Depraved: Larry Fessenden Returns To the Frankenstein Legend

Not to be too snarky, but for me, the "IFC Midnight" series is usually the zero interest arm of Scream Factory; but when there's a new Larry Fessenden film, I pay attention.  Depraved is Fessenden's latest film, having run through 2019 in festivals and limited screenings, and finally becoming accessible on home video now with this BD/ DVD combo pack.  But if that felt like an interminable wait, you can imagine what it's been like for Fessenden himself who's been struggling to get his modern Frankenstein story funded and on screen for the last full decade.  If he can persevere through all of that, then the time I spent refreshing Glass Eye Pix's Twitter feed pining for a physical media release date doesn't seem so toughly endured.
I was a little surprised when I first heard of this project - hadn't we already gotten Fessenden's modern Frankenstein story in 1991 with No Telling (The Frankenstein Complex)?  That was already quite excellent itself.  But I guess it didn't quite scratch that itch.  And certainly, as much as they both adhere to the same, rough skeletal structure as Mary Shelley's novel (an obsessive medical scientist manages to bring back the dead through secret, hand-wrought experiments that wind up causing unexpected, tragic and ultimately deadly consequences), they've risen from the slab as distinctly different creatures.  For one thing, No Telling dictates the events from the scientist's perspective, while Depraved (mostly) shows us the world from the monster's point of view.
The result is a more sensitive film.  The creature's story has famously been as heartbreaking as it is scary.  That's pretty much what Frankenstein's best known for.  But this one really leans into the bonds developed between Adam and his maker... heck the centerpiece of Depraved is a five minute tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (which let an indie horror crew shoot all over the place?!) where he's taught the history and nature of humanity.  Relative newcomer Alex Breaux in particular gives an award-worthy performance that perfectly suits the mood piece Fessenden is building around him.  Everything you expect from Fessenden is here, from his masterful use of original music to his eccentric animations.  He possibly gets a little too distracted filling the frame with homages to everything from James Whale's classic to Cronenberg's The Fly, but it's never so much that it detracts from what might sincerely be Fessenden's best film yet.
2020 Scream Factory DVD top; 2020 Scream Factory BD bottom.
Depraved is presented in 2.35:1 on both discs.  This film was shot digitally, so that film grain you see is "fake," an effect added in post.  But we can still use it to observe the difference in resolution between the DVD and blu.  And you can see how it's crisp and clear on the blu, but smudgy and sporadic on the DVD.  More practically, the biggest difference you'll notice is just that the fine details and edges have a softer look.  Of course the colors, brightness levels and everything else are the same, since its the same master just put on two different resolution discs.  Curiously, though, they've included two audio mixes for the film: a 5.1 surround and a 2.0 stereo track (both are DTS-HD on the blu).  I'm not sure what the purpose of the stereo track is since it's not a previous mix, and 5.1s naturally down-mix on stereo TVs, but okay, I'll take it.  Optional English and Spanish subtitles are also included.
One thing you can count on, Fessenden + Scream Factory = a fantastic collection of special features, and this is no exception.  We start out with a director's commentary.  He flies on solo on this one, but he doesn't need any help to fill the entire running time with thoughtful insight and fascinating backstory.  There are a few pauses, but they feel like technical edits rather than lapses, and they never last too long.  Then there's a feature length documentary, which if you've seen past Fessenden special editions, you know take you quite thoroughly through every step of production, from conception to premiere.  These aren't just EPK talking heads and a little B-roll; they're fascinatingly candid watches even if you had no interest in the actual feature film.  In fact, this doc has had some theatrical screenings of its own.  After that, there are featurettes that interview Fessenden (good, but a lot of it's redundant after the doc and commentary), the special effects team, Breaux and other crew members.  They basically just serve as extra little addendums to the main doc, which is all good.  There's also the trailer, and a full-color 8-page booklet of photos.
So this is an easy recommendation.  It's a great film.  If Beneath had you wary of blind-buying a Fessenden film, don't worry, this is a return to his top shelf material.  And Scream Factory has delivered a first class special edition just as deep and rewarding as their previous collaborations.  Ever since the Larry Fessenden Collection in 2015, his work as been ideally preserved on home video, and this additional chapter slides right in perfectly.  I wish this was the case for most other filmmakers, but I'm certainly grateful in this case.

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