Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SGA-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, Blackout being covered here wouldn’t exist.
It’s my favorite time of year! No, not Halloween or Christmas. My other favorite time! It’s Fantasia International Film Festival time! And just like always, the fest if chock full of goodies for me.
I love a good werewolf movie, and Larry Fessenden’s Blackout is pretty damn good. Featuring practical effects and a great werewolf transformation, Barbara Crampton, and Marc Senter, Blackout is a homage to the Universal Monsters we love.
A Fine Arts painter is convinced that he is a werewolf wreaking havoc on a small American town under the full moon.
To celebrate Blackout‘s world premiere at this year’s Fantasia Fest, I chatted with Larry about why he wanted to make this film, werewolves, why he wanted to be a filmmaker, what’s up next, and more!
PopHorror: I watched Blackout, and I really enjoyed it so I’m super excited to speak with you. You did Habit, which is about vampires, and Depraved, which is a loose adaptation of Frankenstein. Both deal with classic monsters. Was Blackout a natural progression of this?
Larry Fessenden: Yeah. I mean, look. It’s all to do with my childhood. I just like these classic monsters. I’m very much a product of my generation because of the TV deal. They bought all those horror movies, and they marketed them to kids. Then they made the models. But as I grew up, I liked the social realism of Scorsese movies and stuff like that, and I just wanted to somehow combine these two loves. So I made Habit. I was not planning to make a trilogy or anything like that but yeah. It’s my natural inclination to try and update these stories that I loved and the atmosphere of the werewolf movie and the dilemma to personalize that and make it feel real to a modern audience and true to my own sense of outsiderness. That’s always been my agenda so here I am with a werewolf movie.
PopHorror: I love that a lot. I really appreciated the werewolf’s look, like it’s an homage to the classic Universal werewolves. How did you decide on the werewolf design?
Larry Fessenden: It’s funny. It’s a very modern question because before American Werewolf in London, when you said werewolf you pictured the flat snout – a wolf man. If you think of I Was a Teenage Werewolf from the 50s and The Curse of the Werewolf, which was a Hammer film, and then all the Wolfman movies. It was very natural to me. And there was a comic book I was very influenced by called Werewolf by Night, and that also drew the werewolf as a flat snout creature. Even though I of course love these makeup techniques of The Howling and American Werewolf in London, I was never completely sold on making a werewolf closer to a dog. My least favorite is when it actually just turns into a wolf. I don’t see the pleasure in that. Of course, it’s cool but… So the what are they called? The Eclipse movies? What are they called, with the sparkling vampires?
Larry Fessenden: Twilight movies! I think those guys just turn into wolves and run around. So it’s not as fun.
PopHorror: I’m not going to lie. I read the Twilight books and she actually says that hers were not supposed to be werewolves but that’s just what people thought of them.
Larry Fessenden: Oh, that’s cool.
PopHorror: But I am on the same page as you. When I think of a werewolf, I think of a wolf man. I don’t want to see them turn into a full-blown wolf. I want to see a man that looks like a dog, basically.
Larry Fessenden: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And then you can get into the details of snout or not. I love Dog Soldiers. That’s obviously a whole other thing. Anyway, the question was why did I do it that way, and that’s where my heart lies as far as this creature. I like to see it run around and have almost, ironically, a superhero kind of physique and running around on two legs. Even the modern Benicio Del Toro’s The Wolfman, they felt a need to occasionally have him running on all fours and it just seems super goofy to me.
PopHorror: I agree. I really like your take on that because I prefer it that way too, on two feet. That makes it scarier.
Larry Fessenden: I think so. It makes it much freakier. And look, I don’t care, everyone should take their own choice but it is funny that I’m being qualified as being so retro. It’s just super retro. And I’m like, I don’t know. It’s just a choice. Of course it goes back to The Wolfman, but all the comic books, a lot of the imagery that I grew up on, he was a flat faced little wolfman furry guy.
PopHorror: Was there anything that you were adamant about keeping in the film, no matter what?
Larry Fessenden: That’s a funny question. Are you saying it was too long?
PopHorror: No, like you had something in the script and you wanted to do it but there was like a producer or someone that you were working with said no, but you said we’re keeping it?
Larry Fessenden: For better or worse, the story of this movie is that I made it extremely alone. In fact, I used to kind of moan to my friends that I was all alone with this film, especially in post all of the crew goes away. You have a lot of collaboration during production. It’s a situation most people dream of, which is when I had technically creative freedom but you’re still taking advice from people and people who have read the script are all on set and they’re like, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I mean film is a collaborative art. But I would essentially say that I followed my muse as it were and even in the edit, I never felt stressed for time. I think you could argue there’s a lot of human story and maybe a normal horror fan would enjoy a little more werewolf. I think it’s haunted by the idea of the werewolf. It’s the anticipation. If you know you’re going to turn into a creature when it gets dark, it seems like your whole day is affected, so to speak. That’s how I feel about everything. If I have to take a flight, the whole day is ruined. I’m thinking about getting on the plane the moment we actually leave the ground. It’s my nature. I’m filled with such dread about everything. I wanted to convey that feeling of being cursed and having this long lead up to your nighttime activities where you have no control.
PopHorror: That’s funny that you say that because I am the same way.
Larry Fessenden: It’s funny because I’m a musician sort of. Whenever I have a nighttime gig, like I have a gig at 10 or you’re going on at 11, it’s like I get so tired at seven and normally I’m up until two. It is about anticipation and the obligation ahead. I think doing a play would be absolutely maddening. You’d have to be so well behaved until curtain at eight.
PopHorror: I am not one to get up and do stuff and then have to go to work. I’m just going to sit around doing nothing or I’m going to sleep right up until I have to be there.
Larry Fessenden: Night shoots are like that. They’re really weird in a movie where you flip your schedule and you’re now taking a nap at four in order to get to work at nine or whatever. All good stuff. Good problems to have.
PopHorror: You’ve had a really extensive and successful career as an actor, starting back in the 80s, and you’ve done other directing projects. What made you want to be a filmmaker?
Larry Fessenden: I don’t know. As a kid I drew pictures and I watched movies, and I loved monsters, and I wrote little books, and I played with my toys. It’s all part of a creative experience, and you’re looking for ways to express it. I actually wanted to primarily be an actor. That’s what I did in grammar school and then high school. But then I got interested in the bigger journey of telling stories and I always liked the art department. I found a Super 8 camera when I was a young fellow and I started shooting, and I realized how important where you put the camera was to how you told a story. I wanted to show stuff that was going on in the real world. In fact, I had a gig as a wedding photographer for many years. It’s just an art form that I loved. And in those days, meaning the 70s, you didn’t entirely know how to become a filmmaker. It seemed like this crazy thing that was done on the west coast. Just who were these people – Cary Grant, and Jack Nicholson – who were these people making movies? So I grew into it, which I guess is the answer to the question. It’s an addiction. You finish a movie and you’re like, “Now I know how to do it. I want to get back to set.” It’s really actually a small tragedy because you can’t make movies… I mean, if you were a painter you could paint every day. As a filmmaker you’re spending so much time on the unpleasant part – looking for money, looking for comrades and producers. And that’s where my company Glass Eye Pix came in. I wanted to provide a structure so that first time filmmakers could figure out how to get to their art, so I created a sort of safe haven for first- and second-time filmmakers.
PopHorror: That is so amazing! What is up next for you?
Larry Fessenden: Well, I have another script that I’m writing. It’s actually in this similar vein and then maybe I will have gotten these guys out of my system. I do want to follow up with another, and that’s what my answer is. You never know. I still have unusual opportunities that come to me from Hollywood and certainly indie films, acting. I certainly get calls. I don’t have any agent or any other way to get work. I just wait and things happen.
PopHorror: I’m excited to see what you have coming up for us. One last question for you today, what would be your weapon of choice in a zombie apocalypse?
Larry Fessenden: It’s funny. As soon as you said that I pictured something I could swing rather than a gun of any kind. I would want to be able to physically fend off the ghouls and maybe poke them in the eye as well. So some form of crowbar or a baseball bat, preferably with spikes coming out of it. But something you could really lean into. I think that’s what I’m getting at, rather than a crossbow, which could be useful as well.
Thank you so much to Larry for taking the time to chat with us. Blackout is currently playing festivals.