Welcome to Phantom Limbs, a recurring column in which we’ll examine at unproduced horror sequels and remakes – expansions of genre films we love, appendices to horror franchises we like – that were cruelly axed before they even got off the ground.
Larry Fessenden revisits The Orphanage to talk about the remake he never got around to doing
We’ll be speaking with the creators of these unmade extremities to get their unique perspective on these never-made sequels, with the chats serving as perhaps enlightening but surely devastating reminders of what could have been. With this entry, we’ll look at The Orphanage, a planned remake of Guillermo del Toro’s 2007 eerie thriller El Orfanato, directed by J.A. Bayona. The Orphanage, which would have been produced by del Toro and directed by maverick indie filmmaker Larry Fessenden (Habit, Wendigo), would have seen the original film’s story brought to the United States and released by New Line Cinema, though the picture never materialized. Mr. Fessenden talks about how he got involved with the project, the process of writing the script with del Toro, why it didn’t work out, and whether it will ever be released.
Mr. Fessenden begins, “Well, I was in my office in downtown New York City.” “I got a call from a Hollywood agent,” says the narrator. They inquired if I wanted to be represented. ‘Well, I’m not sure why you’d want to represent me,’ I added. I’m merely an East Village-based independent filmmaker.’ ‘Well, no,’ they replied. You’re going to remake The Orphanage,’ says the narrator. All I knew about the project at the time was that it was created by Guillermo del Toro and that it hadn’t even been released yet. “ ‘That’s insane,’ I said. I promised I’d get back to her as soon as I could. I dialed Ron Perlman, who had previously appeared in my film The Last Winter. ‘What do you know about this, Ron?’ Of course, Perlman was a friend of del Toro’s, and I believe Perlman was on site filming Hellboy II. ‘Oh, well, Guillermo has some news for you,’ he added. So it turned out that Guillermo had chosen me to helm the remake out of his kindness. And it turns out that Guillermo had long been a fan of my work, dating back to the film Habit. We had never met, but I later learned that he had been a silent supporter, which I have much appreciated ever since. So I was hired by New Line, which was riding high at the time because they’d just completed Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. They were a well-established business at the time.
I obtained a translation of the original script and attended a private screening of the film. I thought it was lovely. The direction is lovely, and the piece is incredibly elegant. The good news is that I can still envision what I would do with it. So, before meeting Guillermo, I took the script and my memories of the film and composed a first draft. ‘Why don’t you come to Los Angeles and we’ll work on this?’ he suggested after I sent it to him. “When I sat down with him, he exclaimed, ‘Fessenden!'” It’s as if you’re sleeping with my girlfriend and composing a manuscript before we speak!’ And I burst out laughing. ‘Well, listen, dude, I just wanted to get a feel for the stuff, and I look forward to talking to you more about it,’ I added. As a result, we had to start all over again. Not as a rejection of my work, but to start a conversation about the remake in a natural way. It seemed like I was in a noir movie or something. I was staying at a hotel in Thousand Oaks, which is a mountain neighborhood of Los Angeles, and then driving up the lengthy road to his house in the morning.
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