2014 is just about over, and it’s time to gather together my list of (What I think) are the ten best horror films of the year. Mind you, I said horror films – not films in general. To be honest with all of you, the two best films I’ve seen this year have nothing to do with horror at all. Those films are Life Itself, a documentary detailing the fascinating life (& death) of Roger Ebert. It’s a truly touching and illuminating glimpse into the life of a very talented man that had me a blubbering mess when it was all over. The other film would be Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy, which was by far the most entertaining film I’ve seen this year. It’s so good that I don’t want to see a sequel for fear that it’ll pale in comparison.
Superhero films haven’t made my list, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t really enjoy a few of them this year. Besides Guardians, there was the terrific Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was in essence a spy film disguised as a superhero movie, and incredibly engrossing. X-Men: Days Of Future Past was another big surprise for me, a really fast paced action adventure featuring time travel and a humongous cast of characters – two things that never really work well together. A few animated films really made my day this year as well. The Lego Movie might just be the most imaginative film I’ve ever seen, with ideas and images going by so quickly that my head was spinning (but in the best possible way). Big Hero 6 made me laugh, cry and cheer at the screen (sometimes all at the same time!). Another documentary that I watched with a sincere sense of awe was Jodorowsky’s Dune, which told the incredibly complicated story of one man’s (Alejandro Jodorowsky) quest to make the ultimate science fiction movie – and how it all fell apart. The ideas presented here by Jodorowsky made my imagination soar with the idea of what might’ve been – all true fans of cinema must see this film.
But this is supposed to be a list of my favorite horror films of 2014 isn’t it? The year started out pretty slowly in terms of quality horror, but got a bit stronger as the months went by. Most of the films on my list were released in the second half of the year. Let me remind those of you who will disagree with what you’re about to read that this is just my (not so humble) opinion – I don’t expect any of you to agree with my entire list. And I encourage all of you who read this list to chime in and give me your thoughts. I probably won’t agree with any of you (actually, I’m sure I won’t), but feel free to try and change my mind…
10/ Don’t Blink (Written & Directed by Travis Oates). Huh? What’s this? Although I’d like to think that most of you have already seen this little gem, I’m already quite sure you haven’t. And that’s a shame, because despite its extremely low profile, it’s a really taut and involving movie about a group of friends taking a short vacation at a secluded mountain resort. Once they arrive, they find that it’s completely deserted – and it only gets worse from there. Some of you might be turned off by the cast (Brian Austin Green & Mena Suvari aren’t exactly names I think of when I’m getting ready to watch a good movie), but I was pleasantly surprised by what happened here. It’s a film that ends with more questions than answers, but in this case it really works.
9/ The Human Race (Written & Directed by Paul Hough). In the vein of Battle Royale (2000) and The Hunger Games (2012) comes this low budget exercise in terror. A disparate group of 80 people find themselves gathered together with the sole purpose of racing against each other, until only one of them is left standing. There is a carefully delineated path they must stick to – if they step off of the path – they die. Writer/Director Paul Hough gives us a character study carefully laced with horror/sci-fi that hooked me immediately. I was completely invested in all of the characters here, and as the film played on, I found myself thinking what would I do if I was caught up in the situation Hough thought up – this to me is the hallmark of a great film. Although some of the performances are a bit on the dodgy side, and the low budget made for some sub par visuals – it’s only one of two films I saw this year in which I immediately wanted to see a sequel for (the other being Big Hero 6). High praise indeed.
8/ Wer (Written by William Brent Bell & Matthew Peterman. Directed by William Brent Bell). Although there’s always a werewolf film or two released every year, 2014 saw a glut of them. There was Wolfcop, Wolves, Late Phases, Iron Wolf and Werewolf Rising just to name a few. But Wer rose above all of them in both quality and scares. A defense attorney takes on a case involving a man accused of slaughtering a family during a camping trip. Although she initially has no doubt that her client is innocent, she begins to realize that there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye, and soon finds herself in a really hairy situation. I was initially reticent to even bother watching this since it came from director William Brent Bell, who is responsible for (in my opinion) one of the most reprehensibly bad films ever made – The Devil Inside (2012). But I’m glad I took a chance, because Wer (despite its crappy title) is a great popcorn movie with some great performances and outstanding action sequences. It might just be the best werewolf film I’ve ever seen – it’s that good.
7/ The Town That Dreaded Sundown (Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon). Imagine my surprise when I fired this baby up to discover that this wasn’t a remake, but a sequel to the 1976 TV original. One of the oddest films I’ve seen this year as well. Not because of the subject matter, but because of the way that director Aguirre-Sacasa lays it all down. The film plays a lot like a documentary, rather than a scripted film. It acknowledges its predecessor and then builds upon it both logically & illogically – it goes about its business in a nearly meta fashion. It’s filled with odd camera angles and garish lighting that’s reminiscent of the best of Dario Argento’s 70’s output. It even goes so far as to make the son of the original film’s director (Charles B. Pierce) one of the characters in the film (as a possible suspect in the murders). Although the ending is something of a letdown, this film is so different & unexpected in its approach to the source material that it deserves to be seen by anyone with an even remote interest in horror films.
6/ Bag Boy Lover Boy (Written by Toni Comas & Andres Torres. Directed by Andres Torres). Ivan, a photographer who specializes in violent, misogynistic imagery takes a mentally handicapped hot dog vendor named Albert under his wing in order to exploit his odd appearance in his latest batch of photos. Initially put off by the nature of the photos, Albert agrees to continue to appear in them as long as the photographer teaches him to take professional photos. Once Ivan is called away to Europe to do some work, poor Albert decides to continue practicing his photography, but he murders each of his models when they aren’t giving him exactly what he’s looking for. Bag Boy Lover Boy looks and feels just like a film that Abel Ferrara might’ve directed in the 70’s – and that’s a great thing. A wonderfully sleazy film filled with great performances & gorgeous cinematography. Jon Wachter won the Best Actor award at this year’s NYC Horror Film Festival for his wonderfully tragic performance as Albert, and although the film might sound like a cheap exploitation programmer – it rises above all of the standard conventions of exploitation and becomes a compelling (& violent) character study.
5/ Exists (Written by Jamie Nash. Directed by Eduardo Sanchez). Apparently someone declared 2014 to be the year of the Bigfoot movie and didn’t notify me. There were at least six of them released this year, with titles like Hunting The Legend, Bigfoot Wars, Feed The Gods, Willow Creek, Bigfoot & Skookum among them. But director Eduardo (The Blair Witch Project) Sanchez trumped all of them with Exists, which is pretty much the best Bigfoot movie ever made. Jamie Nash‘ script is fairly straightforward – a group of friends get together for a short weekend in a secluded cabin in the deep woods of Texas. Unfortunately, they accidentally run over a young Sasquatch with their car, and that’s never a good thing. Once they arrive at their destination, big daddy makes his displeasure known and Exists becomes one of the most exciting and visceral films of the year. It succeeds where all other Bigfoot films have failed, because it does the one thing that none of the other films could do – it makes Bigfoot scary as hell. Exists is a taut, frenetic and violent movie that hits all the right notes, and Sanchez orchestrates all of the action with a deft touch. And unlike most of the films I mentioned earlier, Exists gives us some really good looks at its Bigfoot – but not too many. This version of Bigfoot is not only terrifying, it’s smart. And that’s why Exists works so well. It’s so good that it might as well be subtitled The Only Bigfoot Movie That Matters.
4/ What We Do In The Shadows (Written & Directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi). The Idea of four roommates agreeing to allow a documentary crew to follow them around as they go about their lives doesn’t sound too exciting. But when the four subjects are vampires that have lived together for centuries? Now we’re talking! What We Do In The Shadows is just that, a mockumentary detailing the day to day lives of four vampire flatmates living in a dilapidated house in New Zealand. It’s essentially This Is Spinal Tap (1984), but with vampires instead of a rock band. The script (by Clement & Waititi – who also star in the film) is silly, witty, touching and kinda creepy too. There are so many laugh out loud moments in the film that I was literally in tears from laughter throughout most of its running time, but it leavens those moments with a few sad ones as well. A wonderfully accomplished film that surprised me completely – it’s one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.
3/ The Scarehouse (Written & Directed by Gavin Michael Booth). Two friends open up a Halloween Haunt called The Scarehouse, and invite members of the local sorority to pay them a visit. Once the invitees arrive, they’re tortured and murdered – but why? The genius of The Scarehouse lies with the incredibly smart script that takes its sweet time divulging its secrets. Gavin Michael Booth has crafted a script that is extremely balanced and well paced, and unlike other, similar films – it never feels convoluted. And once it’s all laid out, you’ll find yourself rooting for the killers! How often does that happen? Everything in The Scarehouse feels just right, and it all comes together in a wonderfully gruesome manner that will keep you at the edge of your seat. One of the most assured & confident horror films I’ve ever seen.
2/ Afflicted (Written & Directed by Derek Lee and Clif Prowse). Two lifelong friends decide to take a trip around the world and document their travels in an online blog. One of them meets a woman, but this woman isn’t what she seems to be and attacks him once they’re alone. She leaves him for dead, but he doesn’t die, he becomes afflicted – but afflicted with what? A found footage film with a difference, Afflicted is a shining example of what a found footage film could be with the right people behind the scenes. It takes all of the standard tropes of the found footage genre and makes them feel fresh and new. And it’s legitimately scary too! Afflicted doesn’t waste too much time with its set up, it takes just enough time to get us to know/like the two main characters and then it gets down & dirty. There are a few scenes here that left my jaw agape in wonderment too, I’m still at a loss as to how they pulled off some of the more elaborate scenes here. Terrific performances (from writer/directors Lee & Prowse – who also star in the film) and some truly amazing cinematography make it the best found footage movie I’ve ever seen. And while it’s not terribly original – it’s so well done and involving that I could care less about its lack of originality.
1/ Only Lovers Left Alive (Written & Directed by Jim Jarmusch). Adam (Tom Hiddleston), a centuries old vampire, lives alone in a crumbling house located in the bowels of Detroit. He’s contemplating suicide because he perceives that his life has no real purpose any more. He even goes as far as to have a wooden bullet crafted to end his life, but his wife, Eve (Tilda Swinton), senses his despair and flies in from Tangier to be with her one true love. A dialogue heavy film, Only Lovers Left Alive is a masterfully engrossing drama that just happens to have a pair of vampires as its main characters. Most of the film is comprised of Adam talking to Eve about past glories in a near trance like state. Their love has endured across the centuries and Adam feels that it’s all coming to an end, yet Eve gives him some semblance of hope for their future. There are a few subplots about the lack of untainted blood available for consumption, and Eve’s wild child younger sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska) arriving to make trouble, but they’re secondary to Jarmusch’ main focus – which is the relationship between Adam & Eve. The films of Jim Jarmusch aren’t known for their action or breakneck pace, and this one is no different. But he creates a mood that’s so undeniably cool and restrained that you can’t help but be sucked in by the whole thing. Hiddleston and Swinton are absolutely perfect in their roles and the cinematography (by Yorick Le Saux) is impeccable. Le Saux makes the abandoned streets of Detroit as much of a character as possible, and the mood they set is one of desolation & despair – much like the mood Eve finds Adam in. Add the best soundtrack of the year into the mix, and you have the best horror film of the year – despite the fact that there’s very little horror in it. I loved every second of this movie, and I bemoan the fact that most, if not all, of you have yet to see it.
Most of you will be wondering “Where’s The Babadook on this list?” That’s fair since it seems to be on just about everyone’s “Best Of” list this year. I liked The Babadook, really I did, but it just wasn’t the film I was expecting to see – and it didn’t make my list because of that. I know it sounds like I’m nitpicking (I am), but that’s how I feel, so go ahead and call me nasty names if you want – trust me, I’ve got a really thick hide. For what it’s worth, it’s definitely something you should see. I just didn’t dig it as much as everyone else on earth did – is that such a crime?
So there you have it, my ten favorite movies of 2014. A fair to middling year to be sure, but it ended strongly so I have some hopes for 2015. Any differences of opinions? Feel free to comment below and offer up your opinions. I sincerely look forward to reading them all.
And from me to all of you…
Happy New Year!