While horror, sci-fi and other genre movies have been faring well at the box office lately, it is not the big Hollywood productions with well-known stars that often deliver the best stories. Some big budget genre movies do occasionally please fans, rake in the green and garner critical acclaim, but the more hardcore or esoteric indie titles (often the more interesting ones) usually escape greater notice for a variety of reasons. Following are five movies from 2009 that should have received more attention than they did. While it is true that two of them, House Of The Devil and Moon, reaped substantial kudos from critics, I doubt your average movie fan will even know much about them since they didn’t gross a bazillion dollars. So here they are.
THE CHILDREN — On the fence about having kids? This tale will knock you over to the “don’t” side. A Christmas gathering between the families of two strained sisters becomes uglier when their little critters develop a nasty infection that turns them homicidal. This slightly unrealistic but gripping film makes great comments on self-absorbed parents, the nature of child-rearing and the ultimate fear that no matter what you do, outside influences will always reach your brood.
HOUSE OF THE DEVIL — Young babysitters never learn not to work for strange people or even have an escape plan from a spooky house, at least in the world of horror movies. Writer/director Ti West knows this. His suspenseful homage to the babysitter-in-peril movies of the Seventies and Eighties plays on those conventions. You know something bad is gonna happen to college student Samantha; you just don’t where or when, and that makes this fun to watch. It’s even getting a limited VHS/DVD release.
MOON — This has been compared to 2001, but they are two different movies. Moon is destined to become a cult classic, thanks to Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of an astronaut whose isolated, three-year lunar stint for an energy company is ending. He’s getting a little loopy, even with his robot friend Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey) keeping him company, but things get disturbing when he awakens after an accident to find his look-alike there. Moon is smart, slick and metaphysical sci-fi that slowly builds to a meaningful pay-off.
NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD –This hilariously irreverent documentary traces the history of exploitation movies Down Under — more specifically, Ozploitation — and spans everything from crazy biker movies (Mad Max, Stone) to bawdy sex romps (Alvin Purple) to quirky horror and fantasy (Dead End Drive-In, Patrick). Some be might offended by its liberal servings of sex, blood and vomit, but it is eye-opening on many levels and features some wild personalities, including crazy stuntman Grant Page, of whom Jamie Lee Curtis marvels that he still lives. I guess those Foster’s commercials aren’t so exaggerated after all.
THE THAW — Val Kilmer has a supporting role as a scientist who is radically concerned about global warming. On an arctic expedition he discovers something ancient and sinister, and when his semi-estranged daughter and research students visit him, they learn about a nasty bug that is worse than any swine flu or SARS outbreak. As expected, loyalties get tested and the fate of the world rests in their hands. Fans of John Carpenter’s The Thing will appreciate the creeping dread of this movie, in more ways than one.