While studios are focusing on their franchises and remakes, independent filmmakers are building a horror army that’s one to reckon with. This is now the 13th anniversary of our annual Best & Worst editorials, and what makes this year stand out is that the majority of films on my list came from an independent source – even if a studio eventually released some.
On paper, we’re moving the right direction. There are a plethora of new up-and-coming horror filmmakers, and more and more horror films are being made outside of the studio system. The bad news is that it’s not a sustainable system, meaning we could be living in the golden age of independent horror cinema. Instead of bitching and moaning when a studio announces their next sequel/remake – take that negative energy and focus it in the right place…seek out and support an indie film you’ve been hearing so much about.
With that, let’s take a look at just how good 2014 was…
This is the first time I couldn’t narrow my list down to a top 10. In fact, I’m sitting on 20 films that all deserve some love – and if I can use the site as my own personal soapbox, so be it.
What I present to you are two batches of films, with the first 10 in no particular order, while the final 10, below, are shared in the typical countdown format.
TOP 10 HORROR FILMS OF 2014
10. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (Universal Home Entertainment)
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon is quickly becoming a name is horror. After helming the sequel to The Town That Dreaded Sundown, he’s gone on to work on FX’s “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” which mirrored his talents shown in this modern day take on the 1976 classic. What I love about this Blumhouse production – dumped to home video – in that it has an otherworldly feel, and reminds me of the old Halloween films if they were to have taken place in the world of David Fincher’s Zodiac. The stunning cinematography only heightens a serious creep factor…oh, and there’s plenty of slasher gore to go around!
9. Nightcrawler (Open Road)
Dan Gilroy’s crime thriller isn’t a horror film, but it’s as thrilling as any genre pic I’ve ever seen. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a terrifying sociopath who is intent on being the first to the news. It’s a very relevant movie that basks in social commentary without being preachy. It’s also one of those movies where you end up rooting for the villain, which sort of makes Gyllenhaal the perfect antihero. There’s also no shortage of car chases and violence (there’s a multiple murder caught on tape) to go along with supremely astounding performances by both Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo.
8. Summer of Blood (Dark Sky Films)
Summer of Blood may be the first of its kind. This hipster horror film was written/directed by and stars Onur Tukel, who delivers a self-reflective performance in the vein of Clerks, but with real social commentary from the male gaze. Oh, it’s also a vampire movie, and a hilarious one at that. This is a must for horror fans that can handle heavy exposition, but should be warned that it’s not going to connect with everyone. In fact, if you can’t stand the opening scene, you should probably turn it off. For those who find it as gut-busting funny as I do, you’re in for a clever ride that’s littered in sex and violence.
7. Under the Skin (A24)
If you’re looking for a scary alien-abduction horror movie, Under the Skin is the closest since Fire In the Sky. In fact, I think it has one of the most terrifying abduction sequences ever caught on film. While the book may be better (and scarier), Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin is slow-burn horror at its best. It’s both spooky and nerve-wracking, with Scarlett Johansson delivering a maliciously premeditative and seductive powerhouse performance.
6. Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (Well Go USA)
I strongly disliked Tommy Wirkola’s 2009 Sundance zombie pic Dead Snow and couldn’t understand why they’d bother with a sequel. It was one of the last films I planned to see this year, and ended up being one of my favorites. I’m unsure if it was because of the budget (was it larger?) or if Wirkola is listening to his critics, but Dead Snow 2 is an insanely fun Peter Jackson-esque splatterfest! Beginning immediately after the first, it builds into an outrageous and gory blast that really deserved to be seen with an audience. There’s plenty of homage to go around, especially one to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2, where the main character is gifted with an undead super arm that’s central to the sequel’s plot. But what really ties the movie together is the American zombie hunters group, led by comic actor Martin Starr. I won’t ever watch Dead Snow again, but I plan to have multiple screenings of its sequel that has infinite replay value.
5. Wolf Creek 2 (RLJ/Image Entertainment)
I’m still raving about Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek sequel, which was a complete tonal shift from the first slasher. As I said in my review, Wolf Creek 2 is the slasher horror fans have been dying for; it’s like Crocodile Dundee, High Tension, Texas Chain Saw and Elm Street all mixed into one insanely fun, yet dirty, grimy and vicious slasher massacre. What makes it spectacular is McLean’s decision to make it more of a fun horror comedy than what they call “torture pron.” Mick Taylor becomes more like Freddy Krueger than Leatherface, and what viewers get is a super fun, wild ride that’s sure to become a cult classic.
4. Lost Soul (Severin)
I’m a huge fan of documentaries, but it’s sort of unfortunate there aren’t many based on horror films. Thanks to director David Gregory we take a look behind-the-scenes of the infamous 1996 The Island of Dr. Moreau, which starred Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando. Gregory’s “Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau” shares the tortuous path Stanley set down to make his dream project with New Line Cinema. In what makes a perfect documentary, Stanley’s journey comes full circle as he tells of behind fired from the production, only to have snuck on the set as an extra to witness the furthering chaos. “Lost Soul” is as inspirational, exhilarating, and heartwarming as it heartbreaking and disincentive. “Lost Soul” should become required viewing in film schools across the globe as it’s both a life lesson and reality check. It’s the horror version of “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” which is ironic as Apocalypse Now also starred Brando.
3. As Above/So Below (Universal Pictures)
I can’t remember the last time you guys gave me as much shit as you did for my review of As Above/So Below, directed by the Dowdle brothers (Quarantine, The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Devil). I don’t care what anyone says, but I thought this movie was fucking scary, and seeing it in an empty theater with incredible sound only heightened the experience. As I said in the review, As Above/So Below is a found-footage movie that shows that the subgenre can still work when it’s not abused. It’s astoundingly authentic, which could be the main reason why it’s one of the scariest movies in years. And even though it has its flaws, I champion the terrifying As Above with the highest praise possible…and still do.
2. Only Lovers Left Alive (Sony Classics)
I thought the vampire genre had completely died until I saw Jim Jarmusch’s romanticized horror film. Being that the majority of the drama takes place in a singular location with heavy exposition, the only way it could work is with a powerhouse performance. Only Lovers has two. Tilda Swinton, who is one of my favorite thesps of all time, stars with up-and-coming Goth king Tom Hiddleston. The two play century old vampires (deeply in love) who are reunited after years apart. Things get out of hand when their disruptive sister (Mia Wasikowska) arrives, and destroys everything they’ve built together. It’s a wonderfully exotic and engaging piece of art that hopefully puts the viewers’ short lives into perspective.
1. Babadook (IFC Midnight)
A lot of Bloody Disgusting readers think Babadook is overrated, although I personally think it’s just overhyped. While Jennifer Kent’s chilling supernatural fairytale is my pick for best horror movie of the year, it’s never going to live up to the hype of being one of the best movies ever made, cause it’s not. Babdook, simply put, is a spine-tingling bedtime story for hardcore horror fans. Kent puts on a filmmaking clinic, using a perfect blend of storytelling, editing and sound design to create a slow-burn horror tale that’s guaranteed to get under the skin.