Happy 2015! Welcome to another list of our favorite genre offerings. In this post we count down the best (in my opinion) horror films of 2014. This past year didn’t fare too well for the studios, but made incredible strides for independent filmmakers. Instead of heading to the theaters this year for our normal pilgrimage of terror we turned to On Demand and the internet for our fix. While the big budget schlock failed to impress us with Annabelle or a Purge sequel, we were given a treasure trove of indie brilliance that ranged from torture porn to historical reenactments. The following films are all available to view by anyone, which means that the amazing festival films during 2014 that haven’t found distribution will have to be included in next years list.
After the top 14, we have seven honorable mentions, a look at 2015’s most anticipated horror, and the top five worst horror films of 2014. Lets get to the list:
14. Mockingbird (Bryan Bertino)
Bryan Bertino’s film provides an innovative use of found footage as three separate individuals receive a camera and instructions to “keep filmming or else.” The three stories all provide their own tense moments. When they finally culminate, the horror is palpable. A family man, a lonely coed, and a momma’s boy create the three dissimilar character portraits that drive the various sections of the film. Both the family man and the lonely coed become entangled in a plot akin to Bertino’s previous outing The Strangers (2008), while the momma’s boy is tested again and again to find the boundaries of his own resolve and morals. The final frames of Mockingbird don’t necessarily create the shock that I feel Bertino wanted, but still the ride to get there is impressive.
13. Oculus (Mike Flanagan)
Here is the one mainstream film that actually delivered. Mike Flanagan has taken the concept of the terrible mirror to its logical end. If this is the last haunted mirror film ever, I’d be happy with that. Flanagan creates suspense by colliding the present with events from the past. Through a blending of the past, present, and fantasy, a forced surrealism occurs that actually propels the film beyond normal haunted house fare. When you think about the mirror scene in Poltergeist(1982) – where the researcher peels his face off after seeing maggot chicken and a blossoming steak – this is type of fantasy Flanagan uses to distort reality, though less gruesome. While I feel most haunted house films should erupt into a splatterfest of beautiful gore at the moment of crescendo, Oculus still feels masterfully crafted without the viscera.
12. Big Bad Wolves (Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado)
Speaking of viscera, did Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado recreate the torture porn genre? If torturing potential pedophiles is your thing, then Big Bad Wolves is a must see. This Israeli film knows exactly how to utilize gore and emotions. A dead girl is found, but her head is still missing. The police beat a suspect, but get no answers. When a cop is fired for his misconduct he takes it into his own hands to get a confession out of the suspect. The only issue is that the dead girl’s father has the same agenda, but is less forgiving. If Hostel (2005) and Little Red Riding Hood went on a casual date and ran into their dimwitted mutual acquaintance The Lovely Bones (2009) the night would be summed up later as the plot of Big Bad Wolves.
11. Tusk (Kevin Smith)
Oh Kevin Smith, I didn’t think you had it in you to do a film about a man becoming a walrus and make it interesting. I was wrong. You took the only impressive part of Red State (2011) – Michael Parks – and allowed him to shine in his most bizarre role to date. Most people will automatically compare Tusk to The Human Centipede (2009), but the biggest difference is that Justin Long’s mustache deserves to become a walrus. The only thing Tusk was missing was Haley Joel Osment becoming an overweight sea creature, wait. Tusk is the first part of a canuxploitation trilogy with Yoga Hosers and Moose Jaws, lets just hope they continue to exploit how aggressively ignorant Americans are.
10. Starry Eyes (Kevin Kolsch)
Crowd funding can work for indie horror as long as big name directors stay off the kickstarter platform. Starry Eyes asks the age old question of how far would you go for fame? Kevin Kolsch answers this appropriately in his debut film. Alex Essoe’s character gives up her friends, morals, and beauty to become the star she’s always felt she could be. Starry Eyes is this years Contracted (2013) via a Kafkaesque Satanic ritual. This gore filled commentary on modern celebrity status feels like a perfect fit within our reality-based TV obsession. Also, any film with Pat Healy, even if it is a small role, is reason enough to be on a best of list.
9. Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier)
Another crowd funded film that showcases the abilities of independent filmmakers. Jeremy Saulnier made a name for himself in 2007 with his gory comedy Murder Party which proved that he could balance character, dialogue, humor, and violence within a single location – not as easy as it would seem. While Blue Ruin is not essentially a horror film, the revenge and violence perpetrated in the film makes it stand out. Macon Blair’s Dwight is realistic in every way. When we first see him, he is a disheveled man living out of his car, but when he is told that the man who killed his parents has been released from prison we realize that he’s just been biding his time.
8. Housebound (Gerard Johnstone)
Housebound is a New Zealand haunted house comedy from first time filmmaker Gerard Johnstone. When haunted house films turn to comedy they normally remove all aspects of horror, but Johnstone creates a perfect mix. When we think of haunted comedies like High Spirits (1988) or the Marlon Wayans scripted Haunted House movies there is not a scary moment at all. In Housebound, Johnstone created a jaded non-believer as his main character. So if the events in the film scare her, they will absolutely scare us. I’ll admit there were a few pulse-racing jump scares and moments of real tension, but the winner here is the plotline that strays from normal cliches.
7. The Houses That October Built (Bobby Roe)
After seeing Bobby Roe’s film for the first time at the Telluride Horror Show, I was in love. Yes it is another found footage film, but it is the camaraderie and the reality that set it apart. Bobby and his brother Mikey, with their childhood friends Zack Andrews and Jeff Larson, and new-to-the-group Brandy Schaefer feel more like a family on a road trip rather than a troupe of actors coming together. The passion in which they shot their actual documentary (by the same name) lends itself in the faux film they created. While I’m not the biggest fan of the film’s ending, it is the dynamic of this group and the discoveries unearthed about haunts and scare actors that keep you riveted.
6. Cheap Thrills (E. L. Katz)
E.L. Katz is finally making a name for himself as a director. Katz began his career right along side Adam Wingard. Katz wrote the screenplays for Home Sick (2007) and Pop Skull (2007) which began Wingard’s career. For more information on Wingard and Katz check out my Horror Spotlight on the Next Wave horror filmmakers here. Cheap Thrills provides us the revival of Ethan Embry and highlights the brilliance of Pat Healy. The film itself is a commentary on the modern Marxist dichotomy, showcasing how the bourgeois still exploits the proletariat. Though these men choose to commit atrocious acts against one another, it is the huge gap of wealth that promotes their actions. Also the film is a fun, blood-filled ride from beginning to end.
5. The Guest (Adam Wingard)
Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s latest outing defies normal description. Dan Stevens is delightful to watch, not only because he’s sexy according to my wife, but because you never really understand his intentions. Through most of the film he is a violent helping hand to a family that is overcome with the grief of losing their eldest son in Iraq. But in the last act, the film he takes a drastic hard left, and each frame is soaked in relentless bloodshed. Again, like Blue Ruin, this is not exclusively a horror film, but it does a damn fine job in showing the horrific.
4. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon is a TV director and close friend of Ryan Murphy, so when he decided to direct a feature film, Bloomhouse Productions was there for him. Like Scream 4 (2011), Town That Dreaded Sundown is a remakequel – part remake part sequel. Town is absolutely ingenious in its creation. By utilizing footage from the first film and making the original film an integral part of the remake’s storyline, it feeds both schools of remake thought – the integrity of keeping the original intact while updating the story for a new generation. The opening shot of the remake is a long take that cranes through a drive-in theater that is playing The Town That Dreaded Sundown and introduces us to the divided town of Texarkana in a bravado style. From the opening scene on, the film functions as a great combination of retro and post-modern slasher.
3. The Sacrament (Ti West)
Ti West’s faux documentary provides us with amazing performances from the proprietors of Next Wave horror filmmaking: Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Kentucker Audley, Amy Seimetz, and Kate Lyn Sheil. All we needed was Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett, and Larry Fessenden and we would have had a complete set. Instead of the fun we all had viewing You’re Next, here we are given the somber and true to life tale of Jim Jones. Here Gene Jones gives an award winning performance as Father. Though we all know how it will end, it doesn’t detract from how horrific the events leading up to it are.
2. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
Jim Jarmusch did a vampire movie? What? He made the coolest vampire movie since Lost Boys? No way! He did just that, but how? By giving the film to its lead actors Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston. They play Adam and Eve, two vampire lovers, who choose to spend decades apart until one needs the other. Adam hates zombies – humans – but loves music, and you will too after listening to a few SQURL songs. You will also fall in love with the real William Shakespeare, Detroit, rare guitars, face time via 1970’s tube TVs, and perpetual motion generators light years ahead of their time. All this, and did I mention vampires? It’s kind of secondary until the young Mia Wasikowska decides to show up.
1. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)
How predictable? I know, it is just really that good. If it’s in a word or in a look you can’t get rid of the Babadook. That’s how I feel about this film. Jennifer Kent has created a film that plagues you after you view it. While the creature of the Babadook is only as terrifying as the somnambulist from The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, he/it does not matter. The real fear evoked from the film is single motherhood, survivor’s guilt, seven years of grief, and the inability to deal with complex emotions. William Friedkin said it was the scariest film he’s ever seen and while I don’t agree with him, I can understand why he said that. If you take Pazuzu out of The Exorcist or the creature out of The Babadook, both are just as terrifying without the monster.
The following films did not make the cut for the top 14 positions yet held a special spot this year for one reason or another.
Canuxploitation at its best! This film is exactly what you think it is. It is an alcoholic cop who turns into a werewolf, let the comedy ensue.
Remember when all animals were seen as a threat, that seventies cycle of man vs. nature? Zombeavers is not categorically good, but also not terrible in lieu of what it was attempting to achieve. If it was trying to win an award for most puns in a horror film, it won fair and square.
A musical slasher comedy with Meatloaf – yes, yes, yes, and yes!
Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski who was first assistant director on a myriad of awesome films: The Faculty, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, From Dusk Till Dawn, Four Rooms, Tales From The Hood, and a handfull of Charles Band productions. Nurse 3D is bloody sexy fun with the excellent Paz de la Huerta.
Zack Parker is no stranger to shifting perspectives and slower moving narratives, just view his intriging Scalene from 2011. This time three parents all adjust to the loss of their children, but nothing is as it seems on the surface. Alexia Rasmussen, Kristina Klebe, and Joe Swanberg are fantastic as layers of their seemingly one dimensional characters begin to unravel.
The Possession Of Michael King
After the loss of his wife, Michael King decides to blaspheme in every way he can until he can find an answer. He finally upsets the wrong entity.
ABC’s Of Death 2
Last year’s ABCs Of Death won a top spot on the list, and while I feel I was more impressed with the 26 shorts this year, it just didn’t feel as innovative the second time around.
Based on the films that won audiences in 2014 at the film festivals, 2015 looks like it’s already shaping up to be a really good horror year.
Patrice Brice’s entertaining and brilliant Creep will find its way to audiences everywhere – which I can’t wait until everyone can give it the praise it deserves.
What We Do In Shadows
Jermaine Clement and Taika Waitit’s What We Do In Shadows was vampiric/comedic genius and it comes out February 13th.
Closer To God
Billy Senese’s modern day Frankenstein adaptation Closer To God will blow away audiences at some point this year.
The Giallo spoof from Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy, The Editor, will entertain Italian horror cinema aficionados – there are more than you would imagine.
I haven’t seen Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion’s Cooties, but I feel as though I can safely say it will be incredible.
My other most anticipated film of 2015 is David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows – the trailer alone gets under my skin.
WORST OF 2014
I am normally the kind of person who can overlook things like plot holes, bad acting, clichéd situations, terrible scores, and low budget effects as long as there’s that one badass element. I like to see what a filmmaker intended, rather than what’s on the screen. I know, especially for a first time filmmaker, there are always limitations. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, but in some cases there is no benefit. Here’s the worst in no particular order.
Rosemary’s Baby Miniseries
I just watched a four hour version of Polanski’s film but without any of the suspense, cool.
Cabin Fever: Patient Zero
Absolutely horrid, not in any good or ironic way either.
I love everyone involved in this, but if you’re not going to go full Chan-wook Park then what’s the point?
This sequel should have never happened. The first two are awesome, this one is just a waste of time. Though I love Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead for Resolution and Spring, their segment does not deliver.
Lizzie Borden Took An Axe
and made everyone bored to tears.
As always, your opinions count. What did I miss? What did I get wrong? What was the worst/best horror film of the year for you?