Well, it was that time of the year again when lots of prepared napping takes place before the jaunt through to Edinburgh for the finest horror film festival out there...'Dead by Dawn' 2001!
The festival kicked off on the Friday night with a screening of Juame Balaguero's 'Los Sin Nombre', the tense cult child abduction thriller based on Ramsey Campbell's book 'The Nameless' and the East Coast Writers' Group were out in force for a selection of 'cutting-edge' readings. I give this evening a miss as I'd checked out 'Los Sin Nombre' several times a few months earlier (and to be honest, horror readings never were my 'bag' and smack just a little of 'the pretentious').
The Festival truly does kick into gear on the Saturday and that is when myself and a good friend (hi John!) get our lazy arses into gear and head off at sun-up for the days bizarre selection of entertainment. We arrive at the 'Filmhouse' in Edinburgh in plenty of time for the 1pm screening of Masayuki Ochiai's 'Hypnosis' and instantly bump into festival director (and good friend of SGM) Adele Hartley who looks primed for the frenzy that awaits! So after grabbing the first (of many) caffeine rushes we take our place for the first of many horrific delectations.
'Hypnosis' was a new one to me, and would eventually be one of the highlights of the weekend also. The film kicks in with a collection of seemingly unrelated (and very weird) suicides, the only link being the bizarre mention of 'green monkeys' before said victims meet their end. A highly original and occasionally witty film that I can't recommend enough, and a great experience to catch on the big screen.
Thankfully 'Dead by Dawn' takes place at two different theatres, which means that there is the opportunity to stretch your legs (more so if you're gonna be sitting square arsed through over 20 hours of movies in one session!) So, after 'Hypnosis' it's a pleasant sunny stroll through the lovely backstreets of old Edinburgh up to the 'Lumiere' to check out the next batch of film fun.
It's 3.30 in the afternoon now and everyone's been handed voting papers for the next part of the show. We're getting a couple of hours of a selection of short films by new independent film makers from across the globe. Inevitably, some truly are bad (and I mean really bad!) but there are a few that also truly shine. The highlights of these include the Hammer House of Horror tribute 'Green Fingers' with Ingrid Pitt, the Burtonesque 'Lonely Widow', the hilarously cool (and grimy) 'Bowl of Oatmeal' and the showstopping 'Rot Woman' - this Japanese zombie short blew everything else away in Competition (and rightly won), check it out if you can!
There's time for a quick break (and a few cigarettes) before we're treated to a rare screening of Riccardo Freda's 'Horrible Dr Hichcock'. This vintage necrophilia gem starring the lovely Barbara Steele goes down a storm with the crowd as although many can smell an old classic, the now dated dialogue causes much hilarity (which even I had to laugh at also). The only grumblings being the print itself, whilst it was clear enough, the print had a strange red hue throughout and shows it really could do with some cleaning up (before it falls apart, please!)
Now, here's where things start to get a bit cloudy folks. This year it seemed there would be a bit of a gap of a couple of hours until the all-night marathon kicked off at the 'Filmhouse' at 11.30pm. Now this is fine if you don't want square eyes and a stiff arse, but it also means inevitably that we end up sipping many (ahem) 'sherrys' from the Filmhouse's late bar (and when I get started on the 'swally' as we Scots like to call it!, I really get going!)
Thankfully though, the time drifts by pleasantly, we catch up with director Jeremy Kasten and his entourage (a special 'hi' to his lovely sister) for a few 'sherrys' and catch up with a few of you fine SGM readers (I finally get to see what some of you actually look like!)
Time flies and we 'drink up' to catch Jeremy introduce his new film 'Attic Expeditions'. Now, I have to admit I knew very little about this film (apart from the fact the Jeffrey Combs and Ted Raimi made an appearance) so I was grinning with glee by the time the end credits rolled. At last, we have a highly original new genre film. The story involves a guy who has lost his memory (well, apart from some titbits of murder and black magic), he wakes in a psychiatric hospital under the care of the aforementioned Jeffrey Combs. Combs sticks him in a halfway house for nutters and it's here where the film twists and turns with a great storyline that will keep you engrossed right up to the end. For me, the film was reminiscent of the cool old TV show 'The Prisoner', both in storyline and the fact that it refuses to conform to the Hollywood tradition of bland teen horror predictability. Kasten does a sterling job with this debut production, and the genre movie star encrusted cast show that they too had complete confidence in getting involved. Thought provoking, witty and highly recommended!
Now, the great shame here was, how the hell do you follow it up? Well, a canny bit of scheduling brought us next the excellent short 'On Edge'. Frazer Lee's short (very) black comedy is the simple set piece of a dentist with a sadistic slant (played by the ever inspiring Doug Bradley). Twisted, sick and downright hilarious - 'On Edge' is a cracker of a horror treat that will have dental paranoics running screaming. The only shame was for the folk that nipped out of the theatre after 'Attic' screened and missed this mini movie delight (their loss though!)
'Uzumaki' was up next, and as time was getting on (and my brain needed a break!) we popped outside for a chat with Eddie from the cool 'Rough Cut' comics and some fun 'banter' with the locals. I had just recieved the 'Uzumaki' disc from Hong Kong days earlier, so I excused myself from the screening. Although now on reflection, it would have been nice to see this creepy asian David Lynchesque film about the vortex obsessed on the big screen (yeah ok Adele, you were right!) but hey, you can check out our DVD review elsewhere for more details!
So after failing miserably in convincing the locals that I wasn't in fact some sort of Z-list actor, we settled back down to catch another couple of fine shorts. First up was the glossy thriller 'Schneiders 2nd Stage' which starred erstwhile lovey Kenneth Branagh in an entertaining chiller that in all honesty felt like something you'd see late night on Channel 4 TV. 'Black XXX-Mas' on the other hand, certainly isn't going to pop up on TV in any form. Another of the fest highlights, this mean spirited little Belgian shocker plays like a demented Little Red Riding Hood. Hilariously twisted and sick, director Pieter Van Hees delivers the goods in this great yarn with the depraved Black Santa and his merry entourage of equally sick 'mothers'! Check it out!
We're getting into the the very small hours of the morning now (and daylight isn't far off), so it's time for the annual selection of vintage gore classics. First up (and to everyones delight) is a lovely unrated print of 'Re-Animator'. Everyone should know Stuart Gordon's seminal sick masterpiece so I won't go into its finer points here but will say I was thrilled to see this classic fully uncut on the big screen, and going by the rest of the audiences reaction I'd say they all thought the same too!
Rounding off the all-night event was a double bill of 'Dr Butcher MD' and 'Gates of Hell'. Whilst some folk were grumbling that 'Dr Butcher's scheduling seemed pointless since its Euro (and original) variation 'Zombie Holocaust' had recently been passed uncut on these shores. I have to support the Fests screening as I had never actually seen this alternate take on Girolami's film. Yeah, it truly is a ghastly variation on the original cut, but worth seeing purely for the vastly different opening scenes (I just love that Grindhouse intro) and to hear the ear torturing alternative soundtrack! Festival director Adele pre-warned everyone about the fact that the print of Fulci's 'Gates of Hell' (aka 'City of the Living Dead') in fact looked like it had been cleaned with a brillo pad, so that was my cue to make an exit. After more than 20 hours of movies, caffeine, booze and smokes I was just about ready to drag my sorry ass back home to the comforts of my snuggly (and most welcoming) bed!
The Festival kept going later that day though with screenings of a mixture of old and new, including Jose Larraz's 'Vampyres', Harry Kumel's 'Daughters of Darkness', manga action in 'Blood, The Last Vampire' and two films that I would loved to have been around for - SGM favourite Olaf Ittenbach's excellent 'Premutos' which was getting a rare subtitled screening and Brian Yuzna's adaption of the comic book 'Faust'. Word is that both films had diverse reactions, whilst 'Premutos' went down a storm and got the crowd applauding in delight, 'Faust' was sadly a different ball game with dwindling viewers leaving the auditorium before the film finished and a barren (and somewhat awkward) 'Q&A' session with the beleagured director afterwards - a great shame.
As ever, I have to conclude that once again I had a fantastic time at 'Dead by Dawn' - a festival that grows in strength and quality each passing year. This is testament alone to the excellent work done by director Adele Hartley, and appropraite praise should be lavished on her for this - well done! I'm already looking forward to next years event, and if you have any sense, you'll start saving for it too!