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Edinburgh International Film Festival preview: Capital’s movie gala goes dark with zombies, horror and thrills on bill

© Eleven Productions, Inc.The Dead Don’t Die stars Tilda Swinton as sword-wielding funeral director Zelda
The Dead Don’t Die stars Tilda Swinton as sword-wielding funeral director Zelda

From the ghosts of Mary King’s Close to the macabre exploits of Burke and Hare, Edinburgh has always had a fascination with the dark side of life – and death.

This year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival carries on that tradition with a programme heavy in late-night thrills. It’s an A to Z (A being for Alien and Z for zombies) of creepy premieres that provide one of the highlight strands in this year’s programme from the world’s longest continually-running film festival.

One of the most anticipated is comedy horror, The Dead Don’t Die, which features an all-star cast including Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adam Driver and Danny Glover as small-town residents being terrorised by the undead. The Jim Jarmusch movie was the opening film at last month’s Cannes Film Festival, where Swinton explained how her character – a mysterious, sword-wielding, martial artist funeral director – came to be.

Speaking to The Playlist, she said Jarmusch asked her which character she would like to play before he’d even written the script.

“I said to him, ‘Well, what about a funeral director who’s put out because the dead don’t die’. That was it, and off he went. Two or three years later he sent me the script.

“He said ‘Your character’s called Zelda Swinton… she’s Scottish. And she’s a martial artist. So it felt pretty easy.”

Fellow Scottish actor Polyanna McIntosh, who starred in hit TV series The Walking Dead, returns home with her new film, Darlin’, which she wrote, directed and starred in. It’s about a feral teenager taken in by a care home run by nuns, but soon the equally feral woman who raised her is determined to get her back.

Other horror offerings include The Vast Of Night, set in 1950s New Mexico, which has been described as an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, Brightburn, a dark twist on the classic superhero movie, and Memory: The Origins Of Alien, an in-depth documentary about the making of the seminal sci-fi classic.

The Vast Of Night

Fans of the genre can also attend The Science of Scary, a special panel event where script writers talk with biomedical researchers about why some of us love to be scared, while others can’t stand it.

But it’s not all about things that go bump in the night. The 73rd edition of the festival is as varied as ever, with 121 new features, including 18 world premieres, from 42 countries.

Artistic director Mark Adams spends 12 months of the year curating the programme with the rest of his team. He said: “There’s so much for everyone, from our animated strand for young kids through to late-night genre films.

“It’s interesting to look at the long history of the festival and the sense of what has gone before and to look at what the audiences want now.

“We’re delighted to be opening the festival with a new Scottish director, Ninian Doff, and his film Boyz In The Wood, which is a raucous romp full of young talent that will get things going. And the closing night film, Mrs Lowry & Son, will be great, too.”


Starring Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave, it explores the relationship between artist LS Lowry and his unhappy and controlling mother.

Other highlights include a sneak peek at Toy Story 4 and the People’s Gala screening, Balance, Not Symmetry, a Glasgow-set film featuring a new soundtrack by Biffy Clyro.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival runs from June 19-30. Tickets are on sale now from