Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: The Top Ten Horror Films Of 2014

January 3, 2015 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

I’m a day late, but that’s only because I wanted to make sure I got as many 2014 movies watched as I could before I put this list up. I’m here now and it’s time to rank my top ten horror films of 2014!

A couple of notes before I begin.

1) There are zero big Hollywood productions on this list. Hollywood’s output in the genre, for lack of a better term, sucked in 2014. The worst list is all major studio productions. However, the independent scene knocked it out of the park and was on the ball.

2) There are a lot of found footage movies on here. Actually, there are four. I’m not sure what it was, but something got in the water in the horror scene this year and many filmmakers decided, “You know what? Let’s use that style and make something good with it.” Found footage broke boundaries this year. I’ll get into more detail with each individual film but there are movies here which cleverly avoid the traps that the style normally brings and still manage to increase the tension and explain as many plotholes as possible. However, there’s also a found footage in the worst category, so some people are still making terrible ones.

Before I get to the best, I always look at the worst. So let’s see the stinkers Hollywood unleashed on us with The Three Worst Horror Films Of 2014!

#3: Leprechaun: Origins

I’m not even sure what to say about this one. I’ll start with a spoiler. The “leprechaun” isn’t the Leprechaun you know from the Warwick Davis series. The fact that they just had to use that title in order to attract a few more rentals is insulting. Other than the name and the fact that gold was stolen from the creature, this has nothing in common with those movies. It’s also the most generic and bland horror film I think I’ve seen this year, which saves it from being higher on my worst list. It’s simply dull and uninspired (to say the least) instead of outright stupid. I’d rather watch Back 2 Tha Hood over this any day of the week.

#2: Devil’s Due

I expected good things from this since it was by the folks at Radio Silence, who directed the last segment of V/H/S (which I enjoyed). Instead, we get some stupidity involving a demonic pregnancy and the world’s dumbest protagonist ever. I swear, at no point do I feel sorry for Zach and his plight because of some of of the dumb decisions he makes. Otherwise, this is a poorly made found footage remake of Rosemary’s Baby. That’s actually kind of funny since Rosemary’s Baby was actually remade as a miniseries this year. This is one of those found footage movies where there are logic gaps abound. Case in point, who the hell took all of the various footage and put it together? The cult? The demon baby? The police? Eli Roth loved it but Eli Roth also thought the pancakes kid in Cabin Fever was a good idea.

#1: I, Frankenstein

I never went into this movie expecting to be scared at all. I did go into it expecting a somewhat watchable horror-action hybrid in the style of Underworld. This wasn’t even close. It was a complete and total mess with terrible CGi effects and an entire cast that seems like they were on sedatives. I know that Aaron Eckhart has personality, I’ve seen it in other movies. So why was he stone-faced here? Because he was the Frankenstein monster? The same Frankenstein monster, who, by the way, is a completely normal human with chiseled abs and a few scars here and there. Whose graves did Victor rob to build him? 18th century bodybuilders? This entire movie was a mess and it was certainly the worst “horror” movie I’ve seen this year.

Shaking out all of the negativity now, because it’s time to look at my personal choices for The Top Ten Horror Movies of 2014!

#10: Tusk

Director: Kevin Smith
Cast: Michael Parks, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, Johnny Depp
Story: When podcaster Wallace Bryton goes missing in the backwoods of Manitoba while interviewing a mysterious seafarer named Howard Howe, his best friend Teddy and girlfriend Allison team with an ex-cop to look for him.

When Kevin Smith released Red State a few years ago, I was really hoping I would love it. It’s a horror movie that he claimed took shots at the Westboro Baptist Church. Instead, it started out that way but turned into something different. I thought it was decent enough but overall it’s not something I’d watch again. Tusk? Yeah, I’d watch this again. It’s a delightfully, intentionally stupid horror with dark comedy thrown in. If you don’t believe the stupidity was intentional, listen to the credits when you hear Smith pitching the idea on his podcast. This was very much tongue-in-cheek.

You know exactly what you’re getting into with a movie like Tusk. It’s a movie where a crazy guy wants to turn Justin Long into a human/walrus hybrid. You know it’s a dumb premise and it knows it’s a dumb premise. It has a sort of wink and a nudge to it while also paying homage to the old 1950s B-movies that had similar stupid premises. This is the kind of movie that they would have made in the drive-in era except it would have been played completely straight then. If you don’t buy the tongue-in-cheek aspect, wait until Michael Parks puts on his own walrus suit. I had a lot of fun with this one and it’s Smith’s best film in nearly a decade.

#9: Stage Fright

Director: Jerome Sable
Cast: Minnie Driver, Meat Loaf, Allie MacDonald, Douglas Smith, Kent Nolan, Brandon Uranowitz, Ephraim Ellis, Melanie Leishman
Story: A snobby musical theater camp is terrorized by a blood-thirsty killer who hates musical theater.

Let me just sum up Stage Fright for you in one sentence. It’s a 80s throwback slasher movie mixed with a rock opera. Does that sound like your kind of thing? Then you’ll love this. The killer wears a kabuki mask, sings like he’s the frontman for an 80s hair metal band and spews one-liners like he’s Freddy Krueger. I love throwback movies and I enjoyed this one. Throw in some nasty gore and you have something that would fit right in with the slashers of the post-Friday the 13th boom. In fact, this would have stood out more since there’s singing.

It mixes several different genres (horror, comedy and musical) and never has any trouble balancing them. I was kind of surprised by how mean-spirited the kills are, as the entire movie seems lighter until someone dies. When they get it, they get it bad. All while the killer unleashes theater-related puns. This, like Tusk caters to a very specific taste. So while I enjoyed it enough to include it here, you may want to look elsewhere for something more serious.

#8: ABCs of Death 2

Directors: E.L. Katz, Julian Barratt, Julian Gilbey, Robert Morgan, Alejandro Brugues, Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, Jim Hosking, Bill Plympton, Erik Matti, Dennison Ramalho, Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper, Lancelot Imasuen, Robert Boocheck, Larry Fessenden, Hajime Ohata, Todd Rohal, Rodney Ascher, Marven Kren, Juan Martinez Moreno, Jen and Sylvia Soska, Vincenzo Natali, Jerome Sable, Steven Kostanski, Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo. Soichi Umezawa and Chris Nash

Story: The same as the first film. 26 different directors provide 26 different horror-themed shorts all centered around death.

The first ABCs of Death had a unique concept but it was flawed in its execution. There were more bad stories than good and while some were memorable, it wasn’t enough for anything more than a slight recommendation. Two years later, the sequel is released and it’s a much better effort. I don’t know if it was better directors, better story ideas or better execution, but it worked better this time. I hope this continues to be a series, as it’s a great way for directors to get short horror films seen by the public.

As I said in my review, “in the first film it felt like some of the talent weren’t giving it their all. In this case, they’re jumping in feet first even if it means they might fall on their face. It results in a movie that’s a little over two hours but feels like it flies by. The first film was a mixed bag but The ABCs of Death 2 delivers. It’s definitely recommended for all fans of horror anthology.” Check this one out.

#7: The Den

Director: Zachary Donohue
Cast: Melanie Papalia, David Schlachtenhaufen, Adam Shapiro, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Matt Riedy, Katija Pevec
Story: A young woman studying the habits of webcam chat users from the apparent safety of her apartment witnesses a brutal murder online and is quickly immersed in a nightmare in which she and her loved ones are targeted for the same grisly fate as the first victim.

This is the first found footage movie on the list. This makes sense because it was all recorded on computer cameras and uploaded to the Internet. The Internet is forever and there’s no way to remove something when it’s added. The Internet is also very dangerous if you come across the wrong people. Cyberbullying is a thing, hacking is a thing and there are even cases where people have murdered those they’ve met online.

This film starts out with a woman using her college thesis to explore a Chatroulette-esque site to interact with as many people as possible. Along with the wacky costumes and guys showing their penises, she manages to find a murder. The killer hacks his way into her computer and it only gets worse from there. If the ending on this film were better (it kind of fall apart and becomes less and less plausible) it would rank higher. As it is, a lot of the scary moments are because some of this could actually happen. Sure, the Internet employs me, but it’s also got a lot of weirdos out there.

#6: Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead

Director: Tommy Wirkola
Cast: Vegar Hoel, Orjan Gamst, Martin Starr, Jocelyn DeBoer, Ingrid Haas, Stig Frode Henriksen
Story: If the worst day of your life consisted of accidentally killing your girlfriend with an axe, chain-sawing your own arm off, and watching in horror as your closest friends were devoured by a zombified Nazi battalion, you’d have to assume that things couldn’t get much worse. In Martin’s case, that was only the beginning.

I loved the original Dead Snow, which was a gleefully insane horror comedy with a nasty amount of gore and Nazi Zombies killing Norwegian campers. It made my “best of” list in 2009. The sequel is more of the same but at the same time it manages to increase the insanity to new heights. It’s bigger, gorier and funnier than the original, which isn’t easy for me to say. There’s plenty of nasty bloody effects (at one point the Nazi zombies use a man’s intestines to siphon gas), some very dark comedy. I won’t exactly spoil it but you may find yourself laughing at things and then feeling bad that you’re laughing at them.

The comedy seems more geared to gallows humor and slapstick this time, sometimes a combination of the two. If you love the first film as I did, then you’ve probably already seen this. If not, then go out and watch it immediately because it’s hilarious. Most zombie comedies tend to fall flat these days but as it turns out you just need a lot of bloodshed and swastikas to make it really funny.

#5: Willow Creek

Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Cast: Alexie Gilmore, Bryce Johnson
Story: Jim and his girlfriend Kelly are visiting the infamous Willow Creek, the alleged home of the original Bigfoot legend – the tale of huge ape like creatures that roam the forests of North America. It was there that in 1967, the legendary beast was captured on film and has terrified and mystified generations since. Keen to explore more than 50 years of truth, folklore, misidentifications and hoaxes, Kelly goes along for the ride to keep Jim happy, whilst he is determined to prove the story is real by capturing the beast on camera. Deep in the dark and silent woods, isolated and hours from human contact, neither Kelly or Jim are prepared for what is hidden between the trees, and what happens when the cameras start rolling…

There are so many things against this film that say it should have made the worst list. It’s a found footage movie, which is a strike against it considering how often that format is screwed up. It’s a found footage Bigfoot movie. Have you ever seen a good Bigfoot horror movie? I sure haven’t. Finally, it’s a serious horror film directed by a guy primarily known for his comedy work. Even his comedy is subjective as there are some who find his style annoying. So how did Bobcat Goldthwait manage to make the fifth best horror film fo the year?

The man knows how to milk suspense. He creates two very likable leads on a harmless expedition to find the site where the original Bigfoot was allegedly spotted. They bicker and banter like a real couple and even though they have arguments, they never turn into jerks that we don’t want to watch. The biggest highlight is a very long scene inside of a tent. The camera is only solely because they need the light (it’s not a matter of the guy demanding to film everything, which hurts these movies). There are noises outside that get stranger and gradually closer. It’s nothing but silence with the occasional noise and it works so well that I found myself getting tense. The ending may not work with everyone but the ride getting there is a great time.

#4: Housebound

Director: Gerard Johnstone
Cast: Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, Ross Harper, Cameron Rhodes, Ryan Lampp
Story: Kylie Bucknell is forced to return to the house she grew up in when the court places her on home detention. However, when she too becomes privy to unsettling whispers & strange bumps in the night, she begins to wonder whether she’s inherited her overactive imagination, or if the house is in fact possessed by a hostile spirit who’s less than happy about the new living arrangement.

This is the third and final horror comedy on the list, and in my opinion it’s the least funny. I don’t mean that as a slight. It wouldn’t be this high up if I thought it didn’t work. It’s just that comedy’s not the only thing this movie brings to the table. It’s part supernatural movie, part mystery, part family drama and it all works. There are some creepy moments, immediately followed by a dumb joke or something dramatic. Like Stage Fright, it has many plates spinning at once and never allows any of them to fall.

The cast are all incredibly likable, even the lead once you warm up to her abrasive personality. The mystery works well as it constantly keeps you guessing. The answer to the situation is never as black and white as it appears until the very end, which leads to a nasty and gory finish. I would never say this is outright terrifying, but it does have its moments. It’s mostly just a really good movie that just happens to quality as horror. The fact that it’s not as scary is why it ranks lower than the others.

#3: Afflicted

Director: Derek Lee, Clif Prowse
Cast: Derek Lee, Clif Prowse
Story: Two best friends see their trip of a lifetime take a dark turn when one of them is struck by a mysterious affliction. Now, in a foreign land, they race to uncover the source before it consumes him completely.

This is the third found footage movie on the list and not the last. This explains away the “how was this found and who edited it” by making it a series of webisodes that are thrown on the internet after they’re recorded. They actually play with this concept later on. As the situation gets worse, the footage gets less polished and less edited, making it seem more like it was posted as is. This movie has been best described as like Chronicle and I can’t argue. I can’t really say why, because that would give it away.

Considering this is their first time writing, directing and acting in a feature film, Lee and Prowse do a tremendous job with all three. I went into this not really knowing what to expect. I got some really creepy moments as the disease affects Derek and two leads that I grew to care about. That’s where a large portion of the suspense comes from, hoping that these two guys can somehow overcome this problem and carry on with their trip. It’s a horror movie, so you can expect the odds of that happening are low.

#2: The Babadook

Director: Jennifer Kent
Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall
Story: A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.

You’ve probably heard a lot about The Babadook over the past few months and you may be thinking it’s overhyped. 411’s own Terry Lewis said it was the “best horror film in years”. Obviously I wouldn’t go that far (it’s only #2 on my own list) but it is very good. It’s a serious family drama combined with a supernatural horror film that works exceedingly well on both levels. Whether or not it’s truly horrifying depends on your interpretation. If you take it for what it is on the surface, you might not find it as scary as people claimed. If you look deeper, you find some real world horror in there.

The film features some terrific direction, some even better acting from Essie Davis (she won’t be considered for any major awards but she should. She carries this entire film and you truly believe that she’s slowly losing her mind. Is it the Babadook? Is it in her? Who knows? The point is she sells it and you fear for her and her child. Is it the best horror film in years? No, probably not. But it is really good and if you want a serious take on the genre then this is for you.

#1: The Sacrament

Director: Ti West
Cast: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Kentucker Audley, Gene Jones
Story: A newsteam trails a man as he travels to an undisclosed location to find his missing sister. Upon entering “Eden Parish” and meeting the community’s leader, it becomes apparent to the newcomers that this paradise may not be as it seems.

This is my vote for the best horror film of the year. Not only is it scarier than anything else I’ve seen this year, but it has that real world horror that something like a supernatural movie or a slasher couldn’t have. Not only could The Sacrament happen, but The Sacrament has happened, because it borrows heavily from the actual Jonestown massacre. It’s about a mysterious man who runs a religious cult that seems peaceful at first but is more sinister than it appears.

It’s a found footage movie, which covers up mistakes by making it a documentary crew working for VICE. That explains the polished look, the edits and the fact that they keep filming no matter what the danger. They have been in war torn areas for stories, so what’s this seemingly harmless compound? Gene Jones never does anything overtly creepy in his performance as “Father”, but manages to play everything subtly and he really gets under your skin. Between the somewhat predictable reveal of the cult’s true purpose to the depressing and horrifying climax, this is the best film Ti West has ever directed. I say that as someone who really enjoyed both The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. Ti West just knows what he’s doing behind the camera. As a result, he made the very best horror film of 2014.

Ending Notes:

That’s it for me. Agree with my choices? Did I leave anything out? Leave some comments here, on my Twitter or my Facebook.

Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

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