10. Before the Fall
Also known as Tres Dias, this Spanish thriller positions a fairly simple tale about an escaped serial killer seeking revenge on the family who helped capture him within the backdrop of an impending apocalypse, as the Earth is about to be hit by a meteor. Chilling and heartbreaking with surprising moments of humor, Before the Fall raises questions of morality, love, loyalty and the value of life when all life as we know it is about to end.
From writer/director Maurice Devereaux, who gave us the enjoyable killer game show flick Slashers a few years ago, comes another overlooked gem -- this one featuring the refreshingly original storyline of a group of passengers trapped on an immobile subway train with a religious cult whose members believe that they can save souls by killing people. What it lacks in production value it makes up for in gory action, apocalyptic atmosphere and a nuanced script that doesn't go the easy route of painting all of the cult members as unsympathetic psychos.
8. 36 Pasos
Perhaps the most unfairly overlooked horror film of the year, this gritty low-budget Argentinian production has a premise that sounds like typical "torture porn" -- six young women are kidnapped and held captive -- but it's treated with unique flair. The women aren't chained in a dingy basement; they're free to roam around a luxurious house with a pool and tennis court. The catch is that a hulking Leatherface-type character with a sledgehammer will pop up if the rules are broken: they must be happy, they must dance on cue, they must stay on the grounds, they must follow directions on mysterious notes. It all plays like a warped version of The Real World, with a wicked sense of humor and surreal, kinetic direction propelling the twisty plot.
7. From Within
The best of After Dark Horrorfest '09 is similar in plot to The Broken but is better paced with more interesting characters and an atmosphere drenched in creepy paranoia. A powerful climax and twisted closing credits form the cherry on this yummy Horrorfest sundae.
This unpredictable, multi-layered Irish mystery tells the tale of a skeptical child psychologist fighting against small-town superstition when she treats a troubled girl whom the townsfolk believe can channel spirits. Not terribly scary, but profoundly affecting, blessed with wonderful storytelling and soul-stirring performances.
4. Dead Snow
3. Home Movie
Pontypool's setup verges on brilliance: a radio DJ (Stephen McHattie, in a star-making performance), who makes his living with his words, must contend with a deadly virus that's somehow spread through the speech. Furthering the irony is the fact that the only way he can find out what's going on outside is through audio reports by the station's roving reporter. It's a lyrical, intelligent, admirably restrained film that turns viewers' imaginations upon themselves as they picture the mayhem that surrounds the studio.
At last, the movie that sat in development (or rather, distribution) hell for a couple of years was released in 2009 -- albeit on video and not in the theatrical setting it deserved. Early buzz might've raised readers' anticipation of the movie's quality to unattainable proportions, but that shouldn't hinder your appreciation of its refreshing creativity, pitch-perfect humor, sharply written plot, captivating cast and an overall charm that personifies the creepy fun of Halloween.