'Thrills,' 'Spiders,' 'Death' — And Other Fun Stuff At BUFF

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Need something festive to hold you until next month’s Independent Film Festival of Boston? If you’re willing to venture to the dark side of cinema where the weird, wild, and gruesome congregate then consider your week booked. The Boston Underground Film Festival will take over the venerable Brattle Theatre beginningWednesday night with a premiere of “I Declare War” and a lavish opening night Quinceañera bash at the Oberon to commemorate 15 years of giving locals the heebie-jeebies.

Looking forward into the BUFF program is one of my recent festival favorites, the dark comedy “Cheap Thrills” at 9:15 Saturday night. Two friends at a bar are approached by wealthy couple with an unusual proposal: Play a dangerous game of dare for hundreds and thousands of dollars. With both men struggling to make money, they take the bet and play the game. Joining Pat Healy and Sara Paxton, both of "The Innkeepers," are the serious Ethan Embry and the sadistically comedic David Koechner. The performances lure you in, and the claustrophobic, colorful setting dares you to watch what happens next. Director E. L. Katz draws on the uncomfortable reality of the recession and turns it into a brilliantly twisted thriller.

Despite its focus all things strange and gross, BUFF usually saves a spot for a documentary that might be under the radar for festival goers. “A Band Called Death” (7:45 p.m. Thursday) directed by Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett is this year’s best story you probably never heard about. Three African-American brothers in Detroit created a punk sound years before The Ramones hit the New York scene. They opted to call their band Death, a move that ended up stifling their careers since no one in Motown would sign a controversially named band in the early 1970s. Thanks to the digital age and a few vinyl record fanatics, their music was rediscovered and this bittersweet tale gets a second act that would make a feel-good Hallmark movie jealous. Oh, and the ahead-of-its-time music sounds great too.

The closing night oddity is plucked from the storied B-movie tradition of giant creepy crawlies. Mike Mendez’ s “Big Ass Spider” (8:30 p.m. Sunday) makes for a heartfelt tribute to the genre by sticking to its tried and true formula: Secret government experiments + unlikely hero + lots of screaming people = campy goodness. Leading man Greg Grunberg plays a self-important over-zealous exterminator who finds himself in the hospital where a mutant spider to break loose. Of course, there’s a dame whom he hits on in a 1950’s entitled manner, mad scientists, a plucky sidekick, and the crowning achievement — a CGI spider that would not be amiss among the Rotoscope monsters of yesteryear. Probably not as bloody as the rest of the festival’s lineup, but “Big Ass Spider” is a lighthearted end to an otherwise dark and demented festival.

There’s plenty more to see and do, with more parties you can join after your movie. See you on the other side of mainstream.

Monica Castillo is a freelance film critic and writer based in Boston. You can usually find her outside any of the area’s movie theaters excitedly talking about the film she just saw.

This program aired on March 25, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.