When Adèle Hartley announced last year that there would be no Dead By Dawn in 2010, I was (to make a bad pun) gutted. But fortunately for Scottish fans of vicious, quirky, independent new horror, the leading lady of cinema macabre can't help herself, and she's back with a one-day special of cruelty, tragi-comedy and gore to mess with your head.
The first short sets the tone for the day. Bye Bye Sally tells the story of a chronically depressed woman and her flaky, mobster counsellor, who reckons that if she's going to commit suicide, she may as well take some scumbags out with her. It's funny, touching, nasty, witty and, like so many films we'll see today, carries a beautiful sting in its tail.
Next up is Aussie horror comedy The Director's Cut, in which bullying indie film director Mike gets more than he bargained for on a film shoot in the middle of nowhere in the outback. Somebody (dressed as a giant killer koala – what else?) is out to sabotage his film, by picking off the cast and crew one by one. The film tries manfully to take a slasher-by-numbers plot and do something new with it. And as for the ending, you'll either love it or hate it, but it's certainly different.
Our first dose of shorts are based around the theme of 'happy(ish) endings' – a series of mini movies that combine heart-wrenching sweetness with a bit of yuk and some thought-provoking musings on the nature of mortality – and the origins of teddy bears. Oh poor Tufty…
Danse Macabre is both beautiful and chilling, a superbly choreographed tale of the life of the body after death; Irish love story The Basket Case (in which a husband builds his dying wife the ultimate gift) is as sad and romantic as the final scene of Sid and Nancy; Void is AI or The Sixth Sense with monsters and The Pool and Sunshower are further proof that, at the moment, Ireland has all the best beautifully scripted, impressively acted horror shorts.
I've seen many documentaries about horror, but Cropsey is the first time documentary I've seen that in itself qualifies as a horror film (aside from Martina Cole's serial killer programme, but that's horrific in a whole other way…) Every small town has an urban myth, an escaped lunatic who lurks in the woods, stealing children and murdering teenage lovers. But in 1980s Staten Island, the myth of 'Cropsey' became reality, when disabled children started to disappear.
The dark, graffiti-ed walls of the infamous abandoned psychiatric hospital Woodbrook, closed down after a shocking 1970s documentary exposed the neglect and cruelty taking place within its walls, are more of a horror set than the Hammer lot, while many of the locals interviewed wouldn't look out of place in David Lynch film. Sure, it's a bit long and repetitive, occasionally creeping into Most Haunted territory, but it's also fascinating, and sure as hell sticks in the mind.
The second shorts programme claims that 'Things can only get worse'. How very true. But they can also get extremely funny (Hatch, another Irish classic that will make you think twice before relaxing in the bath, and Jardin Dead End, in which The Exorcist meets Nacho Libre), extremely tense (hitchhiker-with-a-twist movie Knife Point) and extremely bloody (the splendid misunderstood teenager story Excision – like John Hughes directing Reaninmator).
Before French Canadian psychological thriller 5150, Rue des Ormes, the short film Rite takes an uncomfortable look at community traditions, and will make anyone who went through a confirmation service feel thankful no knives or pigs were involved. 5150, Rue des Ormes is truly excellent: a tense hostage movie that takes an unexpected, sickening and utterly compelling twist.
When happy-go-lucky film student Yannick falls off his bike and seeks assistance at a nearby house, he accidentally stumbles upon the secret work of vigilante taxi driver Jacques, who sees it as his calling to punish the unrighteous – with death. But if you're expecting another Mum and Dad (or even a Hostel) think again, because there's a lot more to this movie than that. A claustrophobic, nightmarish, edge-of-seat thriller, this is definitely one to look out for.
As is Red Velvet: with shades of Friday 13th and Phantasm, this directorial debut is a splendid, postmodern, rock'n'roll reimagining of 1980s horror classics. A loving homage that, rather than recycling its influences à la Doomsday or (eek) Van Helsing, cuts them to pieces then creates something completely new from their celluloid shreds. ET child star Henry Thomas (now bearing more than a passing resemblance to the king of cult horror, Bruce Campbell) is splendid as grumpy, jumpsuit wearing storyteller Aaron, who weaves a sick tale of outré cartoon violence to entertain his neighbour. If you love the inventiveness of Hallowe'en, the bloodbath gore of Braindead and the brash, sexy mayhem of A Nightmare on Elm Street, you're guaranteed to love Red Velvet.
For me, I think the festival should have ended there. The surprise movie, Book of Zombie, is a good laugh, but has nothing new to add to an already over-blood-saturated genre – except for the idea of Mormons as zombies, and a predictable (but none the less entertaining) twist at the end.
And so another festival (albeit a shorter one this time) is put to bed. This year's moral: surprisingly, that love and beauty, pathos and romance can be found in the most unexpected, disgusting places. Sweet dreams, everybody. And give your teddy bear a hug from me…