2014 won’t go down in horror movie history as a golden year for scary movies, but there were still a few gems to be found amongst the piles of Hollywood garbage; we’re looking at you Annabelle. Many of the movies on this list had their own flaws, and not all of them will be entertaining to the average viewer, but they each brought something unique to the table and that is a hard feat to come by these days. So without further ado, here our top 10 horror films of 2014.
No, not the X-Men character who sports blue fur and a long, blue tail. Nightcrawler is a film about the horrors of humanity that lurk in the shadows. There are no vampires, no serial killers or supernatural threat to Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal, who lost 20 pounds from his already thin frame, stating he pictured his character as a hungry coyote in the night).
Dan Gilroy’s first directorial feature after writing a handful (Freejack and The Bourne Legacy), shows a strength and a vision that is unwavering in painting humanity as capable of grisly, ugly things to accomplish something “remarkable.” Lou is determined in his quest to stalk the night with camera in hand.
Just about any movie featuring Bill Paxton automatically receives a higher grade due to his presence.
9) The Taking of Deborah Logan
Found footage horror movies have become a dime-a-dozen in recent years. Found footage itself is a sub-genre and that sub-genre has its very own sub-genre: Found footage about demonic activities. It’s hard to stand out as an original with a new shaky-cam flick about the same impossibly documented scenario, but The Taking of Deborah Logan does a wonderful job, aided in large part by Jill Larson as the titular Deborah Logan.
Deborah Logan is a sufferer of Alzheimer’s, a reluctant volunteer willing to allow a film crew to capture her at her best and her worse, as the disease progressively ravages her mind and she slips into more severe dementia.
To stand out from the crowd, The Taking of Deborah Logan has had to play with tropes and conventions of the genre and subtly subvert them as best they can while still delivering solid thrills. The twists that come in the third act draw out the suspense and sometimes test the boundaries of silliness, but the mystery that unfolds is always very much watchable and remarkably fun.
The Taking of Deborah Logan is available on Netflix Streaming.
Young lovers in an inescapable horror that lives in the woods is the subject of Honeymoon, a tension-laden mystery that is absolutely worth the price of admission (or rental) once you get past the icky beginning. I can take horror… I can take blood being spilled across the screen and gore being piled into the corners of each frame, but one thing I can’t stand is seeing constant, nonstop kissing and babytalk in closeup between two young lovers. “I wuv you, Honey-Bea.” Ugh. I can’t! I just can’t!
Once the plot shifts gears from a happy outing at a lake and begins to unfold a macabre tale, director Leigh Janiak shows a real talent for allowing characters to speak without ever really speaking about what’s on their mind. Something is amiss with bride Bea (played by Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie) and husband Paul (Harry Treadaway) is determined to get to the bottom of it.
The best moments in Honeymoon are the quiet moments, where something sinister is lurking but, due to an unspoken social standing every human has, it just feels impolite to mention it…
The surprises the plot contained were genuine to me and I was in constant suspense up until the end as each little piece of the puzzle fits into the plot’s place.
7) Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch directs Tom Hiddelston, Tilda Swinton and John Hurt in a vampire movie that’s light on gore, heavy on music and rampant with existential angst. If that sounds like your idea of how you’d like to spend an evening watching a movie, this is deservedly on the top horror films of 2014. If that sounds absolutely boring, painfully so, go ahead and skip this one. Only Lovers Left Alive is divisive by design; it’s more of a hangout movie than a heavily-plotted piece of film that feels determined to tell a story as quickly and economically as possible. We, instead, have a chance to hang out with some depressed vampires who like to drink some high-grade blood, knock back some beers and play music when they’re not shooting the shit about the philosophical implications of immortality.
My only complaint of Only Lovers Left Alive is that it is sometimes guilty of committing my most hated sin when it comes to historical events in a fictional setting: Talking about huge, huge moments in history in passing like, meh, it’s no big deal.
Example: “Who was that man?” “Some dreamer, a lawyer. Abraham. Calls himself Abe. Says he’s gonna be president someday.”
Other than that one minor complaint, Only Lovers is a fun, sometimes sad and only occasionally scary horror movie that isn’t so much about the horrors of requiring blood to stay alive, but how boring an eternity would be.
6) Starry Eyes
When viewing the data from studies like the Milgram experiment and the Stanford prison experiment, it’s sometimes unimaginable, but somewhat understandable, to see how easy it is for someone to become something else, something more bestial, when they are ordered by someone they see as an authority figure, or when they feel that their own lives are in danger. Nazi Germany wasn’t comprised of a country filled with psychopaths; it was a country filled with scared citizens who did what they felt they had to in order to survive.
What, then, are people capable of when they’re presented not with sheer survival, but actually obtaining their very dream of life? Everyone has one… everyone has a dream to be an astronaut, or a famous actor or an island-owning billionaire. What darkness exists in the heart of mankind when that dream is presented as a palpable and very real, well, reality?
Starry Eyes follows struggling actor Sarah, barely paying the rent in her apartment in LA, right at the cusp of her possible success in the movies. Would she be willing to humiliate herself in an audition? Would she be willing to disrobe for a secondary meeting for a role that never called for nudity in the first place? If she’s willing to do that, is she willing to sacrifice her previous life for the new one she always wanted?
The human soul is the villain in Starry Eyes. While sometimes slow, and sometimes the Cronenberg-inspired body horror can be a bit much, it does build to a satisfying and scary conclusion that will stick with you after it’s over.
5) Cheap Thrills
And the Feel-Bad Horror Movie of the year goes to… Cheap Thrills! Okay, maybe not, I’m sure worse depths have been plumbed this year, but I can’t imagine many of them being as effective as Cheap Thrills was.
Starry Eyes (also with Pat Healy in its cast), explored what someone might be capable of if they thought that they stood a good chance at gaining everything in the world that they ever wanted. Cheap Thrills, goes another direction and shows us what someone who’s hit rock bottom would be willing to do in order to crawl their way back to the top again.
Not without philosophical ruminations about what it takes to be a man (does a man do whatever is possible to keep from failing, or does a man accept failure with a quiet dignity and pick up the pieces elsewhere?), Cheap Thrills plays like a mix between Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ “Man From the South” and A Serbian Film—only not even 1/100th as deranged as that particular piece of soul-damaging cinema.
Though dark, grisly and at times very difficult to watch, Cheap Thrills importantly layers these violent images with a healthy dose of observational humor. Plus, it’s great to see Pat Healy and Sarah Paxton reunited from their appearance in The Innkeepers together.
Cheap Thrills is available for streaming with Amazon Prime.
4) The Guest
It’s no secret that I was not particularly fond of writer-director duo Adam Wingard’s and Simon Barrett’s previous outing You’re Next. Aside from featuring a great, underappreciated song, it was a too-derivative postmodern take on the plot of Bay of Blood with some nods to the home invasion genre.
The Guest is equally derivative. It references 1980s cinema as a whole, sporting a pop-techno soundtrack and a muscled-up Dan Stevens, miles away from his Cousin Matthew over at Downton Abbey. The difference is that The Guest is almost brilliant. It is one of the most fun outings to come out this year just for its sheer audacity and commitment to a plot that is quite possibly insane.
Dan Stevens, as David, is a veteran who has decided to fulfill the wish of his buddy, who unfortunately never made it home. He wants to make sure his buddy’s family is safe and taken care of in his absence. David’s actions seem so noble… so, why does he sit in his room at night and stare at a wall all night long without sleep? He has an obsession with guns and a morality known only to himself. He has a secret in his past that could be deadly.
In their review of The Guest, the AV Club has accurately compared it to everything from Drive to The Terminator to Halloween. If that doesn’t sound amazing, ladies: Cousin Matthew is bulked up, muscular and shirtless. There’s something for everyone in The Guest.
Oculus is creepy because it seriously messes with your head. That’s where the real ghosts and horror lies. This film some how uses every horror movie cliche in the book, but at the same time is able to tell an original suspenseful story that will have most horror fans shaking in their boots. It’s rare that a movie can actually scare us anymore, especially one who’s story revolves around a haunted mirror. Sounds stupid right? Think again. The hallucinatory trickery that this films play with your mind will stay with you for days. Oculus is smart, scary and the film will play with your deepest fears.
The biggest question every audience member wants to shout at the screen when watching a Haunted House movie is, “Why don’t you just leave?!” Housebound ingeniously plots around this cliché by making the plot of being unable to leave a necessity. Kylie Bucknell is in trouble. She was caught trying to rob an ATM and has to spend the duration of her punishment under house arrest in her mother’s house and, well, the two of them have never gotten along. What’s worse, it appears that the house is haunted. Things go bump in the night, things go missing and, most troubling of all, the house used to exist as boarding for troubled teens and one of them had been stabbed to death years ago. Does her spirit want justice for what happened to her when she was still alive, lost and scared?
When making a horror-comedy, it’s difficult to combine the proper number of laughs along with the proper number of scares. Housebound’s thesis is perfectly summed up with an inconsistent, terrified stream of urine, punctuated by ghastly pounds by things unseen.Where Housebound begins and where it ends seems like an unlikely trajectory, and that’s truly writer-director Gerard Johnstone’s gift at plotting. If you think about what happens for more than five seconds, you’ll quickly realize how silly it is, but while you’re watching it just hold on for a wild, wild ride.
1) The Babadook
Essie Davis plays Amelia, a woman who finds her life a mess after the unexpected death of her husband and having to contend with an unruly child, Samuel. Samuel is prone to violent outbursts, is loathed by school administrators, by fellow parents, children of his same age and even, as it seems, by his own mother from time to time.
A popular theme running through horror films this year has been something of an attack on traditional family values as we know them. Honeymoon was a bit of a veiled commentary on the expectation of bliss to be unwavering through an entire marriage and how easily that bond can be shaken to its core. Cheap Thrills studies the importance of fatherhood, family and the idea that those we love must be taken care of at all costs. And so, The Babadook is very much about the idea that, despite what society would have us believe, motherhood is no walk in the park and the reward for raising a child on your own, especially in such difficult circumstances, may yield barely visible results.
Amelia loves Samuel, but she has reached a breaking point and that breaking point shatters, erupts and manifests itself physically through a children’s book about “The Babadook.” The nature of its evil is an enigma, known only fully to Jennifer Kent, who wrote and directed this film. Much of what the monster wants, or more specifically why it wants what it wants, is not fully divulged. The Babadook lives in the darkness in between what we perceive as reality and the fictional world where beasties and nasties live in closets, under the bed and crave innocent blood. The film exists somewhere outside that hopeful reality we have for ourselves where we can just throw our heads under our blankets and close our eyes in a pinched shut until everything is okay again.