I was also lucky enough to have a chat with Larry after the panel and he was a fascinating guy to speak to and clearly still really excited about making films. He also informed me that the rights to all of his films but Wendigo (this is still with Lionsgate) had just been secured by IFC, so start lobbying them for a Fessenden box-set now.
Following the on stage interview with Larry Fessenden he was joined by filmmakers Ti West, Lucky McKee, Adam Green, Joe Lynch and Andrew van den Houten to discuss the current state of American Horror and to share some of their experiences. The group regaled the audience with some great stories and spoke very eloquently about American horror. Below are a few quotes from each to give you a taste of what was discussed.
When you make films you want to delight an audience and guys and gals in this audience are here for the thrills and I understand that that’s a role that horror plays. But I think with the advent of better technology you’re able to show more and more detailed gore and I just think that life or our culture seems to be a process of heightening and heightening and heightening. More ability to show more and shock, people begin forgetting the sweet fruits of subtlety. Like I’ve kind of said, I’m ultimately coming to horror through this strange back door of melancholy, realising that we have a brief time on earth, how we treat our fellow people, the concern and the relationships. I mean I still like the horror tropes, in some way I do prefer the genre… I used to film weddings and my friend said, “you made my wedding look like a horror movie!” I film everything from behind and there’s always sense of mystery and potential that people are stalkers. Even the kiss, there’s something about the kiss that’s not quite right… It’s just my nature, it’s all in the colours that I think in. So it’s only my awareness of myself as a horror guy that makes me compare myself to the stuff that’s out there and then you go, well this is not going to satisfy a certain appetite for shock…
What I love about horror is that it’s anti-authoritarian and it can come from a place of rebellion, either to shock the bourgeois or to rage against the wars, the ongoing wars. But particularly in the sixties when… those films seemed to be about something. They were confronting the complacent culture. So that’s what interests me and they’re the ones that I enjoy, but the ones that are just rolling out the body count, I don’t see the difference between that and a bad pop song.
I personally think we’re in a bad place [now]. I think it’s great that there’s a lot of horror but in my opinion it’s not very good. It’s all remakes and sequels. And I don’t have a problem with remakes and sequels, I have a problem with bad remakes and sequels. There’s so much of it that I think the only way to get away from it is for it to fail. The only way we, Americans, seem to be able to change something is once the previous thing fails… So if horror movies become a complete disaster, they’ll stop making them and the only ones that will get made will be interesting, progressive, new stuff that people have fought really hard to get made… The sad thing about that is that if it fails then that affects all of us in this room in such a downer way because we have to go through the failure. I’ve just never seen it go another way. I think it’s unavoidable to some extent because we’ve ridden this wave since 2004ish where horror had this big rebirth and has given us all careers. But I think it’s kind of grim right now, you get one or two a year that are interesting.
This is always an un-popular thing to say and it’s not directed at the people in this room… but in America especially the fans only go to see the remakes. They only go to see whatever they’re told to see. When Hatchet opened, and this is not a slate against the movie I’m talking about, Rob Zombie’s Halloween was opening the same weekend and I stood in the theatre watching these kids, that I’d seen at the horror conventions, and they’re all wearing their Evil Dead T-Shirts and they’re all walking into Halloween and bitching about it… Then when Halloween 2 came out they were all, “oh, we’ve got to go and see Halloween 2 now”. They just go see the remakes, so what Ti is saying is true. Until it stops Hollywood’s going to keep making them, because there are no horror fans in Hollywood. The executives and that. You reference The Shining, they don’t know it, they haven’t seen it. So it’s a business model; you take this pre-packaged product, like Friday the 13th, you look at how much money it made, you take this TV star who has this much of a following and mathematically that should translate into money. And it does. Then a movie like Let the Right One In comes out in America and nobody knows about it. So that’s really the problem, but eventually we’ll actually run out of remakes.
As someone who has actually made a studio sequel to a film and not only that but a direct to video sequel to a Hollywood movie… It’s really dependent on the passion and the voice of the filmmaker. I was literally last on the list of all the guys who wanted to do Wrong Turn 2 and I just went in going, this is my only shot as a filmmaker to get my foot in the door. So I went in with a twelve page bible… And they just went, “Can you do it on budget?”, “Yes”, “Go do it”. And that was it and they left me alone because they were like, meh whatever… I was actually told by an executive that…”Whatever you do to this movie, we don’t get care. We’re going to put it on a shelf, it’s going to say Wrong Turn 2. I could spray diarrhea into a DVD box and put it up there and people will buy it.” Now I sprayed diarrhea with a lot of love and put it into that DVD box but that was the whole thing because for that film I just made a punk version of one of these people-in-the-woods movies… It’s really about the voice. I was here in 2007 when they announced that Larry [Fessenden] would be doing The Orphanage [remake] and the place went fucking nuts, because it was one of us… It’s so dependable on who you get as the filmmakers and who is part of it that matters. Whether it’s a sequel, whether it’s a remake, if they treat it like a foot in the door then who cares. It’s just one of those things you have to be very careful of.
There’s so much fear out there and it seems like everyone wants their horror films to be very safe, which makes no fucking sense to me… I get a load of shit when I make a film about how people actually treat eachother. So it’s difficult but I realise from the last ten years of doing this that I can only do what I can do and if anyone tries to alter that or change it and tell me that “you can do it that way or this way” I just don’t want to work with people like that.
Andrew van den Houten
I think the first thing in making films, spending years bringing indie stories to screen is substance. Something you connect to in your own life. When I read Jack Ketchum for the first time I wanted to puke, it was so depressing and it struck a chord. This is where I come from, this is the country I come from and this shit happens and Larry sheds light on the politics of the country and I think he does it in a way that’s very truthful… It’s always fun to make an entertaining horror film. We all want to be entertained, we all have bullshit in our lives that we want to escape but I think what’s great is when we can find a story that has substance to it.