Spawn of Dawn 2011

Blog by Scott McKellar | 11 May 2011

After taking a break in 2010, Scotland’s premier horror festival, Dead by Dawn, returned over the weekend (5-8 May) with a mix of the best new independent horror movies and shorts, with a couple of classics thrown in for good measure.

But we horror fans are living in austere times. Therefore, instead of indulging in the full four day orgy of blood and guts I opt for the cheaper alternative: Spawn of Dawn. The Dead by Dawn experience as one espresso hit, Spawn is a best-of-the-fest programme of five feature length movies and eight shorts crammed into one intensive all-nighter.

Kicking off proceedings at midnight, Chilean folk horror Baby Shower proved a bit of a baffling misfire, but while it was lacking in clarity it scores points for its Hammer-esque image of a heavily pregnant woman being chased through the woods by cultists.

There's a distinct improvement with the quirky Chop, in which a sleazy yuppie is captured by a lunatic intent on punishing him for some unknown slight. The acting is pretty terrible but it's a good laugh and particularly memorable for a kinky sequence with a bearded crazy threatening to do something truly unspeakable to a severed leg.

4am brought Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988). Yes, it’s creepy, featuring It's a Knockout-style clowns munching their way through a sleepy American town. Sadly, though, it’s only sporadically entertaining and by this point the tired audience was badly in need of something to get their adrenalin pumping.

After a welcome break for breakfast it was on to, by far, the highlight of the night: Stake Land. It's best summed up as The Road, but better - mainly because it includes mad killer vampires. This grim road movie has characters you care about and an interesting cast that includes Halloween (2007) alumnus Danielle Harris and former Top Gun pinup Kelly McGillis. It’s just a shame this gem was scheduled so late in Spawn's programme when much of the audience was half-asleep.

Last of the main features, YellowBrickRoad, was a real stinker and just about finished us off. A team of modern historians investigate the disappearance of a whole town in the 1930s. While it channels certain elements of Picnic at Hanging Rock, it's nowhere near as successful, and the terminal pace and frustrating characters were a particularly deadly combination.

Of the eight shorts, notable mentions go to You are so Undead, a kind of vampiric Hollyoaks; Deus Irae, a splatter filled blend of The Exorcist and The Matrix; and the animated Hidden Life of the Burrow Owl, which showcased bloody revenge at its cutest. But short of the night came from an unlikely contender: a cub-scout slasher musical romp called The Legend of Beaver Dam.

When it was all over we stumbled into the dreary Edinburgh weather like an army of flesh-eaters.  This labour of love for festival curator Adele Harley has long been a highlight of the horror calendar and it's fantastic to have it back. With more content to balance any clunkers and a more relaxed pace, Dead by Dawn remains the definitive experience for hardcore horror fans but the riskier Spawn is a great little taster. And for only 25 quid it’s fantastic value for money!