2014 was the year airplanes disappeared into thin air, Robin Williams shed his mortal coil, and tensions between police and disenfranchised communities reached dangerous proportions. As far as world events go, it was a pretty depressing year.
Good thing I’m not here to write about world events! I’m here to talk horror movies, and when I reflect on 2014 from that perspective, it was actually a pretty awesome year. As you’ll see from this list, foreign and independent films dominated the horror landscape; the big winner, though, is Found-Footage. Sure the fervor has died down since the mid-2000’s (and I’ve never really considered myself a die-hard a fan) but Found Footage proved to be an amazing medium for some of this year’s best scares. Love it or hate it, it looks like Found Footage isn’t going away anytime soon. As long as filmmakers keep delivering winners like these, I’m opened to anything!
So without further suspense, here are my picks for Best Horror Movies of 2014. Enjoy!
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Writer: Jeremy Saulnier
Stars: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves |
Blue Ruin is a testament to what a driven filmmaker can accomplish. Writer/director/producer Jeremy Saulnier was able to bring his vision to life after launching a successful Kickstarter campaign. Sure, this film is stripped down and lean, but it delivers more intensity than just about any big budget Hollywood offering these days. It’s a devastating revenge saga, one that proves retribution rarely produces a desired result; “An eye for an eye” almost never ends a conflict, rather it perpetuates the violence it’s intended to quell. Yes, the color blue is important thematically so pay attention; the color offers character insight, draws unlikely connections, and even gives viewers clues about what to expect next. Eve Plumb, Jan from The Brady Bunch, is unrecognizable and awesome in the movie’s powerful climax.
In a year when the Found Footage and vampire subgenres are often considered played-out, Afflicted makes both tropes feel brand spanking new. Truth is, based on the synopsis and the cover-art, I expected some kind of disease/virus body horror, but I was pleasantly surprised when my expectations were shattered. Derek (played by Derek Lee who also wrote & directed the film) is suffering from a terminal illness, so he and his buddy Clif (played by Clif Prowse who co-wrote and co-directed Afflicted with Lee) decide to tour Europe as a final Hurrah. Things take a dark turn when Derek is seduced and attacked by a strange woman he meets in a nightclub. What follows is a bleak adventure that will test the bonds of friendship.
Witching & Bitching
Spanish writer/director Alex de la Iglesia follows-up on his acclaimed hit The Last Circus with another madcap tale of terror that drips with magical realism. A gold heist run amuck lands a motley crew of crooks in a remote village ruled by witches. Witching & Bitching is the kind of horror comedy that satisfies gore hounds will simultaneously pleasing more mainstream moviegoers. The FX are top notch (and hilarious), the acting is brilliant (and hilarious), and the script absolutely crackles with infectious energy. Some may see Witching & Bitching as slightly misogynistic but if you pay attention, you’ll see that men are portrayed with just as much satirical irreverence as the women.
As Above So Below
The second Found Footage horror movie on this list is As Above So Below, a claustrophobic and adventurous film that will appeal to fans of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Da Vinci Code, as well as fans of genre films like The Descent and The Cave. Some may even consider As Above So Below a reimagining of Dante’s Inferno. The sets and FX are brilliant and the cast is emotive and believable. With hallucinatory and supernatural elements throughout, As Above So Below is a visually stunning and engrossing piece of horror.
Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead
One of the most anticipated films of 2014 was the sequel to the Norwegian zombie-comedy Dead Snow, which was an unexpected international hit when it was released in 2009. But those worried about a lazy rehashing of the original can rest easy, as Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead introduces so many unique innovations, it practically creates a brand new zombie subgenre. It’s got a much larger scale, which can make the film feel less intimate than the original; it’s like the difference between Evil Dead and Army of Darkness: Both great, but very different. What really makes Dead Snow 2 a winner is the fantastic ending that is completely disgusting yet somehow heart-warming.
With Eli Roth producing, Ti West directing, and A.J. Bowen in a starring role, it should come as no surprise to horror fans that The Sacrament is one of 2014’s best genre offerings. The only thing more chilling than the fact that this film is based on true events is that the actual massacre at Jonestown in South America was many times larger and more devastating. The Sacrament is the third film on this list to employ Found-Footage techniques with amazing results. Gene Jones is awesome as the megalomaniacal cult leader, Father, and Amy Seimetz is unnerving as his devoted protégé Caroline.
Despite what the title seems to imply, Found is not a Found-Footage horror movie. It is, however, and independent film of the highest caliber and one of the most shocking genre offerings in years. Found also manages to pull off one of the most unlikely genre mash-up is cinematic history, melding slasher tropes with a coming of age saga. The film is successful, in no small part, thanks to outstanding performances by a very young cast; Ethan Philbeck is terrifying as teenage serial killer Steve, and Gavin Brown is perfect as his pubescent brother Marty, displaying talent beyond his years. Make no mistake, Found is brutal and not for the squeamish; the film was actually banned in Australia due to “prolonged and detailed depictions of sexualized violence”.
The Taking of Deborah Logan
The fourth and final Found Footage film on this list isn’t particularly innovative or original—it’s just scary as all get-out! The taking of Deborah Logan is perhaps the most terrifying tale of demonic possession since The Exorcist, managing to deliver a horrifying experience that feels very real. Jill Larson carries the film as the titular Deborah Logan, an older woman afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease—and possibly something much worse. Her disorienting and violent mood swings keep the audience on edge, creating a pervasive sense of unease. In his directorial debut, Adam Robitel delivers a deeply nuanced exploration of insanity and the bonds of family, with a finale that’s nothing short of shocking.
The Best Horror Movie of 2014 is a tie between The Babadook and Housebound.
I’m literally stunned when I read comments from folks who have seen The Babadook and don’t think it’s scary. Has our society become so desensitized that slow-burn psychological horror is no longer effective? God, I hope not! Because I’m not exaggerating when I say that The Babadook is the scariest film I’ve seen in many years. It’s the story about the turbulent relationship between a widow and her rambunctious son, one made terrifying by a dark, nebulous presence that stalks their home. The Babadook employs a lot of symbolism and doesn’t offer concrete answers to the questions it poses, making it a treat for intelligent aficionados who enjoy films that are both engaging and challenging.
While it didn’t receive nearly the amount of positive press enjoyed by The Babadook, Housebound is an equally amazing example of nuanced, intelligent horror filmmaking. This export from New Zealand presents itself as a typical haunted house story, but delivers an outstanding twist that’s nearly impossible to predict. Housebound also includes elements of black comedy and dysfunctional family dynamics. The less you know about Housebound going in, the more you’re likely to enjoy it so I’ll simply advise horror fans to see this film as soon as possible!
What are some of your favorite horror movies from 2014? Sound off in the comments section!
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