This is probably one of the better Aussie horrors I’ve seen in a long time. Spooky and cheesy in equal measures, Damned by Dawn is a loving homage to old school horror that calls to mind Universal’s monster hits of the 1930s and the Amicus horrors of the 1970s as though shot by Peter Jackson during his Braindead period.
The set-up is simple: Our heroine Claire (Renee Willner) returns to her family’s farm to visit her ailing Nana (Dawn Klingberg) who believes a banshee will oversee her journey into the afterlife. Despite being told not to disturb this ‘lady of sorrows’, Claire panics when the creature comes screaming and wailing for Nana and goes on the attack. In retaliation, the banshee (Bridget Neval) kidnaps Nana and unleashes the dead from their resting places. Armed with scythes, these skeletal grim reapers then descend on the family, picking them off one by one…
Using lots (and lots) of CGI fog and expressionist lighting on the gnarly trees and once grand farmhouse, debut director Brett Anstey has fashioned an effectively atmospheric creepshow – all on a tiny budget. With an obvious knowledge of the genre, Anstey is like a kid in a candy store as he acts out his horror film fantasies.
Clichés aside, there are also little touches of genius (mainly due to Reg Spoon’s cinematography) that make you go, ‘Wow! You did this for how much?’. The highpoint for me was making the Victorian bush look as spectral as the one in Pan’s Labyrinth. Very effective. The CGI floating skeletons, meanwhile, might aspire to be Dementors, but they are a little wooden – so much so, I was half-expecting to see Vincent Price pulling their strings as he did in 1959’s House on Haunted Hill.
What I didn’t love about Damned by Dawn was Claire’s character. She might be the film’s heroine, but it’s her stupidity that damns her entire family. If it were up to me, I would have killed her off and let Nana/Dawn (brilliantly played by veteran actress Klingberg) win the day. But that’s just being picky. Like an old fairground Ghost Train ride, Damned by Dawn is a fun thrill for big kid fans of old style scares.
Out now on DVD