Although not as high profile as the festivals at Cannes or Sundance, the ninth annual Boston Underground Film Festival offers a strange and lively lineup at the Brattle Theatre and Harvard Square AMC in Cambridge from March 20-23. From rock documentaries to psychedelic thrillers to absurdly silly comedies, these eclectic movies should satisfy the interests of many independent film fans.
When choosing which submissions will be screened, festival organizers aim to push the envelope in terms of style and content and present a variety of confrontational, political and alternative films. In an attempt to challenge cinematic norms, the films screened this year are wacky and unique, inspired by all genres of film but different than anything seen at your local multiplex.
Opening the festival this year is a remake of Herschell Gordon Lewis' horrific classic The Wizard of Gore, directed by Emerson alumnus Jeremy Kasten ('93). It stays true to the plot of the original, as Edmund Bigelow, the writer and publisher of an underground magazine, attempts to figure out how the girls dismembered by illusionist Montag the Magnificent manage to survive during his magic show but are found dead of similar injuries the next day.
Kasten updates his version by using the Suicide Girls, Internet goth and punk pinup models, as Montag's victims and viewing the plot as part hallucination, part detective investigation. Emerson's Department of Visual and Media Arts will host a discussion with Kasten and screen clips of his work on March 20 at 12 p.m. in the Multipurpose Room in Piano Row.
Along with The Wizard of Gore, bizarre thrillers fill out most of the festival schedule. Pop Skull takes you inside the mind of a drug addict who is so far gone that the visions of ghosts that haunt him begin to haunt the viewer. For a more traditional sort of terror, Il Bosco Fuori (The Last House in the Woods) is an Italian thriller described as a mix between Grindhouse and Dario Argento's Suspiria and Demons. It follows an estranged couple who, after escaping from a group of thugs, are "rescued" by a passing motorist who plans to feed them to a young vampire.
If severed limbs are not your cup of tea, BUFF also offers comedies as odd as the thrillers. For a wickedly funny farce, Otis tells the story of a serial killer who just wants to go to the prom and the suburban family determined to bring him down and combines dark comedy and gore. In contrast, Who is K.K. Downey? is a satirical take on the fame game about two slackers who struggle to publish a book until they develop a fake author and assume the identity for publicity purposes.
Some of the most humorous material, however, appears to be in the documentary category, which features films on topics as varied as belly dancing and rock 'n' roll revolutionaries. Altamont Now is a mockumentary about a journalist who attempts to enter "The Cult of Kids," a group of radical enemies of The Man.
As they fight off the threat of a pending "Indie Rockopalypse," the revolution meant to occur thirty years earlier after the Rolling Stones' disastrous concert at Altamont seems closer than ever.
For documentaries based in reality, Underbelly exposes life as a professional belly dancer from the perspective of bellydancing royalty Princess Farhana.
Spine Tingler!, is the story of William Castle, a D-List filmmaker who built the appeal of his terrible films through the use of ridiculously worse publicity stunts ranging from planting ghosts in the audience to showing Joan Crawford with an axe. Although his stunts are better known than his pictures, the film explains just what this guy was about and how he became a pop culture icon.
Throughout the festival, a variety of short films are also shown, either on their own or accompanying features. Fresh Cuts showcases the work of student filmmakers, including current Emerson students Chris Cullari, Daniel Mercadante, Alexis Mayer, Lee Noble and Ethan Feldbau. Their films are on topics as varied as indie rock videos and evil televisions.
Everything offered at the BUFF is unconventional but interesting in strange ways. Because the topics are so varied, it's not hard to find at least one movie that will entertain. If you want to see something different on the screen, head under the surface with the BUFF this weekend.