After a year’s hiatus, which saw the one-off Fab Fest take over its slot, Edinburgh’s much-loved horror festival Dead By Dawn is back. Running from 5 – 8 May at the Edinburgh Filmhouse it promises to be a fantastic celebration of the creativity, thrills and gore the genre is famous for.
Mark Davidson spoke to the festival’s creator, Adele Hartley, about the history of the festival, and what horror fans can look forward to at this year’s Dead by Dawn.
Mark Davidson: What inspired you to start Dead by Dawn in 1993? How difficult was it to get a brand new festival off the ground?
Adele Hartley: I blame Black Sunday! It was really my introduction to festivals like that, and I had a blast. I have bizarrely fond memories of schlepping round the country with other fans, surviving all-night movie marathons (and the attendant hangovers) and seeing an incredible variety of movies on the big screen.
When it stopped, I missed it so much that I figured the easiest thing to do was start my own festival. As you do. Getting any event off the ground isn’t so hard – keeping it there is the real challenge.
How has the festival evolved over the past two decades? Have recent Dead by Dawn festivals differed a lot from earlier versions?
All I ever wanted with Dead by Dawn was to watch horror movies with horror fans, and as a programmer, I think I’ve made my tastes fairly clear over the last 18 years! To begin with, it was relatively simple to choose my favourite movies and put those up on screen.
As I’ve become a more confident programmer, my focus has become independent cinema because that’s where I can still find story and heart and creativity. The same goes for short film – every year it’s a pleasure to turn more and more screen time over to shorts.
The programme now is about broadening people’s expectation of what ‘horror’ can mean and putting together a mix as diverse as possible – finding those films that remind us why we became fans in the first place.
Part of what makes Dead by Dawn so special is its audience. What is it that differentiates horror fans from other film fans?
Are they really so different? Fans are passionate, regardless of the genre. I think what makes our audience so great is their willingness to consider films that they might not otherwise have come across or that might not look on paper as if it’s really their thing. It always feels like we have a room full of open-minded, interested people and that’s a joy to programme for.
It makes a difference, too, that the festival still attracts healthy numbers of first-timers each year, bringing fresh energy, enthusiasm and expectation with them. There are always people who come along each year, dragged by friends, insisting they’re not horror fans and it’s a total pleasure for me when they turn round after the event and reckon that their idea of horror was a little limited, that they’ve found movies they love, and they’ll be back next year. That is exactly what a discovery festival like Dead by Dawn is for.
Looking forward to this year’s festival, what are some of the highlights of Dead by Dawn 2011 going to be?
All of it is great! I love new UK movie Harold’s Going Stiff, which manages to approach the horrors of dependence, immobility and decrepitude with humour and sympathy. And zombies.
Trent Haaga’s movie Chop is an interesting (and messy) take on karma and the consequences of our transgressions – even the ones nobody else sees.
Yellowbrickroad is a genuinely creepy movie with an extraordinary sound design which makes for a truly unsettling viewing experience.
Alex Appel will be here to host the screening of the charming gothic adventure The Death of Alice Blue, and then there’s The Afflicted which is just grim and relentless from start to finish and if you’re a horror fan, that’s a good thing!
Finally, there’s our short film programmes which are packed full of the truly weird and wonderful – from Eli Batalion’s much-hyped slasher musical The Legend of Beaver Dam to Bill Palmer’s sublime take on pheromone attraction in The Living Want Me Dead, and all points in between!
And finally, using only five words, how would you best sum-up the experience of attending Dead by Dawn to someone who has never been?
Trust me, you’ll love it!
Thanks to Adele Hartley.
If you’re interested in attending the festival, the simplest thing to do is buy the Dead by Dawn pass which covers you for every screening and event of the festival.
If you don’t have the time or stamina to attend the whole festival, you can instead buy a ticket for Spawn of Dawn, an all-night screening of five features and between eight and ten shorts selected from the main Dead by Dawn programme.
Tickets for individual films will also be available from the Filmhouse box office within the next week or so.