News / 05 October 2020

Filmmaker Larry Fessenden Discusses DEPRAVED!

Celebrated genre filmmaker Larry Fessenden (WENDIGO, BENEATH) takes a bold and genuinely refreshing approach to Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN with his latest feature DEPRAVED and we caught up with him to discuss the film ahead of this home entertainment release via Umbrella Entertainment.

Monster Fest: What was it about the Frankenstein mythology that made you want to adapt and modernize it?

Larry Fessenden: Well, when I was a kid, I was obsessed with the old Universal Pictures. I grew up when we only had television, we didn’t have video or streaming or any of that. You kind of saw what was available. I was entranced by the Boris Karloff make-up and the character and all of the spin offs and storylines. I did read the book eventually, and I just found the themes to be endlessly fascinating both being a monster, being an outsider, the pathos of not knowing why you’re here, nobody liking you – all the things I could relate to. And then the greater cautionary tale that says careful what you do, it’ll bite you in the ass. I’m really interested in taking these old horror tropes and making them fresh again, and saying, look, this stuff still resonates if you see it through the lens of today. So, that was the agenda with DEPRAVED.

Monster Fest: When you decided to adapt Frankenstein, did you just go back to the original Mary Shelley story or did you look at all of the other interpretations? How wide a net do you cast?

Larry Fessenden: The answer is as wide as possible. But the specifics is I never revisited anything. It has absolutely just become part of my DNA, part of my thinking. As I say, I know all the Universal movies. I was very influenced by and charmed as a youngster by a movie called Frankenstein: The True Story. It was a TV movie with Michael Sarrazin as the monster. And in that one, the monster starts out very beautiful and then he starts to decay. It had a little section where the doctor was teaching the monster and that made an impression on me.

Over the years, there’s just little pieces that resonate with you from different adaptations. And as I say, I read the book only once, but I revered it because it was very, very different and I think it’s so awesome the origin story of Frankenstein was written by a woman. A woman surrounded by all these pompous poet men, her husband and all his literary friends and here she is, coming up with one of the most enduring classics of literature in western civilization. When anything becomes monstrous, you say, it’s like a Frankenstein. Facebook is like Frankenstein etc. So, power to her. How cool is it that she was the originator of this?

Monster Fest: One of the major elements of Frankenstein and the Frankenstein mythology is who is the real monster? Is it the creation or is it Frankenstein himself? Can you elaborate on that thematic pathway through the film?

Larry Fessenden: Well, one thing that I think I did ultimately explore was that I made neither the monster nor the doctor the real villain, I made it the financier behind him. The real ‘depraved’ character is Polidori, which is to say, the money behind the genius. The guys that send everyone to war, the guys that are in the pharmaceutical industry. The guys that are making profits off of the integrity and the ingenuity of intelligent, committed, and sometimes damaged people. That’s my critique of society.

Monster Fest: The father-son dynamics running through the film firstly between the doctor and Adam, and then later through Polidori and his father-in-law, Beaufort. Was that something that you were conscious of when you were writing the script?

Larry Fessenden: Absolutely. That’s an essential theme in the movie, because I think it’s a theme in society, if you don’t set a good example, then society will become lost. The example that society sets is really important to how the next generation will survive. And then more personally, parenthood I think is very important. I always like to joke, that the problem with Trump is that he had a shitty parent. It’s very obvious, and you know, I think is endlessly damaging. So, I’m always interested in that.

Monster Fest: You managed to secure some great locations and get some great shots in this film, all that stuff in the Met was phenomenal. How did you manage to get in there?

Larry Fessenden: Well, it’s actually a tragedy because I grew up in New York and was brought up going to the museum. They are intrinsic to the New York experience. Two years before we made the film, I started courting them [The MET], saying, I would love to give you the appropriate donation. I know you’re a hallowed institution. I’ve set aside an enormous amount of my budget to film in your museum. On and on, it’s a thoughtful movie about philosophy and this and that. It is called DEPRAVED. Maybe that was the mistake, I should never have called it that, hahaha. But the fact is is I begged them. I used every connection I had. Rich people, people with this connection and that connection. They never said no, they said, we’ll call you later. They were so evasive. And eventually I said, you know what, fuck it. So I snuck in, we did the whole thing on the sly. After begging them to take my money, ultimately, I paid nothing, except the cost of admission, maybe $23 or something.

Monster Fest: It’s phenomenally shot. A really great sequence. I just thought it was amazing.

Larry Fessenden: Well, when we planned it, we actually shot the whole thing as part of the proof of concept, and that’s why I knew I could sneak in and do it again. We have these little cameras now, the A7S and we just went through like we were tourists. It was a very funny thing. There were three or four of us and then the monster was in his makeup. And I had a bad back so I was walking around with a cane. And one of the DPs had been beaten up so he had a black eye. It was absurd. We were like the most completely inappropriate group traipsing through the museum. And we got the footage in just a couple hours.

Monster Fest: Amazing.

Larry Fessenden: Some people feel the scene digresses. It was never a question, I would never have let it go because this is, if you’re going to make Frankenstein, it has to be bigger than just a little story. It has to be about humanity, and that’s why I wanted all those paintings. And once again, that sense of history, the sense of how did we get where we are, because unfortunately, my assessment is that humanity has become depraved and vulnerable to self-destruction. Then you use the story of Frankenstein to analyze how that happens. It starts with the rape of the Sabine women and Socrates, and the idea of the death of philosophy and all that through the arts and so on.

Monster Fest: You focus a lot on the science of reanimation in the film. Did you do a lot of research on that topic?

Larry Fessenden: Absolutely. When I did the research for the story, I read a lot about stroke victims and if the brain has a problem, it can be sort of rewired and redirected, and even some dead parts, you can go around it. So that’s what the doctor keeps saying. He’s like, I’m bringing you back. We just have to reconnect all your stuff. So, I was really interested in the idea of the plasticity of the brain.

Monster Fest: What’s next for Larry Fessenden?

Larry Fessenden: Well, we took a little break with COVID. So I made a short film, we’ll see when that sees the light of day. I’ve been working very hard on my son’s film called FOXHOLE, it’s fantastic. It’s his second movie, he’s 20 years old. It’s a very ambitious war movie that we shot in the backyard. I’m really excited to get that out to the world. Post-production slowed down a little during COVID but we’re just about a month away from finishing. We’re submitting to festivals. It’s not horror, but it’s a great, thoughtful, war film and badass, just because no money and yet still there’s so much on screen. And then I have a project we’re hoping to mount as soon as we can get the last shekels. I’m also writing another movie, which I’m not even going to try to finance. I’m just going to go to some close associates and make it low budget.

DEPRAVED is now available on DVD from Umbrella Entertainment.