(14/12/06) – Over the last 20 years the Leeds International Film Festival, whose latest edition took place between 06 and 18 November, has established itself as a major event in the cultural calendar, and a must for film-lovers all over the North of England and beyond. But over the last six years, for that particular breed of movie goer, the gore-hound, the undoubted highlight has been the Night of the Dead: the annual all-night horror-movie marathon. And where better to hold such a blood-curdling event than the Hyde Park Picture House: one of the UK’s most historic and atmospheric cinemas? So while the rest of Leeds were safely tucked up in their drum & bass clubs on the evening of the 11th of November, a few hundred hard-core horror fans settled down for a night of artery-slashing mayhem.
The fun got underway at midnight with a short film from Wales: Deadly Tantrum(UK, 2006; Dir: Mike Mort). A lunatic goes berserk with a shotgun, axe, and circular saw – highly entertaining. This was followed by the first full-length feature: Unrest (USA, 2006; Dir: Jason Todd Ipson). Medical student Alison arrives at her first Gross Anatomy class. But the cadaver she’s meant to be dissecting has other plans, and before long she finds herself at the centre of a spate of mysterious deaths. As fate closes in, she tries to discover the body’s history, and becomes convinced that the only way to stop the bloodshed is to set its soul to rest. Unrest definitely has its unnerving moments, and all the gore that one expects when corpse meets scalpel. But as the plot progressed, the crowd responded increasingly with laughs rather than screams, and not necessarily in all the right places.
Still no complaints from the enthusiastic nocturnal audience, who, in between films were well entertained by local stand-up comedian Jip, and an assortment of competitions, and give-aways of manga, DVDs, Bruce Campell action-figures, and the like. The next short film was Monster (Australia, 2006; Dir: Jennifer Kent) – an Aussie offering about a little boy afraid of being eaten up by a monster. But are his childish fears unfounded? And how much does his mother know? Both scary and funny, this was a real treat. Next was another film from Wales (evidently the new horror capital of the world): the English premiere of Expiry Date (UK, 2006; Dir: Karen Bird), the official UK premiere having
happened in Cardiff the night before. Over the years the horror genre has seen haunted electrical circuits, possessed refrigerators, and even hair-extensions of the purest evil. But never before have we had a demonic credit-card, and that’s exactly what high-school student Rhys Jones finds in his pocket, in this entertaining teen-schlocker. With its unlimited funds, Rhys and his friends can’t resist indulging in some serious shopping, and the school bullies soon have their interest piqued too. But anything bought with the card inherits the curse, and it’s not long before a variety of luxury goods are turning violent on their new owners, resulting in an orgy of blood, guts, and baked beans. Though made on a strictly limited budget of £20,000, Expiry Date contains a good many laughs and some inventive death-sequences. And did you know that the baked bean was invented by a sideburn-sporting Victorian by the name of "Rudyard Knickerbocker"? No, neither did I.
The screening was followed up by a Q&A session with some of the cast and crew, including writer Fiona Maher, who also discussed her plans for her forthcoming horror-comedy: Blah Witch. To be shot this coming February, it’s going to be financed by auctioning the starring roles on Ebay. So any budding actors should type "Bid for Stardom" into Ebay, and they could be watching themselves on the silver screen in time for the 2007 festival. Bidding starts at £100. Next we had a showing of the winner of the Silver Méliès Short Film Competition, which had been held over the festival: Home Video(UK, 2005; Dir: Ed Boase). A woman wakes up in the night to find a camcorder plugged in to her TV. When she watches the tape back, she’s in for a shock. Inspirationally, Ed Boase decided to make Home Video after attending a horror-film festival in Scotland, and leaving convinced that he could do better. And with this snappy little four-minute chiller, who’s to say that he hasn’t? Fans who like their terror more drawn out will be delighted to hear that Home Video is due to form the basis of Boase’s next full length feature.
This was followed by the night’s sickest film: Broken (UK, 2006; Dir: Adam Mason, Simon Boyes). Hope is a city-dwelling single mother, who one day wakes up in a wooden casket in the forest. She’s then forced to spend day after day at the mercy of an unnamed man who enslaves and remorselessly tortures and degrades her, as he has several other women before. The only thing keeping Hope alive is her determination to see her daughter again. A relentlessly nasty film with excellent performances all round, and some truly gut-wrenching scenes, Broken makes Saw look like Spongebob Squarepants.
After Jip had held an impromptu poetry competition (won by an improvised piece entitled, if I recall correctly, "I wandered lonely as a sexy cadaver"), we had the last short film of the night: Repose en Paix (France, 2005 Dir: Mehdi Ouahab). At under two minutes, this bitesize piece of French claymation is a delightful horror parody about a man whose sleep is disturbed by a psychopath. But the murderer doesn’t get it all his own way: very funny. Then, with our spirits high and the clock approaching 6am, we plunged into the final film of the night: Wild Zero (Japan, 2000; Dir: Tetsuro Takeuchi). This was the only film in the programme not made in the last couple of years, and is something of a Japanese classic from 2000. Leather jacketed rock-fan Ace is having a run of good luck. First he becomes the rock ‘n’ roll blood-brother of his hero, real-life Japanese rock-star Guitar Wolf. Then, by accidentally saving the day at a gas-station hold-up, he meets the beautiful Tobio. But things take a turn for the worse when aliens invade, and a zombie plague breaks out. The impossibly cool Guitar Wolf sets out on his flame-shooting motorbike to rescue Ace, and his quiff-combing cohorts Bass Wolf and Drums Wolf follow on behind.
There’s a cast of eccentric side-characters including an evil night-club owner running around in wig and pants, no shortage of blue-faced zombies for everyone to blow to bits. Wild Zero can’t be said to be a great film in any traditional sense (perhaps not surprisingly since director Tetsuro Takeuchi is a music video maker who admits that he’s "not a person inspired by movies"). It’s not scary, the characters are one-dimensional (at most), the action derivative, and the plot stark-raving mad. But for sheer energy, rock ‘n’ roll spirit, and a truckload of head-exploding zombie carnage, it’s hard to beat. A self-conscious trash-fest, it’s not to be taken seriously, but is guaranteed to leave any fan of the genre cheering for more. So, as the credits rolled for the final time, a crowd of tired horror fans stumbled out into the Hyde Park daylight, clutching their gift-bags of posters, DVDs, and manga (courtesy of comic-shop Travelling Man), and satisfied by a night of terror which had done everything it said on the tombstone, and more. So with thanks to the organisers (including Kamera’s very own Laurence Boyce and Alex King) I’ve just got time to hit the coffin and get a good year’s sleep, before doing it all again at the Night of the Dead 7.