Direct-to-video has become more than the final resting spot for movie studio bombs, sad-sack sequels and low-rent actioners fronted by bloated former tough-guys. It's also where you can find quality film and festival faves that either barely made a ripple at the box office or never got released theatrically at all. Here's a selection of flicks you most likely missed.
Mini's First Time (2007)
Nikki Reed (Rosalie Hale in Twilight) makes art of ruthless social climbing here as a teen temptress wreaking havoc on her drugged-up mother, filthy-rich stepdad and any other pawn in her sightline. In fact, her soulless life-o'-privilege could be MTV's My Super Sweet 16. So, yeah, it's an apex of social satire.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
Michael Showalter and David Wain — the guys who created MTV's The State — cough up this wonderfully hilarious parody of summer camp flicks. The Wayans brothers and the ass-hats behind the Not Another (fill In the blank) movies could learn something from these dudes. Also, what if being a camp counselor were really this fun?
Session 9 (2001)
A deceptive little horror flick about a blue-collar hazmat crew hired to clean up the Danvers State Insane Asylum, a real Massachusetts hospital. Instead of creating a brainless haunted house turn, director Brad Anderson delivers a creepy, perceptive glimpse into his characters' crumbling lives, barely masked hostility and personal disappointments. The end's a stunner too, as sad as it is chilling.
Frankenstein gets a modern and more feminine reimagining while proving that not all modern horror must be blood, boobs, chainsaws and torture. Sometimes the scariest things in life are those involving a real human connection.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
Menstruation, teen angst and werewolves add up to a deliciously odd blend of cinematic perfection in this Canadian import. Its cult following is justified — who can argue that surviving the wilds of high school jungles isn't defined later by the deepest, blackest humor?
One man's heartbreak over the violent death of his partner sends him on a dreamlike odyssey through New York City's streets. His real-life grief and need for revenge become intertwined with a series of urban legends. Look, it's not an easy flick to explain, but its relevance — hate crimes and fears of everyday existence — is explicable.
Sometimes a film is, simply, ahead of its time. Camp follows a summer in the lives of a group of musically skilled misfit teens navigating the waters of social acceptance and comically demented theater productions. Writer-director Todd Graff's wickedly campy spin opened doors for the dim-bulb High School Musical series as well as TVs rapturous Glee.
The TV Set (2006)
What Robert Altman's The Player was to Hollywood, Jake Kasdan's The TV Set is to network television. It's smart, witty and sarcastic as hell, and you'll never have to wonder again about Walker Texas Ranger.
Writer-director Mitchell Lichtenstein creates the most unusual superhero of the decade with his film about a pretty and virginal girl with vagina dentate. Hey, some superheroes fly, some yak with fish, and some get a vagina that can clamp down on a guy's junk … like a bear trap. Far from a one-joke film, Teeth, um, digs into sex mythology and the ridiculous way society has warped young minds about it.
Come Early Morning (2006)
Wow: a film in which Ashley Judd doesn't squander her beauty and talent! It's a refreshingly smart Joey Lauren Adams flick about a Southern working-class gal whose life's on the skids.
Corporate culture skewed! And it's both funny and gruesome. We see a bunch of employees whose company's team-building excursion turns into a bloody survival of the fittest. Holy metaphor! The blurb on the cover says it's a mash-up of The Office and The Hills Have Eyes. Add to that a heat-seeking missile and a pair of naked Ukrainian prostitutes and then you'll get it. —Paul Knoll