Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival has come and gone, and now that I’ve had the weekend to ruminate on the fest, I’m ready to give you my picks for best of the fest.
PUFF 2 was an excellent four days of genre and cult programming that I was delighted to be invited to again. The festival was in a better location, ran smoother, and still managed to feel like a four-day long DIY party. Madeleine Koestner and her crew found 40 great movies to show to packed houses all weekend, and gave a platform to filmmakers from all over the world. There is no reason you shouldn’t set up a google alert for PUFF so you know when next year’s festival is going to be – if you’re in any way a fan of horror or cult movies, this is the best event in Philadelphia going, and it nothing would make me happier than next year’s fest being so well attended they have to turn people away.
But let’s get to the best of the fest. I’m going to save my top short and top feature for the end of the article, instead beginning with some highlights and honorable mentions. We’ll start with my favorite shorts from the weekend. There were 32 shorts screened in total, and I saw every goddamn one and honestly liked nearly all of them. But these three were among my favorites.
Nocturnally Yours, directed by David Ferino, is one of the most bizarre love stories you’ll ever see. When a man accidentally kills himself on the night he means to propose to his girlfriend, he has to find a way to continue his proposal from beyond the grave. And in the age of social media, with a new found ability to possess people, he and his would-be bride find out that swiping right for love still isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. This movie is just so funny and so creative in the way it reveals its premise and the complications that continue to arise from it. It’s also one the best looking shorts from the weekend, with excellent gore FX and some really funny performances. I can’t recommend this enough.
Beauty Aisle, directed by Aaron Levine, is hands down the most effective and affecting film from the festival for me. Which is going to sound strange when I tell you the premise – it’s a two-minute film comprised entirely of extreme close-ups of a woman’s hand shaving Aaron’s ridiculously hairy body with a cheap, pink razor. And then Nair. And then wax. It’s a movie about the double standards of beauty, and as I cringed and tried to look away I realized I was having the most visceral experience I would have all weekend. Something about razors running over skin is just terrifying to me, and it makes that ridiculous standard we hold women to ABUNDANTLY CLEAR. This may not quite be a horror movie, but it was the most horrified I was all weekend, and I think that’s a mark of a great filmmaker. It’s just such a unique movie among the rest of the programming at the festival, and I really think it should be lauded for all it accomplishes in such a short run time.
Times of Zoe, directed by Tim Carlier, is a movie about the lengths we have gone and may continue to go to understand the nature of God. I have a lot of personal history with Christianity and much existential anxiety over what happens when we die, and the light touch with which this movie approaches those subjects actually put me at ease with a lot of that stress. It beautifully illustrates our curiosity and desire to understand, as well as our over-ambition to reach that enlightenment we’re seeking. And it does all of that through very simple means, with hand-built props that effectively evoke a sense of science-fiction and some crude special FX that ultimately serve the story very well precisely because they’re crude. I really loved this short, both for how specific it is to my tastes and interests, and for its sense of humor about life’s biggest questions.
A few honorable mentions from the shorts, if you’ll indulge me. Sludge Easter, directed by Michael Bartolomeo is really interesting experiment in time lapse photography and sound design that I really enjoyed. What the Cat Dragged In/a>, directed by Isaac Ruth is easily one of the funniest shorts that played at the fest. Beta Persei, directed by Katherine Clark is hands down the best looking short we saw at the festival, maybe even outshining the features as far as that goes. And finally Kill the Engine, directed by Derek Frey, is genuinely hilarious and fun. I really wanted to put this on the list above but it got squeezed out by Times of Zoe because, frankly, I’m just so fucking afraid to die I needed the anti-anxiety medication that is that short.
Now lets move onto the features. We saw 10 features, mostly in the horror genre with a few outliers. But even within horror, each of these films is totally unique and interesting in its own right. That said, lets get to my personal favorites.
Tragedy Girls, directed by Tyler MacIntyre, is perfect populous horror, and I don’t mean that to be an insult in any way. The story of two teenage girls who are desperate to be legendary serial killers while simultaneously attempting to enjoy the fame most serial killers don’t get until they’re caught, Tragedy Girls is a worthy successor to Scream for the social media age. The film is jam packed with great actors you’re familiar with, practical FX that will make you squeal with delight, and genuinely funny jokes that you’ll be talking about for weeks to come. If ever there were a festival movie that deserves a wide release, this is it. I had such a blast watching this movie in a packed crowd, and I can’t wait for it to become more available so I can start recommending it to people.
Terrifier, directed by Damien Leone, is a shocking, abundantly gory, yet ridiculously fun killer clown movie that upon initial viewing, I was only kind of excited about. But as the festival went on and I continued to think about Terrifier, it just grew and grew in my estimation. The practical FX here are top notch and absolutely disgusting, but it isn’t a non-stop onslaught of them. The movie carefully paces these out and uses them to great effect, building more and more tension as it goes. But what really drew me into the movie was Art The Clown, played by David Howard Thornton. Art isn’t just a maniac dressed as clown, he’s actually a clown – constantly clowning his way through his grisly murders. It’s almost as if he’s possessed to do funny clown things and can’t complete his task unless it’s a complete performance. And I never would have imagined how much tension could be derived of that premise, let alone how funny a movie this gross could be, literally at the same exact time. This just lingered in my mind all weekend and the more I thought about it, the more I loved it. I can’t wait to get my hands on this and shock some unsuspecting friends with it.
Night Creep, directed by Greg Travis, is a movie that was completed 15 years ago, shot entirely on VHS, and was never screened for an audience until the closing night of PUFF. If you’re familiar with Travis, you’ll recognize him as a sometimes actor that had roles in Showgirls and Lost HighwayNight Creep is his attempt to synthesize those two movies into one totally insane midnight movie. If you’re a fan of The Room or similar trash cinema, this is an absolute must see. And by the way, Travis is actually a really talented film maker. Despite the shot on video look of this, there’s real artistry behind the camera and it legitimately looks like an attempt at a David Lynch film, albeit one that ultimately feels more like a Tommy Wiseau film. Once this becomes more readily available, and I believe there is an upcoming release intended for this, there is no doubt in mind it will become a classic of midnight movies and trash cinema.
I’d like to give a few honorable mentions here as well. Imitation Girl, directed by Natasha Kermani, is a really fascinating portrait of female duality encased in a science fiction premise that has some fantastic cinematography, especially in the half of the film that takes place in New Mexico. Spookers, directed by Florian Habicht is a really fun documentary about a haunted house attraction in New Zealand that I recommend if you’re one of those documentary hounds that just can’t get enough of people’s personal stories. RUIN ME, directed by Preston DeFrancis, is another movie that grew on me the more time I had to sit on it and think about it. It’s got a fun horror premise that ultimately dovetails into a more dramatic story about addiction, manipulation, and ultimately gas lighting that I’m still not sure completely works for me, but is definitely effective and works in a moral grey area that is really interesting.
And now for my grand finale, I give you my true BEST OF THE FEST.
My favorite feature at the festival this year, by a long shot, was Charismata, directed by Andy Collier. It’s a haunting police procedural about a female detective on the trail of her first serial killer that becomes more and more horrific as it goes on. She is surrounded by men throughout the run time, all of whom treat her like she’s less than capable of her job, despite what we know about her. And as she becomes more and more convinced of the identity of the killer, these men become less and less convinced of her ability to do her job properly, essentially gaslighting her into self doubt. Whereas RUIN ME is about a large conspiracy to manipulate a woman, Charismata is about the everyday interactions and transactions that women make with men, all of which are rooted in misogyny. It’s a more nuanced approach to this subject that really worked for me. And beyond the great thematic work here, this is just a fantastic movie. It manages to be really funny without betraying the weight of its ideas or the horror that is running underneath the surface (and eventually becomes the focus of the movie), and it’s wonderfully directed with a very formal approach that reminded me a bit of John Carpenter. This is one that I cannot recommend enough and I hope people will seek out.
My favorite short at the festival this year, and truly what I would like to give the BEST OF THE FEST award to, above all the shorts and even the features, is Chris McInroy’s Death Metal. You will never see a more brutal, more over-the-top, more hilarious movie than Death Metal, the story of a metalhead that wants to be great at guitar, but simply isn’t. When presented with an axe that may have been cursed by Satan himself and is said to grant exceptional noodling skills, our hero ignores the warnings that come with it and begins trying to profit off his newfound talent, only to literally shred his audience. This movie packs more jokes and more graphic violence into four minutes than any feature we saw at the fest this year and it is astoundingly awesome. Congratulations Mr. McInroy, and hail Satan.
This truly means that PUFF 2 has come to an end, and I am once again a broken man counting down the days until the next festival when I can become one with a theater full of weirdos. If any of this peaked your interest, please seek these movies out and watch them. Tell the filmmakers what you thought of them. Find me on twitter and let me know what you thought of them. Let’s keep this conversation going until next year and the pack the fucking house at PUFF 3 in 2018.
And always remember, Satan’s cooool.