True independent film -- not the middle-of-the-road Indiewood crap but transgressive, taboo-busting movies inspired by John Waters, George A. Romero, and Errol Morris -- has always sprung from youth culture. Hence the obsessions with horror, sex, and music (with a fillip of radical politics), adrenalized themes that the annual S.F. Independent Film Festival enthusiastically embraces without restraint or shame.
Scary movies chew up a big chunk of this year's program, led by the world premiere of the director's cut of House of the Dead, a zombie chiller based on the video game series of the same name, and Hell's Highway, which updates the teens-vs.-cannibals subgenre with 21st-century effects. French enfant terribleGaspar Noe (I Stand Alone) makes a specific kind of horror film -- the realistic and uncompromising urban nightmare -- and although the excruciatingly long rape scene in his latest, Irreversible, sent many Cannes-goers fleeing, he's not a purveyor of exploitation and titillation.
For that, look to the opening-night films. An unhinged buzz through the crystal meth scene, Spun boasts the flash of video director Jonas Äkerlund and jagged, jazzy riffs from John Leguizamo, Jason Schwartzman, Mena Suvari, and Mickey Rourke (a shoo-in for IndieFest's first Lifetime Weirdness Award, whenever the organization gets around to initiating it). The late show is Girls Will Be Girls, a cliché-flouncing drag comedy that doesn't just wallow in bad taste (did I mention it's set in L.A.?) -- it does the backstroke.
The fest's hot hipster ticket is Easy Listening, a romantic comedy that taps into the pre-Muzak stylings of Ray Conniff. For those who want more fiber in their diets, Brian Flemming's infamous faux documentary Nothing So Strange imagines the 1999 assassination of Bill Gates as a catalyst for LAPD corruption, media apathy, and conspiracy theories. Another highlight is Horns and Halos, which unravels the tortured relationship between Dubya biographer J.H. Hatfield and Sander Hicks, the fringe publisher who took on Fortunate Son after St. Martin's Press pulled it from stores. Spooky, unsettling, and replete with gruesome chuckles, it's the quintessential IndieFest film.