Dead by Dawn Festival 2006

It's time!'Dead by Dawn' 2005 was my first taste of this long-running Edinburgh based Horror fest (now in it's 13th year). I thoroughly enjoyed the experience - not only were the films great (which included EYES OF CRYSTAL, THE DARK HOURS and KILLING WORDS - all now out on DVD and highly recommended), but I was also struck favourably by the sense of community. The atmosphere was relaxed, open and friendly - and sitting until the early hours getting drunk with like-minded people, after having just watched some cool horror, was pretty much perfect.

I remember deciding as soon as DBD 2005 was over, that I would definitely be attending it's 2006 successor.

So, another year, and the Filmhouse was ready to take on 500+ horror fanatics once again. First noticeable difference was that the building now abides to Scotland's directive of banning smoking in public places. As a smoker, my heart sank. But, in all honesty, it didn't make the huge difference I expected it to. You don't smoke in cinemas anyway, so the notion never entered my head while watching the movies. Even at the bar, it was mild enough outside to nip out for an occasional drag. And there were plenty of people doing the same, so the conversation outside was just as interesting as those being had inside!

It was great to see faces from the previous year, people greeting each other as if they'd just been out together a week earlier. It's weird (in a good way) how easy it was to pick up with people where you'd left things a year previously. That easy-going atmosphere and sense of community was definitely back, unchanged.

The bar was as proficient and friendly as ever (and still open till 3am - excellent), and the stall from FAB Press returned, for all who wanted to blow their savings on highly readable genre literature and choice rare DVDs.

Speaking of FAB Press, they contributed a copy of their book VAMPYRES (a novelization of the brilliant Jose Larraz film) towards the Anchor Bay-endorsed goodie bag free to every attendee. Good stuff ...

And so to the films.

paedo horror!?David Slade's HARD CANDY kicked things off on the Thursday evening (there had been a writers' forum at another venue earlier, but I gave that a miss in favour of a few drinks and a catch-up with Al!). As a festival opener it was fairly unremarkable stuff, but did benefit from a decent performance by Ellen Page as a teenager who meets a paedophile over the Net, then turns the tables on him. Not strictly a horror film, but certainly dark in theme and tone - and including one scene that lived up to festival organiser Adele's warning of being squirm-inducing for male viewers. It's interesting to note that Page went on to take a sizeable role in X MEN: THE LAST STAND immediately after appearing in this. Was it just me, or did she remind anyone else of that annoying "American" girl who used to be in Eastenders? Michelle's daughter ...

It's also worth noting that HARD CANDY was one of only 3 new feature films being shown that were shot on 35mm. A sign of the times, indeed ...

Friday began with a big screening of John Carpenter's CIGARETTE BURNS. This got mixed reactions from those I discussed it with, but I thought it was good - the best thing Carpenter's done in ages. Atmospheric and surprisingly violent at times, it was also great to see Udo Kier back in the type of role he overacts so well. My only gripe was the end - it all got a bit silly.

Due to problems with customs and a couple of distributors sending film reels to the wrong places, or FedEx returning them accidentally to the senders, the timetable given in the slick programme had to be rejigged a bit - so it's hard to remember what played when. I do recall that Tony Todd's new film MINOTAUR was intended to be screened on the Friday evening - but unfortunately only the first half of the film made it to the festival, and Adele made the executive decision that it would not be worth showing half a movie. Here, here!

Anyway, in no particular order, I also got to see ...

SICK GIRL. Lucky McKee's (MAY) entry into the Masters Of Horror series. This was great campy fun with some of the biggest (intentional) laughs of the weekend. And, another fine performance from the ever-impressive Angela Bettis.

cycling slasher!?BLOOD TRAILS was a promising but sadly ultimately disappointing slasher movie where most of the action was propelled by mountain bike chases. It gave rise to some fast-paced chase scenes, and for a film shot on Beta SP it's visual style was most impressive. But you had to suspend your disbelief a little too much if you were going to accept some of the laughable plot devices. Also, through no fault of German director Robert Krause (who attended the festival to introduce his film and take questions afterwards), it didn't help casting FOOTBALLER'S WIVES bumboy Ben Price as the killer ...

SEVERED was a zombie film where a load of tree-hugging hippies get ravaged by infected zombies. Sounds great, but it offered neither wit or imagination to an already saturated sub-genre. Even the gore (the main draw for many zombie fans) was nondescript. I remember struggling to keep my eyes open during this one - which is not good when it's the middle of the afternoon!

THE ANCIENT RITES OF COREY MCGILLIS was a borderline short that reminded Al and I of the "Father's Day" segment from CREEPSHOW.

Of the shorts, the animated titles stood out most for me. ZACARIAS ZOMBIE was something my 5 year old daughter would probably appreciate, while EL DESAFIO A LA MUERTE was quite amusing. But horror? No.

Classic!DON'T LOOK NOW and DEAD OF NIGHT provided excellent 'old school' matinee entertainment over the course of the weekend. Both classics, and a rare treat to be witnessed in their rightful place on the big screen. DEAD OF NIGHT, in particular, was arguably the highlight of the entire weekend - a packed cinema roared with laughter at much of the mannered acting and unfortunate, unintentional double entendres in the ancient script. Still, it's a classic film and the fact that it's language and method of acting is hilarious doesn't stop it from being essential viewing for any self-respecting genre fan.

THE CHANGELING was also offered as a blast from the past. But sticking this slap-bang in the middle of Saturday/Sunday's all-nighter is a test of even the greatest insomniac's will power! Finally, on the oldies front, the lame GRIM PRAIRIE TALES was shown.

Simon Boyes and Adam Mason's BROKEN, I'm told, was a dark and gory British horror that pulled no punches. Damn, wish I'd pulled myself away from the bar for that one. Likewise, I was gutted to hear people rave about Saturday night's THE LAST SUPPER - from what I gather it went down really well. As did the lager I was guzzling as it was being shown.

Other movies I missed included Brit flick ISOLATION (in fact, no-one I spoke to seemed to have seen this), HAZE (from Shinya Tsukamoto, the director of TETSUO: THE IRON MAN and VITAL), and THE GHOST WITHIN. Now, did that even play?? I'm starting to get confused ...

Of the films I didn't get to see, I am most bitter about NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH. I had a gut feeling about this upon reading the synopsis in the programme, and my fears were confirmed when everyone I spoke to raved about this apparently fucked up gem of twisted gore and perversion. Also, ZOMBIE JIEITAI got great reviews. Both of these films played early on the Sunday morning - so, DBD, please play your trump cards at a decent time in future ... some of us cannot rise at 7am after a night of over-indulgence!

Trash gem?!Events came to a head on the Sunday evening with the screening of SHADOW: DEAD RIOT. Tony Todd took the stage to introduce the film (he was almost apologising for it's crappiness). Ironically, it was perhaps the most entertaining film of the weekend. It is cheap, trashy schlock - it is corny, risible and at times incomprehensible. But it was such fun! Where else will you find a women-in-prison flick with zombies, kung-fu, occultism, mutant babies, lesbian shower scenes, Misty Mundae, Tony Todd, decent gore and more?! It felt like just the light relief that was needed to mark the end of the festival. This one gets released by Shriek Show later in the year, and I know I'll be investing ...

I had a fantastic time at DBD 2006. What makes it even better is that everyone I spoke to on the final day shared that sentiment. Okay, I don't the think the new films in general were as good as what was shown at 2005's fest, but that's not the organiser's fault!

Tony Todd was a gracious and affable guest on and off the stage, the Filmhouse was as friendly and accommodating as ever, and the atmosphere was as chilled as I'd remembered it. And I decided upon leaving the fest that I will definitely be attending it's 2007 successor.

Review by Stu Willis

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