Stu Smith’s FILMS OF 2014

Stu Smith’s FILMS OF 2014

2014 has been a bit of a mixed year for horror. Slow to start and producing some absolute howlers along the way, the genre has taken a bit of a battering both critically and at the box office this year. However, as the year went on some genuine gems started to emerge from all corners of the globe proving once more that the genre is alive and kicking.

As is so often the case, life can get in the way of it all sometimes and as such there are still plenty of films such as the highly regarded ‘The Babadook’ that I have yet to see, but for now this is my list of films that I feel were more than worth the time in 2014.

tusk (1)TUSK
Dir: Kevin Smith
A late entry to the list, Tusk proved to be a thought provoking and memorable film from Kevin Smith. Whilst it isn’t entirely successful in its attempts to gel the serious horror aspects to more recognisable comedy beats it is a very unique film that pushes its unusual concept to its limit. The story of an internet blogger (Justin Long) who becomes the unwitting victim of a crazed old man (Michael Parks) determined to turn him into a Walrus it’s a divisive oddity and, Like Smith’s previous foray into horror, Red State (2011) it has been greeted with some scepticism and trepidation with not everyone convinced. There are also those who will say that Smith may be biting the hand that feeds with his extremely acidic critiquing of the internet age and the blogging community in particular. However, despite the sub plots not quite meshing, a sterling performance from Parks and a bold one from Long add credibility to the films bizarre central idea and the film is never less than compelling. Johnny Depp even manages to show up in an extended cameo as a crazy Canadian cop. It may not be Kevin Smith’s masterpiece, but it suggests that he is on the verge of creating something truly crazy and special.

wk2WOLF CREEK 2
Dir: Greg McLean
This belated follow up to 2005’s unnerving and rather brilliant Wolf Creek proved to be just as good as its predecessor, even if it trod a tonally different path. Placing John Jarett’s sneering Mick Taylor at the centre of proceedings from the very start, Wolf Creek 2 jettisons the originals slow burning sense of dread in favour of some dirty, adrenalin infused thrills. Where- as Wolf Creek was a sun burned outback Texas Chainsaw, number 2 takes its cue from The Hitcher and plays a bit like a serial killer’s vision of Mad Max. The first half is more action film than horror featuring big car chases and daring escape attempts as Mick stalks his prey on the open road. Once the film arrives at Taylor’s lair however, things become darker and far more sinister as the true extent of his depravity begins to unfold. Fun and utterly fucked up this deserved far more than a quiet small screen release. Warning: Kangaroo lovers may want to avoid this one as it doesn’t end well for Skippy!

boderTHE BORDERLANDS
Dir: Elliot Goldner
Found footage doesn’t have the greatest of reputations. Thanks largely to the fact that ever since The Blair Witch Project proved you could turn an easy profit with minimal outlay every hack trying to push their foot in the door has used it as a cheap gimmick. However, when it’s done right it can be a truly unnerving and affecting experience, and The Borderlands nails it. The story of a Vatican investigation into a potential miracle at a small British church it is a slow burning tale of religious uncertainty mixed with devilish overtones. The Borderlands is a creepy experience that favours character depth and genuine dread over cheap scares. Its unnerving atmosphere and violent undercurrents build to a genuinely surprising conclusion that will divide opinion, but this is top drawer stuff and shows that you can make this format a success if you understand what drama and horror is all about.

rose1WANDERING ROSE
Dir: Corrie Greenop
This low budget, Scotland set chiller was a real surprise. A carefully, and lovingly made little film it follows the crumbling relationship of a young couple as they visit the Highlands to patch up their relationship. Surreal, unnerving and beautiful it captures the strangely evocative and supernatural atmosphere that Scotland seems to possess, and makes its wide open spaces feel strangely claustrophobic as the characters begin to put together the distressing truth. Brilliant performances and a well -constructed economic script make this far more than the sum of its parts. It is sometimes a little reliant on its scenery to pad out the running time, and it won’t appeal to those looking for quick, visceral thrills but this is a promising debut from Greenop and suggests that he may be a talent to watch.

hboundHOUSEBOUND
Dir: Gerard Johnstone
Housebound is the first of two films from New Zealand on this list and proves that Peter Jackson isn’t the only one with a good eye for mixing up horror and comedy. A witty mix of family comedy and horror hi-jinks it turns the haunted house movie on its head and has a lot of fun with its story managing to be unpredictable, suspenseful and laugh out loud funny at times. It follows Kylie, a teen delinquent who is placed under house arrest with her mother and stepfather. Unamused at being forced back to the family home she soon comes to question her sanity as things begin to go bump in the night. The films wonderfully sarcastic sense of humour along with some brilliant twists and turns make this a fantastic fun- house of a movie. It plays with convention and delights in pulling the rug from under the audience just as you think you have it all worked out.

purgeTHE PURGE: ANARCHY
Dir: James Demonaco
The first Purge movie met with mixed opinion but made a lot of money meaning that this sequel was inevitable. I for one thought the original was okay. No masterpiece certainly, and it rather criminally failed to capitalise on its unique concept, but it worked reasonably well as a home invasion thriller and had some genuinely creepy villains. The Purge: Anarchy moves the action outside and follows a group of people stranded outdoors during the annual purge. Delving deeper into the social implications and the adding a neat sub plot about an anti-purge movement this is more action packed, more interesting and much more fun than the first Purge. Taking its inspiration from Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979) and John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1980) this is a solid B-movie action flick with just enough to say to raise it above the average. It still isn’t quite the ultimate Purge film people seem to be waiting for, but is an exciting and brutal popcorn thriller that I am more than happy to recommend.

GODZGODZILLA
Dir: Gareth Edwards
Gareth Edwards Godzilla met with a lot of disappointment on its release, and there is no escaping that Godzilla is a supporting player in his own movie. But whilst its plotting was sometimes weak, and its ‘human’ stories lacking the film possessed a poetic visual edge and some fantastic set pieces that set it miles apart from most blockbusters. He may not have the screen time we were all hoping for, but whenever this Godzilla is on screen its presence is electric. Like Edwards firs movie, the brilliant Monsters (2010), this one deals with humanities xenophobic nature and its dangerous reliance on things it cannot control. The film doesn’t always successfully balance this with the pressures of playing to a multiplex audience, and is hindered by rather flat human characterisation. But Godzilla and the gigantic MUTO’s make for strangely graceful creatures and whenever they are on screen the film rises up and stands monstrously proud, and Edwards has still created a unique summer movie with a visual verve missing from so many.

ed1 (1)THE EDITOR
Dir: Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy
This homage to classic Giallo thrillers of the 1970’s and 1980’s took me by surprise. The opening film at Sheffield’s Celluloid Screams festival it turned out to be a deranged, riotous yet lovingly crafted film that captured the essence of its influences whilst gleefully sending them all up. The story of Rey (Adam Brooks) a film Editor put in the frame for murder it plays havoc with its own conventions and pokes fun at its own absurdities with a demented relish. Using deliberate technical tricks like bad dubbing, it is likely to confuse those uninitiated in the ways of the giallo’ but for those who know and love the films of Bava, Argento, and Fulci this is full of smart references and homages. It may work for everyone but The Editor is wholly unafraid to go to some very crazy places and is a match for almost any horror comedy released in the last few years.

guestTHE GUEST
Dir: Adam Wingard
Following up You’re Next was never going to be easy, but Wingard and his writer Simon Barrett meet the challenge head on here. The Guest is a tension packed horror/action hybrid that is more than a match for their previous film and stands as one of the very best of the year. When Dan Steven’s Afghanistan veteran turns up at the Peterson home claiming to be a friend of their deceased son, he is welcomed in and seems to be an antidote to the family’s grief. But people soon begin to turn up dead and the sinister guest begins to reveal himself as something far more than meets the eye. Tense, funny and at times ruthlessly violent The Guest is a throwback to paranoid post war thrillers and has a strange 80’s style edge, but mixes it up with a modern sensibility and a visceral eye. Like You’re Next did before it, it takes conventions and turns them around making the film fun and unpredictable. It also proves that Adam Wingard is as deft at delivering high octane action as he is at delivering scares and chills.

wwdits (1)WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
Dir: Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
When I first read the synopsis for this I nearly skipped it. Another vampire film, and a faux documentary to boot, I just wasn’t interested. Never have I been so wrong, and so glad that I took a chance on a film as I am with this absolutely wonderful piece of incisive horror comedy. From the very first few minutes this is a likeable, smart and side-splittingly funny film about what it is like to be a vampire in the modern world. The second film from New Zealand on the list it proves again that the Kiwis seem to have an incredible wit and humour that isn’t confined to the work of Peter Jackson. Following a group of flat sharing Vampires as they deal with the difficulties and dilemmas of being hundreds of years old in an ever changing world, it captures the fish out of water weirdness of the situation whilst making it all seem strangely normal. Filled with lots of smart observations about Vampire mythology and its place in popular culture, What We Do In The Shadows is an absolute treat for genre fans and I have absolutely no hesitation in declaring it my favourite film of 2014. Its limited theatrical release in the UK means that many people have yet to enjoy this brilliant little flick, but I guarantee that once it lands on disc and VOD it will gather momentum and quickly develop the cult following it deserves.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS
The year produced a handful of other films worth a look, and a couple of reissues that stood out for various reasons. The Mirror proved to be another successful found footage film managing to be both frightening and compelling; it missed out on the final list by the smallest of margins. Spanish Exorcism chiller was not quite The Exorcist (what is?) but had enough going for it to warrant a mention. Well- paced and well -acted it was a classy little film with a neat sting in its tale, revelling in its demonic themes and undercurrents. Claire (originally titled Kuru) is a very effective micro budget Brit-chiller that drew favourable comparisons with the work of David Lynch. Both creepily unnerving and emotionally affecting it was also a strong contender for the main list. Away from horror the blockbuster season threw up the unexpectedly good Guardians of The Galaxy and the intelligent yet exciting sequel Dawn of The Planet of The Apes. Along with Godzilla these both proved that blockbusters don’t have to be stupid to be entertaining and effective.

Clive Barker also had a good year as his Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut finally made it onto Blu-ray, and his underrated and under seen Lord of Illusions also took its high definition bow. The director’s cut of Nightbreed has been almost 25 years in the making and didn’t come without a little controversy. European fans were irked that the release was region A locked, but frankly people should be grateful that this has seen the light of day at all. America’s Scream factory have done a sterling job and the film looks great. As for the cut itself it differs from the Cabal Cut that did the festival run and is Barker’s definitive vision for the film. Adding depth to the central relationships, and returning to the original notion that Midian’s monsters are the heroes it is the film fans have been waiting so long to see. After a poor UK Blu-ray release from 101 films earlier in the year Barker’s final directorial effort was given a proper release once again from Scream Factory. Another brilliant release it offers a chance to rediscover a film that deserves more credit than it has received. Capturing the dark whimsical feeling of Barker’s books and stories and featuring his recurring character Harry D’Amour it is an underrated and intelligent work from one of dark fiction’s most unique voices.

QUIETTHE NOT SO GOOD
2014 produced a few howlers that failed for various reasons to make the grade. Scott Derrickson’s Deliver Us From Evil was an absolute bore that failed to capitalise on a brilliant central idea. Dull and plodding, it goes nowhere slowly. Johnny Depp popped up in Wally Pfister’s directorial debut Transcendence, a visually slick but painfully uninteresting film that basically replayed the plot of Brett Leonard’s Lawnmower Man with added pretension. The ABC’s of Death 2 should hopefully be the nail in the coffin for these odd and uneven short film showcases. With very little of interest in its 2 hour run time this is one for die-hard fans of the first film only. I Frankenstein was until very recently the worst of the year. A big budget and confused waste of time, it doesn’t even muster the camp entertainment value of the equally maligned Van Helsing. It takes itself unforgivably seriously and manages to feel incredibly long despite a relatively lean 90 minute run time. But as much as I disliked I Frankenstein it was pipped at the post by Hammer films utterly depressing The Quiet Ones. With The Woman In Black (2012) the new Hammer seemed to have finally rediscovered its stride and was on track for a return to former glories. However, with The Quiet Ones a dramatic step backwards is taken. Mixing found footage with standard third person story telling the film is uneven, unexciting, and at times downright frustrating. It is not often that films annoy me as much as this one did, but it genuinely felt like time I would never get back. So here’s hoping that The Woman In Black 2 gets the studio back on the right track as we enter 2015.

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.

Maika Monroe talks to UKHS about The Guest

FF bannerActress Maika Monroe talks to UK Horror Scene’s Joey Keogh about her work on The Guest at Frightfest 2014.

The Guest is the new feature from Adam Wingard, director of last year’s massive hit You’re Next. Check out our post-Frightfest review of The Guest right here [LINK]. We also interviewed Wingard and writer Simon Barrett [LINK].

Camera: Richard Waters
Follow Joey on Twitter: @JoeyLDG

Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett – The Guest UKHS Interview

FF bannerDirector Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett talk to UK Horror Scene’s Joey Keogh about their work on The Guest at Frightfest 2014

The Guest is the new feature from Adam Wingard and regular writing partner Simon Barrett, whose massive hit You’re Next made a huge impact at last year’s festival. Check out our post-Frightfest review of The Guest  HERE.
We also interviewed lead actress Maika Monroe [LINK].

Camera: Richard Waters
Follow Joey on Twitter: @JoeyLDG