Producer, director, and occasional character actor Larry Fessenden personifies low-budget independent filmmaking at its edgiest and riskiest. Like the better-known Abel Ferrara, with whom he is often favorably compared, Fessenden established himself by making gritty, supernaturally tinged studies of paranoia, often set in an urban landscape, with sudden, shocking bursts of violence atop cerebral undercurrents -- "philosophical horror," he terms it. The extent to which Fessenden gleaned enthusiastic reviews for these outings, including many from mainstream critics, serves as a reflection on the extent of his long-honed skills and his ability to function outside of the system.
Fessenden grew up in a wealthy family on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and attended the Andover preparatory school. Feeling dissatisfied, he dropped out, obtained his GED, and high-tailed it to New York University, where he enrolled in filmmaking and acting courses and set up his own independent production banner, Glass Eye Pix, in 1985. After a series of short projects in the mid- to late '80s, Fessenden emerged with his first feature: 1991's No Telling. This decidedly offbeat outing deftly blends the Frankenstein mythos with ecological and animal rights themes. The director followed it up with the 1996 Habit, also an unusual and inventive take on a longtime horror staple -- this time, the vampire genre -- about an alcoholic bartender (Fessenden) who becomes hopelessly enmeshed in a physiological and psychological addiction to a seductive woman with a penchant for bloodletting. These first two films both gleaned enthusiastic reviews and a devoted cult following; they actually constituted the premier and sophomore installments in what came to be known as the director's "Urban Paranoia" trilogy. The third opus, Wendigo (2001), tells of a stressed and burnt-out couple who take a detour from life on a rural retreat with their young son, only to run headfirst into a malevolent creature. The Last Winter (2006) culled the most glowing reviews to date for Fessenden; it dramatizes the plight of a group of Arctic oil workers confronted by a supernatural entity.
Beginning in 2000, Fessenden also branched off into two directions simultaneously, alongside his directorial efforts; he established himself as a character actor (no stretch, thanks to a distinguished look that earned frequent comparisons to a more extreme Jack Nicholson) in such outings as Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America (2004), Broken Flowers (2005), The Brave One (2007), and Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (2008), while also producing the work of other directors through Glass Eye Pix. That production banner specialized in work similar in genre and theme to Fessenden's own directorial efforts; titles included The Roost (2004), Zombie Honeymoon (2004), Automatons (2006), and Sisters (2007, a remake of the Brian De Palma shocker of the same name). ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi