Seeing is believing, but hearing can be too. The newest season of Larry Fessenden and Glenn McQuaid’s “Tales From Beyond the Pale” has delivered audio tales about spooky goings on in such far-flung locales as the Stanley Hotel and the film industry itself, with this week’s two new episodes — which IndieWire can exclusively premiere — taking place in rural Pennsylvania and Montreal, respectively.
“Barricade” finds a just-married couple on their honeymoon, where the aftereffects of nearby fracking unleash something chthonic from the ground; Fessenden wrote the 23-minute tale, which features the voice talents of Roxanne Benjamin, Jeremy Gardner, Tony Todd, Samuel Zimmerman. It’s like a short film in sonic form, with the details of just what those beings look like left to the listener’s imagination.
“There’s an interaction involved that’s quite unique these days, you’re relying on the listener to bring their imagination to the party; to color the story with their own visuals, in a way,” says McQuaid. “What we do is a reaction to the overuse of CGI, of seeing too much of the monster — we’re turning all the lights out, it’s much scarier with the lights out.”
“I’ve written enough now that I can see my own approach is to have the story, and then have some sort of commentary above it, which feels like a literary technique,” adds Fessenden. “At the same time, I like to employ sound effects in the manner of a film, with hard cuts and closeups built into the rhythm of the piece; I often speak about where the ‘camera’ is when designing the sound. It’s an unusual medium and we make our own rules.”
“Speaking in Tongues,” meanwhile, tells of a man named Weyland Glas — that’s one “S,” not two — who feeds on memories in order to stay young and hires a translator in order to settle a few important debts. It features such translations as “he wants you to fuck the corpse of your mother” and no shortage of gallows humor. McQuaid co-wrote the episode with April Snellings, while Fessenden lends his voice to it alongside Tessa J. Brown, Alex Goldrich, Izzy Lee, and George Mougias.
More fanciful and ambitious than “Barricades,” “Speaking in Tongues is also more site-specific. “When we were developing ‘Speaking in Tongues’ and ‘Barricade,’ we knew we’d be performing them as part of the Fantasia Film Festival, and wanted to do something in celebration of our mad-hearted friends up there in Montreal,” McQuaid explains. “Stephanie Trepanier suggested I do something in French, and that sparked the idea of working on a bilingual piece, and I wanted to set it in Montreal because it’s such an interesting, multifaceted city. ‘Speaking in Tongues’ was also inspired by ‘HellBlazer,’ where the mob underworld sits side by side with the demonic underworld.”
“I grew up before there was VHS, so I would record movies off the TV onto audio cassettes and listen to them, no picture,” Fessenden says. “I gained an appreciation for the rhythms of dialogue and sound effects and music, and how the mind conjures the image. I always say in film, there is only one picture but myriad sound tracks, my way of illustrating how essential sound is in cinema. Well, we’ve taken that concept a step further with ‘Tales,’ turned off that one picture and left the audience with a blank canvas to build their own worlds based on sound alone.”
Listen to “Barricade” and “Speaking in Tongues” below.