2014 was an interesting year for horror on screen. While the ubiquitous remakes and undeniable sequels were conspicuously few and far between, much of the best horror shifted to the television, as unlikely as it seemed. Shows like Hannibal, The Walking Dead, The Strain, and American Horror Story kept us in our homes week after week, and the popular new move of releasing smaller films On Demand to coincide with limited theatrical runs meant that it was easier than ever to catch the smaller independent films, right on your own couch.
What follows are my personal favorite horror films that I saw over the course of the past year. I apply the motto of the late great Hunter S Thompson to my movie choices : “It never gets weird enough for me”. With that being said, the film does not have to be perfect, but it has to do something memorable for me to love it. There are more than a few releases that I still haven’t seen, but these are the memorable ones that got through to me, in one way or another, as a life long horror fan. Please enjoy, and hopefully there will be something different here for you to check out that may have been missing on other end of the year lists.
Onward and upward in 2015!
After wasting such a unique and open-ended concept as an annual legal crime day on the first film, this sequel did everything right by expanding on the carnage that was only hinted at in the original. This film took us out of the rich man’s burden and put us directly on the street, in the midst of the chaos. With multiple characters and story-lines crossing paths and some fiercely explosive violence, this one was dark and exciting to watch. I am really looking forward to seeing more sequels which expand upon this gory sandbox of great ideas.
9) Nurse (3D)
For some reason, this insane love letter to B Horror sat on a shelf for almost two years before getting a very limited release in January of 2014. It is like a more lurid, tongue-in-cheek version of American Psycho, and great fun to watch mainly for the hypnotic main performance from Paz De La Huerta as a murderous nurse on the prowl. She is something incredible to look at and her performance carries this whole film into uncharted dark and wet places, with an ironic sense of humor that elevates the whole spectacle to something special. I demand a sequel!
8) Wolf Creek 2
Director Greg McLean could have easily pumped out a cookie cutter copy of his very daring 2005 original, but this sequel to the surprise torture hit shifted gears and lightened the tone dramatically in 2014. Essentially turning John Jarrett’s creepy protagonist into a new cinematic boogeyman, part 2 brought on some serious insanity and one of the craziest vehicle chases ever. A great switch of perspective at the midway point really made this one memorable for me, proving that this was the unique vision of a madman director. A very inventive and effective take on the modern day Australian slasher.
Admittedly, I was not a huge fan of the first ABCs of Death anthology in 2012, but I love the concept and the freedom the producers allowed each film-maker to have with their letters. Whether they got lucky this time, or just chose better directors I am not sure, but this second collection of short films contains many more hits than misses in my book. These shorts run the gamut of horror and style, and virtually all of them have something positive going for them although they may not be perfect. If nothing else, this whole thing is worth the admission price for Chris Nash’s “Z is for Zygote” which remains one of the most insanely disturbing (and awesome) short films I have ever seen. I hope to see many more of these anthologies in the future.
Speaking of insanity, Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia delivered this surreal beauty that pushes the boundaries of acceptable weirdness from the opening scene. Following the horrible misadventure of a gang of stylish thieves as they bungle a bank robbery and in their attempt to escape the long arm of the law, they find themselves hiding out amongst a coven of witches. A curse is put upon them, and the quirky characters must fight for their survival during one of the most mad climactic scenes of any film in recent memory. This one has it all, and will keep even the most jaded horror fan wondering what kind of psychotic twist is going to pop up next.
While it could be argued that Cheap Thrills is not a horror film by traditional standards, this one packs more shocks than a million zombie flicks and revels in a truly disturbing worldview that is definitely not for the squeamish. The two desperate main characters are so intimately relatable to me that it was easy to see how this story of one night gone terribly wrong could easily happen, and it is hard to look away as they follow the rabbit hole to the bitter end. One night drowning their sorrows in a local bar, two old friends meet a cynical and mean-spirited couple that push them to their boundaries and way beyond, and the entire film escalates in such a natural way that this could easily be forgotten news story. And that is very scary.
4) Willow Creek
Bobcat Goldthwait (yes, that Bobcat Goldthwait) directed this found footage masterpiece that follows a couple on a vacation which turns into an obsessive hunt for the legendary Bigfoot. Using all of the time-tested tricks of the overused sub-genre, he crafted a film so intimate and effective that the last twenty minutes or so had me trembling with fear along with the main characters. An expert slow-burn buildup and two incredibly convincing lead performances pay off big time in the final moments, which create unbearable tension and real dread through the use of simple sound effects and chilling details. The ambiguous ending is just the cherry on top.
3) Circus Of The Dead
While I tend to tune out to most titles that end in “…of the dead” these days, this story of a group of sadistic clowns on the prowl is proof to not judge a book by it’s cover (or a film by it’s title). An unflinchingly vicious feast of violence, this independent film owes much of it’s success to genre veteran Bill Oberst Jr. and his absolutely fearless portrayal of “Papa Corn”, the ringleader of this pack of killer clowns. Unrelenting, and full of shocking moments of extreme violence, this one hits so high on the list because it showed me things that I will never forget.
2) The Babadook
This one has gained a lot of steam and hype over the past month, and all of it is well-deserved. A unique and beautifully-convincing vision of monsters and madness, this film from first time Australian director Jennifer Kent will definitely leave it’s mark on the viewer. Playing with all manner of different fears, and using real emotions like guilt, loneliness and frustration to punctuate the insanity that surrounds the main characters, this film is successful on many different levels. While I agree with many commenters that it is not particularly scary, it has plenty of creative and creepy sequences that you wont soon forget, and two expert performances from the leads make this a modern horror stand-out.
Quite possibly the most ridiculous concept ever given a decent budget, Kevin Smith’s podcast-inspired walrus flick tops my list out of sheer audacity. In this time of dwindling independent films, it is truly incredible that the director got away with making this man-meets-walrus flick into a reality. While it is certainly a gimmick, and by no means a perfect movie, it was without a doubt one of the most unique films of the year, and I look for exactly that. Smith took an offhand conversation while getting stoned with his buddies and actually followed through with it, giving us one of the weirdest movies ever, proving that good things will happen if you “follow every dopey dream you have.”
Funny, sad, gross and weird as hell, Tusk will be a hard one to top. #WalrusYes