An ongoing local film program that we’ve shamefully yet to cover here in the pages of DigBoston is the Boston Underground Film Festival’s “Dispatches from the Underground,” held monthly at the Somerville Theatre to show both short films and features that embody the BUFF programming mantra. Having thus expanded into a regular monthly fixture within the Boston film scene, the organization now grows even further with its first annual BUFF-o-WEEN program—a four-day “midyear” festival at the Somerville Theatre (it’s happening six months after the regular BUFF, which usually occurs in late March). Including five genre films currently traveling the international festival circuit, one nonfiction feature, one repertory selection, and a curated program of short films, BUFF-o-WEEN conspires to bring fresh selections into the usually rep-heavy month, as was recently noted by the festival’s artistic director Kevin Monahan. “For a long time we’ve thought about creating space for contemporary horror and genre film in the Boston area in October,” he wrote in the release announcing the program. “[The city has] incredible repertory programming and marathons this month, and we wanted to bring a little something different.”
The first two feature-length films to play as part of BUFF-o-WEEN are Extra Ordinary (2019), which opened the festival last night, and The Golden Glove (2019) (10.18, 9:45pm), which I have not seen as of press time (the former is an Irish horror comedy, and the latter is a work of German shock horror by director Faith Akin that I’ve been told is uniquely dispiriting). However, I have seen nearly all of the short films playing in “Born of Woman 2019” (10.18, 7:30pm), a block of works by women directors that is curated annually by the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. And thus I can say that it’s unusually sturdy when measured by the usual shorts-block standards—here even the worst films still display competent-or-better performances, direction, and makeup effects.
That last characteristic is a primary one, as Fantasia and BUFF are both to some extent “genre fests,” and so along those lines this program contains a number of blood- and/or makeup-heavy offerings: One true-crime piece (the animated Girl in the Hallway), three dream-logic anxiety horror films about troubled or violent relationships (The Original, the inventive Wakey Wakey, and Maggie May), and two separate movies with twist, she’s a vampire! endings (I won’t name them so as not to spoil). But to me the standout of the group is among those not yet mentioned, and is also the one furthest away from typical genre concerns—Sometimes, I Think About Dying (2019), co-writer/director Stefanie Abel Horowitz’s 12-minute film depicting the initial courtship between a fatally-depressed office worker and her smitten colleague; a film which is greatly elevated by its exceptionally bittersweet finale, a seemingly uplifting conclusion that the director suddenly counteracts via one brief, crucial, presumably nonlinear shot edited in just a few moments earlier.
Other features playing during this sort-of inaugural program include Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life and Grisly Death of Al Adamson (2019) (10.20, 6pm) and Daniel Isn’t Real (2019) (10.20, 8:30pm), which screen back to back on the last day of BUFF-o-WEEN. Blood & Flesh is the one nonfiction entry, a talking-heads-and-archival-clips study of the ’60s/’70s exploitation director Al Adamson, which features a bunch of interviewees who have nothing bad to say about the man and nothing good to say about his films. Far from presenting him as an underrated auteur, the film, by the prolific bio-doc filmmaker David Gregory, essentially frames Adamson’s movies as products of the market, and indeed reaches its own best moments when simply relating stories about the ridiculous nature of American film distribution (which is also to say, stories about capitalism—like when the director and his producers engineered a fake controversy surrounding their 1975 film The Naughty Stewardesses, staging protests outside theaters where fake flight attendants marched around calling for better representation, in a dumbfuck scheme that of course worked exactly as planned and got the movie booked even wider). But around the 70-minute mark, the usual bio-doc portion ends, and the film transitions into a moment-by-moment true-crime retelling of Adamson’s tragic murder; an immense shift in manner that comes with the territory but is by no means supported by the craft of the filmmaking itself.
Also playing among the new releases is Blood on Her Name (2019) (10.19, 9:45pm), by debuting writer/director Matthew Pope, which is essentially a woman-fronted riff on the scenario of Blood Simple (1984), complete with borrowed shots. Unfortunately rather morose and self-serious, the film positions itself within a working-class milieu and never lets up on the miserablism, depicting the downward spiral of auto shop owner Leigh (Bethany Anne Lind) after she kills a trespasser under mysterious circumstances and gets herself caught up in further cycles of violence (and drug use) as a result. That the film is structured as an ever-evolving mystery is one of its weakest points, as the solutions are rather obvious, and the steps taken to obscure facts on behalf of the potboiler plotting instead just leave the whole thing to play out needlessly contrived. But with that said, when the film settles down with its characters, it transcends the script’s grab bag of working-class signifiers—Leigh’s vague pill dependency, her unseen incarcerated husband, and, counterintuitively with regards to that last point, her mean cop dad—and in those scenes, it even occasionally achieves real tension or texture, as in one tense dialogue sequence built simply around a young boy’s weekly meeting with his parole officer. And playing the role of that mean cop dad, the hugely underrated performer Will Patton brings to his few scenes the sense of faux-grandiose exploitation-film energy that the whole script is pitched at—finding unexpected reactions and turns while the director and other lead actors play things more than a bit too straight.
Showing after Blood on Her Name is the repertory selection, Stewart Raffill’s Tammy and the T-Rex (1994), an idiosyncratic comedy film so absurd that many others have incorrectly labeled it as schlock. Produced right after Jurassic Park (1993), the film is actually more of a low-budget independent comedy, riffing on the iconography of Spielberg’s picture while really trying to land in the ballpark of, say, horror comedies by Stuart Gordon or Herschell Gordon Lewis. Denise Richards gives a really charismatic performance as a teenager in love with a character played by Paul Walker, who after being left for dead by a gang of local bullies is kidnapped by a mad scientist; said mad scientist then proceeds to kill Walker’s character, and then implants the young man’s brain within the head of a robotically engineered T. rex. Though rather dull in stretches at the start, the film’s creative team begins experimenting with that unwieldy central prop to extremely creative and productive ends by the second half of the film—for instance, by crafting over-the-shoulder shots and other ostensibly banal images around the genuinely impressive dinosaur-suit, which is really funny stuff even taken aside from the garden-variety absurdism of the narrative. Replete with gory operating-table footage and a bunch of claw-based kill scenes, the film’s most violent images were cut out after production for the sake of obtaining a PG-13 rating; this restoration is representative of the film’s original cut, which had previously only been available internationally. Though the mission statement of the mini-fest does regard “new releases,” Tammy and the T-Rex’s continues BUFF’s tradition of bringing some of the most outré films recently preserved or rereleased onto Boston-area screens—just as BUFF-o-WEEN continues the larger traditions established by the festival every March, and really, every month.
Note: DigBoston is a sponsor of BUFF-o-WEEN.
BUFF-O-WEEN. SOMERVILLE THEATRE, 55 DAVIS SQ., SOMERVILLE. 10.17–20. FOR TICKETS, SEE SOMERVILLETHEATRE.COM. FOR MORE INFORMATION ON BUFF AND ITS OTHER EVENTS, SEE BOSTONUNDERGROUND.ORG.