Review by Marc Lissenburg
Ah springtime is here at last! What could be better than a leisurely walk in the countryside with a gentle breeze fanning the grass while the daffodils gleam in the spring sunshine? I tell you what: The Filmhouse in Edinburgh for Dead by Dawn 2012!!!
While I appreciate a lot of you are already accustomed with Scotland’s International horror extravaganza, this humble contributor to SGM had never actually had the pleasure…. Until now that is.
It simply wasn’t possible for me to attend the DbD’s inaugural Thursday night screening of directors Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni’s innovatively told tale of terror and vulnerability of a child. Accentuated by its rural setting and lamentable characters, THE FIELDS, although low budget, is certainly one to look out for if the idea of the horrific perception of childhood can be appreciated.
I did, however, manage to avoid the hurdles of limited finances, the lottery of ad-hoc leave from work and, last but not least, the utter foolishness of paranoia induced panic buying at petrol stations to ensure I was snugly seated in the comfortable surroundings of The Filmhouse’s Cinema 1 by midday. The sight of the sumptuous crimson curtains teasingly shrouding the generous screen simply fuelled my anticipation further until, precisely at the advertised time of midday, Adele Hartley made the first of many journeys to the front of the theatre. Her eloquently delivered and witty preambles to each segment throughout the weekend conveyed a genuine passion for the horror movie in all its mangled forms!
Like many of you, my horror tastes go through phases and the weeks leading up to DbD were largely spent revisiting the bizarre world of Japanese Horror. Alas, selfishly, the perfect way to get my festival juices flowing was some B-Movie mayhem from Japan, with director Takanori Tsujimoto’s RED TEARS.
The creator of the ‘Hard Revenge Milly’ movies has returned with an utter treat! A mix of bone crunching violence, a sprinkling of Japanese humour and a brain friendly plot, the serial killer yarn of RED TEARS was a frenzied slice of gore laced fun to kick off proceedings.
I have always appreciated the manner in which film festivals act as a platform for short films, exposing some wonderfully creative and dark pieces of work that would otherwise, regrettably, remain unseen. DbD unashamedly embraces these diminutive pictures with no less than four separate slots over the weekend showcasing some incredible talent, new and old. This inevitably comes at a cost and it again is Adele Hartley who bares the brunt of the arduous task of reportedly having to plough through, on average, 15 submissions a DAY. One can only imagine the enthusiasm and commitment she must have for ensuring the cream rises to the top before spilling over onto the DbD program. Adele’s glee at equating these little treasures as "…a short, sharp finger of horror up the wazoo..!" while introducing the first selection was funny as it was true.
First up was the "What you make of it" selection. Ranging from 2 minutes to 14 minutes, these 5 shorts were a diverse blend of black humour, tension and some infuriatingly annoying screams painstakingly spliced together from vintage B-Movies! Rule number one: there are no rules! LA MIGALA probably just edged it in my view as it had an equal balance of tension, humour and melancholy with as our lovelorn protagonist had am extremely novel way of coping with his freshly broken heart!
The "long shorts" were a trio of films, each with run times of just over half an hour. AN EVENING WITH MY COMOTOSE MOTHER superbly combined a hideous patient, the eeriest of dolls and a very cute teenage girl on a classic babysitting story gone wrong. THE UNLIVING, meanwhile, injected a shot of ingenuity into the Zombie genre with a well-crafted, character driven snapshot. But the stand out movie (and eventually voted "Best Short" by the DbD audience) was an ultra-seedy story, ingeniously titled MURDERABILIA. A seamy dealer peddling murder-related collectables is contacted by a mysterious buyer, who seeks a particular relic. But as negotiations progress, both parties find they have perhaps bitten off more than they can chew…
The grinding dialogue and steady pace served to imbue the viewers psyche with grime as these loathsome, yet highly watchable, characters filled the 30 minute run time.
THE PACT (11 mins) featured in the "Cutting Edge" selection, and is notable as the piece has now evolved into a full feature of the same title. But it was THE COLDEST CALLER that captured the audience’s hearts and walked off with the audiences "Cutting Edge" award. The 4 minute snapshot of the Grim Reaper meeting his match when he knocks on the door of a wily pensioner drew equal amounts of raucous laughter and applause when it delivered its visual punch line!
Last but not least was the "2D & DERANGED" animated medley screened on the Sunday afternoon. From the beautifully surreal ETHEREAL CHRYSALIS to the hilarious WISDOM TEETH before ending up at some absolute absurdity of Robert Morgan’s BOBBY YEAH! If Murderablila made you "want to have a shower after watching it" (cheers Adele!) Morgan’s 23 minute weird-a-thon, with its pus drooling phallic aesthetic made you want to scrub your brain with a wire brush. Off the wall repulsiveness at its finest!
Back to Friday’s features and it was one of my earliest, and scariest, childhood horror movie memories that had finally come full circle. I believe it was the early 1980’s when THE OMEN first aired on ITV. I must have been 10 and somehow managed to watch about three quarters of the movie before I was scolded and sent to bed! (I would have beaten Usain Bolt up the stairs that night…. Prrrrp!!). Obviously in the subsequent years that followed I finally watched the full movie, (albeit on pan and scan VHS tape). But this was special - 30 years after that terrestrial TV premičre here I was with the privilege of indulging in an original 35mm print of the on the ‘big screen.’ The prescreening apologies of the condition of the print were, thankfully, unfounded and the few scratches on the print only added to the romance!
Onto the evening and the first special guests of the weekend, writer and producer Signe Olynyk and producer Bob Shultz, introduced BELOW ZERO. The story of the plagiaristic novelist with writers block who decides to lock himself in a freezer ironically got a got a Luke warm reception (sorry!). Trying to overcome his arid creativity by applying a liberal series of "What ifs..?" to the story within a story worked to a certain extent, but just kind of chased its tail a little toward the end. Still, "WHAT IF…" the next time I get a Troma screener to review, I head down to Iceland…?!?
With some marionette Nazisploitation in the shape of Dustin Mills’ THE PUPPET MONSTER MASSACRE to wrap up Fridays proceedings (and soak up some of the booze!), DbD was in full flow…
Saturday’s matinee was a hugely popular choice. DELIVERANCE it seems is highly regarded as a firm favourite and 40 years after its conception, its popularity shows no signs of waning.
I must confess to having a personal fondness of horror related documentaries, especially when strategically placed within a festival scheduling. NIGHTMARE FACTORY is a 90 minute film that fundamentally documented Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman’s journey from adolescent horror fanatics through to the creation of KNB FX, one of the most esteemed special effects companies operating today. Concocted from Nicotero’s superb behind the scenes footage, it exhibited not only the craft of old school prosthetics, but also the politics and stresses the special effects guys face on set. John Carpenter, in particular, hardly covered himself in glory by referring to these artists as "divas" claiming his movies were not "effects driven". Make your own minds up on that one folks! Either way, it was a fascinating look at the devotion KNB show to conjuring their gruesome magic for our enjoyment. Hopefully its films like this that COULD inspire a new generation of traditional special effects artists before the craft fades in the haze of CGI…
Saturday evening marked the midway point of the festival it could be argued the festival peaked here if the attendees’ votes for "Best Feature" were anything to go by. The lycanthropic treat LOBOS DE ARGA won the coveted award with its piquant mix of terror and giggles! Director Juan Martinez Moreno certainly won himself a small legion of fans with this effort and anyone who witnessed this movie will be licking their fangs at the prospect of his future efforts.
The Saturday night schedule at the Filmhouse, for me anyway, showed just why DbD outshines it festivals rivals. Gone are the quaint midnight finishes. Instead the recognition that many horror fans crave the chance to test the stamina of their retinas by gorging on an ALL NIGHT feast of movies is realized.
From midnight till 6am we were treated to a triple bill of exquisite entertainment. JUAN OF THE DEAD was that super rare beast – a horror movie from Cuba! Peppered with a few intentional laughs, this was more than simply a Cuban zombie flick. The story concerned itself with Juan, a petty thief who has disengaged from his now grown up daughter. His heart leads him to try and reacquaint, but when the land his crawling with pesky flesheaters, nothing is that simple!
The subsequent feature I thought would need no introduction. But judging by the honest show of hands in the auditorium prior to its start, a surprisingly high number of DbD’s patrons had never seen Lamberto Bava’s classic DEMONS. An upcoming Blu Ray release of this movie and its sequel meant a high definition print had been obtained for the 2.30am showing. While I was in awe of the many moments of puss popping, blood soaked carnage within the movie; there was one particular scene that exploited the copious screen with aplomb. The magnified sight and sounds of specks of cocaine being deftly scraped up from a cleavage by a honed razor were cringingly effective. Either that or I was waning and needed a quick hit of the white stuff!!!
The prize for having the stamina of seeing the triple bill through to its conclusion was what a lot of horror fans yearn for - Blood… and lots of it! The Mo Brothers picture MACABRE may have started slowly, but once up and running was noticeably scant of comic relief. Instead they opted to saturate the screen with an abundance of gore which didn’t cease until the sun began to peak through on Sunday morning…
And so onto the final day and it was CREEPSHOW that kicked off proceedings. I have to confess to missing Romero’s 80’s anthology due to trying (in vain) to catch up on the elusive ZZZZ’s from the previous nights shenanigans.
Early Sunday evening I came to the conclusion that it was futile to judge a festival by the apparent quality of the movies being shown. My reasoning being, evaluation of motion pictures are essentially a subjective endeavour. This concept was exemplified by a gorgeous piece of cinema with a truly multinational essence. RED NIGHTS originates from Hong Kong, France and Belgium and is an aesthetical delicacy. Starring Carrie Ng (Naked Killer, Sex and Zen) the movies narrative is based upon an enigmatic elixir which can augment extreme pleasure or excruciating pain after it sedates its consumer. Some innovatively claustrophobic set pieces and elegantly photographed violence, enhanced by a classic soundtrack by French composers Seppuku Paradigm (Martyrs, Eden Log) made this, for me, a wonderful and rare viewing experience on the big screen. Then again, a few punters post screening simply felt it was protracted pretentiousness!!! Subjective indeed…
The penultimate movie of a fabulous weekend was ostensibly a superhero tale from Korea HAUNTERS. The movie started captivatingly enough when a disabled young male Cho-in discovers he has a unique gift. His eyes contain the power to hypnotize and control anyone embraced by his stare. The way he causes his abusive father to dispatch himself with a dose of suicide that Regan from the Exorcist would have been proud of, offered much promise. But I felt the second half of the film lacked any real punch to consider it anything above average.
I had no idea at this point the scariest part of the festival was about to be upon me. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (already covered by Al Sex Gore) was no match for my perilous drive home. The meld of some charmingly morbid entertainment and a seriously punishing schedule really brought home just how dangerously hallucinogenic sleep deprivation can be! Next year I will swap the early hours of Monday morning on the pitch black A68 for an extra nights stay. With 2013 being Dead by Dawn’s 20th year it promises to be THE UK horror festival event of the year. Start saving NOW!
By Marc Lissenburg
Special thanks to festival director Adele Hartley and all the staff at the Filmhouse Cinema (and a big 'hello' to all SGM's friends who take time to hang out over the course of the festival!)