Film festivals don't always deserve the prestige and glamour that their laureled logos suggest. For 13 years, the Boston Underground Film Festival has prided itself upon lovably eccentric B-movies that other fests would be afraid to touch.

"Another festival would relegate what we show to late-night fare," says BUFF Artistic Director Kevin Monahan. "We are a whole festival of midnight movies."

This year however, BUFF's films are noticeably more glossy and well-produced than in previous years. Take, for example, Friday's showing of the incredibly dark and stylish Japanese crime-thriller, "Smuggler," directed by Katsuhito Ishii. And then there's the Saturday afternoon showing of the black comedy "Happily Never After" -- a sheer study in awkward narcissism, directed by Jamie Heinrich. Both are captivating, unique, character-driven films -- but both are still strange and obscure enough to fall under BUFF's tattered, but well-loved umbrella. Even Saturday's featured documentary, a harrowing tale of HIV in the porn industry, "Inside Lara Roxx," directed by Mia Donovan, has a grace to it that belies its salacious subject matter.

Fans of schlock need not worry though; it's the same old BUFF. Any festival that closes out a Friday night with the supremely cheesy "Rock & Roll Nightmare" could profess no less. According to Monahan, the quality of this year's selections is a combination of luck and great scouting.


"People really have high expectations of us at this point," he says of the festival's commitment to connecting with its beloved audience. "We want to step up our game and make sure that every feature will attract people to come out."

Monahan's 'Toxic' love

Kevin Monahan is too young to have grown up in the Grindhouse era, but fortuna-tely for fans of underground films everywhere, he grew up with a VCR as his babysitter. One day, the senior Mr. Mona- han unsuspectingly left a copy of "The Toxic Avenger" for his son to watch, and he was hooked immediately. "My heart was with the trashy stuff, the stuff that got no respect," says Monahan, referring to the 1984 exploitation film as his "gateway drug." "It wasn't even ironic. I just enjoyed the fun of it."

14th Annual Boston Underground Film Festival

Tonight through Sunday

Brattle Theater

17 Brattle St., Cambridge

$10-$75, 617-876-6837

Latest From ...