As someone who just produced her first horror feature, there is nothing more inspiring than seeing first-time filmmakers deliver killer debut films and this year, my Top 10 horror list has six of them. It’s a good time to be a horror fan because not only do we have new talent like Jennifer Kent, Leigh Janiak and E.L. Katz on the rise with all the potential in the world, but more seasoned directors like Adam Wingard and Mike Flanagan are taking their work to new levels. Whether we’re talking about vicious villains ripping helpless victims to shreds or more calculated scares that put you on edge, this year has been packed with films that excel because of thoughtful and thorough executions that lead to unique and refreshing experiences.
Check out my Top 10 Horror Films of 2014 after the jump.
10. Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead
Dead Snow is an outrageous, highly entertaining film, but Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead takes the art of Nazi zombie mayhem to a whole new level. The idea of Martin (Vegar Hoel) getting Herzog’s (Ørjan Gamst) arm is an absolutely ingenious place to start and then from there, director Tommy Wirkola embraces the absurdity of the scenario more than ever, unleashing one outrageous kill after another. It’s non-stop explosions, disemboweling and Sidekick Zombie (Kristoffer Joner) abuse, and it’s all wildly creative. Blowing up baby carriages, targeting the handicapped, using a zombie body for traction to drive a car out of the snow – it’s all so wrong, but right at the same time.
9. Stage Fright
After catching the very first trailer for Jerome Sable’s feature directorial debut, Stage Fright, I lost all hope. It just didn’t seem like the horror/musical combo could sustain a feature film without growing tiresome, but I sure did eat my words at the film’s SXSW premiere in March. Stage Fright certainly has flaws, namely a predictable narrative and a few bland performances, but there are more than enough insanely entertaining elements to make up for them. There’s a slew of unforgettable supporting characters, the kills are vibrant and cleverly woven into the musical theater camp setting and, overall, it’s just a blast to watch, especially with some good friends and a few drinks in hand.
I totally get why some moviegoers would rather not bother with found footage horror anymore, but trust me, you have to give Afflicted a shot. Derek Lee and Clif Prowse’s feature debut is expertly shot with just the right amount of image stabilization to keep you levelheaded without ever taking away from the point-of-view aspect. The micro-budget film is also packed with impressive locations, blocking and VFX work, making it feel surprisingly big in scale and scope. And not only do Lee and Prowse kill it behind the lens, but they make for two very likable leads in the film as well. You’re quick to care about them and that instant connection makes what happens to them especially engaging and fascinating to track.
7. Starry Eyes
I’ve heard folks dub Starry Eyes strong slow burn horror and perhaps that’s accurate to a degree because it’s got one heck of an ending, but a big reason the grand finale is such a powerhouse conclusion is because of the thoughtful and extremely disturbing character journey leading up to it. Watch out for writer-directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer because they really know how to do a lot with a little, and the same goes for their lead actress, Alex Essoe, as well. Her character’s situation is a bit extreme, but the filmmakers keep the scenario well rooted in the very relatable idea of doing whatever it takes to succeed.
Possession movies are one thing, but ones with haunted objects at the center of them are especially tough. Annabelle couldn’t pull it off and neither could Ouija. Some of the most frightening moments in those films aren’t the scares sparked by their namesakes, but rather by offshoot entities. Not so with Oculus. The Lasser Glass doesn’t move an inch, but everything that happens in the movie is so deeply connected to the mirror’s past and current agenda that you’re truly afraid of what this inanimate object is capable of. The time jump is another thing Oculus pulls off far better than most. You are getting two different stories when the film cuts between young Kaylie (Annalise Basso) and Tim (Garrett Ryan) and adult Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites), but the scenarios are so well connected that one is always enhancing the other. Oculus is a smart, well shot and very well acted film. Director Mike Flanagan is definitely someone to look out for.
There are loads of horror comedies out there that are amusing, but very few can make you laugh while keeping you on the edge of your seat. Gerard Johnstone’s feature debut Housebound, however, achieves both. And it isn’t a jump scare here and a good laugh there. The comedy and horror of Housebound are so well woven together and expertly tailored to the progression of the narrative that it all feels like necessary and natural elements of this fun, curious situation. This industry, and perhaps the horror genre specifically, needs more Morgana O’Reilly. You’ve never seen a horror heroine like Kylie Bucknell. She’s brash and a big brat, but O’Reilly’s got such an infectious on-screen presence that you come to like Kylie without ever losing the off-putting qualities that make her such a unique main character.
4. The Guest
It’s been exceedingly clear that Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett have a lot to offer for years now, but boy is The Guest a major step up from all of their previous films. Something like The Guest just doesn’t work unless every last bit of it is perfectly in sync – the visuals, the pace, the tone, the music cues, the performances, etc. – and the duo pulls it off exceptionally well in every respect. The Guest is a remarkably refined film that gets playful, lets Dan Stevens go big and makes the score pop at just the right moments to give it significant momentum and the result is a fun, fresh and extremely entertaining thrill.
Honeymoon’s got a pretty eerie scenario at its core, but a big reason the experience has such a powerful lasting effect is because of the time and care first-time director Leigh Janiak puts into building her main characters. Newlyweds Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) are absolutely oozing with affection for one another so when that intense romance starts to fade ever so slowly, you feel every beat of it. Honeymoon is less about what’s happening to the couple and much more so about how it’s changing them, requiring the viewer to engage on a deeper and far more disturbing level.
2. Cheap Thrills
I first caught E.L. Katz’s directorial debut Cheap Thrills back at SXSW 2013, but the film didn’t get a theatrical release until March 2014. I was a bit disappointed when I couldn’t put it on my Top 10 of 2013, but, sure enough, it was just a matter of patience because, yet again, Cheap Thrills is not only one of the best horror films of the year, but one of the best films of the year period. It’s fascinating and suspenseful trying to track Craig (Pat Healy) and Vince (Ethan Embry) as they take on Colin’s (David Koechner) high-paying dares, but you also get the added fun of wondering, would you do that for a large sum of cash yourself?
1. The Babadook
We had an impressive crop of horror films this year, but the moment The Babadook came out, the competition was over. The story can deliver a solid surface level thrill, but for those who want more than creepy imagery and jump scares, there’s another layer that turns it into a fascinating character study as well. Essie Davis offers up so much access to Amelia and her thought process that you feel just as trapped and vulnerable as she is, and young Noah Wiseman’s intense and incredibly dynamic performance enhances that sensation tenfold. The two play off each other especially well, selling a convincing loving mother-son relationship while always highlighting the weight and lasting effect of their past. Jennifer Kent just nails it in every respect. She’s got two standout lead performances, tons of stunning visuals, an unforgettable score and then she’s also got one of the most fascinating villains I’ve seen in years. Mister Babadook’s look, behavior and motives are so spellbinding that The Babadook might not just be the best horror movie of the year, but rather an all-time classic.
For more of our Best of 2014 coverage, check out the links below:
- Best Cinematography of 2014
- Adam’s Top 10 Films of 2014
- Top 10 Scores of 2014
- 10 Best Surprises of 2014, From Emily Blunt as an Action Star to THE LEGO MOVIE Not Sucking
- 5 Great Film and Music Moments From 2014
- 10 Great Films of 2014 You May Have Missed and You Should Absolutely Watch
- Oscar Beat: For Your Consideration – Overlooked Films, Performances, and Directors from 2014 That Warrant Recognition
- Comicbook Countdown: The Best Comic Book Shows of 2014 Including ARROW, THE FLASH, CONSTANTINE, GOTHAM, S.H.I.E.L.D., and THE WALKING DEAD
- 10 Best TV Episodes of the Season Thus Far
- Allison’s Other TV Bests of 2014
- Allison’s Top 12 Returning TV Series of 2014
- Allison’s Top 12 New TV Series of 2014