Dead By Dawn

This unique festival promises to deliver films that are a sick, twisted and cruel joy to behold

Feature by Colan Mehaffey | 16 Apr 2006
We're all aware that the movie behemoth that is the International Film Festival rolls into town every August, but for fans of horror a diminutive but equally important event occurs in April. Since its inception thirteen years ago Dead By Dawn has developed into an internationally acclaimed celebration of all things gory and terrifying on the big screen. And just like the rubber glob that terrorises the townsfolk in '50s horror classic 'The Blob', it just keeps growing and growing.

Dead By Dawn is the brainchild of current festival director Adele Hartley, who was inspired by the demise of an earlier horror festival, Black Sunday. Faced with the challenge of trying to find a way to watch horror films with fellow followers of the form, Adele set the ball rolling with the inaugural event in 1993. That festival started with a rare screening of Murnau's classic 'Nosferatu', something of a portent of the ethos and quality of festivals to come. In the intervening thirteen years both Dead By Dawn and the genre have evolved, but in very different ways.

Whilst the horror movie of late has become synonymous with big budget, sub-par remakes of ideas better executed in a different continent or era ('The Ring' or 'The Fog', anyone?), Adele has been pulling out all the stops to find the best and most original work out there. She believes that "the genre's strength increasingly lies in independent filmmaking", an outlook that was plain to see in the showing of excellent indies such as 'Satan's Little Helper' at last year's festival. There are also plenty of chilling shorts to be seen each year, hand picked from an increasing number of submissions from around the globe. The festival's growing strength and profile lies in its ability to showcase up-and-coming talent whilst still luring established Hollywood stars, such as Robert Englund, to make guest appearances.

In true Byron and Shelley fashion, each festival opens with a recital of horror stories, and this year promises to be extra special as it sees the launch of a new anthology of horror fiction Read By Dawn, published by Adele's own horror imprint Bloody Books. And true to its indie roots the festival will run three short film programmes including a competition for emerging and debut filmmakers, and a selection of less traditional horror shorts which tread a little off the beaten genre track. Another regular feature is the infamous annual 'All-Nighter' which kicks off at midnight on Saturday and winds up close to twelve hours later. Whilst the weekend festival tickets sold out an astounding three months in advance of the event, a limited number of tickets are available for this marathon of cinematic terror which includes a free breakfast (if you can stomach it!).

Perhaps the biggest coup of Dead By Dawn 2006 is the World Premiere of 'Blood Trails' which will be attended by cast and crew; it's an independent production which fits Adele's prerequisite of being, "a sick, twisted and cruel joy to behold." The audience will also be treated to the UK premiere of two inventive Japanese features. Shinya Tsukamoto, director of 1988's groundbreaking 'Tetsuo', sends his new film 'Haze', whilst there's an equally unsettling prospect in Osamu Fukutani's 'The Last Supper', the tale of a cannibalistic plastic surgeon. Whatever the feeling of critics and mainstream festival directors towards the glut of low brow horror that fills the local multiplex, there's no doubt that Adele and the hoards of discerning fans remain capable of sniffing out a classic.
Dead by dawn runs from April 20 to 23 at Filmhouse.