Another year has come to an end, which means it’s time for the Dread Central staff to weigh in with their picks of the best and worst of 2014’s horror offerings. We’re giving you a lucky 13 lists this time, and per usual they come in a variety of formats, each reflecting the unique styles of our writers.
We’ve also compiled them to come up with the year’s overall winners and losers. We averaged out the top and bottom vote-getters on everyone’s lists, and here are the results:
BEST: The Babadook
Runners-up: The Sacrament, The Guest
WORST: The Quiet Ones and I, Frankenstein (tie)
Runners-up: Leprechaun: Origins, Annabelle
Anthony kicks things off for us below. The other contributing staff writers are:
Jason “Jinx” Jenkins
Paul “Nomad” Nicholasi
Scott “Doctor Gash” Hallam
Staci Layne Wilson
Steve “Uncle Creepy” Barton
Debi “The Woman in Black” Moore
Anthony Arrigo’s Picks
2014 was an atypical year in that horror hit a complete and total nadir theatrically, but on the limited release/DTV scene things were hot. You know how many horror films I saw in theaters this year? Exactly one, and it was a revival DCP screening of Frankenstein (1931) – and it was spectacularly ruined by attendees who either couldn’t stop talking or couldn’t put down their phones. None of 2014’s tepid offerings looked intriguing enough to get me to part with some cash and two hours of my life. In fact, aside from a single exception all of my favorite films this year either received a limited release or premiered on VOD, a service that is proving exceedingly useful considering the wealth of movie material hitting there first. Of the theatrical films I finally caught at home, only The Purge: Anarchy (which needed more Grillo action and less annoying co-stars) and Oculus (which was pretty damn solid for a slick new picture) surprised me, and neither made my top five.
The best films being done right now are no-to-low budget, leaving the majority of studio swill to remain in the gutter it has called home for years. At the very least, Guillermo del Toro should bolster the scene next year with his latest Gothic love letter to horror, Crimson Peak, but otherwise I have a feeling the top terrors are going to continue to invade via the small screen.
Only Lovers Left Alive – Director Jim Jarmusch’s stoic rumination on immortality and endless romance is the smartest and sexiest approach to vampirism in decades. Anchored by two outstanding performances, as delivered by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, it’s less about the trappings of vampire lore – which are jokingly and glibly acknowledged with little afterthought – and mostly concerned with how the centuries of life chip away at ageless veneer. Not only is it one of the year’s best films overall, it’s got one of the best scores, too.
The Guest – Despite getting a lot of love on the festival circuit, when director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s You’re Next (2013) finally got a wide release, the movie I saw wasn’t nearly as humorous and smart as reviews had claimed. So, it was with a little trepidation that I went into The Guest since it’s from the same duo. Any reservations I had were wiped away as this enigmatic adventure took off, taking an unconventional approach to storytelling and delivering something that felt so fresh and new. Dan Stevens is perfectly cast as the “sane one minute, nuts the next” title character, one who remains a mystery throughout. And, man, if there’s one soundtrack this year that I’ve rotated the hell out of, it’s this one; fans of ‘80s darkwave and synth take notice.
Godzilla – The first thing you need to understand is I’ve been obsessed with Godzilla since the age of five; my bias is strong. Are there problems with Gareth Edwards’ big budget reboot? Absolutely. I could write an academic paper on every minute detail that could use tweaking, scrapping, deletion and improvement… but as foundation for a new series to launch, he nailed it. This Godzilla is a monstrous badass; a gorgeous design that feels more real than ever. The trailers may have misled viewers into thinking this would be something akin to G’s eponymous films of 1954 or 1984, when it reality this wound up playing like his ‘70s world savior days. Complaints of a weak storyline, poor acting and too little face time for the Big Guy may seem valid to casual series fans, but those who have stuck around through all the years know those attributes are (for better or worse) staples. Godzilla is back, and this time they did him right. Quit bitching and enjoy it.
Blue Ruin – Calling this horror is probably a stretch, but I already included The Guest so outliers are fair game. Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s tale of inept revenge strikes a chord because instead of watching some white knight decimate faceless thugs for ninety minutes, we’re experiencing street justice through the eyes of a weary wanderer who is about as threatening as a cashier at Chik-Fil-A. His moves are clumsy and some of his decisions are rash and poorly thought out, visualizing the very real distinction between how you imagine revenge in your head versus how it’s actually carried out.
Under the Skin – Scarlett Johansson has never been more seductive or deadly than she is here, as an alien who lures men into her lair in a Scottish flat before leaving them in a lake of otherworldly goo. Jonathan Glazer’s film is wholly unconventional, coming across like literal art come to life; it’s abstract and open to much interpretation. Adding to the cosmic mystery is composer Mika Levi’s sultry score, which at times sounds as alien as our leading female.
Honorable mentions: Snowpiercer, Starry Eyes, Oculus, The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014), In Fear.
I have no doubt there were a great many films released in 2014 that sucked infinitely more than what I’ve listed below, but since I’m generally adept at avoiding crap, it’s all I’ve got. I will say that a couple listed here fall into the “so bad they’re good” category, so there’s some merit.
The Babadook – That kid. THAT GODDAMN KID. Look, I get that her son was written to have a grating personality, and I understand that if anything the young boy who portrays him deserves a cookie for doing such a great job, but I have never in my life wanted to reach inside a screen and choke someone to death more than this kid. Even if he were tolerable, ultimately the film isn’t much more than a competently made children’s horror yarn with a psychological hinge and a moderately creepy monster. Claims of being “one of the scariest films ever” are pure hyperbole, or those people are just wusses. Big wusses.
Knights of Badassdom – The mistake producers made on this one wasn’t editing it into an altered form for theatrical & home video release, it was giving it the green light in the first place.
Scorned – One for the “so bad it’s good” list, featuring the insanely attractive AnnaLynne McCord as a fitting successor to Glenn Close’s rabbit-stewing throne of jilted insanity. Unintentionally hilarious at times, there’s a sadistic streak that’ll have every guy who’s dated a nutbag cringing inside.
The Quiet Ones – Forget just being quiet, someone, please, hit mute on this D.O.A. exorcism snoozer.
Nurse 3D – Another for the “so bad it’s good” pile, this is pure trash cinema on a level that hasn’t been seen since Showgirls (1995). Paz de la Huerta, who can’t say a line without sounding like she’s doing a Marilyn Monroe impression behind duck lips, is hypnotically sexual and effortlessly seductive. The picture can’t seem to decide whether it wants to fully embrace its schlock or not, resulting in some identity confusion that prevents it from being truly epic. Make no mistake, this is a bad movie; it just happens to be so awesomely bad that you’ll want a gang of friends and a plethora of drinks before hitting play.
In terms of cinema overall, my favorite film of the year was Nightcrawler, while my least favorite movie by a wide margin was the cinematic excrement known as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turdles. Typo intentional.