A radio DJ starts off his day in Pontypool, Ontario strangely: during his snow-bound morning commute to the station, a disturbed young woman accosts him. Shaken, he begins his talk radio show, taking calls and going off on monologues. His engineer and studio manager note that there’s something off about that morning, and sure enough, the calls he receives begin to reveal that people in the area have started murdering each other for no apparent reason.
It’s soon revealed that some sort of virus is being transmitted via the English language; his engineer becomes infected and attacks him and the producer. Then he ends up being the only broadcasting source in the area, all while the government decides to obliterate ground zero for the virus: Pontypool.
This stellar indie horror film works because of its concept and its ability to sell an invisible threat to the audience: that a virus is infected via language and the only person that can report on it literally makes his living by speaking. It’s a tense, terse, and wholly disturbing horror film made on a minimal budget. For those looking for a fright, seek out Pontypool…Pontypool…Pontypool…
7. The Hole
After moving into a new house, a teenage boy, his younger brother, and the girl next door he’s befriended discover a trap door underneath a carpet in the basement. Only it’s not a sub-basement: apparently it’s just a bottomless hole.
Over the next few days, strange things begin to happen to them, as visions of their fears come to life and watch as an injured girl crawls into the hole. They track down the home’s original owner, who warns that the evil entity that was locked in there is going to come and kill the younger brother. When said younger brother is dragged into the hole, his older brother dives in to save him.
Directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Burbs), this film–initially released in 3D–features the stylish mixture of horror and comedy that are trademarks of the director and is the rare PG-13 horror film that is actually pretty scary. Reminiscent of the suburban-set horror films of the 1980s, it’s a smarter film than most fare made for a family audience.
Initially screened in 2009, its theatrical run was held back for three years and wasn’t a success; although it opened to positive reviews, it quickly sank into oblivion in yet another downturn for the once-acclaimed director. But for those who admire Dante’s style, this is an under-the-radar movie that–for film fans looking to introduce their kids to the horror genre without worrying about violence or (too) disturbing imagery–may find what they’re looking for in The Hole.
8. Observe and Report
Think Taxi Driver by way of Mallrats and that’s a close enough approximation for this Seth Rogen-starring “comedy” about an unhinged mall security officer with delusions of grandeur. There’s a flasher on the loose and Ronnie (Rogen) sets himself up as the de facto vigilante to bring this pervert to justice.
Along the way, Ronnie abuses his very minimal authority to finally seduce the promiscuous makeup counter clerk (Anna Faris) he obsesses over, harasses a kiosk owner (Aziz Ansari) who he thinks is a criminal based solely on his ethnicity, and maybe even bring the perpetrator to justice.
Released in 2009 to mixed reviews, what makes this movie so interesting is how we’re unsure that what we’re watching is the actual events: Ronnie is a disturbed person, prone to violence; he’s also a misogynist and racist at best and an unreliable narrator at worst.
That the film is told through his perspective throws the film’s narrative into question: is he a hero or just a mentally disturbed loser? Playing heavily against type, Rogen carries the film and imbues Ronnie with both a psychopathic quality and even some possibly (unearned) pathos to the audience. A raw, sideways dark comedy, it’s a cult film whose value has appreciated in the intervening years since its initial release.
It’s 2057 and the sun is dying five billion years ahead of schedule, plunging Earth into freezing climates. After the first mission to restart the sun with a nuclear bomb the size of Manhattan had apparently failed several years earlier, in a last-ditch attempt another crew of astronauts are sent to the sun with a payload.
However, once they get close to the sun, they receive a distress signal from the first ship. Docking with the first ship, the crew finds that the original mission was abandoned and most of the crew charred by the sun’s overwhelming rays. But further investigation reveals that the equipment was intentionally sabotaged, and there’s an original crew member missing…
This starts off the sci-fi thriller Sunshine. Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire), the film is a mixture of Solaris and Alien, except the threat on-board ends up being fellow crew members and the sun itself. The crew face one catastrophe after another, and with the fate of the world literally hinging on their mission.
Uniquely, this is a sci-fi film that’s aimed towards the inner solar system, whose spaceship design and equipment is concerned with deflecting the heat of the sun instead of defending against the coldness of space. While receiving moderately positive reviews in its initial release, audiences have warmed up to the film since its release, admiring its premise, scope, and atmosphere. For a singular space drama, sci-fi fans won’t be left cold with Sunshine.
10. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Chuck Barris–the recently deceased host of The Dating Game and The Gong Show–was an interesting character to say the least: besides his hosting and tv producing duties, he also wrote a hit song in 1962, “Palisades Park.” Oh, and he was an assassin for the CIA in the 1960’s and 70’s. At least, that’s what he claimed in his autobiography, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind; the CIA has denied this, but little things like facts should never get in the way of a good story.
George Clooney’s directorial debut, with a script by Charlie Kaufman, follows Barris’s life from adolescence to adulthood, from his beginnings as Dick Clark’s personal assistant on American Bandstand to his rise to success as producer and host The Newlywed Game–and being recruited by the CIA to be an assassin.
Interweaving the bright colors of 60’s and 70’s game shows and the darkness of the covert missions that Barris would perform, Clooney’s stylish direction visually contrasts the two seemingly incompatible storylines from Barris’s autobiography.
Sam Rockwell plays Barris with a nervous energy that seems like he’s just waiting to hear a shot ring out just as he jogs up to the camera to host one of his many goofy game shows. Whether he was telling the disturbing truth or an outrageous lie, Chuck Barris always came up with a good gimmick to entertain an audience–and this film proves it.
Author Bio: Mike Gray is a writer and academic from the Jersey Shore. His work has been featured on Cracked and Funny or Die, and he maintains a humor recap TV and film blog at mikegraymikegray.wordpress.com.