There are so many movies made now that it feels impossible to keep up with everything you may want to check out. The films I write about on this page are ones that I thought should have had a bigger audience or better reception than they did. In other words, these are movies you should have seen but didn't.
One thing leads to another
Several weeks ago, yet another horror movie topped the box office – “The Purge.” It has an unusual premise so it may be worthy of the attention it has gotten, and I’m sure its star, Ethan Hawke, is very pleased (although I’m much more excited about his other movie this season – “Before Midnight”). And now "World War Z" is on the scene and raking in big bucks (although in my mind zombie movies are a breed apart from traditional horror films). But I want to draw your attention to a little-seen horror gem from several years ago. It’s director Ti West’s “The House of the Devil” from 2009. Here are four reasons it ranks among my favorite horror films:
The movie is set in the 1980s – the decade of my formative years – so the references resonate. From the feathered hair styles to lead actress Jocelin Donahue dancing around the house listening to The Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another” on her Walkman, it’s a 1980s love fest. And the movie is an homage to those cheesy (but fabulous) ‘80s horror movies like “Christine” and “Cujo.” Dee Wallace has a bit part, for crying out loud. I was so happy to see her because it let me know that this director, who also wrote the script, was a man after my own generation.
The set up
You’re a college kid desperately needing to get away from your annoying roommate and the prospect of any other roommates. Dee Wallace offers you the perfect little apartment for a reasonable rent. Your mission: Raise money for the first month’s rent. Why look, how fortuitous – someone has put out a request for a babysitter on various flagpoles and bulletin boards around campus. That is exactly how good parents would seek a babysitter. There’s nothing suspicious going on here. It all seems very above-board … Fortunately, you have a smart, worldly best friend, played by Greta Gerwig (very Natasha Lyonne from “American Pie”), who doesn’t trust it for a minute, but is willing to drop you off as long as you let her scope out the scene before leaving you. If only worldliness were enough in these movies. For the chance to get your whole month’s rent in just one night, you go along with the job even when you learn that it’s a grandmother (not little darling children) who needs babysitting and she is not to be disturbed under any circumstances. (Did someone mention 1979’s “When a Stanger Calls”?) You mean you get paid just to hang around the house and probably never even see the old biddy? Jackpot, right? Ugh.
Setting the movie in the ‘80s automatically gave writer/director West a big boost in the suspense-building department. It meant there were no cell phones – at least not for struggling college kids. In the “making of” featurette, West talks about using the lack of technology at the time to his advantage. Clearly, if you run into trouble and your best friend is nowhere near a land line phone, you’re on your own. And since this is a horror movie, the land line wouldn’t be working anyway. But aside from no cell phone access, what’s great about West’s story is that he takes his time. You keep wondering when all hell is going to break loose. Don’t worry; it does. But the suspense keeps building because as a movie-goer these days, you’re probably expecting a blood bath from the first reel. The waiting makes it even better when you finally learn what’s up with grandma.
The pay off
Obviously, I can’t say too much about the ending without being a spoiler. I will say that while it is somewhat anti-climactic, it is still satisfying and worth experiencing. I’m sure a lot of women out there understand what I mean through other contexts.
Director: Ti West | Writer: Ti West | STARRING: Jocelin Donahue, Greta Gerwig, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, AJ Bowen & Dee Wallace
Happily married, never satisfied
So what is it with these happily married couples? Is the prospect of spending your life with one person really as unrealistic as it seems? I found Massy Tadjedin's 2011 film "Last Night" provocative and telling. Being married doesn't mean you won't be attracted to other people. Being married doesn't mean you married the right person. Cheating isn't always physical. And none of these things mean that you can't stay happily married.
The film is well-paced, handsomely shot and doesn't try to be more than it is -- an examination of a young marriage when temptation rears its inevitable head. It's worth a look if for no other reason than to ask yourself what you would do in the four protagonists' shoes.
Director: Massy Tadjedin | Writer: Massy Tadjedin | STARRING: Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes & Guillaume Canet