Second Day of Edinburgh's Zombie Terror Claims New Victims

Blog by Scott McKellar | 03 May 2009

Day Two of Dead by Dawn and I’m still alive and feeling just fine so far. I get there nice and early and grab a bacon roll in a café across from the Filmhouse. Beltane’s over with and there are still a few stragglers in body paint that obviously wouldn’t come off kicking around the streets making everything that bit more surreal. Inside, the Filmhouse is busier than ever and the crowd is something else. This is where the real fans are. My first time here, I’d imagined that people would be pretty stand-offish but I think it’s a credit to what Adele Hartley’s managed to create over the past 16 years of running the festival that it feels like a real community and everyone is up for chatting over a pint with new mates. No right and no wrong; it’s all a good laugh.

What You Make of It; a collection of four film shorts on the fringes of horror and it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I Live in the Woods is a happy go lucky all-singing all-dancing, and obviously gore filled, stop motion animation about a loner who decides to kill and replace god. Next Floor is better. A creepy dinner party with powdered and bewigged toffs and an endless supply of meats of every description keeps going even when the table (and guests) crash through the wooden floorboards and then again and then again and keep going. It’s a nice commentary on gluttony and excess and the slow descent into hell, and doesn’t outstay its welcome. There’s a sudden dip in quality afterwards with Wish, which is nothing more than a forgettable and underdeveloped piece on teenage suicide.

The longest of the short films is another animated piece called From Inside, based on the graphic novel. A young pregnant woman travels through an endless post-apocalyptic wasteland with possibly the last remnants of humanity in an enormous train. It starts well and is absolutely beautiful to look at with strong nightmarish images (radiation and pregnancy is not a good mix) and sometimes almost expressionist animation, but the story falls apart at the end with a needlessly bleak and confusing last few minutes. The effect is something akin to When the Wind Blows or Watership Down and I stumble out for lunch with the rest of the survivors who are still muttering about the end not making any sense.

The pace of the festival is going to take some getting use to. There are two larger breaks of 45 minutes over the course of the day and some smaller 30 minute gaps between the biggest features but it’s not the most forgiving schedule. I have enough time to grab a quick sandwich, diet coke and a few bags of peanuts for the rest of the afternoon and then I’m running back for the next installment. Somewhere in there I discover that the dictaphone I have with me isn’t working. Bugger bugger bollocks. No time to deal with it, so it’s back in the bag for now.

Zombie Flesh Eaters, introduced by lead (and classic Survivors star) Ian McCulloch is the main event of the afternoon. Flesh Eaters is exactly what it needs to be. Fulci’s thematic sequel of sorts to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is a messy gorefest with a few shocking moments like one of the characters infamously checking out by getting a massive splinter through the eyeball courtesy of an angry zombie. Taking Dawn’s voodoo reference to the next level Flesh Eaters is stoutly anti-colonialist and with the ever-present voodoo drums, the zombie horde rises up to take revenge against the white oppressors. McCulloch doesn’t get much to do and Tisa Farrow is particularly awful, even at standing still and staring, but what it does it sure as hell does well.

Five minutes into the movie and I’m cursing that I accidentally picked up pistachio nuts. Messing about with them in the dark just isn’t humanly possible on this level of sleep and after a few failed experiments they’re back in the bag with the dead dictaphone.

In the Q&A afterwards McCulloch is a bit of a revelation. He’s under no delusion that Flesh Eaters is anything other than a piece of trash that didn’t really lead to a lot of extra work for him but, hey, it paid him a lot of money at the time and he had a great time making it. And so did two of the cast who also made a porno in the plane and the hotel at the same time! No chance of a blueray release right now and they’re not returning his calls. What does he plan to do when the apocalypse hits? He’s tracking down the jungle-trained Christopher Biggins. The image of Widow Twanky leering at me like Jon Voight in Anaconda is too much for me and I stalk off in desperate need of caffeine.

Next up is an Indonesian film called Forbidden Doorway, which defies all expectations by not being the usual rip-off of whatever’s happening over in Japan. It’s hard to describe what’s going on with it, and going from the looks on the faces of some of the others at this point I don’t think I’m alone there. After amazing animated titles the main story is roughly about a troubled sculptor who makes statues of pregnant women and encases real fetuses inside their hollow ‘wombs’. He wants to get out of the creative rut and get a new theme but his agent has other ideas and threatens to blackmail him. Meanwhile co-incidences pile up and he starts receiving messages from a young kid begging for help. When he discovers a hidden door in his basement and a dark conspiracy involving a mysterious corporation, things go really insane. Like Videodrome insane. The imagination, humour and strength of ideas shine through and a blood drenched dinner scene where some scores are settled is particularly memorable. Fantastic stuff.

Indie horror Cold Storage takes a while to get into its groove. A woman driving through the backwoods in North Carolina is killed in a road accident and her body is picked up by a socially isolated retarded man who convinces himself her corpse is the love of his life. There are shades of Misery and at times unhelpfully Weekend at Bernies, but the offbeat quirkiness eventually makes some kind of sense in context and it’s a decent if unspectacular time-filler. Much more interesting is the story behind the making of the film in the Q&A afterwards: it's taken twenty years of graft to get the film produced and I have to admire the grit of the filmmakers even if it didn’t do much for me. Someone points out that it’s the third film in a row today which has featured an eye gouging! I spend too long trying not to think about the “chitters” they found on the mattress they used in the movie.

We’re building up to the final movie of the day and it’s coming up on the 12 hour mark. The screen is getting pretty damn ripe and heading back in from the relative clear air of the corridor you could cut the air with your finger. I overhear a clever explanation for the double ending of Forbidden Doorway and the other eavesdroppers are just as excited. It all finally makes sense. Awesome awesome movie.

Festival organizer Adele’s a self-confessed sucker for evil puppet babies and the last feature, Tamami: The Baby Curse has that in spades. A 15 year old orphan girl goes to live in her new family’s remote forest mansion, but has to contend with a jealous evil mutant ‘baby’ sister who’s not keen on the competition. It’s marvelously imaginative and it’s a shame that it’s having so much fun with the concept that it doesn’t really know when to stop. Still, when it’s a baby who makes a career out of hiding in crawlspaces and ripping people’s faces off for a laugh, you can’t really blame them there and everything is forgiven for an amazingly overblown chase scene that has it swinging from lamp to lamp and bouncing off the walls after the shrieking heroine.

With that day two is a goner. I can feel the fatigue but the enthusiasm from the rest of the festival-goers is as infectious as a zombie bite. For me, Forbidden Doorway is the surprise hit of the festival so far. Tomorrow’s the undead triple bill all-nighter and companion show Spawn of Dawn, which is a choice cut from the main programme. I’m up for the challenge of eighteen hours of horror movies even if my brain’s on a drip by the end of it! Tickets are still going for individual movies; Robert Mitchum’s under-rated Night of the Hunter and classic 80s splatter flick Night of the Creeps, so there’s no excuse to miss it!