I do not like films, I love Film. I love every type of film, from horror and science fiction to comedies or dramas or dramedies or dromedaries or whatever. I love big loud blockbusters and small little indie films. I’ll see movies on Thursday night at midnight with friends or on Tuesday afternoon at noon by myself. And, when I fall in love with a film, I’ll buy it on DVD and see it every time it comes on cable. I LOVE Film! And, yet, I cannot honestly tell you the last time I went to a movie theater to see a Hollywood film. Part of it is the lack of studio offerings that I find myself wanting to see, much less NEEDING to see (a disturbing reality for me, as I love movie theaters as much as I love movies), and part of the problem is…well, that’s a rant for another day. But once a year, for eight days, I disappear from my home and friends’ lives and rush to the dark confines of the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There, I celebrate a cinematic bacchanalia. I am immersed in the bizarre, the taboo, the wildly interesting and the downright horrible. Late March, for me, is a combination of Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, and Halloween. Because that’s when I celebrate the Boston Underground Film Festival – BUFF, for short. I’ve have been attending this “celebration of the bizarre and insane…uncompromising, unflinching film and video” (to borrow their own description) since 2006 and every year it seems to get bigger, better, wilder, stranger, and just plain more fun.
This was a year of firsts for me. It was the first time that I actually planned vacation time specifically so I could attend all eight days without worrying about having to rush out from work to avoid missing something. It was the first year I went into the festival knowing nothing about the programming, the guests, or weekend parties. And it was the first year that I went into the opening night firmly believing that it would be impossible for the team behind BUFF to top the previous year’s offerings. 2010, after all, was notable for its opening night feature Love Exposure (Sion [Suicide Circle, Strange Circus] Sono’s four-hour meditation on love, sex, society, religion, and the fetish of upskirt photography), Red, White and Blue (beautifully touching and bleak with a killer climax), The Romantic (a grossly underrated animated feature, and probably my favorite of the festival), The Life and Death of a Porno Gang (my biggest regret of last year’s festival, as I chose to see another movie when it was playing and chose poorly) and – especially – Amer (a Belgian giallo about sex and death…two hours after seeing it, I was looking everywhere I could online to buy a copy [Rejoice! It’s scheduled for US release on 5/29!!!]). Surely there was no way they could outdo 2010!!!
Man, I love being wrong sometimes!!!
This year’s opening night feature was Jason Eisener’s long awaited Hobo With A Shotgun – a tale of a man who arrives with a dream to buy his own lawn mower and ends up cleaning up the crime and corruption that runs rampant in
Hope Scum Town. For those of us who knew Eisener from the fake trailer he made for a contest run by Grindhouse directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez (the trailer which ended up winning said contest, running with the film in its Canadian release, and becoming a Youtube sensation), there was a question of “Will the feature match the spirit and insanity of the original trailer?” We needn’t have worried. The movie was every bit as violent and crazy and hilarious as we’d hoped it would be and, as the credits rolled and the house lights came up, the packed house in attendance stood and cheered for the director who was in attendance, much to our pleasant surprise.
But that was Thursday night, and BUFF hadn’t even truly started. Friday night was most notable for Machete Maidens Unleashed! – a documentary about the exploitation film boom in the Philippines made the the creators of the Ozploitation documentary, Not Quite Hollywood. As with BUFF’s 2010 documentary offering – American Grindhouse – I left the theater with a brain full of movie titles to track down for future viewing. As as the festival kicked into high gear, I saw one gem after another. The Corridor, which made its US premier at BUFF, while not my favorite film of the festival, was a pleasant surprise. Atomic Brain Invasion, Richard Griffin’s love letter to 50s sci-fi/horror and Creature Double Feature, was a movie I didn’t not even want to see but ended up enjoying immensely. Phase 7, BUFF’s “closing night feature,” was a pleasant surprise – an Argentinian film that evoked comparisons to [REC] and The Crazies on a minuscule budget. And Helldriver, directed by Yoshihiro (Tokyo Gore Police, Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl, Mutant Girl Squad, and the makeup effect supervisor on too many films to mention) Nishimura, did not disappoint – it had me at “zombie flick” and “chainsaw katana.”
Three old friends showed up for the festivities. Coldfish represented Sion Sono’s return to BUFF, and it was a wonderful, bleak little film about murder and mayhem between two fish store owners (based on true events, of course!). Trent Haaga, screenwriter of 2009’s Deadgirl, he of Troma fame, made his directorial debut with Chop, and it had me practically peeing myself throughout. And Travis Betz, who bored me to tears in 2009 with Lo, showed up with a film called The Dead Inside and, if this meta/zombie-horror/comedy/musical didn’t represent my favorite of BUFF’s programming, it is certainly the one I will rush to have my non horror-loving friends see.
(Quick aside: There were so many features that I wanted and needed to see, that BUFF’s short film offerings went almost completely by the boards. Suffice to say, I did catch the horror collection and the music video package and loved both. Also, I’m not even going into the BUFF-hosted parties I attended. Let me make one this clear – BUFF goes all out on all fronts to entertain and delight movie-goers, friends , and fans. ‘Nuff said!)
Of course, there were some mis-cues. I missed the Filipino low-budget homage/rip-off of The Island of Doctor Moreau (featuring Pam Grier) in favor of catching Lucky McKee’s latest film, The Woman, and spent the rest of the festival regretting the decision. Not just because it was a boring, predictable, uninspired, weak-sauce attempt to shock, but also because McKee’s appearance and the post-screening Q&A was a pretentious, tedious affair. When he wasn’t whining about supposed “technical difficulties” or bemoaning the “debacle” that was his involvement in Jack Ketchum’s Red, he was answering boring, cliched questions from every hipster douchebag that could pull himself (or herself) away from his/her latest filmic magnum opus. Luster was a tight little film that had all the makings of a “must add this to my DVD collection” movie…until the ending, which was so shockingly bad that it ruined everything that had come before. And due to a an error on the projectionist’s part, The Beast Pageant picked up for our viewing 20 minutes into the film, ended, and restarted…and no one noticed. We chalked it up to a narrative choice by the director until one of the BUFF organizers came in and apologized profusely. Not that any of us were overly upset – the film was a David Lynch rip-off and gave us all the excuse to grab dinner before seeing better films.
But overall, BUFF was a blast. Eight days of pure pleasure for one who loves Film. A powerhouse lineup that had me feeling a bit sad when all was over. After all, it would be another year before I would be able to get my fix. And I can honestly say I have NO idea how 2012 will be able to top this year’s festival. For those of you who live close to Boston, I’d tell you to keep the end of March open and make it a point to keep eyes and ears open for next year’s festival. Your diligence will be rewarded. For those of you who may live in or near another city, I’d encourage you to track down your own version of BUFF. These festivals are something special. They offer films will most likely never get a wide theatrical release, which is often a shame. They are the types of movies that Hollywood will never – could never – make. And they are well worth your time. You may find yourself offended, upset, horrified, amused…but never bored. You might even leave the theater entertained. And that, dear reader, would be a Good Thing.