Dead by Dawn 2018
In April this year a group of friends organized a trip to the Dead By Dawn horror film festival in Edinburg. This was a new festival to me, even though it has been going strong for 25 whole years already! Landing in Edinburgh the day before the festival, we got to see a bit of the city, and did the mandatory intake of Haggis and Whisky. Nice town, and by the look of it, a perfect location for a horror film festival.
The festival is organized by Adéle Hartley, and takes place at the Edinburgh Filmhouse. A great location for this type of event, not at least because of it’s excellent bar. This became the natural place to hang out, mingle and get to know other enthusiasts between the screenings.
The festival has a very personal and welcoming atmosphere. It’s a bit like this is Adéle sharing the films she loves with other horror and film fans. Given her enthusiasm for the subject and the taste and connections she obviously have, this is not a bad start. Add a great selection of films (a good mix of classics and new productions,) interesting guests and passion for the genre. This was a weekend that could not go wrong.
Thursday, April 19
The festival starts off with a screening of the original Nosferatu (1922, Germany) with a live piano score performed beautifully by Forrester Pyke. The version they screened was the one released by Eureka on BluRay, which is way better and has several scenes that’s not present in my old DVD version. The live score added a unique touch to the screening—a great start.
We go with the classics this evening, and the festival guest of honour, John Landis introduces his classic Innocent Blood (1992, USA). I had not seen it before so it was a great opportunity to catch up. I think the film has aged quite well. It definitely belongs among the other classics from Landis. After the screening Landis answered questions from the audience, shared anecdotes from the filming of Innocent Blood and some of his other films. A very entertaining session.
First new film this evening, and the last of the day, was the South American film Siembamba, aka The Lullaby (2017, South Africa). I liked this a lot! A supernatural/psychotic film about birth psychosis. It reminds me a bit about Still/Born (2017, Canada), but definitely carries it’s own weight. A well made, and at times quite creepy film.
Friday, April 20
Friday opens with Rabbit (2017, Australia). An absolutely stunningly well made film. This is dark and devastating. A film that is able to surprise at many levels. In my opinion a very good film, and the highlight of the festival! A slow burn that allows the devastation to really sink in. Go see it and enjoy!
Back to the classics! John Landis presented a double feature of Frankenstein (1931, USA) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935, USA.) I skipped the first session, but did see the Bride of Frankenstein. Again the copy they had got hold of was a really good one, which made this quite a joy to see as well. Landis is entertaining, and has a lot of insight into the cinematic history where these films belong. The session was worth it for that alone.
There’s a short break before the next session so me and my travel companions head over to the Frankenstein Bar for a quick beer and a bite. Nice and very atmospheric bar, but the food was not impressive.
Shorts: What you make it
Anyways, back at the Filmhouse I catch the first short-film programme at this festival, named “What you make it.” The short films in this section were:
Nothing a little soap and water can’t fix (2017, USA, 10 min): A collage of bathtub scenes from various horror films combined into a sort of story on it’s own. Quite interesting.
Väg 13 (Road 13) (2017, Sweeden, 7 min): A girl is on her way to the vet with her dog, and attracts the attention of a neighboring car. Short and absurd, the way I like it.
Underwater (2017, France, 18 min): An investigator with some special abilities is summoned to a surveillance operation in a criminal case. A very well told story, and visually wonderful. I especially liked the use of effects to visualize the parts of the story you otherwise could not see. One of the better short films at this festival.
Two bites (2017, Australia, 14 min): A family gathers around the deathbed of their mother, hoping to put their best face forward to secure their heritage. Things don’t go as planned.
La fille accordeon (2017, France, 4 min): A trapped girl tries to escape from her captors. A simple premise with a surprising execution. Different and a quite sweet film.
Das Mädchen im Schnee (2017, Switzerland, 7 min): A foley artist adds the finishing sounds to a scene. A fascinating process, and perhaps a surprising end. Slow and very well made film.
Through the Haze (2017, Australia, 11 min): The newest kid on a construction job has to go through the rituals to become one of the guys. A hilarious take on drunken logic and what could possibly go wrong when combining heavy machinery with excessive drunkenness.
After the short films we get another new film, Knuckleball (2018, Canada) by Canadian director Michael Peterson. Peterson was present and both introduced the film and answered quastions after the screening.
The film relies heavily on the performance by 12 year old actor Luca Villacis (who handles the job like a pro!) and Michael Ironside. The film definitely has references to both classic comedies like the Home Alone films, but also some classic horrors. It’s a times quite dark, but is not quite as convincing as it could have been. I enjoyed it for the atmosphere and the performance by the actors, but felt it never manages to build the scare that it tries to.
The last event of the day is the much anticipated taste-along to Evil Dead II (1987, USA.) I’ve never been a fan of the film, but this sounded like a lot of fun, and that’s just what it was!
The event was done in cooperation with The Conjurers Kitchen, who had made, packaged and transported a huge amount of treats and candy shaped like elements from the film. At certain iconic scenes the film was frozen and you had to find and eat the treat that looked like whatever was on the screen. This was great fun, and the creativity and madness that has gone into making these treats deserve admiration! 10/10 - would eat again!
Saturday, April 21
Shorts: It’s your funeral
Saturday kicks off with a short film session named “It’s your funeral.” A great collection of short films about approaching death in more or—most likely—less dignified ways. The films in this session was:
You’ve made your bed, now lie in it (2016, Norway, 15 min): A farmer is told by a psychic who has so far never been wrong, that he is to die on thursday. We follow the farmer in his solemn struggle to prepare his own funeral. A slow, atmospheric film from the slow norwegian countryside. Excellent! Do watch it!
The Mother Situation (2016, Australia, 8 min): Again we meet the potent mix of family, death and inheritance. A different take this time, and a very entertaining one at that.
Cold fish (2017, New Zealand, 12 min): An old man is about to give his life to the waves, but is disturbed by a young and quite annoying kid. A reflective piece more than anything. Still quite enjoyable.
Salvatore (2017, The Netherlands, 11 min): Salvatore is in an old peoples institution, but tries to live his life in as much beauty as he can. The only disturbance in the rather annoying male nurse, so he decides to do something about that. I enjoyed this a lot, and got quite fond of Salvatore and his way of life during the few minutes I got to share with him.
RIP (2017, Spain, 16 min): What do you do when you have invited simply everyone to the funeral of your husband, and then he wakes back up to life? A hilarious film about prestige, status and love – in that order. Great film!
Next up is the WWI thriller Trench 11 (2017, Canada.) A film that does a lot out of little. It plays on the dynamic between trust and distrust when either could be fatal if you chose wrongly. Good, original story, and very well executed. Highly recommended!
Shorts: We’re not in Kansas anymore
Another short film programme followed, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”:
Amy (2017, USA, 7 min): We meet a girl being tenderly taken care of by an older nurse. Or perhaps it’s not quite as it seems. A well executed short film that takes you to the edge of your seat.
Crying Bitch (2017, Japan, 15 min): A young successful man has a woman for every day, while his caring wife is waiting at home with dinner and love. Except, behind the surface and hidden from her husband the wife has learned martial arts. Great fun, lots of (well deserved) groin kicks, and over all an action packed revenge short.
Milk (2017, Canada, 10 min): Getting up for a glass of milk in the night may be scarier than you think. Quite a well made film, but I felt it got too predictable and left too much unfulfilled.
We together (2016, USA, 7 min): Dancing Zombies. What more is to say, this is as feelgood as a zombie flick ever gets. Fun and different!
Smashed (2017, Australia, 13 min): A gang of teenagers kidnap a friend to get to his girlfriend. Not the best of ideas, and not the best of results. Quite a good movie, but again a bit too predictable. Still worth seeing.
Homesick (2017, USA, 13 min): A beautifully filmed and very well told story. A young boy is abandoned by his parents, and coping as best he can in what’s left of his home. A slow paced film, but one you definitely should watch. The cinematographer and director was present at the festival, and I’m happy they seem to be working on a feature length project together. If this short is anything to go by, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for that.
Daemonrunner (2017, Australia, 5 min): Daemons rage in cyberspace and are being hunted down by a special task force to keep everyone safe. Quite well made and an interesting concept.
We summoned a demon (2017, USA, 6 min): Fun and entertaining. A couple of guys summon a demon to be cool. Not the brightest kids on the dark side, but at least they summoned a demon!
Wyrmwood: Chronicles of the dead (teaser) (2017, Australia, 7 min): This one didn’t catch me at all. Too slick, too much focus on effects, and does not manage to catch my attention. It has some good moments though, but over all this feels like a commercial series to cater too the gaming crowd.
After a break John Landis is again on the stage, this time introducing his classic An American Werewolf in London (1981, USA.) Again it’s time to catch up on the classics for my part. It becomes very clear why this is regarded as such a classic as it is. It was great to finally see this on a big screen, and both the introduction and Q&A with John landis would be worth the price alone. Nobody is able to make nerdy film trivia as entertaining as this guy!
Next up is Spookers (2017, New Zealand.) A documentary about a haunted house operation outside Auckland. Entertaining enough, but at that time my head is starting to get overloaded, so I don’t feel I’m able to appreciate it as well as I could. This is a slow film, that I think would work much better as an opener rather than this late in the program.
I had been looking forward to the double bill, all-nighter The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974, Italy/Spain) and Dellamorte Dellamore (1974, Italy/France/Germany,) but I was simply too tired to even try! A couple of cask ales from the pub was consumed and then it was the long way back to the hotel for my part.
Sunday, April 22
Sunday started with the fresh, and pretty lighthearted Dave Made a Maze (2017, USA.) A hilarious ride, and a perfect start after three days of gore, glory and horror.
It’s a bit of a strech to call this a horror, but it is a great and well made comedy aimed at horror fans! Original, captivating and plain old silly fun from start to finish! This is the kind of film you can show to your non-horror friends and still have fun, although the horror fans will have even more fun! Bring pizza!
Shorts: 2D & Deranged
The last of the short-film programmes of the festival, the “2D & Deranged programme” was entirely focused on animations. The wonderful thing about animations are that they allow for a great deal of surrealism, something which definitely was the case in this session.
The session starts with a number of clay animations from Lee Hardcastle. These range from 60 sec claymation summaries of classic horror films and video games, as well as some other pieces. Check out his website or youtube-channel for a glimpse into his twisted world.
The rest of the short films in this session were:
- In one drag (2016, Germany, 4 min): A stop motion animation about when the sigarette butts takes revenge.
- L’Aria del Moscerino (2017, Germany, 5 min): A fruit fly with a taste for the good things in life – sweet fruits and opera. Great 2D animation and a fun, though not entirely unsuspected twist.
- The Death, Dad & Son (2017, France, 14 min): A wonderful clay animation about the warm relationship between Deah and his son. Check this out if you get the chance!
- Belial’s dream (2017, UK, 5 min): A disturbing and surreal nighmare made into film by Rob Morgan. Absolutely worth a watch, though it may not be everybody’s cup of tea. Personally I loved it!
- Coyote (2018, Switzerland, 10 min): A coyote seeks revenge on a pack of wolfs after they killed his family. Classic revenge/drama in a quite unconventional wrapping. Highly recommended!
- Beastly things (2017, USA, 5 min): A beautifully hand-drawn animated film about a young street artist that needs to deal with a crew of bullies. Very nicely made and a well told story without dialogue.
With the early part of the days programme mostly on the light hearted side it was time to kick it up a notch. The Taiwanese film Mon, Mon, Mon, Monsters (2017, Taiwan) (meant to be pronounced in the voice of Scooby Doo,) was quite a nice change of pace. Despite the tounge-in-cheek name, the film was quite an interesting one about a theme that a lot of horror fans probably can feel at home in–bullying. Well made, interesting story, and a few surprising twists made this a very welcome addition to the “have seen”-list. Highly recommended!
Aj Zombies (2017, Peru/France) was next up on the agenda. Also a film that was able to surprise in a positive way. We’re back in the rather lighthearted horror/comedy segment again, but it has a nerve that keeps it interesting throughout. Here I think the characters and cast really carry the film, and help give what could be just shallow and silly some more substance. Grab a beer, invite some friends, and you’ll have a great evening with this one!
Before the last film of the festival, there was a closing ceremony. This was another fun twist with this festival. The films that had been collected for the Shit-film amnesty throughout the festival was presented and the shittiest of them all was awarded. The lucky person who submitted the worst film was awarded the entire collection. It sounded like he would have hours of really cheezy watching to do! There was also a gift ceremony where gifts were passed around the audience while some music played, and the ones who still had a package when the music stopped was to keep it. I didn’t win this time…
Enough fun and games, the last film of the festival was the drama Downrange (2017, USA/Japan.) If the day until now had been light hearted and fun, this film brough balance to the tabs. This was a deep dive into the pure unmotivated brutality that the human mind can display.
A very simple premise, an almost static setting, but so well executed and with such intensity that it ends up as one of the most memorable films of the festival. Highly recommended!
…and then it was over. A few more cask ales in the Filmhouse pub, a few goodbyes to new friends and many great memories that needs to be processed.
A big shoutout to Adéle Hartley who organizes this amazing festival. This is definitely her festival, and just the fact that she puts so much of herself into it gives the festival a very unique and personal touch. Also the rest of the staff, both of the festival and the Filmhouse (and the pub) all helped make this a memorable and extremely positive experience. And of course to all the people I met, had a quick chat with or shared a toast with: I’ll see you again!