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DUNDEAD: Zombies, horror, there’s something for (almost) everyone

The World We Knew, starring Johann Myers as Gordon.
The World We Knew, starring Johann Myers as Gordon.

Anyone who sat down at the beginning of the pandemic for a fortitude-testing rewatch of Steven Soderbergh’s prescient 2011 film, Contagion, will have known (SPOILERS) as soon as Gwyneth Paltrow’s character was opened up on the autopsy table that there’s plenty of horror to be gleaned from a pandemic.

What does the immediate future of the horror film hold, though, when the whole world has lived through an experience which could have been lifted directly from the plot of one (although fortunately, without zombies)?

For Dundee Contemporary Arts’ in-house horror film festival Dundead, it’s hopefully business as usual.

Werewolves Within stars Sam Richardson as Finn Wheeler.

The 2021 instalment is one of the centre’s very first in-person events following lockdown, with a scaled-down three day, six-film Summer Camp version of the fest. Some content will also be available to watch on DCA’s film on demand service.

 

“We might start to see a wave of post-pandemic horror,” speculates Michael Coull, DCA’s cinema coordinator and programmer of Dundead.

“Although I would say you can watch anything and draw pandemic-related themes out of it, just because it’s changed the lens through which we view everything.”

Romero’s The Amusement Park, featuring Lincoln Maazel.

He explains, however, that this version of Dundead consists of films he’d firmly describe as fun, that a sense of escapism is what’s hoped for.

Friday evening’s opening film is the UK premiere of Josh Ruben’s Werewolves Within, based on the video game of the same name, which Coull describes as “a comedy-horror werewolf whodunit in the snow.

“It’s like a horror version of Knives Out, – lots of hateable characters all plotting against each other.”

A rare George A Romero

Later that evening, zombie film pioneer George A. Romero’s 1973 curio The Amusement Park will have a rare cinema screening.

Originally produced as a commission for the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania, what was intended as a public service piece about elder abuse turned into what has been described as an “absurdist nightmare” in an amusement park.

The Society decided not to use it, and it remained unseen until 2019.

“It’s strange, it’s nightmarish, it’s disturbing, and where it falls into Romero’s filmography is really interesting,” says Coull. “You can see it’s one of his films, he was famous for taking these horror ideas and adding a sociological or a political issue.

“Night of the Living Dead is about race relations, Dawn of the Dead is about consumerism. This one is like a horror film, but without the structure of a normal horror, it works on its own dream logic. It’s almost like an unfiltered expression of his ideas on the subject of ageing, I thought it was fantastic when I saw it.”

Climate of the Hunter, from the Dundead Festival 2021.

Saturday also features another UK premiere, of the ‘70s style vampire film Climate of the Hunter by cult director Mickey Reece, who Coull has recorded a Zoom Q&A with for the screening.

Then comes Riders of Justice, the new film from Danish director Anders Thomas Jensen.

“It’s the new Mads Mikkelsen film, he’s enjoying a moment because of his performance in Another Round,” says Coull.

“It’s a Danish exploitation revenge thriller, like the revenge thrillers of the ‘70s, but very modern and smart in the way it deconstructs those revenge narratives. It’s dark and it’s funny.

Alien on Stage, Paranoid Dramatics Amateur Group.

“On the Sunday we’ve got two fantastic British films,” he continues. “The World We Knew twists two genres together – it starts as a British gangster story of a job gone wrong, with these guys hiding out in a house in the country, then it evolves into something stranger and more sinister. It’s great, if you’re a fan of Ben Wheatley there’s a lot to enjoy.

“Then our closing film is Alien On Stage, which is a really fun, joyous documentary about a group of bus drivers from Dorset who put on an amateur dramatic production of Ridley Scott’s Alien. It’s really charming, a lovely film to be closing on.”

There will always be horror

Before the pandemic, it seemed that dedicated horror film festivals such as Dundead were on the rise, and a new generation of filmmakers were coming through.

Does Coull think that horror films were – or are – having a moment?

“I don’t know if horror has ever gone away,” he says. “There’s a tendency for the mainstream film industry to view horror as a lesser kind of film, because they can be made cheaply, and traditionally they can be riskier and more controversial.

“In recent years, there’s been a trend for ‘elevated horror’, so maybe it’s that horror films are getting more credibility at the moment.

“The thing is, though, horror films are always relevant, and people continue to want to see them. It certainly seems to me that audiences still have an appetite for horror, and for going back and watching or discovering classic horror, because there are so many hidden gems. It’s always exciting.”

  •  Dundead: Summer Camp is at Dundee Contemporary Arts in person and online from July 9 – 11. See www.dca.org.uk.

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