Horror film festival creeps into town

Vincent Price stars in House on Haunted Hill. Picture: comp

Vincent Price stars in House on Haunted Hill. Picture: comp

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WHEN a man plucks a ­winning lottery ticket from his father’s grave, his face is frozen into a chilling grin.

A malevolent mirror wreaks havoc on a family, and giant sinkholes appear mysteriously in a mountain forest.

Still from 'Oculus' which will be shown at the horror film festival this month. Picture: comp

Still from 'Oculus' which will be shown at the horror film festival this month. Picture: comp

And with so many serial killers on the loose, you may start to wonder if they shouldn’t have a collective noun.

There are more thrills and chills than you can shake a hockey mask and machete at as film lovers in the Capital get ready to bite into the maggot-infested apple that is the Dead by Dawn festival – this year celebrating its 21st birthday in its accustomed style.

Adele Hartley, founder of the annual horror film festival, insists that this is not just aimed at the hardcore fans with an appetite for the macabre.

She says: “Every year, there are people dragged along by friends who think they’re not really into horror and they leave having fallen in love with the genre.

“I particularly love horror films that scare with ideas and atmosphere, so if you too love a good story, there are ­always going to be stunning discoveries to make at Dead by Dawn.

“You may not have heard of our films or our directors yet, but you will.”

From April 24 until 27, Cinema One at Filmhouse on Lothian Road will be transformed into a Pandora’s box of dubious delights. Dead by Dawn is not just about discovering new films, though, it does present a rare opportunity to see cult classics. Perhaps more than any other genre, horror also helps us to discover something about ourselves.

This is because what disgusts and disturbs each of us will be different. In some cases, it may even be unique.

“Horror is so subjective and everyone takes something different away,” says Adele.

Here you will encounter all the usual suspects like zombies, vampires, ghosts and axe-murderers. But horror is also the genre of the strange and the unexpected.

This is an energetic and prolific genre, and one that continually re-invents and parodies itself.

At times terrifying, at times sinister, at times downright silly, the sheer variety makes a nonsense of the oft-heard refrain “I don’t like horror films”.

Here you will encounter camp B-movie classics, ground-breaking supernatural thrillers and the slasher flicks that spawned all the well-worn genre clichés.

Adds Adele: “There are plenty of take-your-breath-away moments in this year’s festival and sometimes in the most unexpected places.

“Some of the revelations in Josh Zeman’s documentary Killer Legends will leave people reeling. There are a ton of edge-of-your-seat scenes in Gerard Johnstone’s Housebound which manages to be both creepy and hilarious in almost equal measure.

“Where The Red Fox Lies will surprise a lot of people and certainly the yummy sounding Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla really doesn’t end up where you think it might. And then there’s our closing film Oculus which is a real treat and will be impossible to forget next time you look in the mirror.”

This year’s event will also celebrate 100 years since the birth of American director William Castle with a screening of House on Haunted Hill and Mr Sardonicus. His daughter Terry Castle will introduce the screenings via Skype from California.

Other gems will include the UK Premiere of Antoine Barraud’s Les Goufres about a woman waiting for her husband to return from the bowels of the earth, while the UK Premiere of Daniel Stamm’s 13 SINS takes one man’s cash flow problems to a whole new icky, sticky level.

All-inclusive passes are on sale for £75 but individual tickets for all films can also be bought.

Dead by Dawn will also screen an assortment of beautiful, bite-sized nightmares. Some will make you laugh, and some will prompt you to sleep with the lights on.

The festival’s animation programme runs from the sweetly melancholy through demented health warnings right up to what lengths you have to go to if you need to get away from that bright light at the end of a tunnel.

The legendary S*** Film Amnesty also returns this year, offering people a chance to off-load the most dire of DVDs from their shelves or – if it goes horribly wrong – having to buy new shelving if they “win”.

“Feel free to bring along your most embarrassing purchase and we’ll do our best to send it home with someone else,” says Adele.

All screenings take place in Cinema One at Filmhouse.

All-inclusive passes priced £75 are available from Filmhouse box office in person or on 0131 228 2688 or online from www.filmhousecinema.com. The bar has a late licence till 3am.

Cinema-lovers can also dip a toe into shark-infested waters of Spawn of Dawn. The evil little brother to the main festival, this is a movie marathon running from midnight on Saturday April 26. Screenings take place in Cinema Two at Filmhouse, with tickets priced £25. The full festival schedule is available at www.deadbydawn.co.uk.

Whatever your reaction to this year’s festival – and whether you are a horror fan or not – there is a very real chance you will never look at mirrors, bunny rabbits or ice cream in quite the same way again.

john.connell@edinburghnews.com