PUFF 2017: DAY 2 in Review… Smoke ‘Em If Ya Got ‘Em

I guess that makes two shit-demons in cinematic history.

The Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival is the only place you can say that sentence directly to the distributor of a movie you just watched. And Day 2 of PUFF 2 provided me just such an opportunity.

I arrived a few minutes early and was immediately offered a jello shot by Madeleine Koestner, the festival’s organizing force. If you spend more than two minutes with this awesome woman, she WILL offer you booze. The jello shots were part of their Prom Party theme for Day 2’s big feature, Tragedy Girls. Madeleine had made up a couple of masks that looked just like the ones featured in the film, and a lot of people came dressed up for prom and took photos with each other in the masks while they did shots and mingled with the vendors in the lobby. If I haven’t already made this abundantly clear – PUFF is the most fun you can have watching movies in Philadelphia all year.

The crowd for Tragedy Girls was huge, too. They packed the theater full of people for this one, I would imagine it was their biggest turn out for any film they’ve screened. And with good reason – Tragedy Girls is already making a reputation for itself on the festival circuit and much like the leads of the film, it’s running a stellar social media campaign. People know about this movie and are hungry for it. And boy does it deliver.

But of course, before the feature PUFF screened a short called God Came ‘Round that was essentially a music video starring Deep Roy, of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame. Directed by Derek Frey, this is the creepy story of a bizarre man that fawns over a woman he hardly knows. I say creepy not because the film is intended to be creepy, but because the behavior of the lead is extremely creepy, down to the implied fucking of a picture of this woman he barely knows. I kind of hated this short, but that too is to be expected at PUFF – they have eclectic taste and aren’t afraid to display it loud and proud.

But the feature that followed was the aforementioned Tragedy Girls which is likely to be one of the stand-outs at PUFF this year. Directed by Tyler MacIntyre and starring a bevy of likable actors like Brianna Hildebrand, Alexandra Shipp, Josh Hutcherson, and Craig Robinson, Tragedy Girls is jam packed with great performances, funny jokes, and ridiculous gore FX. Hildebrand and Shipp have incredible chemistry together and manage to make a couple of social-media-obsessed teens fun to be around, as opposed to endlessly annoying. I don’t want to give away too many details, because this movie was really fun to discover in the moment, but it feels like perhaps the first worthy successor to Scream for the age of social media. All your favorite horror movies exist in this world (and are name-dropped quite frequently) and are the inspiration for a twitter account that brings a small town to its knees. It’s an interesting dissection of how social-media can twist facts and poison culture, yet the movie never gets bogged down in these thematics. You could watch this as a pure horror-comedy and have a blast. MVP goes out to Hutcherson whose scenes made me nearly hyperventilate with laughter.

Up next was the Bizarre Block of shorts which was surprisingly good from start to finish. Director Sam LeGassick’s 188548 was a collection of creepy VHS footage edited together to maximize its creep factor, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Seasons Greetings from Terriorate (also covered by Doug in his round-up of some of the fest’s best shorts), directed by Gonzalo Nosal, felt very David Lynch inspired and was mostly nonsensical but it featured absolutely gorgeous black and white photography. Alchemy, directed by Brandon Polanco (and starring Ian Kevin Scott who was in attendance and I believe also wrote the film) was really interesting because for the first 10 minutes I couldn’t make heads or tails of what I was watching, but in its final minutes it delivers a conclusion that suddenly fills the film with meaning and metaphor that I think gives it a solid impact.

I was really taken with Sludge Eater, which director Michael Bartolomeo was on hand to discuss and shared that it’s mostly an experiment in sound recording paired with time-lapse photography, all of which I found very effective and unique. They also had director Aaron Levine on hand to discuss his Beauty Aisle, which is likely to be the most horrific thing I see at the fest this weekend – it’s just footage or a woman shaving, Nair-ing, and waxing his extremely hairy body, and watching a razor move over skin is deeply upsetting to me, which made the double-standards of beauty that this film is about abundantly clear to me. I sincerely found this 2-minute film very difficult to watch and I can’t recommend it enough. I’ll give a quick mention to Mike Frazier’s Glory, the only short I didn’t like, mostly because it felt like it was crass for the sake of being crass and I rarely care for that. But I’ve saved the best for last – Logan Fry’s Gimme Head: The Tale of the Cuyahoga Valley Bigfoot which is an insane, low-budget monster movie made on a laptop from one of last year’s most interesting creatives. I met Logan at PUFF last year, whose It’s Not About Horses on Mars was one of the shorts that delighted me to no end. Logan is an interesting character – a man in his 70s that has a creative itch he just can’t seem to scratch and throws everything he’s got into mediums he seems to know very little about, like animation or gore FX. The result is always bizarre and hilarious, sometimes even a little troubling, and Gimme Head does not disappoint in any of those categories. I think the biggest laugh I’ve had at the fest thus far was when a character in Gimme Head suddenly broke the 4th wall to talk to directly to me for literally one line. Fuck do I love PUFF.

The night closed out on a lightly attended screening of director Peter Vack’s Assholes, which, like Tragedy Girls, has also been building a reputation for itself, but in this case it’s as something so repulsive you simply shouldn’t see it. So I think it well earned its light attendance. Unfortunately though, that means hardly anyone saw the absolutely fantastic short film Nocturnally Yours, directed by David Ferino, which is about a man who dies moments before he’s going to propose to his girlfriend and must find a way to continue his proposal from the afterlife. It’s really well shot, the cast is great, and the central premise just keeps twisting further and further around and going to more hilarious heights than you would have supposed from its opening. I absolutely adored this film, and if it weren’t the fact that Death Metal was so good I’ve spent the last 48 hours hailing Satan, I’d be hailing Ferino for his superb work. Which brings us to Assholes, a film that for its initial 40 minutes I was more on board for than I thought I would be. It’s surely gross and weird, but it is very funny and has some excellent central performances. But about halfway through the film, it jumps the shark’s shit, so to speak, and starts becoming a more surreal, supernatural film than you think you’re watching, and just from a storytelling stand point it kind of lost me there and never pulled me back in. It’s honestly not that this is so repulsive it’s unwatchable – that’s what I keep hearing but I don’t agree with that assessment – it’s just that it feels like it has nothing to say about these characters or their actions. It sets itself up like it’s building to something, but then goes so off the rails into just bonkers nonsense that it can’t ever ground itself again and make a point. All that said, I think Assholes is worth seeing if any of that sparked your interest even remotely – I can assure you, you’ve never seen anything like it.

Day 2 of PUFF was another rousing success, and as I sit here drinking my coffee, preparing for Day 3, I’m already thinking about how sad it is that I’ll have to wait another year to hang with this group of weirdos and talk about fucked up movies. So, smoke if ya got em, I guess.

Garrett Smith
Resident Funny Man / Film Geek
Garrett Smith is a Philadelphia based comedian and podcaster surviving on frozen pizza and macaroni and cheese. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd to see if he ever develops lactose intolerance, and check out his milky smooth voice on his podcast, I Like To Movie Movie.
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