the money pit

(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. In this edition we take a look at some of the best movies you’ve probably never seen about people trying and sometimes struggling to make a new home.)

As anyone who’s done it before knows, the prospect of moving to a new home can be a daunting one. From the investment of time and money to the physical reality of finding yourself in unfamiliar surroundings, trading the comfort of the known for the potentially harrowing unknown is ultimately a crap shoot. You’ll most likely end up happy and relieved at having made the change, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out like you planned.

/Film’s own Jacob Hall is in the middle of moving to a new house as I write this, and while it’s been a bumpy process, it has also been free of extreme home improvement snafus and vengeful ghosts upset with their new guests. Not everyone’s as lucky, though, and the movies are filled with examples of people finding their dream home turn into a nightmare. Things fall apart in The Money Pit and Funny Farm, things go bump in the night in hundreds of haunted house movies, things literally go to hell in Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond… you just never know what you’ll find in a new home until you’ve spent a few nights under its roof.

Keep reading for a look at some of the best movies you’ve probably never seen about the highs and lows (mostly lows) of trying to make a new home. There’s not a single ghost story among them!

bad ronald

Bad Ronald (1974)

A disturbed teen is secured away by his ailing mother into the walls of their home after an “accident” risks trouble with the law. Forced to stay out of sight, he learns to live between the rooms, only sneaking out on occasion for food and fresh air. After his mother dies he watches as a new family moves in…a new family with three attractive teen daughters.

This is a made-for-TV movie from the 1970s, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a tame slice of forgettable cinema. Duel and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark are television movies too, and while this one doesn’t reach their heights, it remains a creepy and fairly unsettling picture. Can you imagine someone living in your walls? Watching you at night in your bed? Peering through holes while you shower? Now imagine it’s a hormone and rage-filled teenage boy eyeballing your kids, and you have an idea of the potential terror.

The restraints of television keep it from crossing lines of explicit behavior and imagery, but it’s no less unnerving for it. Later films, including the Gary Busey-led Hider in the House, covered similar ground, but this one’s less assuming nature – not to mention its lack of familiar faces outside of a stern Dabney Coleman as the new homeowner – lends it a more frightening air. Bodies end up in the soft earth of the backyard, and it all comes to a head when Ronald decides he’s a prince and one of the girls is destined to be his princess. He’s not used to hearing “no,” and it builds to a still-scary interaction between the girl and the owner of the eyeball on the other side of the wall.

Buy Bad Ronald on DVD from Amazon.

the happiness of the katakuris

The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)

Tired of the big-city rat race and hoping for a break, the Katakuri family buys a small, rundown hotel in rural Japan, and after cleaning it up, they open their doors, ready for business. Traffic is almost non-existent, but while that would be bad enough, the guests they do attract keep winding up dead. Worse, they start coming back to life.

This one sounds harrowing on its surface – family tries to make a home and a business they can all share only to see it rocked by death, zombies, and the rumbling of a volcano – but it’s actually one of the sweetest, most joyous films I know. The family unit is the core of the narrative, and while troubles come their way along with squabbles, doubts, and uncertainty, it’s the family’s love for each other that carries them through the storm. Their dream home and livelihood are threatened, and they can only save it together. The family and their new home are the focus, but a subplot involving a possible romance for the grown daughter introduces one of my favorite supporting characters ever in the singing/dancing/smiling con man, Richard Sagawa (Japanese rock star Kiyoshirô Imawano). “I’m with the US Navy,” he tells her, “to be more precise, Britain’s Royal Navy.” Brilliant.

Did I mention it’s a musical? And that it’s a Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer, 13 Assassins) film? And that it occasionally shifts from live-action into claymation (as seen above)? It’s an endlessly stimulating movie for your eyes, ears, and heart, and while some of the songs are clunkily-written, there’s no denying the energy and creativity behind their presentation. Love, family, and the importance of supporting each other on this new adventure are key throughout, but rather than lean on the sappy cliches the film gets its message across with genuine heart and a big laughs. All new homes should come with a zombie graveyard.

Buy The Happiness of the Katakuris on Blu-ray/DVD from Amazon.


3-Iron (2004)

A young man without a home of his own instead finds a new one every few nights by breaking into ones with owners on vacation. He uses their shower, eats their food, does their laundry, fixes broken toys and appliances, and moves on. His latest squat takes a turn, though, when he fails to realize that the woman of the house is still there.

Kim Ki-duk (The Isle, Pieta) isn’t known for soft films as his characters are typically leading violent, tragic lives, but this is an exception. It’s also one of the most beautiful films you’ve likely never seen. The man, Tae-suk, is a mute – whether by choice or circumstance is never made clear – while the housewife, Sun-hwa, is silent in her own sadness. She’s bruised, the result of her businessman husband flying into a rage, and has chosen quiet subservience. The pair bond amid a lack of noise and they build a connection without saying a word. The house has been a prison for her and a simple way-station for him, but together they make a home out of gentle touches and compassionate intuition.

Almost as impressive as the film’s silence is its ability to weave plot between the knowing glances and tender touches. When Sun-hwa’s husband returns from his business trip Tae-suk remains, living in the shadows just beyond the man’s peripheral vision and loving her behind his back. The dream can’t last, and eventually the bubble bursts, but what’s been built can’t be destroyed no matter how loud the husband yells.

Buy 3-Iron on DVD from Amazon or watch via Amazon Video.

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