharing our voices with the universe.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an impressionistic portrait of modern estrangement, using all manner of stylistic devices to capture his protagonist’s tumultuous psyche. The film’s lack of a traditional narrative will no doubt alienate many, but for the more adventurous, it offers a uniquely weird take on loneliness and lunacy.” – Nick Schager, Variety (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE ABCS OF DEATH 2 (2014)

Weirdest!(segment D)

DIRECTED BY: , Julian Barratt, Robert Boocheck, Alejandro Brugués, , , , Julian Gilbey, Jim Hosking, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, E.L. Katz, Aharon Keshales, Steven Kostanski, Marvin Kren, Juan Martínez Moreno, Erik Matti, , , Chris Nash, , Hajime Ohata, Navot Papushado, , Dennison Ramalho, , Jerome Sable, Bruno Samper, Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska, Sôichi Umezawa

FEATURING: Too many actors to list individually, and no one appears onscreen for long enough to qualify as “featured”

PLOT: 26 more short horror films about death, each inspired by an assigned letter of the alphabet.

Still from The ABCs of Death 2 (2014)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Only one out of these 26 films might qualify on its own merits as a candidate for the List of the Weirdest Movies Ever Made, which is not a favorable enough ratio to consider this anthology a contender.

COMMENTS: The original ABCs of Death was a somewhat successful reinvigoration of the horror anthology genre, benefiting from the novelty of the ultra-short short format. The sequel is more of the same, with a mostly second-tier (in terms of name recognition, not talent) slate of directors alphabetizing horror’s latest cemetery. One obvious improvement from the previous installment; there are hardly any toilet-themed scares here (the scat-horror fad thankfully played out in 2013). Fewer of the episodes qualify as astoundingly weird, but we’ll give you the rundown on what to watch out for.

First off, in the not-so-weird category, we have to mention neophyte director Rob Boochek’s “M is for Masticate,” winner of the fan-submission contest, whose entry (featuring a paunchy rampaging madman in stained underwear) amounts to a dumb and arguably dated joke—but one that made me laugh out loud at its perfectly-timed, abrupt punchline. Even better is Hajime Ohata’s “O is for Ochlocracy,” a clever Japanese entry which actually finds a new spin on the vastly overdone zomcom genre.

On to the weird scorecard. ‘s “P is for P-P-P Scary!,”  is a tribute to early talkies, with three hillbilly Bowery Boys in absurd makeup and stereotypical striped prison garb cowering their way through a nameless void. It’s probably the most universally loathed segment of the film, and it’s easy to see why; Rohal’s highly personal and peculiar brand of awkward surreal comedy is an acquired taste that has yet to be acquired by almost anyone. It certainly won’t appeal to the average horror fan. The anthology ends with a weird, if relatively weak, flurry, with the action-figure inspired “W is for Wish,” the strange but inconsequential “X is for Xylophone” (which at least features Béatrice Dalle, ABC2‘s biggest star), the surreal special effects spectacle “Y is for Youth,” and the absurd pregnancy fable “Z is for Zygote.” There are a few other bizarre entries scattered about the alphabet. and Bruno Samper’s “K is for Knell” is audiovisually apocalyptic but abstract and hard to connect with.  ‘s much anticipated (by us) entry is quality, but nothing unexpected. Two scribbly lovers kiss each other to death, like a gorier version of one of his 1980s MTV shorts. “G is for Grandad” is an unclassifiable surprise tale of bizarre inter-generational rivalry from the previously unknown Jim Hosking. “Grandad” was noteworthy enough that the director parlayed this calling card into a feature film (titled The Greasy Strangler), to be released by cult-film specialist Drafthouse Films next year.

The most noteworthy episode—weird or not—is stop-motion specialist ‘s “D is for Deloused.” Technically impressive, it is also thoroughly surreal, taking place in a dirty lilac operating room full of bleeding men, scurrying cockroaches, and arm-sucking larvae with dual-headed clowns inside them. Nightmares don’t come much more terrifyingly irrational than this one, with a protagonist birthed from a corpse and commanded to “pay for life.” “Deloused” is the best thing in ABCs of Death 2, and it makes us long to see what the slow-working Morgan would do with a long-form project.

Overall, my judgment is that this sequel is less essential than the interesting-but-inessential original. Only Morgan’s segment rates as a must-catch for weirdophiles, while the first collection had three exceedingly bizarre entries to catch your eye. Overall, the uneven effect is about the same (although full disclosure requires me to report that most critics preferred this second installment, concluding that this crop of directors learned from the mistakes of their trailblazing predecessors).

and were announced as directors for this project, but pulled out before completing their shorts. There are currently no active plans for a third installment (the makers say that rampant piracy makes it difficult to recoup their investment).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There are a few standouts, though viewers’ appetites will differ enough that it’s unlikely any sort of consensus will form on which two or three make the entire experience worthwhile. From a critical standpoint, Robert Morgan’s stop-motion ‘Deloused’ does Kafka proud, commercial director Jim Hosking’s ‘Granddad’ wins the weirdness prize, Vincenzo Natali’s ‘Utopia’ proves hauntingly evocative, and Jerome Sable’s sick p.o.v.-style ‘Vacation’ would be right at home in one of the ‘V/H/S’ horror anthologies.”–Peter Debruge, Variety (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: JUG FACE (2013)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Chad Crawford Kinkle

FEATURING:, Sean Bridgers, Sean Young, 

PLOT: In an insular rural community, a malevolent pit periodically demands the sacrifice of whoever’s face appears on a jug.

Still from Jug Face (2013)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The notion of a supernatural hole in the ground that demands human sacrifice is just strange enough to put Jug Face on our radar, but once you buy into the outlandish premise, the remainder of the film is a standard horror outing, not a weird film per se. This under-the-radar release is still recommended for fans of offbeat, atmospheric horror.

COMMENTS: Beginning with animated folk art titles illustrating a bloody primeval ritual, Jug Face sets out its mood, mythology and themes with extreme efficiency. In the opening scene, teenage Ada very nearly engages in illicit intercourse in the sight of the mysterious Pit from the title sequence, beginning a fearful association between that hole in the ground and female sexuality that will only get queasier as the movie progresses. (Later, Jug Face will subject us to the most disturbing of gynecological exams). The movie is set in a mythical Southern Gothic enclave where moonshine is both the sole export and a sacrament, where outsiders are shunned, and where the occasional human sacrifice is tolerated as a harsh necessity of the land. The metaphysics of the Pit are never explained (we learn nothing more about it than that it “wants what it wants”), but the devotions it demands are revealed in detail. Falling into a trance, a simple-minded potter shapes the clay into the face of the Pit’s next victim, who is dispatched according to traditions handed down from generation to generation. If the process is subverted and the Pit doesn’t get what it wants, things get hairy for the locals. The idea of a Pit-worshiping cult hiding out somewhere in a remote mountain holler may sound hard to buy, but Jug Face‘s quiet conviction puts the far-fetched material over. The detailed script has an answer for almost every question you might have—even questions you hadn’t thought to ask. The direction is confident and straightforward. Most of all, the cast is dedicated to bringing this odd community to life. A hick nerd with duct tape holding his glasses together, Dawai (Sean Bridgers) is effective as the cult’s mouth-breathing chosen potter. Indie-horror stalwart Sustin (Larry Fessenden) leads the redneck sect, but his wife Loriss holds the power in their household. Played by Sean Young (where’s she been lately?), Loriss is a small role with a big impact; this chain-smoking harridan may just be enforcing tribal norms, but she takes a sadistic pleasure in lording her petty power over her helpless children. Although Young has vicious fun with her role, Lauren Ashley Carter, as the young daughter Ada, haunted by sexual guilt, carries the film. Looking like a young Christina Ricci, permanently clad in her one dowdy grey frock, Ada’s normal teenage urges towards experimentation and rebellion put her at odds with her community. She conveys a sympathetic torment as she struggles between self-preservation and loyalty to the only moral code she’s ever known. She’s a sinner, but one we can identify with. Playing out with grim fatalism, like a cross between Winter’s Bone and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Jug Face creates a unique folk mythology and is filled with an creepy sense of backwoods doom. It’s a promising debut for writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle.

As of this writing, Jug Face is available for viewing via video-on-demand outlets. It receives a limited theatrical run in August and is scheduled to show up on DVD and Blu-ray in October.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an insanely bizarre and creepy slow-burn with a lot of good ideas, and precise execution.”–Brad Miska, Bloody Disgusting (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: SATAN HATES YOU (2009)

DIRECTED BYJames Felix McKenney

FEATURING: Don Wood, Christine Spencer, Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, Debbie Rochon, Michael Berryman, Larry Fessenden

PLOT: In this re-imagining of the “Christ-sploitation” films shown in churches and

Still from Satan Hates You (2009)

probably a few Southern gynecologists’ offices of the 60s and 70s, we follow a young man and woman who make all the wrong choices in a haze of drugs, alcohol, and rock music while unknowingly under the influence of two demonic imps.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Satan Hates You, while initially very jarring in its lack of self-explanation, is a satisfying experience in terms of its Troma-esque shock horror and its acute satirical edge.  But its freaky imagery leans too often on a bland naturalistic style that mars its individuality and chokes the weirdness out of the movie.

COMMENTS: Satan Hates You is a very hard film to place.  Being a satire, a dark comedy, and a horror film is no ordinary pedigree, and Satan Hates You maniacally shifts from one of these genres to the next every few minutes.  It is a wicked send-up of those fear-mongering Christian PSA films that pop into existence every generation about the dangers of doing ungodly things like having abortions and doing drugs.  But it honestly doesn’t hit you that way when you watch it if you don’t do your research.  The first time watching it, I felt this to just be a dark, meandering horror-comedy about two idiots who make a lot of bad choices.  Director James Felix McKenney doesn’t really go out of his way to make this idea pop out at the audience with staples of the “Christ-sploitation” genre, like cheesy acting, an oversimplification of right and wrong, and loads of self-righteous condemnation.  We are instead tossed quite objectively into these people’s lives, full of sex, murder, and self-sabotage, and don’t get dropped many hints that we’re supposed to be in on a joke.

Once one understands the idea, everything falls into place a little more, and it does Continue reading CAPSULE: SATAN HATES YOU (2009)

41. I CAN SEE YOU (2008)

“I CAN SEE YOU is a film about the thing that frightens me the most… my own mind… we as sentient human beings are completely at the mercy of an organ that we may never fully understand; an organ that, at the slightest malfunction, can throw our perception of reality into such chaos and confusion that we will never see or experience the world the same way again.”–Graham Reznick, from the Director’s Statement for I Can See You

DIRECTED BY: Graham Reznick

FEATURING: Ben Dickinson, Larry Fessenden,

PLOT:  Ben is a nearsighted, neurotic and painfully shy photographer/artist working for an advertising start-up firm looking to land a huge contract for the ClarActix corporation. The three twenty-something admen organize a camping trip to snap nature photos that can be used in the campaign.  At a campfire hootenanny, Ben meets a beautiful hippie girl he once had a crush on, and his awkward attempts to romance the free-spirited girl lead him to an internal breakdown that manifests itself in a series of unnerving surrealistic montages.

Still from I Can See You (2008)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director Graham Reznick accumulated over a dozen credits on low-budget films in the sound department before helming I Can See You, his first feature film.
  • I Can See You is the fifth in the “Scarefilx” series executive produced by Larry Fessenden (who also appears in the movie as the ClarActix spokesman).  According to its press release, the Scareflix series is “designed to exploit hungry new talent and inspire resourceful filmmakers to produce quality work through seat-of-the-pants ingenuity.”
  • Actors Ben Dickson, Christopher Ford and Duncan Styles, who play the members of the three man advertising firm in the film, are part of Waverly Films, a YouTube based comedy troupe that makes ad parodies, among other sketches.
  • Composer Jeff Grace was an assistant to Howard Shore on The Lord of the Rings films.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Relying as it does on the montage style for its unsettling effect, I Can See You is filled with memorable imagery.  The briefly seen double-image of Ben is sublimely creepy, so much so that a variation of it was used for the original movie poster (unhappily abandoned in favor of a forgettable still of Ben shaving for the DVD release).  It’s Ben’s unfinished, faceless portrait of his father, however, which recurs several times in different contexts, that is the film’s most important visual symbol.  If you stare at the painting long enough you can make out tiny indications of eyes and a mouth, which makes the picture even more uncanny than pure blank flesh would be.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDI Can See You is one of the trippiest, druggiest movies to come


Official trailer for I Can See You

down the pike since the psychedelic Sixties; the last sequence plays like a twenty-minute, long-take hallucination shot on location inside Ben’s splintered mind.

COMMENTS: I Can See You‘s strategy is to slowly build up a storehouse of images, then Continue reading 41. I CAN SEE YOU (2008)

CAPSULE: HABIT (1996)

Recommended

DIRECTED BYLarry Fessenden

FEATURING: Larry Fessenden, Meredith Snaider

PLOT: Slacker and (barely) functional alcoholic Sam—still smarting from the habit

recent loss of his father and separation from his live-in girlfriend—finds his health growing worse and worse as he gets more and more involved with a mysterious beautiful woman he meets at a Greenwich Avenue Halloween party.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Critics didn’t perceive or acknowledge Habit as a “weird” movie, but it is at least a little weird. The movie is bifurcated into two parallel themes: essentially, it’s the story of Sam’s descent into alcoholic dementia, while ostensibly it’s a supernatural horror story. It contains a few surrealistic moments (nude women posing on the streets of New York, a clock moving backwards), a dream sequence that’s redolent of Rosemary’s Baby (complete with yacht), and tons of that spiritual sister of weirdness, ambiguity. Ultimately, the weirdest thing about Habit is the cinematography when Sam takes one of his frequent jaunts around Lower Manhattan: the camera bobs and weaves tipsily, causing us to see the bohemian atmosphere through Sam’s delirious eyes and giving the city a disorienting, Gothic cast. There’s enough odd atmosphere to make the film of interest to weirdophiles as well as indie fans, but it’s not relentlessly bizarre enough to be one of the weirdest films ever made.

COMMENTSHabit is a worthwhile effort, consistently interesting despite being relentlessly seedy and occasionally pretentious (in precisely the art/drama school dropout mold of its main characters). The horror elements are definitely secondary, but they synergize well with the dramatic aspect of Sam’s pathetic story. The literal narrative and the metaphorical aspects of the supernatural subplot merge so well, in fact, that the ambiguity about what “really” happens is simply irrelevant: either of the two possible interpretations is equally satisfactory, and entirely complementary.

It’s somewhat surprising that Meredith Snaider apparently never acted in front of a camera after this role. She did well in a difficult role, but more importantly, she has an intriguing beauty and a willingness to disrobe that should have brought her a lot more work in the film industry.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Fessenden’s movie is a sly exercise in ambiguity. More than one explanation fits all of the events in the film, even those we see with our own eyes… ‘Habit’… in the subtlety of its ambiguity reveals ‘Lost Highway’ as an exercise in search of a purpose.” Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times