The past year of horror was tremendous and proof that the genre is as vibrant as ever. While most big studio releases failed to resonate with me, there were a ton of indies and VOD releases that made an impact and left me thirsty for more.
If I had to tip my hat to one major release this year, it’d be Annabelle. It wasn’t very good, but at least it was fun and competently made. And c’mon, that demon in the basement was a pretty awesome bit.
But other than that, my top slots are populated with films from the smaller studios. This year had so many great films to offer I was forced to do some serious whittling down. I always find the ranking system a pain in the ass, so don’t pay the numbers any mind. Shuffle them around, start reading from the middle, I don’t care. All these movies deserve bro hugs.
10. Summer of Blood (Oct. 17; Dark Sky Films)
Writer-director-actor Onur Tukel’s horror-comedy is a fresh satire on the vampire mythos, one that uses absurd situations to explore very human fears like commitment and urban life. Without an ounce of the pretentiousness so often found in indie comedies, Tukel has crafted a sincerely hilarious film that’s not without its fair share of gore and sex. Mad, tantric vampire sex, that is. Pardon my hyperbole, but Summer of Blood is simply one of the best and most honest horror-comedies in years. You may be laughing too hard to catch some of the jokes the first time (the landlord scene had me in tears), so reliving the Summer of Blood is a must.
9. The Guest (Sept. 17; Picturehouse)
Following up You’re Next was a tall order for Adam Winged and Simon Barrett. Rather than go a straight-up horror route, they delivered this mean little action-infused thriller. With a pinch of Bourne influence and a hefty dose of dark comedy, The Guest is an absolute blast that strikes the perfect balance between edgy contemporary and throwback. As the enigmatic David, hypnotic hunk Dan Stevens proved himself to be one of the coolest, coldest muthas in recent genre history.
8. Housebound (Oct. 17; Phase 4)
Housebound announces the arrival of a great new talent in genre filmmaking – Gerard Johnstone. He knows his shit and cleverly twists the tropes to create something effectively creepy and wholly unique. Housebound plows through a lot of worn horror-comedy ground. However, it does so with so much gleeful indulgence that many of the beats feel fresh. Johnstone knows what a horror audience is expecting and he pounces at all the right moments. Housebound was easily one of 2014’s biggest genre crowd pleasers.
7. Under the Skin (Apr. 4; A24 Films)
The dating scene in Scotland is completely bonkers, man. Guys cruising bars for a little tail wind up immersed in a pool of black goo, where they cool off while their guts and junk are sent up to Scarlett Johansson’s alien overlords. I think. I think that’s what going on in Jonathan Glazer’s mesmerizing mind-fuck Under the Skin. Scintillating, mysterious, suggestive – the list of appropriate adjectives could stretch from here to Planet Sexy Alien and back. On a related side note: as a member of the Florida Film Critics Circle, I was stoked to help award Mica Levi Best Original Score for her brilliant work on Under the Skin.
6. Only Lovers Left Alive (Apr. 11; Sony Pictures Classics)
A Jim Jarmusch movie about two pasty bohemian vampires who lounge around on exotic throw pillows and listen to music. Oh, that sounds like a real pisser. That’s what I first thought, at least. Turns out Only Lovers Left Alive is a brilliant piece of art filled with strings of comical philosophizing, sorrow, and romance. With loads of gothic atmosphere and two exceedingly awesome lead performances by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as vampiric soulmates, Jarmusch has crafted a truly remarkable genre mash up.
5. Enemy (Feb. 6; A24 Films)
A24 Films crushed it this year, releasing smart, edgy fare like Under the Skin, Locke, A Most Violent Year, and this bad boy, Enemy. A wholly independent doppelganger enigma that left many folks (including me) scratching their heads. It also terrified the hell out of audiences with its shocking ending, which has got to be one of the most unpredictable climaxes in years. With Enemy and Prisoners, Vulleneuve proves he’s capable of creating incredible films on an independent and big studio level. I’ve read a few reactions to Enemy that called it “pretentious,” which I think is complete bullshit. It would be pretentious if the film was vague and surreal with no ideas to back it up, but the clues are all there.
4. Big Bad Wolves (Jan 17; Magnet Releasing)
It’s rare to find a truly disturbing film that’s also incredibly funny. That’s one of the amazing things about Israeli filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Paushado’s (Rabies) Big Bad Wolves. They’re able to deftly balance some really upsetting material with laugh out loud moments, without ever fumbling the moral implications in the process. Even after multiple viewings, Big Bad Wolves proved to be a haunting, hilarious masterpiece that skillfully manages its distinctive tone throughout. Believe the hype and keep Aharon Keshales and Navot Paushado on your radar forever.
3. The Babadook (Nov. 28; IFC Films)
Believe the hype, folks. Jennifer Kent’s nursery rhyme-infused dramatic horror The Babadook is the real deal. It’s a thickly atmospheric psychological horror about the conflicts facing single mother Essie Davis (who delivers a tremendous performance). At first it was tough for me to get past her screeching banshee of a son, but once the palpable dread takes hold of you, it’s impossible not to get swept up n the drama. Also, it’s really fun to leave “Babadooooook, dooooook, dooOOOOOK!” voicemails on your wife’s phone.
2. Late Phases (Nov. 21; Dark Sky Films)
For his English-language debut Late Phases, Spanish director Adrián García Bogliano has done something special. He’s crafted a werewolf shocker that reads more like a revenge/vigilante flick than a horror film. All of the traditional werewolf elements are there – silver bullets, full moons, etc. – but at its core its really the tale of a tired Vietnam vet who was blinded in combat and went dark to the world, including to his family. It’s funny, brash, and exciting, but knows when to pull back and let the emotion sink in. Simply put, it’s a masterpiece of the werewolf genre because of what it accomplishes on top of the scares, which is deliver a truly emotional, heartfelt story of a father and son. And Nick Damici does badass old blind man very, very well. Check out my interview with him here.
1. Starry Eyes (Nov. 14; Dark Sky Films)
A potent brew of seductive body horror and pitch black psychological horror, Starry Eyes is the moody debut of directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer. The story of Sarah (Alex Essoe), a struggling actress in Hollywood who travels down some dark alleys for her big break, the film turns the exploitative image of casting agents to a whole new level. Esso delivers a wildly unhinged performance as Sarah, a character that demands equal doses of insecurity and monstrous command. Bleak, masochistic, and deeply unsettling, Starry Eyes gets under your skin and stays there (until your fingernails and skin flake off).