We’re only half a month away from 2015, and it’s time to look back on the year, jump on our soap boxes, and crank out our “Best of the Year” lists. 2014 may have been a weak year for theatrical horror films, but the independent circuit was booming. I saw films in 2014 that have become lifetime favorites, and had some of the most fun watching films that I’ve had in a long time. As always, this is my *~*~opinion*~* on the fifteen best horror films of 2014.
Honorable Mentions: THE PURGE: ANARCHY, THE CEMETERY, OCULUS, and LIFE AFTER BETH.
15) NIGHTBREED: DIRECTOR’S CUT
Admittedly, this is sort of a cheat. If you follow me on twitter or Instagram, you’d know that thanks to my wonderful man-candy, my house is a proverbial shrine to Clive Barker’s NIGHTBREED. Foreign posters, original artwork, old theatre advertisements, figurines, the film on every format it was ever released, the soundtrack on every format available, etc. etc. When Scream Factory announced they would be providing the director’s cut of NIGHTBREED, a film deemed “unfinished” for over twenty years, it was a huge deal in my household. I doubt my boyfriend will look at his first born child with as much adoration as he did his copy of NIGHTBREED, and that is what I love about Scream Factory. They breathed new life into something that so many people love with all that they have. I had seen the hot mess that was “The Cabal Cut,” but nothing could prepare me for the beauty and uniquely powerful revision that was Barker’s director’s cut. NIGHTBREED earns a spot on this list because the director’s cut makes the beloved classic an entirely new film. Character motivations drastically change and there’s an added musical number. Andrew Furtado’s editing is downright remarkable on this film and it was easily one of my favorite movie experiences of the year.
14) THE DEN
When I was in college, my friends and I used to love hooking up a webcam to a 50+ inch television set and connecting it to a laptop so we could play gigantic games of Chat Roulette bingo. Between the drunk frat guys, the foreign men jerking off, underage kids looking for something “edgy,” and the weird scare cams, Chat Roulette can actually be pretty fun. Chat Roulette pranks are pretty notorious and with today’s technology, it can be pretty difficult trying to determine if what we’re watching is real or not. THE DEN exploits the “strangers on a webcam” reality that we live in and creates a pretty horrifying situation. The film is adventurous in that it is filmed entirely through the POV of a webcam, but the solid performance from lead actor Melanie Papalia helped skyrocket this from “fun flick I found on Netflix” to “top of the year.”
13) AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR
On the surface, AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR sounds like something that would have been dumped in a Walmart $5 bin. A real estate agent named Leigh is tasked with selling a house with a bit of a bad history, when she crosses paths with a strange young girl in the home who turns out to be the runaway daughter of the couple selling the home. When Leigh attempts to help her, she becomes entangled with a sinister and supernatural force that soon also pulls Leigh’s sister Vera into its clutches. AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR takes a traditional formula and twists it into something familiar and yet almost unrecognizable. Naya Rivera’s performance as “Vera” proves that she is so much more than “that girl from GLEE,” and the film is genuinely scary. It’s not littered with jump scares but rather creeps up on you and makes your imagination do some serious backflips.
12) STAGE FRIGHT
Every once in a while, a film will come out that will fill me with such delight I can’t even function while watching it. STAGE FRIGHT was that film for me this year. I went to musical theatre camps as a kid, and Jerome Sable threw me into a nostalgic whirlwind. While I’ll admit that STAGE FRIGHT is for a very specific audience, it’s still a lot of fun for those that may hate the “Glee Generation.” The music is catchy and reminiscent of musicals I deeply cherish, and the characters were all immediately people I have known in my life. STAGE FRIGHT is extremely tongue-in-cheek, but crazy clever. If you’re a musical theatre kid, this one will rock your face off.
11) PIECES OF TALENT
Joe Stauffer’s PIECES OF TALENT is, in short, an indie masterpiece. I see a lot of awful independent horror movies throughout the year, but PIECES OF TALENT is a film that reminds me why I love doing what I do. The film follows a man named David, a local filmmaker who becomes obsessed with an aspiring actress named Charlotte, and begins filming a gory masterpiece by killing members of the community. PIECES OF TALENT presents a serial killer with all the passion they commit their crimes with. Here, the influence of every horror staple in contemporary media is skewered from a SAW like torture chamber for just looks to a victim being targeted for their role on a shitty homicide detective TV show. Whatever your comfort level with horror, PIECES OF TALENT makes you watch it all bleed and elegantly so.
10) LATE PHASES
I love me a good werewolf flick, and LATE PHASES was the best werewolf flick all year. Spanish director Adrián García Bogliano (HERE COMES THE DEVIL, COLD SWEAT, PENUMBRA) debuted his first English speaking film in a big way. On his first night in a retirement community, blind army veteran Ambrose discovers his neighbor and dog are savagely attacked by a monster that he cannot see. Not one to dismiss the weird, he soon realizes that a werewolf is living in his community. Before the next full moon arises, Ambrose prepares to fight and to figure out who the monster is among him. Robert Kurtzman’s special effects are on display in full glory, as practicality wins out over CGI. LATE PHASES is filled with characters I actually cared about, and Ethan Embry (we’ll get to him later) is in top form as Ambrose’s son, Will. Due in large part to the fantastic script penned by Eric Stolze (UNDER THE BED) LATE PHASES is one of the best werewolf films in a very, very long time.
09) THE SACRAMENT
At this point, Ti West can do no wrong in my eyes. Proving he’s much more than the “deliberately slow paced” horror films, he presents a mockumentary about a strange cult relocated to a remote area in Central/South America. THE SACRAMENT is arguably Ti West’s strongest film yet, and it’s roots in a real life horror situation just amplifies the fear factor. We as the audience quickly realize what’s happening and know how it’s going to end, which makes witnessing the character’s travels all the more heartbreaking. We know they’re doomed, and there’s absolutely nothing they can do to stop it. AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, and Amy Seimetz are all wonderful (as usual), but Gene Jones as the mysterious “Father” gives one of the best performances of the year.
08) THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN
Found footage or POV films have been saturating the market thanks to the success of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, but THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN proves that there is a “right way” to do a POV style film. The film follows a small documentary crew investigating a woman in the early stages of Alzheimers in an attempt to show the world the depressing transgression of the disease. However, as the woman’s condition takes a turn for the worse, the documentary crew becomes witness to something far more sinister than the advancements of a mind-eating illness. Jill Larson plays the titular Deborah Logan, and she gives a performance for the ages. My god. This woman commits on a level that most actresses wouldn’t even consider, and she does it effortlessly. THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN often blurs the lines between possession and mental illness, and it’s a damn shame the film was dumped straight on DVD/VOD. I’m fortunate that I was able to catch this on Netflix, but it would have destroyed at the box office.
This is the haunted house movie we’ve all been waiting for. After would-be thief Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) fails an attempt to rob an ATM with a sledgehammer and explosives, she’s sentenced to house arrest at her family home. Thanks to the court-ordered ankle monitor, Kylie can’t get more than a few yards away from her annoying mother Miriam without triggering a visit from her security officer. When Kylie starts hearing strange noises and seeing scary things, she not only can’t leave, but must also now deal with her mother’s age-old suspicion and admit mom may have been right all along. O’Reilly’s performance was laugh-out-loud funny as she demolishes any sort of predictable behavior shown by most women in similar movies, and HOUSEBOUND throws all traditional “haunted house” movie tropes to the wind. The scares are simple, yet effective and the end reveal is completely out of left field…in a good way. It’s a fresh take on the subgenre and a really, really entertaining watch.
A honeymooning bride named Bea (GAME OF THRONES‘ Rose Leslie) mistakenly sleepwalks into the woods surrounding her secluded cabin. When she returns she looks the same, but something about her is horrifically wrong. Leigh Janiak’s film pulls on the unfortunate reality that sometimes we fall in love with people and don’t know them the way we believed we did, and pairs it with supernatural horrors that must be seen to believed.HONEYMOON delivers a film with genuinely interesting characters (with an opening sequence that makes you love them from the get go) and causes you to feel their pain as the film progresses. The film doesn’t hold back and is topped off with a downright devastating ending. Anytime someone says “women can’t make good horror,” I’m going to slap them across the face with a copy of HONEYMOON.
05) UNDER THE SKIN
This isn’t an easy movie to review, let alone recommend to other people. The most basic description is that it’s a film about an alien in human shell on a journey through Scotland. The only word I can think about using to describe this film is hypnotic It’s such a polarizing film because UNDER THE SKIN refuses to ever fully explain itself, and I think that’s what makes it so fascinating. Every single moment feels otherwordly. It’s a film you cannot watch while tweeting/facebooking/whatevering. The film demands every moment of your attention, and you’ll be glad that you complied.
04) CHEAP THRILLS
This is not only one of my favorite movies of the year, it’s easily one of my favorite movies of all time. There is literally not a single thing about this movie that I’m not completely obsessed with. It’s the best cast film of the year, contains one of the craziest soundtracks, has some of the best practical effects, is filled with awesome one-liners, and a powerful ending that keeps me wanting to show it to everyone I know. The “making of” special feature on the Blu-Ray is one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen and everything about CHEAP THRILLS is why I love movies. The people behind this project were dripping with passion and determination every step of the way, and it shows. Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton, and David Koechner are all absolutely dynamite, but it’s Pat Healy that truly brings CHEAP THRILLS to the next level. His selfless dedication to the role is apparent from the first second to the last, and he proves that he’s an acting force that demands recognition. Everything about CHEAP THRILLS is executed brilliantly, and it’s a total blast.
03) THE GUEST
Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s YOU’RE NEXT was my favorite horror film of 2013, and their genre bending action/horror/thriller THE GUEST was probably my favorite theatrical experience of 2014. A limited theatrical run, I drove nearly an hour just to see this film, and my man-candy and I were the only ones in the theatre. I loved YOU’RE NEXT, but THE GUEST was truly next-level for these guys. Dan Stevens as “David” is the new Christopher Sarandon’s “Jerry Dandridge,” and the soundtrack is absolutely to die for. Everything about this film was carefully thought out and executed, and it shows. Every moment, every frame is cinematically stunning, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. The film just hit VOD and I’ve already asked Santa for a belated gift when it hits DVD/Blu in January.
02) THE BABADOOK
Dook. Dook. Dook. Jennifer Kent’s startling masterpiece is a film that will creep under your skin and fester, leaving you unable to shake what you’ve experienced. It’s unsettling, to say the least, and the horror comes from a place that is pure and without any sort of cheap scare tactics. It’s genuinely, truthfully scary, and reminiscent of everything great about horror. By pulling on both the fears that haunt us as children and the fears that overwhelm us as adults, as well as both the elements of physical as well as psychological terrors, THE BABADOOK will go down as a staple in contemporary horror films. Fifty years from now, we will be examining and talking about THE BABADOOK the way we debate FRANKENSTEIN, except THE BABADOOK managed to be groundbreaking and terrifying even after nearly a century of horror to come before it.
01) STARRY EYES
No other film shook me to my core this year the way that STARRY EYES did. The “young actress willing to do anything for fame” story is quite familiar, but its the unique delivery from directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer that puts STARRY EYES above the standard Faustian tales of yesteryear. STARRY EYES is both haunting and harrowing, gorgeous and grotesque, fun and frightening, insightful and irresistible. Alex Essoe is required to carry the entire film on her shoulders as Sarah, and her ability to shift from vulnerable to vindictive was downright mesmerizing to witness. Too often do we allow ourselves to “sell our souls” in order to achieve our dreams, and STARRY EYES slaps us in the face with the harsh repercussions of doing so. Days after watching, I sat in rehearsal for a production I’m performing in, and felt my mind replaying scenes from STARRY EYES over and over and over and over. STARRY EYES spoke to me on a level that it definitely should not have, and that is what truly made it terrifying.