Night of the Living Drunks: Dead by Dawn Day 3

Blog by Scott McKellar | 04 May 2009

Day Three of Dead by Dawn, Edinburgh’s international horror festival, and I'm not so much woken up as dug up. I cadge a lift into town and steel myself for the oncoming eighteen hour onslaught. I'm feeling excited and the buzz from being here is keeping me going, but yeah... I'm feeling pretty damn out of it and reality is taking on new and interesting forms.

I get a minute with Festival organiser Adele while I'm collecting the days tickets and she's still going strong.  I ask her about highlghts so far and she enthuses about Cold Storage going doing so well with the crowd last night and the awesomeness of Tamini's intense mutant baby action.

The bar is starting to look like a refugee camp from The War. I spot the director of Cold Storage and congratulate him on a fun movie. He's a pretty sound guy and shaking his hand I suddenly remember reading that he worked on the effects for Evil Dead II – this hand, so not worthy now. He's another one looking fine and I'm sure he was in the bar last night like everyone else. How is everyone else looking so fresh? Diet coke and red bull are keeping me going but I ain't a pretty sight right now.

I vaguely plan out the day half slumped over a table and recognise odd words from my table-mates conversation, but my own marvelous contributions are.. tangential at best. Another coke and I’m recharged and ready to take whatever’s coming.

The first of the day, Robert Mitchum's Night of the Hunter is one of those classics that I'm aware of, aware of what ripped it off certainly (Poltergeist II I'm looking right at you), but the original past me by. It surprises with a hard nasty streak right alongside some dreamlike fairy tale like images (Shelly Winters with a slashed throat sitting in a car at the bottom of a lake is amazing). We're back with yet another 'bad parenting' story (this year's theme) and Mitchum's quiet menace sticks with you even if it occasionally lapses into monstrous farce. His creepy singing is pure earworm candy over lunch.

I gnaw on a tuna sandwich looking like a bag of spuds challenging myself to hold off on buying shit from the fantastic stalls til tomorrow. It's gonna happen. I'm drooling just thinking about the awesome looking book on Argento.

The party atmosphere is in full flow when we get back for the Cutting Edge Shorts, a competition for new and emerging film-makers. Ten shorts and too many to go into them all in the time I have here. There are no outright clunkers even if a few of them are more examples of great scenes than full features. Wheelchair Werewolf's 3 minute faux trailer gets a fantastic reaction. As does the awesome Chaotic Rampage America Pictures The Horrible Murderer With The Extremely Inefficient Weapon, a really well observed exploitation pisstake: he takes nine years to kill you with a spoon – enjoy! Two longer ones which impress are Kirksdale (50s torture porn in an asylum with fantastic visceral effects and a sense of style) and the clever You Better Watch Out, which has two losers capture and torture Santa for not giving them the presents they always wanted. It’s got great production values and a sharp, funny script, and the bastard in me likes a foul-mouthed boozer Santa who isn’t taking any shit. For me it’s the clear triumph, but we’ll see when the winner is announced tomorrow!

We’re all knackered now. I’m starting to notice a sweat and I badly need another shower (and so do most of the people here) but none of us are giving up yet.

The Bafta award winning short The Pearce Sisters (children should play with dead things when it’s cute and they’ve got nothing else to do) from Aardman animations, leads into Sauna and moods sadly nosedive. It’s not strictly bad but boy is it slow. After the 25 Years War, Swedish and Russian troops scout out a new border and fall afoul of an ancient menace. We’ve seen it many times before and it’s only the historical setting that makes it any different than something like R-Point and a half-dozen others. One guy shouts “do something” and it’s hard to fault him. There’s a fair bit of grumbling afterwards.

We have a whole hour to sort food before the next session so I run off to McDonalds. Even then it’s still going to be tight and it feels, fatigue I guess, like everything’s in slow motion.

The atmosphere is really something else when we’re going into Night Of The Creeps. For some, myself included, this is going to be one of the highlights of the whole festival and everyone’s perked up.

Seeing the Columbia Tristar Pegasus take flight on the big screen is close to a religious experience. Night Of The Creeps is perfect, and we’re some of the last people on the planet who’ll EVER get to see the original 35mm cinematic version like this. From now on it’s only going to be a new version which the studio is working on right now. If you haven’t seen it, Creeps is basically an interstellar zombie outbreak on an American College campus: alien slugs incubate eggs in your brain (whether you’re alive or dead), turning you into a murderous zombie, and then your head pretty much explodes sending out offspring in search of new hosts. It’s a hell of a lot of fun!

Director Fred Dekker is here for a Q&A afterwards and admits that he just threw everything he liked (Aliens! Zombies! Cute girls!) in a blender. He’s a great guy but it scares the shit out of me that he says the best film he’s ever made is Robocop III. I mean Jesus Christ here, man. About the ending, he says he hates (“fucking hates”) the cinema version which the studio apparently forced on him. After getting through everything, the lead girl takes a sec to pet a cute dog and winds up with an alien slug in the face. The brand spanking all new version which threatens to be out in the U.S. in October goes beyond the alternate ending with the spaceship hovering over the graveyard... to something totally different. He’s cagey about it, but hints that the aliens seen at the beginning trying to stop the slugs are going to involve themselves in the fight. New fates for everyone too apparently. I’m stoked! Did Slither rip him off ? No, he says, they were ripping off Cronenberg’s Shivers (which I don’t buy for a second). I’m gutted, absolutely gutted, that he isn’t more complementary about his other 80s classic The Monster Squad for many it’s a defining childhood movie, but it’s nice that he, at least, never wants to see a remake and is happy to keep it going in an upcoming comic sequel that has them reform as adults when the world’s in peril again.

After another quick break we start settling down for the all-nighter session: midnight through til 6:45. There’s an element of strategy setting in for some and we’re all competing for the best bit of territory. The smell’s strong again and it is hot as all hell in the theatre, but everyone’s excited and wants to see it through.

Another Aardman Animation short, Pib and Pog (a claymation Itchy and Scratchy) sets a fine mood and takes us into kiwi slacker zombie comedy Last of The Living. It’s totally throwaway but has a few inspired moments and the fact that it doesn’t take itself seriously at all works wonders.

It’s hitting 1:30 and there are a few more casualities. More to come there, I’m sure. I stalk off to the bar for another drink before the next installment.

.. which opens with, Ocular, an overlong short about a cursed mirror that goes on and on and on with a guy basically monologuing endlessly in front of it. It grates like hell and I start to wonder if the only reason it’s here is down to the sheer number of shrieking alarms that keep scaring the shit out of people on the brink of nodding off. Small pleasures. Dead Space: Downfall, prequel to the video game is solid filler and much better than a video game tie-in should be. Decent voice cast, a bleak setting and it gives us yet another (5th?) grisly eye gouging.

After it’s over with at 4am, a fair chuck of the audience are packing up and heading off. A few mates here are collapsed over the seats “power napping” until Brain Dead. I’m actually doing alright and I’m putting it down to the bar visits. The theatre’s only about a third full now and it’s the craziest of the crazies who are left: we know what’s coming! Brain Dead is what it is. A splattery scrappy classic, with loads of anarchic slapstick and everyone’s favourite when they’re a teenager. It is awesome to see it on a big screen when most of us have only seen it on video.

We’re over and done with and out of the Filmhouse at 6:45 on Sunday and I guess we’re already on the final day of the festival. Jeez, where’s the time gone? There are still plenty of chances to catch the last few movies on Sunday, including Kathy Bate’s Oscar winning turn in Misery, so get the hell down to the Filmhouse while you still can!