Oli Ryder’s Top 10 Horror Films of 2014

Oli Ryder’s Top 10 Horror Films of 2014

theden10) The Den: The initial idea of a constant filming through the POV of a webcam on a Chat Roulette-type website, seemed a tad gimmicky. Surprisingly, however this film was masterful in how it maintained both credibility and a tight pace. There was a great and unnerving sense of voyeurism that made the film a decidedly uncomfortable watch and with than the odd well crafted jump scare. A watch through your fingers denouement and the lingering worry of being watched through your laptop for weeks afterwards.

9) Wolfcop: It’s been far too long since there was a genuinely great werewolf film and Wolfcop ended such a drought in spectacular fashion. A real labour of love that worshiped all the ridiculous tropes of the genre and celebrated them in delightfully gruey style. The special effects and transformation sequences were fantastic as well as liberal lashings of OTT gore. With a wickedly sharp script and an incredibly game cast, Wolfcop is destined for cult status, a perfect party horror film.

olla8) Only Lovers Left Alive: Naval-gazing pretentious rubbish to some, intoxicating gothic romance to others. The endless loving bond between the impossibly attractive Tom Hiddlestone and Tilda Swinton is the key hook to a film in which, admittedly, very little happens but it serves as an immaculately presented character piece. They both cannot bear to live forever without one another and director, Jim Jarmusch makes you feel like a part of their romance. Typical vampiric behaviour is restricted and set in a world where they are very much the norm, Hiddlestone’s Adam is even an elusive rock star. Full of incredibly dry moments of humour, such as blood popsicles and set to a gorgeously brooding soundtrack, it’s a classic vampire film.

7) We Are What We Are: Decent English-language remakes are becoming much less of a rare beast these days and WAWWA is the prime example of how a remake can be its own beast. A sublime piece of understatement, where the word ‘Cannibal’ doesn’t even appear until half-way into the film and the atmosphere of looming dread is allowed to permeate deeply into your consciousness. When the violence hits, it hits hard and it made that much more intense for lulling you into a false sense of security beforehand. With a superb turn from Bill Sage as the Father and a subtle hint of an anti-organised religion message, it can be argued to be even better than its predecessor.

dersamurai6) Der Samurai: A Lynch-ian, erotic thrill-ride quite unlike anything else released this year. The image of a man with lipstick, in a dress and a samurai sword sounds ridiculous but thanks to the intimidating performance of Pit Bukowski, it becomes an icon of fear. With the small European town where everyone knows everyone bathed in a hazy blood red, there is a haunting fable-like quality that adds an extra layer to what is a profoundly intriguing film. Dealing both with the beast that dwells within us all and small town fear of the strange and unknown, the film’s strongly sexual charge combines extreme violence with horrifying beauty. The two-hander of Michel Diercks and Bukowski essentially playing two sides of the same person is incredible to watch and you don’t dare take your attention off it for a second. Pure cinematic marmite.

5) Starry Eyes: A pitch-black exploration of the vicious film studio system and the perilous desire for fame are mixed together with cults and body horror to create a deliciously dark cocktail of fear. Alex Essoe delivers a stunningly assured performance that sees her squeezed painfully through an emotional wringer. The unflinchingly stark and cruel audition scenes show her being humiliated, throwing frighteningly intense fits and yanking out huge clumps of her hair with some truly wince-inducing sound effects. It is a brave choice to not have her be a completely sympathetic lead and yet it is impossible not to be horrified as one scene shows her undergoing a sickening metamorphosis. With a gorgeously hazy soundtrack and filmed in a classic almost VHS style, Starry Eyes does a brilliant job of getting well and truly under your skin.

oculusp4) Oculus: An unexpected hit that delivered intelligent scares with a real knack for putting ice down your back. Karren Gillan’s performance is a total knock-out, presenting a wonderfully bold, brash and independent female character in the vein of a Nancy, Laurie or Sydney. Gillan is determined to fight the evil head on and wouldn’t be caught dead running away in skimpy clothing. Ingeniously, much of the violence is only hinted at, which makes a particularly nasty scene involving a light bulb, a genuine shock. It is both wonderful and unnerving that, much like the characters, you often forget about the mirror being the antagonist and as with the constant twisting time-shifts, you too become victim to the Lasser Glass cruelly twisting your perception of reality. A true breath of fresh air, a fun frightener that stands head and shoulders above its mainstream contemporaries.

3) The Guest: More of a thriller than director, Adam Winguard’s previously brilliant effort in You’re Next but certainly no less fun or inventive. Making more than the odd homage to classic 80s films (Halloween III in particular), The Guest is a gleeful romp with its tongue at times very firmly in cheek and at others, a surprising level of menace. A star-making performance from Dan Stevens sees him combining an effortless charm with a cold blooded, steely and dangerous veneer. From the word go, it is clear there is something not quite right about him as he prays on an emotionally vulnerable small town family, mourning the death of their military son. An equally brilliant and feisty performance comes from newcomer, Maika Monroe, who, much like Sarah Conner, has the responsibility of taking down a lethal killing machine in Steven’s seemingly nice guy, David. With its painfully funny gallows humour and some intense action sequences, especially in the film’s last act, ‘The Guest’ is a gleefully demented delight.

babadookp2) The Babadook: Mercifully, the hype this film managed to rapidly accumulate was more than justified. The Babadook is a classic horror film in the making, that should be held up as the bench-mark as to what horror filmmakers should be aspiring to create. The cold and almost German expressionism film style is sharpened like a deadly weapon by director, Jennifer Kent, to ramp up the fear factor to white-knuckle armrest gripping heights. An organically fraught relationship between single mother and son is pitch perfectly portrayed by Essie Davis and the young Noah Wiseman.

We see both characters in an intense struggle with a supernatural force and yet, like so many classic stories, the real meaning to the film is a mother learning how to love her son Crucially, we care about the characters and do not want to see them come to harm and this is what makes the scares here truly blood chilling. The world’s freakiest pop-up book is matched only by the wise decision to obscure the Babadook as much as possible. Kent hits the nail directly on the head that making the audience use their imagination is infinitely more frightening than just showing them. A beautifully dark and twisted fairytale, the monster’s onomatopoeic croak is a call that is sure to haunt audiences for many years to come.

dmarrow1) Digging Up The Marrow: With almost every possible detail shrouded in mystery, Adam Green’s latest effort was able to achieve almost the impossible in presenting something genuinely unseen before. Almost indefinable in its style and thusly, very difficult to talk about without spoiling too many juicy surprises. Whenever you think you get a grasp on where the film is going, it violently turns your expectations inside out and creates a perfect capture of the pure essence of fear of the unknown.

To give as broad a picture as possible, the film concerns the real life existence of monsters and the attempt to find and document them where they live, in The Marrow. Shot in documentary style and with all cast members, including Green himself playing themselves, the first deftly clever trick Green plays is to have the incredible Ray Wise as the only actor playing a part. To say anymore about the plot would sadly ruin what is a film full of dark secrets and layers, like a twisted Russian doll. It is a film that demands to be experienced rather than read about as this would lessen the effect of what can be called one of the scariest films of the past two decades.

Whilst there is still a tremendous sense of fun about the film, Green and his friends make for a loveable bunch with much goofy behaviour, there are several moments of pure, undiluted terror. The scariest part of all, however, is the film’s insidious ability to get inside your head. It may sound laughable, but this film makes you believe by constantly blurring the lines of reality with such finesse you don’t realise it’s happening. Maybe there really are monsters out there and maybe this film will make you a believer too…A masterpiece that will hopefully one day get the recognition it truly deserves.

Daniel Stillings Top Ten Films of 2014

DANIEL’S TOP TEN OF 2014

There is still a lot of promising horror material that I still need to catch up with from this year including the remake of We Are What We Are, The Dead 2: India, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Dance Of Reality and much more, so this isn’t a definitive list. I restricted the choices to fiction films so there was no room for the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, but it was one of the films of the year.

The BabadookTHE BABADOOK
Director: Jennifer Kent.
This seemed to come out of nowhere to emerge as the freshest new horror movie in quite some time. Essie Davis is terrific as the single mother driven to despair by the behaviour of young son after she reads to him from a creepy pop-up book that mysteriously appeared on his bookshelf. Noah Wiseman as her son is equal to her in his ability to convey almost hysterical terror at things we often can’t see. Good as the two leads are, director Jennifer Kent is the real star here and she knows her horror. The film is informed by works as varied as Nosferatu (1922), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Shining (1980), A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984), and particularly The Innocents (1962), but the fact that her movie stands comparison to those iconic genre greats is a measure of just how good it is. It’s a genuinely unnerving treat and the ending is ambiguous enough to satisfy several repeat viewings. It could be a classic in the making.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Director: Martin Scorsese.
Despite all the drugs, sex and general debauchery on display in this blackly comic epic, I don’t think any film this year was more horrifying than The Wolf Of Wall Street. It’s the finest of the five Martin Scorsese / Leonardo DiCaprio collaborations to date, and the manic intensity of DiCaprio’s performance here does the impossible and seduces you into the scheming Jordan Belfort world view even though you know he and everything he stands for is despicable. It shows the allure of money and punctures the myth that money doesn’t make you happy. The film was criticised for not showing the victims of Belfort’s scheme but that’s the point. It’s about how little conscience it requires to fleece someone out of their life savings if they are a voice at the end of a phone line that you don’t know. But, as the final shot makes clear, there are plenty more people just like me and you willing to follow Belfort’s example and make easy money. It’s a complex masterpiece that makes you hate yourself for liking it, and it’s Scorsese’s best film since Goodfellas (1990).

Under The SkinUNDER THE SKIN
Director: Jonathan Glazer
The Babadook may have been the stronger horror film, but it wasn’t quite as eerie as this. Scarlet Johanssen plays an extraterrestrial visitor who assumes the identity of a dead girl and then drives around Glasgow picking up random men to take home…why? In Michel Faber’s original novel the reason is clear, but director Glazer has deliberately obscured that key fact in his adaptation, and it’s an effective choice. Like Nicolas Roeg’s classic 1976 film The Man Who Fell To Earth, this forces you to see the world from an alien perspective rendering normal everyday street scenes or a visit to a crowded shopping mall as otherworldly. The glimpses of Johanssen’s alien world are minimal and cryptic, Mica Levi’s score is incredibly strong and Scarlet Johanssen has never been better. It’s a genuinely haunting piece of work.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Director: James Gunn.
In terms of pure entertainment, this was the best film of the year. After an apprenticeship with Troma and two underrated superhero spoofs – The Specials (2000) and Super (2010) – director and co-writer Gunn beat the odds to come up with a smart Hollywood blockbuster from material that did seem a risky proposition. Chris Pratt was a fantastic leading man as the self styled Star Lord, but a green Zoe Saldana stole the show…for many viewers I expect. What was interesting about it was that though it was essentially a comedy, it dug more deeply into the mythology of the Marvel universe than any of the other films in the series so far, including Joss Wedon’s The Avengers (2012). It’s classic space opera on a grand scale and it’s also very funny.

captain americaCAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
Director: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Marvel’s first Captain America film is still the most undervalued entry in current franchise, and this sequel is one of the best. Much has been written about how it was informed by the conspiracy thrillers of the seventies, but the comparisons to films like The Parallax View (1974) and Three Days Of The Condor (1975) are completely valid, and not just because Robert Redford – the star of the later of those movies – turns up as the key villain here. For a comic book adaptation the tone is surprisingly serious and the action sequences are headbangingly spectacular.

MAPS TO THE STARS
Director: David Cronenberg
With John Carpenter, George A. Romero and David Lynch quiet at the moment, Cronenberg is for the time being the only remaining one of the great seventies horror auteurs to still be producing challenging new work. Based on a partly autobiographical script by Bruce Wagner, this is a Hollywood horror movie to rival Barton Fink (1991). It’s part satire, part poisoned family drama with enough scheming, madness, incest and moral decay for anyone, but amidst all that it’s also a pitch black comedy. When Julianne Moore dances for joy at the death of a young child, you don’t know where to look. It’s the nastiest film about the industry since The Day Of The Locust (1974).

OCULUS
Director: Mike Flanagan.
Taking its inspiration from ‘The Haunted Mirror’ segment of Ealing’s classic 1945 horror anthology Dead Of Night, this was a feature length expansion of a short film Flanagan made back in 2005. Karen Gillan, forging a decent post Doctor Who acting career for herself plays a young woman with an elaborate plan to prove that her brother was not responsible for her parents deaths, the real cause being a possessed mirror. Having just been released from an institution for the crime, he is reluctant to go along with her plan and with good reason because the mirror has the power to distort the perceptions of people within it’s malign sphere of influence, and that’s what makes Oculus so scary: if you can’t trust what you see and hear what can you trust? It’s a horror movie with carefully built atmosphere and a sense of dread that doesn’t soft pedal the disturbing visceral nastiness when it’s required.

CHEAP THRILLS
Director: E.L. Katz
13sins13 SINS
Director: Daniel Stamm
These two films explored very similar ideas. In Cheap Thrills, two old friends in a bar meet a wealthy couple in a bar who start to offer them cash to carry out various tasks. At first the tasks are just mischievous and unsociable, but as the money increases, so does their severity until people start to lose body parts. In 13 Sins, a man just sacked from his job and having a terrible day receives a mystery call offering him money to kill a fly, and then more to eat it. These are the first two steps in a series of tasks he agrees to carry out, each earning considerably more money than the last, but each increasing in severity until a fortune is just a murder away. Cheap Thrills emerges as a satire about capitalism whereas 13 Sins has more in common with something like the underrated My Little Eye, but in both it’s clear that money is the key villain. They are interesting companion pieces, and would make a good triple bill with The Wolf Of Wall Street.

HONEYMOON
Director: Leigh Janiak
This debut feature co-written and directed by Leigh Janiak is probably the most underrated horror of the year. A newly married couple take a honeymoon trip to a lakeside cabin, but on the first night he discovers her sleepwalking naked in the woods. She seems unharmed, but the following morning she can’t remember how to do simple things like make breakfast and her behaviour starts to become increasingly strange. Whether or not you bought the climactic explanation as to what was going on was arbitrary. The build up to it was gripping and unsettling thanks to strong performances from Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway who made an appealing screen couple. The husband’s sense of despair and paranoia at his wife’s increasingly bizarre behaviour was palpable and upsetting, and it featured a gruesomely icky scene that wouldn’t shame David Cronenberg. Janiak is a name to watch.

See No Evil 2SEE NO EVIL 2
Director: Jen Soska & Sylvia Soska
The original See No Evil film made back in 2006 was a sadistic and repugnant slasher vehicle for it’s star, the WWE wrestler known as Kane, so it was surprising and a bit depressing that the Soska sisters decided to follow up their fantastic second feature, the genre bending American Mary with this sequel. That it’s as entertaining as it is is a small miracle. It’s surprisingly low on gore, surprisingly high on kink, it has a cast that it doesn’t despise, a winning lead couple in Danielle Harris and Kaj-Erik Eriksen and a final sequence seemingly inspired by the ending of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (critic Tim Lucas pointed this out, and it’s not an inappropriate observation). American Mary lead Katharine Isabelle threatens to steal the entire film until an unfortunate occurrence. It was a reminder of what slasher films used to be like before downbeat misanthropy took over.

HONOURABLE MENTION

Alexandre Aja’s Horns with Daniel Radcliffe was surprisingly strong. For a lot of viewers, the tonal shifts were too queasy and others couldn’t separate Radcliffe’s image from that of his most famous role, but I liked the unpredictable messiness of its shifts from black comedy to outright horror. It’s a fairy tale with graphic violence. You get the impression The Brothers Grimm would have approved, and to be honest I didn’t think of Harry Potter at all while watching it. Amy Heckerling’s Vamps finally crept out on DVD with Alicia Silverstone and Krysten Ritter as socialite vampires in New York. It tries to do for Vampires what Clueless did for the teen movie It’s nothing ground breaking, but was a lot of fun and built to an unexpectedly moving finale.

DVD & BLU-RAY RELEASES

As a young horror fan in the late eighties, I never thought I would ever see Jorg Buttgereit’s Nekromantic get released at all in the UK, but an uncut restored Blu-ray! Arrow’s set was pretty spectacular, and just one of their excellent releases this year. Their special editions of Theatre Of Blood, Brian De Palma’s cult classic Phantom Of The Paradise and the Blacula double bill were all fantastic. BFI’s restoration of The Day The Earth Caught Fire was also spectacular.