Dead by Dawn festival 2008 roundup

Matt Edwards went to Edinburgh, and he watched lots and lots of films. Lots. And lots.

Doomsday

The Dead By Dawn horror film festival took place this past weekend and consisted of a variety of features and shorts. I went for the first time this year, lured to Edinburgh under the promise a truly memorable long weekend.

I was accompanied by Mrs. Matt, a nearly qualified student nurse. I asked her for a quote on each film, which I’ve included here to give you an idea of what someone slightly less nerdy than me might make of these films. It’s probably fair that I mention that I elicited these quotes at four in the morning by shouting at her until she said something I felt I could use.

These trivialities aside, lets get to what really makes any festival; the films.

Outpost

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2 out of 5
The festival opened with Outpost, a war-themed Brit horror about a small team of soldiers who end up in a haunted bunker under the constant threat of attack from ‘something’ in the surrounding areas. The film features some decent action, a fantastic animated sequence and some interesting ideas. That said, it’s quite slow to get going, the story is a little muddled and we aren’t really offered a great deal of character development. I would also question whether Nazi zombies is something that needs to be played straight.

Mrs Matt: “It was too slow and they faffed about too much. There wasn’t enough action, but when there was action it only lasted for 2 minutes and then they just went back to faffing about again. Who was the guy from Spaced in it?”

Suspiria and Inferno

5 out of 5
Double bill of the first two entries of Argento’s Three Mothers Trilogy (the concluding part of the trilogy was shown later in the festival). It’s hard to imagine a better experience watching Suspiria than on a big screen with a booming soundtrack. The print of Inferno was apparently new and looked spectacular. Great fun.

Mrs Matt on Suspiria: “Suspiria … hmm… yeah.”

Mrs Matt on Inferno: “It was just loads of cats jumping at each other. Part of the music sounded like the beginning of Future Sailors from the Mighty Boosh.”

Five Across The Eyes

2 out of 5

Super-low budget horror film that has been picked up by Lionsgate. It’s certainly an achievement given the circumstances under which it exists (£2000 budget, crew of 3, 10 day shoot). That said, it didn’t do a great deal for me. The cameras didn’t stop moving for the entire 90 minutes, which wasn’t ideal. In some places, it’s impossible to tell what’s happening. Similarly, the immediate hysteria of the characters meant that the film had nowhere to go, there was no sense of escalation. Still, if you’re a low budget horror enthusiast, certainly check it out.

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Mrs Matt: “It was good except that they all lost so much blood that they would have died.”

Death Note

2 out of 5
Live-action interpretation of the anime of the same name, this tells the story of a young man who finds a notebook. The twist? If he writes your name in it, you die. He can even write how you’re going to die and when. The film is interesting enough, although it plodded along at a leisurely pace and was far too long. The main problem with Death Note is that there is nothing visually engaging about someone writing in a notebook, which resulted in the whole affair proving a little boring.

Mrs Matt: “Too much paper, not enough paper cuts.”

Suicide Club

5 out of 5
This movie is batshit crazy in the best possible way. It’s got something to do with a teenie pop group, a fad for mass suicide and the internet, but you really don’t want to be spending too much time worrying about the plot of Suicide Club. The film is a bizarre and bloody slice of lunacy that should be shown to anyone who thinks Asian horror consists solely of pale ghosts with long hair.

Mrs Matt: “Blood, guts and musical numbers. Exactly how I like it.”

The Mist

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4 out of 5
Frank Darabont’s recent Stephen King adaptation. Very different than his previous two King interpretations, this was another highlight of the festival. I’m all for any film where the message is ‘Even if they’re right and we’re wrong, it’s still better to not be a religious fundamentalist nutcase’. The film is let down in places by poor CG creatures, which is a shame. I also felt disappointed by the ending, which received a great deal of praise from everyone else I spoke to. I didn’t need an all smiles happy ending, but what they went with felt more like a cheap trick, was tonally wrong and didn’t add anything to the story. Otherwise, a great film.

Mrs Matt: “It had portals like Primeval. I did like it though.”

Saturday night saw the Dead by Dawn all-nighter, starting at midnight and not finishing until 11am the following morning.

The Vanguard

1 out of 5
Another low budget film, this one was about post apocalyptic cloning. You don’t see a great deal of low budget post-apocalypse films and it turns out that there’s a pretty decent reason for that. The Vanguard is, unfortunately, not a good film. Even if we were to forgive everything that was poor as a result of a budget, the script was still so bad that you could have thrown bags of cash at this story and it still wouldn’t have worked.

Mrs Matt: “Load of rubbish.”

We skipped the rest of the films on Saturday night because we were tired and wanted to see all of the films on Sunday with fresh eyes. If you have any complaints about this apparent lack of professionalism, please e-mail them to imnotevenremotelyinterestedinyourcomplaints@denofgeek.com

The films missed were Machine Girl, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Senseless, Wizard of Gore.

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Mother of Tears

2 out of 5
It’s not as bad you’ve probably heard it is. That said, it’s still pretty bad. There are moments which really work, like brief flashes showing us what the film could have been. But there are so many things that happen in this film that defy belief. It seems amazing that at no point did anyone take Dario Argento aside and say “Look, I’m not being funny, but a great deal of what we’re doing here is painfully stupid. Are you absolutely 100% sure that we wouldn’t be better spending some more time putting together a better script, one that might ultimately result in a good film?”.

Mrs Matt: “It was better than The Vanguard. It had a monkey that climbed down a rope. It probably should have just used the curtains. Where did it even get the rope from?”

I would like echo the sentiment of that comment; where did the evil monkey get the rope, and also the mythical powers, from?

Phantasm

4 out of 5
Phantasm is the sort of horror film that just doesn’t get made any more. Shame, too, because it’s brilliant. It’s a bit of an oddity, granted, but it’s great fun, particularly with a rowdy audience. Flying silver spheres with spikes in them that suck your brains out the tall man = good.

Mrs Matt: “Big shiny balls!”

Stuck

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5 out of 5
Stuart Gordon-directed film about a down-on-his-luck guy that gets hit by a car and consequently lodged in the windshield. In a drug-induced panic, the driver heads home and locks the car, accident victim included, in her garage. A bad decision and one that precedes a series of bad decisions which in turn produces one of the most inventive and original films I’ve seen in ages. Superbly played out with dark humour and gore to spare, this was the highlight of the festival for me.

Mrs Matt: “I don’t know what to you want me to say, I enjoyed it.”

Matt: “You can say that you enjoyed it. I’m not asking you to change things about the film.”

Mrs Matt: “Well, just put that then.”

Doomsday

3 out of 5
The UK premiere of Neil Marshall’s (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) Doomsday provided the finale for the festival. Set in the 2035, a virus which caused the North/South divide in the UK to become more literal has returned and so a team of the countries finest soldiers are sent up North to look for the cure. A film that wears its homages on its sleeve, Doomsday is somehow less than the sum of its parts. There’s enough cool shit happening at all times without it ever feeling like a film that works. It could be because the main character isn’t particularly interesting or it might just be that the story connecting all the cool stuff together is weak. That’s not to say that Doomsday isn’t a blast, because it is. It’s just that it’s more of a series of events than a story.

Mrs Matt: “It was alright. It wasn’t great. I liked the soundtrack.”

Just to confirm, the soundtrack was good.

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So that was Dead By Dawn 2008. Amongst the other goings on were some tremendous shorts (Butchers Hill and Dr Tran proving the highlights) and some interesting competitions (the shit film amnesty was won by a film entitled ‘Jesus Christ, Serial Rapist’). A Q & A with Neil Marshall was another highlight thanks to his frank honesty and personable manner.

If you find yourself in a position to go next year, I’d recommend that you do. Dead By Dawn is a great little festival that deserves all the support you can show it.