Best Horror of 2014 - A Retrospective
Remember when old school horror films used to scare the shit out of you with memorable images, scenes, characters, even just one freaky ass kill or moment that stuck with you long after the film was over? These are my reasons for the choices I have presented here in my Top 5 Horror films of the past year. Feel free to leave comments with your opinions or suggestions!
5. The Taking of Deborah Logan
Jill Larson gives one hell of a performance as the title character, Deborah Logan, who is undergoing quite a few frightening changes. Director Adam Robitel's film tackles the subjects of cannibalistic ritual child murders, retribution from beyond the grave, possession and immortality. A team of documentary filmmakers are on a mission to complete a film about the effects of Alzheimer's disease. Deborah is the subject they are interested in documenting. They discover far more than they bargained for. Ghostly phone calls come through a vintage switchboard housed in the attic - the switchboard once worked by Logan herself when she was an operator, the source of the calls comes into play as the plot develops and delivers quite the final scare.
The film has creepy scenes aplenty and the story is skillfully told. With so many supernatural horror films flooding the market lately I was apprehensive about another possession film with elements of the documentary/found footage film. This is not the played out "Paranormal Activity" type of horror film. The performances are convincing, the horror creeps in and then takes hold and doesn't let go until the final confrontation. Much is to be attributed to Larson's compelling performance. "The Taking of Deborah Logan" is surprisingly fresh.
Say what you will about Kevin Smith's unusual foray into the horror genre but one thing is certain - the events played out before you will linger long after you finish viewing the film. Laced with acerbic dark humor, horrifying scenes of disfiguration, and a killer performance by the brilliant Michael Parks - "Tusk" earns its place among the best of 2014. Justin Long is Wallace Bryton, host of a mean-spirited podcast called "The Not-See Party" where he and his co-host Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) mock viral online videos which generally showcase someone in a humiliating situation. Wallace takes a trip to Canada to interview one such subject and his plans are derailed. He is then presented with another prospect. He meets up with a former seaman who had a traumatic experience at sea that left him debilitated and confined to a wheelchair. The relationship developing between Wallace and his soon to be captor, Howard Howe (Parks) becomes increasingly disturbing as the events play out.
Without giving too much away I can only say that as much of an asshole Wallace is in the minutes of the film leading up to his captivity - you will feel bad for him. You just will. Trust me. Even though the film definitely has its moments of absurdity and purposeful humor - it has enough moments that will leave you utterly disturbed. Horror fans have demanded something different in the genre to shake up the myriad of found footage films and reboots and now their wish has been granted. This film stands alone in its individuality. That alone is worth the ticket price.
John R. Leonetti's "Annabelle" continues the story first presented in "The Conjuring" - the story of a doll that was reported to have been possessed by a demonic entity. Based on the case files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren - who are the subjects of "The Conjuring" - what sets this film apart from most creepy doll stories is that the doll itself never moves while on camera. "Annabelle" does not resort to the campy nature of such killer dolls as Chucky, Dolly Dearest or Demonic Toys. The dangerous doll in "Annabelle" is treated more like "Talky Tina" from the classic Twilight Zone episode "Living Doll". It is not the doll itself which presents the threat. That is where the real horror lies.
There is a scene where Mia Form (Annabelle Wallis) is exploring the basement of the apartment structure she and her family now reside in after suffering a brutal attack in their former home at the start of the film. What she witnesses will no doubt scare the shit out of you. This is the single most terrifying moment of the film - another comes a bit later. The images are unexpected and shocking to say the least. If you have any shred of belief in demonic forces you will definitely be shaken by these moments. Though "Annabelle" does not play out in the same way in which "The Conjuring" did in revealing every horrifying moment right in front of your eyes - when it does reveal a glimpse of the horror, you are getting what you paid for...in spades. "Annabelle" is more old school horror than contemporary CGI-laden, spell-it-all-out, exposition every two minutes horror. This is what sets it apart from its contemporaries. It has earned its spot among the best horror films of the past year.
Scott Schirmer's serial killer film "Found" is one of the most promising horror outings of 2014. Originally premiering in Indiana in 2012, the film would finally find distribution in 2014 (which is why it is included here). Featuring fantastic performances from Ethan Philbeck as the psychotic Steve and Gavin Brown as Marty, his little brother - this film is a coming of age story that quickly turns into a relentless horror tale chock full of serious scares. The story centers around Marty, an avid horror fan like his brother Steve, who discovers that his brother is a serial killer after finding some startling evidence hidden in a bowling bag. The events that unfold have shades of Dexter, 1980s slasher films and a stark reality that sets it apart as something more of a true crime documentary than a horror film. The characters are depicted so painfully real due to the amazing performances by the two lead actors. We are treated to a film within a film when Marty borrows a stolen VHS tape from his brother's room. Praise given by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark states that the film is "as horror as horror can get" and I am inclined to agree. This is my kind of horror on every level. The film is dark, disturbing, heartbreaking and just damn good. Why can't there be more like this one?
1. The Babadook
A sinister children's book that threatens to unleash a very real and dangerous beast to all who are made aware of it's existence, an imaginary "friend" who may be dangerously real, and a small child and his increasingly unstable mother who are tormented by this monster are the recipe of Jennifer Kent's critically acclaimed film "The Babadook". The film exhibits my favorite style of the genre - old school terror. Many contemporary films rely on cheap jump scares and over the top video game quality CGI effects. "The Babadook" relies on good old fashioned scares - the kind that terrify you and practically drive you out of your mind with relentless horror while you're watching. Essie Davis is Amelia, a widow left to raise her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) after her husband's tragic death. As with most mothers in these kinds of films - Amelia thinks that it is Samuel with the problems she must find a solution for. Yet there is actually a far more darker force at work. Once that force is unleashed it will take far more than psychology to save her son and herself. There are times when you aren't sure if Amelia is losing her shit or if the threat of the monster is real. I believe the demons inside her head have manifested themselves in a very real physical form. Refreshing in its approach and unrelenting in its maddening scares, "The Babadook" promises to get a reaction out of its viewers. Don't expect lots of gore, red herrings or shock value. "The Babadook" builds suspense - and as it builds, the terror mounts and the thrills are heightened. In short - be prepared for shit to get real.