Who would have believed it, ten years down the line and the 'Dead by Dawn' horror film festival is not only still going but has grown and blossomed into the biggest and best horror festival in the UK. As a regular attendee and ardent fan of the event I wasn't going to miss out on the 10th anniversary festivities, but this year I was perhaps foolishly let the partying come ahead of what the event is 'really' about (hence the distinct lack to date of our usual annual festival report)…so as a half hearted precautionary tale here's what really happened when Al Sex Gore is swayed by the demon drink…
It's the morning after the night before, the night being a somewhat tense and drunken football Euro qualifier, I'm not afraid to admit (well being a card carrying member of the Tartan Army) I'm a big fan of Scottish football so following a heavily lubricated Thursday evening watching yet another Scottish team struggle their way through another European tournament I find myself feeling broken and fragile sitting in the bar of the Filmhouse cinema ahead of the opening night proceedings of another 'Dead by Dawn' event. Cue festival director Adele Hartley, being the lovely and ever considerate sole she is quickly notes my less than lively condition and thrusts a welcome glass of fresh orange juice in my shaking hands and props me down to die quietly, that is until the very amiable and chatty Robert Englund and his lovely wife join me at the table (along with festival associate director James) sit down alongside me. Now normally any genre fan worth their salt would positively cream their pants at the thought of casually whiling away the afternoon chatting with such a key creature feature hero as the great Robert Englund, the guy is supremely amiable and 'chatty' would be a massive understatement as he is highly charged and full of masses of thoughts and anecdotes that fly from subject to subject (from contempary classic jazz to historical architecture). The thing is though, when you're feeling like one of the undead from some self inflicted alcohol poisoning the ninety to the dozen enthusiastic flow of banter left me feeling like the only place I needed to be at that moment was curled up in bed hugging my pillow. One entertaining moment though sitting with the Englund's was as I sat listing to Robert chatting away I could overhear some keen horror fans sitting with their backs to us completely oblivious as to who was beside them excitedly telling a nearby punter "Robert Englund, the guy who plays Freddy is gonna be here today!" Ideally, it would have been fun for Robert to turn around and watch them jump out their skin, but not to be. As the Englund's wandered off to jump back onto the press interview roller coaster I sloped off for a much needed nap and to recharge ahead of the opening nights proceedings.
It's Friday night and the festival opens proper with a special screening of 'Nightmare On Elm Street' to be presented by Freddy himself, having met up with fellow festival regular Eddie of Rough Cut Comics and his good lady for a quick Glayva or three we were slightly late getting into the auditorium for the film screening so unluckily found the only seats left where right in the front row at the very end and believe me if you've ever sat in the front row of a screening and enjoy it you really need your head looked at! Being positioned right down the front also meant there was no way of sneaking out the screening which normally I would have done with a movie like this, of course I love 'Nightmare' but virtually know every line of dialogue and camera angle now off by heart having seen it so often. So after the screening Robert took to the stage once again for a fun and lighthearted question and answer session with an understandably doting fan base who were keen at that point to know who exactly was going to win the battle of the century (yes, Freddy Vs Jason hadn't opened yet and the first big creature feature slugfest since the glory days of the Universal Monster movies was rightly the talk of the town!) Not surprisingly, Robert wasn't for spilling the beans but had plenty of fun teasing all attending. Mention should be made of the admirable time spent by Robert after the screening as he sat till for a considerable time at the bar afterwards signing everything out in front of him so as not too disappoint his army of fans. Me, not surprisingly caught up with the usual festival suspects at the bar with a couple of (ahem) medicinal lubrications…
Saturday morning and following a solid nights sleep the batteries are fully charged and I'm primed for the marathon endurance test that is the Saturday/Sunday non-stop movie extravaganza! Midday and I've met up with long time friend Cookie ahead of the first film of the day 'Soft For Digging', J T Petty's seriously eerie micro budget shocker about spooky goings on in the desolate American countryside. Whilst being somewhat impressive and undeniably atmospheric, 'Soft For Digging' does fall foul of being just too long and is in need of some judicious editing - that said the films merits do outweigh the negatives so it is indeed a film worth checking out. The afternoon presents itself with one of the definite highlights of the festival, the 'Cutting Edge' short film competition. I love short genre movies and 'Dead by Dawn' prides itself every year in presenting the finest selection any horror fan could dream of seeing and this year was no exception. Amongst the highlights this year were the glossy clinical but unnerving 'Daughter' by Eduardo Rodriquez that will unsettle any mothers out there, the fun shocker 'Entombed' by Dalibor Balkovic which is more a welcome rehash of the seminal Spanish short 'The Telephone Box', Michael Fedun's 'American Rickman Burger' for it's downright pleasing eye candy worthiness and (of course) the latest short shocker offering from SGM favourite Frazer Lee 'Red Lines'. Keep an eye out for all of these, very much worthy of your attention.
By the time the short films have finished screening it's early Saturday evening and we're being treated to a screening of Jorge Olguin's glossy vampire thriller 'Sangre Eterna'. Now I've never been a fan of Buffy and such similar fare so whilst I'm a patient kinda guy soon into this goth vampire wannabe's wet dream I could feel myself squirming in my seat (not through terror but more restless annoyance). The ingredients are all there, take some pretentious teen goth types who are also role play gaming fans (god how more annoying can these folk be), chuck in some 'real' vampires, some loud music and vampiric posturing and you have 'Sangre Eterna'. Now perhaps I'm being too harsh as the film does indeed have some truly great moments of vamp violence which I thoroughly enjoyed but the overall scenario and delivery left much to be desired for anyone that isn't a fan of this lazy goth pleasing sub genre. Less said the better, but needless to say watching this simply fuelled me disinterest in the rest of the evenings proceedings…and this is where things started to go (shall we say) a wee bit wonky for this festivalgoer!
After squirming through the goth wank fest the anticipation of an evening of more seemingly goth inspired genre fare left me cold. Of course 'Near Dark' is a damn fine movie that I have a lot of time for but like the previous evenings 'Nightmare' screening here was a film that I know inside out and was in no hurry to sit through another screening. Add to that a double bill of films titled 'Evelyn: The Cutest Little Dead Girl' and 'May' I was growingly hesitant. Both sounded like more goth chic for the easy please Buffy contingent, of course in my blind foolishness I was later to discover that 'May' in fact is one of the best genre movies released in quite some time (yes I am a fuckwit), I instead chose to go get something to eat and spend the evening in the company of likeminded slackers in the Filmhouse bar…oh dear…
So yes, I hang my head in shame and freely admit that I missed on the Saturday evening proceedings but meeting up with some SGM friends and partaking in some liquid libations and indulging in some friendly banter seemed the more amiable option. That said, there was no way I was going to miss the midnight screening of the much-anticipated sequel of the moment 'Beyond Re-Animator'. This time round we find everyone's favourite sarcastic scientific bastard Herbert West is banged up in jail for his part in the Miskatonic massacre from the earlier seminal movie. But when he finds an unexpected ally in the form of the brother of the victim of one of his creations (who now is in the employ of Herbert's prison) it's time for the experiments to begin again! 'Beyond Re-Animator' is a mixed bag of genre fare in as much as that in one hand it delivers in spades just exactly what any fun loving Re-Animator fan is looking for, deeply black sick humour and gory demented perversions…but at the same time this production does fall victim to it's low budget grind 'em out Fantastic Factory Spanish origins, losing some of the high end shine that the earlier moves had and (albeit unintentionally amusing) offers some level of cringe at times with the wooden acting by Spanish support cast members failing miserably to portray their American counterparts. But at the end of the day who really gives a shit about this as we horror fans are infamously forgiving and when a film is as fun as this then there's no room really to grumble. 95 mins of mindless gory fun and we're always open to that eh?
Following the 'Beyond Re-Animator' screening the throng of grinning sated gore fans shuffled their way down to the bar to await the rest of the 'all-night' screenings. By this point myself and pal Cookie had met up with SGM friend Stephen and his mate for a chat and (yet again) a few pints…and maybe a whisky or three…now normally I would be anticipating the rest of the all-nighter screenings (well this session included some low budget splatter in the form of 'Garden of Love' and 'Plaga Zombie' as well as the Bruce Campbell produced 'Hatred of a Minute') but this was also the moment when I heard a cry from across the bar…"well hello Mr Sex Gore"…and there was festival drunken buddy (and erstwhile filmmaker) Frazer Lee. The rest of the all night proceedings swiftly descended into a drunken blur. Now I know the Filmhouse bar is open till 3 in the morning but that doesn't mean you need to use it till then…but fine words in retrospect and words we did not heed that particular evening as even when the bar closed we sat down with two secreted bottles of white wine and scarfed it down in teacups (how Frazer got the bottles opened is another story for another time). The booze and the banter flowed till the sun came up and in-between screening the undead bleary eyed film fans would come in and out of the bar for adrenaline coffee fixes whilst the drunken slackers cosseted their liquor and the banter flowed. Now anyone that knows me will know I hate white wine, never drink the stuff - it is the devils sperm. But then, when it's four in the morning and there's no bar open what is a drunken bum to do? Well at 7am in the morning I crawl into the auditorium to try watch a film (the film in question here is the no budget splatter flick 'Plaga Zombie'), the problem here was though that the auditorium had started spinning. Sure I tried holding a hand over on eye to try stop the double vision but that wasn't going to help. Sheepishly I sloped off into the sunlight to try find that mecca that is bed…when I eventually got to my 'bed and breakfast' residence (it took time you see, one step forwards - three steps back!) I staggered my way past the just risen breakfasters to collapse in the privacy of my small hellhole of a room. But there was one last thing I had to do before collapsing into a drunken stupor and for once I was glad the room was so small the sink was right next to my bed as I swiftly spent the next five minutes vomiting white wine violently retching and sweating desperate for the solace of some much needed sleep. As soon as the nausea subsided I curled up in the bed and closed my eyes hoping anxiously that soon the room would stop spinning and sleep would prevail…sleep…nice…zzzz…the door bangs, as I reach for my clock I notice that I've only just fallen asleep 10 minutes earlier, as I open the door there stands a hapless foreign exchange student demanding entry to my room to clean it up. My response if swift and grunted as I slam the door and promptly pass out once again…zzzzz…bang bang…the door again and it's only another 10 minutes later. This time I plead to be left alone and thankfully I get that.
I wake at 7pm that Sunday evening and quickly freshen up for the last night of festival fun. Needless to say I'm not feeling pleased with myself, the previous night's all-nighter was down the tubes, I had missed just about it all and now I just felt like shit. Oh well, at least I wasn't going to miss either 'Undead' or (best of all) 'Bubba Ho Tep' - two movies that I had hear lots about and was very much excited to see!
As I reach the Filmhouse I just have time for some pleasantries with various friends and associates at the bar. Reluctantly I take the large Glayva handed to me by the ever kind and forgiving Adele, needless to say after a few sniffs of this lovely nectar I'm feeling just fine once again! Michael and Peter Spierig's 'Undead' is one of those genre movies that are rarely seen anymore - a good light hearted genre romp, fast paced brainless fun and all the better for it! To be honest there's not much in the way of story (and what plot that is there is especially later in the proceedings somewhat erratic and directionless) but all you need to know is that it has zombies, aliens, plenty of belly laughs and buckets of gore! It's a very welcome mindless but highly entertaining genre romp and just the right kind of movie to let your mind escape to for 100 minutes or so and the perfect support feature for the big festival closing movie…Bubba Ho Tep!
On paper 'Bubba Ho Tep' is the sort of film that genre fans dream of…Don (Phantasm) Coscarelli is a man who rarely gets behind the camera so when he does the genre community are waiting rubbing their hands in glee…writer Joe R Lansdale is understandably a likewise hero in the genre community for his fine work so when Coscarelli mentions his next movie is to be an adaptation of one of Lansdale's works fever pitch rises, more so when it is the tale of an ageing Elvis (genital boils and all) battling the Mummy alongside John F Kennedy (how fecking wild is that scenario?!)…the icing on the cake though was the announcement that fan favourite Bruce Campbell was to take that Elvis role! Cue multiple orgasms spurting throughout the genre community in anticipation of seeing what could be the must see movie of the decade! Would it then set itself up to disappoint? Well how could it? The film delivers beautifully, being one of the most offbeat and bewilderingly entertaining cult movies to hit the cinema screen in a long time. How it would play to a mainstream audience I just don't know (though general vibe from some US screenings has went well) but for fans of bizarre cinema (and they don't come more off the track in high end movies as this) will be greatly gratified at the comic book craziness of seeing Elvis going into action. Pure genius, a film I can't recommend enough and quite simply the perfect ending to the festival's 10th anniversary proceedings. Me? By this time I was feeling just fine again, with time for one more large Glayva (one for the road) I made my final farewells and thanks to the gang at the Filmhouse…this year wasn't the best for me, but that wasn't anything to do with the event itself or the films screening - purely down to my own misguided distraction to 'the dark side'. Moral of the story, even though a bars open till 3am doesn't mean you have to glue yourself to it…keep in mind this is a 'film' festival and all will be fine. Still, the films I 'did' manage to see more than compensated for what I foolishly missed out on…roll on the next one…see you at he bar ;)
Big special thanks as ever to the lovely Adele Hartley, festival director supreme and top babe. Thanks also to James McKenzie and everyone at the Filmhouse Cinema as well as all those unfortunate souls that have the misfortune to be my friends.
Drunkard pictures supplied by the top geezer Frazer Lee