Rob G.’s TOP 10 HORROR FILMS OF 2014!

Welcome, fellow fiends! Another year come and gone & it was quite a year for independent cinema. Not a single “studio” picture on my list, which isn’t surprising, considering some of the greatest horror films of all time – HALLOWEEN, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, etc – were all innovative low budget independent efforts. If you’ve listened to the latest episode of Killer POV, then you’ll already know my picks, but I didn’t want that to deter from my annual tradition here on ICONS. So without further adieu, here we go! My top 10 horror picks of 2014!

10 – CHEAP THRILLS

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The definition of what we personally consider “horror” has changed and evolved so drastically over the years. Granted, I’m guilty of constantly claiming certain “fringe” titles are NOT horror. But the older I get, true horror to me are the things that people do to each other. I know there’s no real vampires or werewolves out there, and I try to block out the supernatural and hence, I’m not scared of those things. What scares me? A friend turning on me. People doing terrible things to each other and being given that ultimatum to do bad things. What would YOU do if someone offered you a shit ton of money that would be a quick fix to your problems? And so, I was horrified by the way things transpired in CHEAP THRILLS, the directorial debut from one-time Bloody-Disgusting contribute Evan Katz! It’s a straight forward premise: the very wealthy Colin (David Koechner) and his bored young wife Violet (Sara Paxton) pick up old, estranged friends Craig (Pat Healy) and Vince (Ethan Embry) at a bar and continue offering them quick cash to pull off little dares. As the evening progresses, so does the intensity of the things they are asked to do. And the strength of this simple story is in it’s execution, both by the top notch cast and more importantly, Evan’s direction. Seriously, the comparison I’d heard thrown around before I saw it was that this was as strong and confident a directing debut as Quentin Tarantino with RESERVOIR DOGS. And I agree!

9 – THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN

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This was probably the most pleasant surprise of the year! Mainly because I’m sick of “found footage” films. (I mean, aren’t we all?) I’m tired of possession films too. No one seems to get those right. And a “found footage”/possession film with a long familiar sounding title is usually a deterrent. However, word of mouth was strong on this one, especially after it debuted on Netflix Instant and word of mouth is usually the best press you can possibly get. The basic story is set up through a documentary crew that convince Sarah Logan (Anne Ramsay) to let her mother Deborah (an incredible and brave performance by Jill Larson) be the subject of their film chronicling Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s actually the perfect setting to misdiagnose odd behavior that to us, the audience is obviously signs of the supernatural. Regardless of how well versed you may be in these types of movies, the film makes a few bold left turns and hence, I found it refreshing and surprising. There’s one horror image that I think could be the best (and scariest) “what the f*ck” moment of the year. Kudos to Adam Robitel, a well established editor and actor (!) who makes his feature length debut with THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN.

8 – UNDER THE SKIN

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I still don’t know how I feel about this movie. I’m not even sure I like UNDER THE SKIN! All I know is I saw it with a few friends that loved it when we walked out of the theater, whereas I was convinced I absolutely hated it. And then the next day came, and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. This is a difficult, non-tradition movie experience. And that’s how you need to watch the film. No distractions, no cell phone out, you need to experience it. Because it’s not a straight forward typical narrative story. It’s instead about an emotionless alien set out to do a specific task that suddenly may be starting to feel something. Humanity, perhaps? And is it possible for you to put into words what it is to find or feel your own humanity? There was one scene early on at about the 20 or so minute mark that completely lost me. That I was horrified by and felt destroyed any chance of me liking the movie. And then 25 minutes after that, another scene brought me completely back. Maybe the seeds for that first horrific scene were planted, both in my head and that of The Female (Scarlett Johansson) character and hence, the horror of one being discovering some semblance of humanity, stuck with me long after the credits rolled. I look forward to delving into director Jonathan Glazer’s previous filmography at some point. And kudos to Scarlett, a bonafide Hollywood star taking on such a difficult and vulnerable role.

7 – THE BABADOOK

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Here’s one I’m dying to revisit. I was fortunate enough to see it early in the year and my initial reaction to it was extremely positive. A single mother (Essie Davis) is struggling to raise her troubled (and frequently screaming) son, who may very well see a monster in the dark at night. When she starts seeing similarities between her son’s monster and the shadowy demon that appears in the mysterious book that popped up on their shelf, maybe there’s more to this story than the kid’s imagination. It’s a strong and confident debut from filmmaker Jennifer Kent. I only remember being slightly taken out of the movie by a few CGI enhancements, something I didn’t expect from an already well structured and executed low budget indie film (which by the way, started as a Kickstarter project!), but then again, no one has mentioned that in the reviews from this past month, so perhaps the version I saw was a slightly alternate cut. Hence, I’m hoping to re-watch it in the new year. If the problems I saw were tweaked or fixed for the final released version, then this would definitely have placed much higher on my list. That said, Jennifer Kent is a filmmaker to watch out for.

6 – THE GUEST

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In terms of sheer “fun” factor, THE GUEST was one of my favorite cinematic experiences this year. Is it genre? If you consider films like ‘THE STEPFATHER’ or STOKER (a fan fave from last year), then absolutely it is. It structurally follows those films, along with things like THE TERMINATOR and HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH! The less you know, the better. But Dan Stevens delivers one of the best, cool and most confident star-making performances of the year. And although writer and director (and frequent collaborators) Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard continue to grow as filmmakers, THE GUEST is a huge leap forward an miles beyond the promise they showed in their previous 2 movies. I can’t wait to see what other crazy projects they put together for the future. And although they’re attached to helm a remake of one of my favorite Korean films, I’m more interested in their original properties, because THE GUEST is as top notch as it gets and I want more of that! Also: bonus points for sporting my favorite soundtrack of the year.

5 – STARRY EYES

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These top 5 could all be considered my favorites of the year. I enjoyed them all equally for different reasons, but since we have to differentiate, STARRY EYES falls in at Number 5 slot for me. It’s not the debut feature from filmmakers Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch, but it does show the promise of a great genre dynamic filmmaking duo. Although the main premise of the film follows aspiring actress Sarah (a brilliant performance by Alex Essoe) who would do anything to be a success in Hollywood, if you’ve ever followed any kind of creative job path yourself, you will relate to the struggle to get noticed. We don’t get too many FAUST-ian tales of this sort, let alone ones that weave in a cult to the narrative (something I jokingly compared to “Scientology” when we had the directors on Killer POV), but it’s a tightly paced and well executed dread inducing movie. When I initially watched it, I was enthralled from start to finish. And also, another tremendously strong score that Waxwork Records is planning on releasing next year. Check out a sample of the music here. And check out the movie ASAP.

4 – LATE PHASES

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I have to credit my friend Dick Grunert for insuring this title went immediately into my “must see ASAP” pile. He described it on Twitter as “Bubba Ho-Tep meets Silver Bullet” and since I love both those films, I knew I had to check this out immediately. This one is just as much fun as I found THE GUEST in terms of sheer entertainment value, and equally as heartfelt as BUBBA HO-TEP. Nick Damici’s performance as the blind, elderly Ambrose convinced me that the actor had suddenly aged tremendously! (It was just make-up.) And it’s also a thrill to see genre favorites like Ethan Embry (he’s killing it these days), Tom Noonan, Lance Guest and Larry Fessenden (!) in a straight forward, practical werewolf film. And let’s emphasize that point because it’s deserves emphasizing. In a day and age where EVERY werewolf movie is augmented by CGI, Robert Kurtzman and his crew delivered an all-practical werewolf movie, complete with a transformation scene that had me out of my seat and cheering by the end of it. I’m going to have to go back and check out more of Adrian Garcia Bogliano’s work (sad to say I hadn’t seen his other films yet), but this movie converted me to an instant fan.

3 – THE SACRAMENT

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It’s a shame that THE SACRAMENT came out so early in the year. I fear a lot of people have forgotten that it’s a 2014 release and hence haven’t given it the proper accolades it deserves. It’s Ti West’s most accomplished and confident film. It’s some of the best work of actor AJ Bowen’s career, and it’s worth it alone for the great Gene Jones who delivers one of the most reserved yet indelible performances as the ominous Father. Not a “found footage” film, but more of a mockumentary, THE SACRAMENT recreates the Jim Jones cult and mass suicide as if it were modern set and a VICE report. I was unfamiliar with the original true life case, and so it surprised me just how dark the film got. But again, the evil’s that people do to each other or in this case convince people to do to themselves is true horror. Kudos to the always great Amy Seimetz and Joe Swanberg, as well as Tyler Bates for an eerie, understated score.

2 – HOUSEBOUND

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This one was so, so close to taking my number one slot. After all, I’m a sucker for a good horror/comedy. As I can’t take myself seriously, it tends to be my favorite horror sub-genre. And in terms of sheer “fun,” this absolutely delivered on all fronts. But the craft in my number one film beat this one out, just barely. Not to say that the craft in HOUSEBOUND is not worth celebrating. From New Zealand writer/director Gerard Johnstone, it’s by far one of the most competent, confident and beautifully executed features of this sort. The comedy is broad, the plot dense, and the writing has a clear understanding of all the horror tropes. Hence anytime you think you’ve got the movie figured out, it takes a sharp satirical left turn and morphs into something else. It skates the fine line of being predictable and then pulls the rug right out from under you. All you need know is that Kylie is under house arrest for a botched robbery and forced to live with her mother and his boyfriend again. Strange things are happening in the house. Could it be a supernatural presence? Oh trust me, there’s way more to it than that and it’s best you go in as blindly as possible for full enjoyment. HOUSEBOUND is this year’s best kept secret!

1 – BLUE RUIN

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If you’ve heard me on the show, you know I love Korean cinema. And BLUE RUIN is the first and only American indie film (or American film in general) that perfectly captures that spirit of the “vengeance” films coming out of South Korea. Less you know the better, but it just goes to show that taking revenge on someone doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to and there are a lot of repercussions involved in performing the deed. Put simply, this film is beautifully directed, sparse in dialogue for a good portion of it, and features an incredibly deep performance by Macon Blair, primarily known for his comedic chops, but who totally nails the drama of this piece. It’s a very tight thriller in all senses of the word, and shows just because you take matters into your own hands doesn’t mean you’re going to be “good” at it. The story behind the making of the film is just as great as the movie itself, but I’ll let you research that on your own. Kudos to director Jeremy Saulnier, director of the underrated horror/comedy/Halloween cult classic MURDER PARTY for delivering a tense, taut movie completely opposite than we’d expect from him and the one that easily secured my number one slot as soon as I first watched it.

There you have it! There are plenty of other great horror films I missed this year, but I’ll do my best to catch up as soon as possible. In the meantime, be sure to listen to the final Killer POV of 2014, to hear my co-host’s Elric and Rebekah’s picks! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

 

Check out my top horror picks from previous years:

Icons Of Fright Presents Rob G.’s TOP 10 Horror Of 2013
Rob G.’s Top Picks Of 2012
Icons Of Fright Present’s Rob G.’s Top 10 Of 2011
Top 10 Horror Films Of 2009: Rob G.’s Picks
Icons Of Fright’s Best Of 2008
Icons Of Fright’s Best Of 2007
Icons Of Fright’s Best Of 2006

Comments
3 Responses to “Rob G.’s TOP 10 HORROR FILMS OF 2014!”
  1. Shad Youngblood says:

    Housebound and The Guest were two of my favorites this year. I’ve got Late Phases added to my Netlix queue now. Thanks for the list!

  2. ConnieWilson10 says:

    You must have missed “The Well” by Tom Hammock, a truly impressive debut film that is to come out in May, I believe. I reviewed it on http://www.WeeklyWilson.com

  3. CurseofZodLovesMaude says:

    Just downloaded The Guest… can’t wait to watch.

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