SFF Post Mortem

SFF 2015

In my last post I interviewed Stuart Gordon. I also interviewed some other folks while up in Estes Park attending the third annual Stanley Film Festival and, in the interest of making it relevant to TCM readers, I led by asking everyone what some of the older films might be that influenced their careers. People that I talked to included actor/producer Elijah Wood, actor/writer/producer Leigh Whannel, actress Alison Pill, actor/producer/director Larry Fessenden, director Glenn McQuaid, writer April Snellings, producer/director/writer Jen Wexler, actor/writer Graham Reznick, and director/actor Merritt Crocker. Themes that popped up included movies with evil children, classic ghost stories, Freddie Francis, and more.


Elijah Wood and Leigh Whannel jumped in with enthusiasm when talking about how much they enjoy watching 35mm prints back home (both name-checking Hadrian Belove at the Cinefamily as their go-to source for film screenings in L.A.). Elijah then buttressed the idea of how important repertory titles are to film festivals, especially ones that are genre-specific and that should “celebrate the films of the past.” Given that Elijah, Leigh, and Alison were at the SFF for Cooties (a horror-comedy about elementary school children who eat cafeteria food tainted by a mad-chicken disease of sorts and then go on a killing rampage), the conversation naturally dovetailed into a film brought out last year at the SFF (Who Can Kill a Child), but also touched on Assault on Precinct 13 (due to a shocking opening scene involving a young girl) along with more obvious selections such as The Bad Seed and Village of the Damned. Leigh chimed in saying that “As a horror screenwriter I feel jealous of the filmmakers of the ’60s and ’70s and early ’80s, because there were so many taboos yet to be broken… now in 2015, what taboos is left?” Elijah, noted that “it’s pretty hard to make money on independent films,” added that in his role as a film producer “most of our decisions are really bad business decisions.” That last quote might seem strange without the proper context; it was Elijah’s response to my praise for the way he’s devoted his personal resources to helping out independent filmmakers in a genre he clearly loves. He’s not in it for the money, but for the passion.

Speaking of genre aficionados brimming with passion, one would be hard-pressed to find a bigger booster than Larry Fessenden (pictured below, horizontal on table). His colleagues on the couch, left to right, are sound-designer Graham Reznick, writer April Snellings, producer Jenn Wexler, and writer/producer Glenn McQuaid.

Tales from Beyond the Pale

Fessenden looks like Jack Torrance after too many nights in the Gold Room, so he’s the perfect man to run into (or away from) at the Stanley Hotel. Larry was attending the SFF with several cohorts from his production company at Glass Eye Pix to read their latest radio play with live foley on-stage at the haunted Historic Park Theater. Many watermelons were harmed for their “someone getting stabbed” sound-effects, along with an assortment of other props and some digital assist. The latest incarnation of Tales from Beyond the Pale (“Radio Plays for the Digital Age”) was titled “Parlor Tricks” and featured two stories (“Cold Reading” and “No Signal”) that take place a century apart, but in the same location. The stories hinge around a deadly séance with a spirit medium who uses a ventriloquist’s puppet. One might think this a creative liberty, but it turns out this was not an unusual practice among spirit mediums, for as Mr. Fessenden makes clear: “there’s some deep research going on, we’re not just dickin’ around!”


There are certain titles that jump out as obvious influences on “Parlor Tricks,” including Dead of Night (1945), Magic (1978), and Dolls (1987). As the latter was filmed by Stuart Gordon, who was at the SFF to receive the Master of Horror Award, Larry jumped in to add that Mr. Gordon “was at the show yesterday, and he made the observation that the little movie we made to show beforehand (a stop-motion promo) reminded him of Dolls as well.” Another connection: Barbara Crampton, who has worked with Gordon on many titles and was up at SFF with Sun Choke and We Are Still Here, provided voice talent to the “Parlor Tricks” reading. My bet is that horror fans can look forward to Gordon and Fessenden working together in the near future.

Fessenden then dives right into all the black-and-white movies he loved watching as a kid, especially titles by Universal. “All the Frankenstein movies, Attack of the Crab Monsters, The Invisible Man… then as I grew up I got into Scorsese and more contemporary, visceral movies – so I tried to blend those two things; the archetypes and more modern approach.” Anyone who has seen some of the movies put out under his Glass Eye Pix label, such as The Innkeepers (2011) or The House of the Devil (2009), knows what he’s talking about. Glenn McQuaid (who designed the credits for The Inkeepers and wrote “Cold Reading” along with April Snellings) added Hammer and Val Lewton as personal favorites. Speaking of Scorsese, Fessenden provides me with an unprompted plug by mentioning how he likes to leave TCM playing on different TV’s throughout his house because he likes to stumble across unexpected scenes and gems from older movies – a habit he heard about and picked up from Scorsese.

I asked the group what films they’d recommend to prime listeners for Tales from Beyond the Pale, to get them in the mood. Larry starts with the obvious and aforementioned Dead of Night. Graham Reznick pipes in with The Changeling (“it uses sound and music so well”). Fessenden likes The Changeling so much that he professed trying to add a scene with a red ball going down the stairs in as many of his films as possible, adding “Now I’m getting excited; does anyone know The Other?” This 1972 film by Robert Mulligan would be relatively obscure in most circles, but not this one – everyone around the table sounded off with exclamations in the affirmative. Now it’s April Snellings’ turn, starting with something from 1964: Séance on a Wet Afternoon (“a fantastic film that not a lot of people have seen”), then one from 1977: “Full Circle, or (aka) The Haunting of Julia. A great film, if a bit uneven. Incredible performance by Mia Farrow.” As Snellings thinks of sound designs, she adds one more: “The Haunting, the original.”

Jen Wexler would vote for something like “The Tingler or another Castle movie,” due to its interactive nature.

Glenn McQuaid is a Freddie Francis fan, and recommends Paranoiac (1963), “a British murder-mystery (with) direction that’s just stunning. It has one of Oliver Reed’s finest moments. The camera absolutely loves him, and it’s got really crisp black-and-white photography. A great, spooky movie.”

Fessenden: “Glenn made me watch it for my character (in the radio play). It’s such a treat, an unsung director, Freddie Francis.”

McQuaid: “A lot of people gave him a hard time because he made Trog, but on top of being a great cinematographer he really knew what he was doing with his actors as well. Another great Freddie Francis movie is Girly (1970), which is more of a comedy, but a lot of fun, and pretty subversive.” Getting back to a classic ghost story, McQuaid adds The Innocents (1961). “Seeing Deborah Kerr spiral… it’s really strong work. And it’s shot by Freddie Francis!” It is at this point that two people mention The Uninvited (1944), which Fessenden says “stays with you forever.”

My last interview is with Stanley Dean’s Cup Award Recipient Merritt Crocker (pictured below). Crocker worked with Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy) on Bill, The Galactic Hero (full disclosure: he directed my cameo in Bill, and Merritt attends movies at the film series I program, so we’re not strangers). His short film, Moon Studios, was shot in black-and-white and eschews traditional narrative structure in favor of something more dreamlike. When pressed to name three films that influenced him, he doesn’t hesitate: Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932), Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955), and Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977). What’s next for Crocker? He’s scouting out ghost towns for a new project by Alex Cox that hopes to reunite the British director with Walker screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer.

Merritt Crocker

Recommended links:

To read more about Cooties, check out Brad McHargue’s review here:


For more on Tales from Beyond the Pale (including downloadable episodes, CD’s, t-shirts, and even vinyl:


Special musical bonus:

Iggy Pop and The Troll provided a custom-tailored song to slap over the end-credits of Bill, the Galactic Hero. Merritt, using scenes from Bill, made a music video out of that which can be seen here:


1 Response SFF Post Mortem
Posted By swac44 : May 26, 2015 12:42 pm

I took part in the crowdfunding program for Bill, the Galactic Hero, I’ll have to keep an eye out for your cameo, Pablo!

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