'Bruno,' 'Hell' test waters at SXSW

Enthusiastic crowds wait in line for preview screenings

AUSTIN -- Two of Universal's most anticipated 2009 titles -- "Bruno," the latest comedy from Sacha Baron Cohen, and "Drag Me to Hell," director Sam Raimi's return to his stylistic horror films after helming the "Spider-Man" trilogy -- made appearances Sunday night at the South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival.

"Bruno" bowed footage at the Alamo Drafthouse Lamar in an auditorium holding fewer than 150 people. So when the 11 p.m. screenings sold out, a second showing at 10:40 p.m. quickly was scheduled.

The clip amounted to 22 minutes from the film, scheduled for a July 10 release. In it, Baron Cohen plays a gay Austrian talk show host named Bruno who emigrates to the U.S. and, through a still unclear series of plot machinations, winds up traveling through small towns and humiliating locals on camera much like he did as his Borat character in 2006's "Borat."

Later in the evening, the "Hell" screening at the Paramount Theater downtown drew a more excited crowd than any other festival premiere to play so far. Crowds began lining up before 10:30 p.m. to get a good spot in line for the screening of a work-in-progress cut of the film, which opens wide May 29.

"Hell," which was introduced by Raimi and Ain't It Cool News founder Harry Knowles, is a gross-out return to Raimi's vintage brand of pulpy horror, and the 1,200-strong crowd ate it up.

The South by Southwest specials continued Monday, when those who were able to make a morning screening after the previous evening's midnight event watched Richard Linklater's "Me and Orson Welles."

The historical drama, about the Mercury Theater's production of "Julius Ceasar" in 1937, played the Toronto International Film Festival in September and opens theatrically in October. Linklater said in a brief Q&A session that he probably shouldn't be screening the film, but the Texas filmmaker couldn't resist bringing it to South by Southwest.

The world premiere of the Seth Rogen starrer "Observe and Report" was set to take place Monday in advance of the closing-night awards Tuesday.