Curated by filmmaker and festival founder, Billy Burgess, Best of the Druid Underground Film Festival, Vol 1. is a collection of the “weirdest, most daring, most psychotic shorts” to play the traveling Druid Underground Film Festival over the first five years of the fest’s existence. This amounts to thirteen films, running roughly sixty minutes, from filmmakers you may’ve read about here before, like Damon Packard or Rodney Ascher. You have the option on the DVD of watching the shorts individually, or as “Play All,” and I did the latter. There’s also an Easter Egg to be found, but that’s on you. Here’s some thoughts on the collection, and the individual shorts:
INTRO + THE MAKING OF D.U.F.F. (Billy Burgess)
The collection starts out with a brief history of the Druid Underground Film Festival, basically looking for more programming for the festival. At the end of this DVD, if the feeling moves you or you feel a kinship with the films or filmmakers involved, why not submit your film? You’d be in… interesting company.
THE GREAT PACKARD LINCOLN BREAKDOWN (Damon Packard)
In the style of a grindhouse trailer, The Great Packard Lincoln Breakdown positions itself as a battle between filmmaker Damon Packard and his piece of s**t 1988 Lincoln as it sputters, clunks and generally gives up the metallic ghost. Appropriately Packard, odd and strangely charming at the same time.
I LIVE IN THE WOODS (Max Winston)
A stop-motion tale of a hillbilly living a carefree life in the woods. A life that seems cheerful enough, until our friend shows a penchant for bloodshed and hatred for judgment, setting him at odds with the man upstairs. Off-the-wall, brilliantly made and exceptionally grotesque, it’s already a standout as only the second short on the DVD.
TELL-A-VISION (Dave Kidd)
A small group of friends, armed with shotguns, go to town destroying old televisions until cops briefly interrupt them, all narrated by a spooky authoritarian voice. A statement on the dangers of media, or just an excuse to wreck some TVs on camera? I mean, we’ve all been there at some point, right? More fulfilling of the collection’s promise of “weird” than what I’d consider “best.”
VISIONS OF TERROR (Rodney Ascher and Josh Fadem)
Set up as a nightmarish horror film, a young woman is haunted by a dark being whose whole purpose seems to be following her around, suggesting, in creepy deadpan, crummy films on VHS for her to watch. Awkwardly hilarious, like having the Devil’s own video store manager as your personal tour guide. Ascher would go on to create Room 237, so if you’re interested in an earlier look at his obsession with films, this alone is worth checking out the DVD.
BUG SHOW (Aimee Goguen)
Filmmaker Aimee Goguen and her friend find themselves infatuated with a bug, who is itself infatuated with the light they hold. Unfortunately, the filmmakers witness the bug’s final moments, through no fault of their own… but then take things one step beyond. Another one that hits the “weird” mark, more curiosity than short film of interest.
CRISPY (Darren Herczeg)
A man wakes up in bed, to see a woman sitting there, watching him. As if that wasn’t creepy enough, her outrageously glistening hair seems to be making a sound not unlike a grease-filled deep fryer. It’s the regret of the morning after and… well, I don’t know. This one doesn’t really go anywhere, is just really unnerving throughout. Which has its place, certainly.
DECORATION AND YOU (Trulee Grace Hall)
A mix of live action and animation gives you advice on how to decorate your home, on the outside and in. The real achievement here is the integration of footage of a doll house with a full-sized recreation; as footage leaps back and forth, it’s hard to tell what element is what, and when a human is as likely an inhabitant as a small toy. Entrancing to a certain point, but goes on too long for me.
LET’S MEAT (Ben Cuevas)
An online chat turns into an in-person date that turns into a kinky, raw meat-infused sexual experience. Straightforward, narrated in poetic rhyme, the film is over pretty fast. Whether it has a point beyond the one-note joke of its title is hard to say, but at least it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
OUROBOROS NEVADA (Vitamin Wig C)
A music video made up of seemingly random footage, odd people with painted faces dancing or otherwise moving and talking energetically. Would not be out of place finding a home on YouTube, it’s musical gibberish that may have a reason for its madness, but I couldn’t tell you what it is. Oh, and this is listed on the DVD menu under the title Ouroboros Nevada, but the video itself seems to give the title Tear Light instead; no idea if that means anything either.
THE BEE HIVE (Lee Lynch)
Siblings head out into the woods and become briefly entranced by a bee hive before getting back in the car and heading home. The sort of short film that ends fast and makes you wonder if you missed something. Aesthetically looks like someone found an old reel of 16mm in someone’s closet, and this is what was on it.
APRIL’S FOOL (Moises Jimenez)
This is more along the lines of what my mind thinks of when someone says “experimental film.” Piano score exists behind footage of a young girl jumping around, while an animated interpretation of her skeleton appears and disappears, the whole image under an ever-present barrage of film scratches and damage. Aurally hypnotic, which works nicely with the consistent chaos of the imagery.
HORS-HUMAIN (Yann Minh)
The man in this short documentary film engages in a series of actions that might scare many a casual thrill seeker, such as doing handstands on live subway tracks or dressing like the Crow while hanging upside down from a freeway overpass over moving traffic. Throughout his endeavors is the sound of his singing and/or drumming, almost as if he thinks making music is the only protection he needs to save himself from potential death. Another short that is hauntingly hypnotic.
FREEDOM FOREVER (Billy Burgess)
When Joe’s latest attempt at finding love ends with rejection, he gets his rampage on, destroying his own house and descending into a colorful chaos as Death waxes philosophically. If some of the set looks familiar, it’s because you saw it in one of the earlier shorts in the collection, Decoration and You. Created by the founder of the Druid Underground Film Festival, you can see, and understand, how the films that he’s been curating over the years have left their mark. This one fits as it should, but it does not particularly stand out.
Overall, I’d have to say that as a collection of weird and unique short films, it certainly delivers the goods. Whether or not “weird” equates to “good” is debatable, of course, as some of these are more strange than quality. That said, however, if I were attending the Druid Underground Film Festival in much the same way, and same reason, that folks check out the Found Footage Film Festival, then I don’t think I’d be disappointed. It’s going to be one memorable show, one way or another, and for that reason I think this collection is worth your time. The fact that standouts like I Live in the Woods and Visions of Terror are included makes the DVD that much more enticing.
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