Justin Richards fills us in on the films shown at Dead By Dawn, Scotland's finest horror film festival. Part 1 of Justin's write-up can be found here and Part 2 can be found here.

Day Four – Sunday 1 April

For the final day of the festival I’ve lumped together the all-nighter part of the festival with Sunday’s selection of films as they’re all, in reality, screening on the same day.

Late night triple bill

To kick off the all-nighter at midnight Adele had programmed one of my favourite shorts of the festival, namely Nash Edgerton’s Bear . Although I’d seen it before at Abertoir I still really enjoyed this wonderful piece of Australian black comedy, which happens to be a twisted follow-up to Nash’s previous effort, Spider, which has been doing the festival rounds since 2008. In this sequel, bad boyfriend Jack takes things a step too far on his new relationship’s anniversary with disastrous consequences! Apparently Edgerton always planned to do a trilogy so keep a look out for the further misadventures of Jack coming to a festival near you soon; and in the meantime seek this one out, it’s a real doozy.

Bear was followed by another black comedy of sorts, namely Juan De Los Muertos, aka Juan of the Dead . If I’m honest this was one of the films I was most looking forward to seeing at the festival this year after seeing posters and flyers promoting it at the marketplace at the Cannes Film Festival during the last couple of years.

Sold as Cuba’s answer to Shaun of the Dead, Alejandro Bruguės’ film is worth checking out if only because its one of the few genre films ever to have been made in communist Cuba. Having said that I was somewhat disappointed that the filmmakers didn’t make better use of some of the wonderful locations in and around Cuba, although that could have been due to government interference or lack of budget…who knows? Having had the privilege to have been able to visit Cuba a few year’s ago myself, I found Cuba to be an amazing country with so many interesting things to see, but this film sadly doesn’t really show that, more’s the pity.

This film focuses on Juan, a petty thief, who is trying to reconnect with his daughter after many years of being an absentee father, but who is constantly thwarted in his goals by circumstances and, well, zombies! Much of the film’s running time follows him and his friends trying to avoid the zombie hordes in the back streets and tenement blocks of Havana. Some of the humour falls a bit flat, but there are some genuinely fun moments and it’s actually well shot and the acting isn’t too bad either. Juan of the Dead is certainly an encouraging beginning for genre films out of Cuba.

After a break for beverages and snacks we were back at the coalface with a German short, Infernal Nuns
, which kind of plays like a trailer for a non-existent feature film. An innocent nun is ready to sacrifice everything to help the dying pope, but her love for him backfires spectacularly forcing her to take revenge, big time! Roland Petrizza and Alex Eslam’s short is totally over-the-top and crazy, but a lot of over stylised fun and, I have to admit, I’d kind of like to see the feature film if it ever got made!

Following on from that crazy short came the equally barmy Demons , Lamberto Bava’s nutty demonic homage to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Produced by Dario Argento back in 1985, Demons was a good choice for the all-nighter slot, although I still managed, rather annoyingly, to fall asleep a couple of times and do the nodding head dance, which you can often see at these kinds of events! My compatriots, Richard and Bill, fared a little better, but were struggling a bit too.

Demons is a fast paced, gory, zombie film, but without the zombies. All sorts of bloody mayhem ensues once one nob-head punter, at a ‘special’ horror film screening, gets stuck by a mythical mask (shades of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, me thinks) and is subsequently turned into a hungry demon, whose bite can spread the curse. It’s not long before the demonic out number the ‘normal’ (and I use that word advisedly) humans and it’s then a matter of the survivors trying to outwit the drooling masses whilst being trapped in a public place, in this case the very art deco Metropole cinema in the heart of Berlin.

Although I’d seen Demons before it’s still entertaining, over-the-top fun and I’m glad Arrow have recently re-released the film on DVD and Blu-ray and agreed to let Adele screen it at Dead by Dawn since it was a real treat to see it up there on the big screen.

The final film in the all-nighter segment of the festival was the Indonesian gore fest Macabre, directed by the Mo Brothers, whoever they are. I have to admit that I and my two, by now very weary friends, decided, collectively, to give this one a miss as we were all struggling to stay awake by the end of Demons.

However, I’ve got to say that while Macabre did sound kind of fun, in a crazy, blood spraying everywhere sort of way, we decided to try and get some kip instead so we’d enjoy the rest of the final day’s entertainment. I heard mixed views about Macabre the next day, but I’d still like to see it sometime.

Sunday proper

Introduced by Below Zero’s producer Bob Schultz, who’s a big fan apparently, the first film of the last day of the festival was George A Romero’s classic Creepshow .

Having only previously seen Creepshow on video tape or on TV I have to admit seeing it for the first time on the big screen made me realise what a beautifully crafted film it is – it’s really well shot and edited and each of the stories in this anthology movie are enjoyable in their own blackly comic way.

We start off with Father’s Day with a young Ed Harris playing the boyfriend to one of the children of an eccentric millionaire who was apparently killed off by another family member for his curmudgeonly ways years ago and now he returns from the grave to wreak vengeance on his disreputable offspring. Poor Ed also suffers by having a headstone dropped on him! I guess all that hardship, writhing around in rain and mud being crushed by extreme pressure, should have tipped him off to his later work in James Cameron’s films!

Next up the film’s writer, Stephen King, stars in The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill, which has him play the titular character who, rather stupidly, manages to get himself infected by some goo that comes out of a meteorite, which hits his property one night. He finds himself slowly turning into a plant creature, while similar ‘vegetation’ spreads all across his house and land too. Where are Mulder and Scully when you need them? When I first saw this film this was my least favourite bit, but nowadays I kind of like it and King’s sadly pathetic attempts to put himself out of his misery towards the end are actually quite touching.

Next up is the section Something to Tide You Over, which sees Leslie Nielson (from the Naked Gun series) coming up with a grim revenge for his wife and her lover when he discovers his wife’s infidelity. Obviously there’s a dark twist to the tale with Nielson’s victims coming back to haunt him, but you kind of have to sympathise with the guy! I think this segment of Creepshow and also the totally obscure Dark Intruder (which I had the privilege to screen at my own festival, BloodBath, back in 2006) demonstrate that Leslie Nielson should have done more quirky horror films as he’s well suited to them.

Probably my favourite segment of Creepshow is simply called The Crate and has the ever-reliable Hal Holbrook playing a college academic with the wife from hell, played wonderfully by The Fog’s Adrian Barbeau. Fortunately he finds a sure fire way of ridding himself of the awful woman once and for all when a colleague tells him there’s a creature who eats people in his lab following the discovery by a janitor of a crate which had lain forgotten for many years under some stairs. This segment’s a lot of fun and kind of, for me at least, best encapsulates the tone of the old horror comics that this film uses as its inspiration.

Finally They’re Creeping Up On You follows a billionaire germophobe, EG Marshall, losing a war with cockroaches (and his own sanity) in his own germ free penthouse apartment. The final scenes of his apartment crawling with masses of cockroaches still cause my skin to creep a little and these scenes gave rise to perhaps the strangest screen credit in movie history, that of ‘roach wrangler’! Rather them than me is all I can say!

All in all Creepshow is a very competently made and enjoyable film, which I’d heartedly recommend to anyone who hasn’t yet experienced its portmanteau delights.

After a brief break we returned to the fray for the 2D and Deranged short film selection. As I’ve probably already said one of the reasons I keep coming back to festivals such as Dead by Dawn is because I love seeing the short films and I do like my animation films too, hence the reason why I wasn’t going to miss this selection.

Escape from Hellview got the ball rolling and sees a little child drawing a door on his bedroom wall, which turns into a portal to another dimension, which seems to consist of scary trees and a weird circus with seriously scary performers. Director Hadas Brandes, from Israel, obviously has some talent at art, but this film didn’t really do a lot for me and outstayed its welcome by a couple of minutes.

Ethereal Chrysalis was next and was amazing to look at, but again left me rather cold with its tale of inter-dimensional cosmic order or something like that! Canadian director Syl Disjonk, who actually attended the screening, is obviously very talented with his graphical compositions and I hope he can use this short to get himself a job on a bigger project going forward, but I generally thought his film was a bit on the pretentious side and I, like a fair few others I spoke to afterwards, just didn’t really ‘get it’. Sorry Syl.

The next film, The External World , received the most positive comments from the audience, but you really had to get on director David O’Reilly’s wavelength pretty fast if you wanted to get the most out of it. The External World is a mind-melting array of animation styles and pop culture references, layered and fitted together in a way that is really tricky to describe, so I won’t! All I can say is that this German/Irish co-production just has to be ‘seen to be believed’, is very funny at times with great little sight gags sprinkled throughout (e.g. free puppy with every scalpel bought) and you can take that as a recommendation if you like.

From full on computer animation to back-to-basics stick men animation Wisdom Teeth had the audience in fits of guilty giggles with its macabre sense of mirth. One friend stops another in the street on his way home from the dentists. He’s had his wisdom teeth taken out, but something doesn’t feel right – can his friend see what’s the matter – arh, yes, there’s something dangling down – let me just pull it to get it out – oh dear, it’s your stitches – they’re never ending – oh, look at all the blood! Hilarious…in a sick kind of way! Don Hertzfedt (the director) you need help!

Michael Tyler Heckman’s Pork ‘n Bones was kind of like a digital version of The Magic Roundabout in style, but with a pig and the grim reaper as its central characters. This super cute pig is on the reaper’s hit list and it should all be fairly routine only this little piggy has other ideas, which involve lots of clockwork versions of itself to confuse Mr Grim. This was a really fun short, and nicely animated too.

The final film in this shorts section was Robert Morgen’s absolutely bonkers Bobby Yeah , which in some ways was probably the most technically accomplished short screened. I’d seen this before as part of a Robert Morgan retrospective at the Celluloid Screams festival and found it didn’t really have the repeat viewing appeal that some shorts do, but it’s still an amazing piece of work involving plastiscene creations and their subsequent animation, which I know took Robert years to do. This surreal short sees Bobby, a petty thief, getting himself into more and more trouble when he steals a bizarre worm-like pet and presses a red button on its side, bringing even more misery into his already miserable little existence. Truly bizarre: I think the morale of the story is ‘be careful what you wish for’!

From bizarre shorts to the wonderfully bizarre opening sequence of the feature Red Nights , which kicked off Sunday evening’s entertainment in style – lots of style. This Hong Kong/France/Belgium co-production, directed by Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud, harks back to the grand old days of the early Seventies Italian Giallo, where almost every frame looks amazing and could be hung on the walls of your home as a work of art.

A mysterious box containing a white jade seal, rumoured to have belonged to one of China’s emperors, falls into the hands of Catherine (Frėdėrique Bel), a gangster’s mistress who takes the artefact to Hong Kong with the intention of selling it to the higher black market bidder. However, Carrie (Carrie Ng), a wealthy patron of the arts, who is obsessed with finding a deadly poison that she believes is held within the ancient seal, has other plans, very bloody ones.

We first see Ng (Naked Killer), in a welcome return to the big screen after several years absence, as she lures one beautiful young woman to her apartment to be seduced by one of her so-called ‘pleasure devices’, which kind of involves an elaborate shrink- wrapping apparatus, but with soft latex. Suffice to say Ng has a vicious streak a mile wide and things end pretty horribly for the poor girl. In fact Ng has all the juiciest scenes and a later scene involving some sort of harness contraption makes for unforgettable viewing as she slowly strips the skin from her paralysed victim and takes them apart bit by bloody bit. It kind of reminds me why I’m not into S & M!

Red Nights is a decent erotic torture-porn type of thriller with some good acting, an excellent music score by French composers Seppuku Paradigm (who apparently are responsible for the scores to Eden Log and Martyrs), an original story (rare these days) and some amazing photography. The film combines elements of the Italian Giallo, German Krimi films and European espionage thrillers to create something that is both unique and quite exotic.

Next up on the final day’s cinematic menu was Min-suk Kim’s Haunters a ‘young people with special powers’ kind of film, which was slightly reminiscent of television’s Heroes.

A young boy has had enough of his abusive father beating up his mother so takes control of his drunken father’s mind and forces him to break his own neck. The mother, now frightened even more of her son abandons him, no longer wanting anything to do with the boy. Fast forward 15 or so years and we see that the boy, Cho-in, has managed to survive by using people like puppets and robbing individuals, shops and banks to make ends-meet. In fact he’s doing fairly well for himself until he walks into a pawnshop and encounters new recruit, cheerful and friendly Kyu-nam, who is the only one whose mind he cannot control. The stage is then set for a game of high stakes cat and mouse where our pawnshop hero has to track down the increasingly evil Cho-in to stop him from killing and robbing an ever-increasing number of innocent bystanders.

Haunters demonstrates lots of clichés, but is well shot and acted, particularly by the two leads Choi Deok-Moon and Jeong Eun-Chae, and has just enough moments of creepiness and out and out violence to justify it being included in the festival programme. Although there are no masks or capes present here, Haunters is ostensibly a superhero movie, albeit a very dark and bleak one, but is recommended viewing if you enjoyed the likes of Super and Kickass and Min-suk Kim’s previous writing credit, the kimchi western, The Good, The Bad, The Weird.

Prior to the screening of the final film of the festival Adele rounded things off with her usual round of thanks, continued the tradition of the Shit Film Amnesty and then handed out a number of freebies, which is always popular with festival goers. This year the Dead by Dawn team had come up with the idea of a kind of version of pass-the-parcel to make it fairer when it came to passing on the masses of free DVDs, books and T-shirts she had to hand out. A genius idea, but I still didn’t get anything.
Not that I’m bitter or twisted about my lack of freebies after years of attending!

And in case you’re wondering what the Shit Film Amnesty is all about it’s where the festival provides the opportunity for attendees to offload the very worst dreck from their DVD and video collections and even gives them chance to describe why they hate these offloads so much. And one (un) lucky participant, who is usually asked to make a complete arse of themselves on stage, gets the chance to ‘win’ the whole lot of celluloid shiite. Lucky them! I have to admit some of the films that people have put forward in the past have actually been ok-ish (Elektra), although there have been some deserving stinkers – The Erotic Blair Witch Project anyone!

Anyway, following on from the silly stuff Adele let the hordes of ‘normal’ non- festival pass holder punters in and the last movie of the festival unspoiled, namely the much anticipated The Cabin in the Woods
, written and produced by Buffy and Firefly creator Joss Whedon.

Now I’m not going to go into a lot of detail in reviewing this film since it’s been covered by plenty of the mainstream film press, but I will say I did enjoy it, for what it was – a daft Men in Black style teen friendly horror flick. And there’s really nothing wrong in that, but I have to say I got the impression that some of the more hardcore (or is that hard gore?) horror fans attending the festival were disappointed with it. But hey guys – it’s not aimed at you, so just let it go!

The Cabin in the Woods takes a ‘five young college students head out for some partying at a cabin deep in the woods and encounter a world full of trouble and pain’ type of scenario and flips it on its head with some clever (?) post-modern additions, which try, mainly successfully, to freshen up a fairly tired sub-genre of horror.

I really can’t say much more without spoiling it for people who, as yet, haven’t seen it, but I will say that the film references The Evil Dead and the worlds of H.P. Lovecraft and that’s no bad thing really. My only real criticism of it is that at one point one major character appears to be a goner and then miraculously appears later on, pretty much unscathed, which kind of doesn’t make a lot of sense, although I kind of got what the filmmakers were trying to imply, with the attacker being the one who got carved up instead. I wasn’t convinced!

If you like your horror fairly lightweight or just enjoy Scooby Doo cartoons (and who doesn’t?) then there’s a lot to like about The Cabin in the Woods – just don’t go in expecting something as original and mind-blowing as the hype machine suggested.

After the screening had finished we chatted for a spell with some of the other festival- goers (who had some very strong opinions about the final film) and then headed back to our B & B for some much needed sleep. As we trudged along the Lothian Road, battling a freezing wind which, unbeknown to us at the time, heralded a rather negative change in the weather for the next month, we reflected on the festival and agreed that we were already looking forward to next year’s 20th anniversary festival, which Adele has already promised will be a must attend event. I can’t wait.

Awards and stuff

Just to round up, Dead by Dawn awards its own ‘chainsaw’ statuette to the winners of the various categories of film each year and the following were this year’s winners:

Murderabilia – Audience Award for Best Short
The External World - Audience Award for Best Animation
The Coldest Caller – Winner of the Cutting Edge film competition
Lobos de Arga - Audience Award for Best Feature

My congratulations to all the winners – I would say I pretty much agree with all of these choices, although in a couple of cases it was a really difficult call to make.

My thanks to Festival Director Adele Hartley for putting on another extremely enjoyable festival and also to the rest of her team, especially the Filmhouse, for letting her run the festival at your venue – I know only too well how hard it is to find a decent venue that shares one’s own enthusiasm for hosting a genre festival or event. Alas, I’ve yet to find one in the South West of England, hence the absence of my own festival, PhantasmaGoria, these past few years.

Thanks also to my two festival companions, Richard Johnstone and Bill Old, who, as always, were excellent company between films during our frequent Tennent’s lager breaks and helped me come up with fair scores for all the films we got around to watching.

And, finally, a word to Adele who, like myself, hates lots of unnecessary noise while watching movies (although I’m probably a little more tolerant than her). Take comfort from a short-ish film I sent you a number of years ago, Enough!, which I made way back in the early noughties. I’m not sure if you ever watched it, but I thought you’d quite like it as some of it is set in a cinema with dire consequences for one foolish man who has the affront to talk on his mobile during a screening! Since I never heard from you regarding what you thought of it – I’m assuming you’re probably justifiably using it as a coaster somewhere – I thought I’d suggest you watch it as I think you’ll appreciate it more than most. Plug over, thanks again for an enjoyable film festival and good luck with next year’s Dead by Dawn.

About The Author

Justin Richards is a journalist by day and a scriptwriter by night. His work has appeared in the darker recesses of the internet and in various niche publications including ITNOW, The Darkside, Is it Uncut?, Impact and Deranged. When he’s not sitting hunched over a sticky, crumb-laden keyboard he’s paying good money to have people in pyjamas try and kick him repeatedly in the face.

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