At long last, we now get into the really good stuff: my picks for the best horror films of 2014. As with many of my selections this year, there’s a great deal of confusion as to when some of these films actually came out: many of them played at festivals well before their release date (some even “debuted” last year) but I only had access to them this year. In order to help keep some semblance of order, however, I’ve decided to break my choices down into two categories: the best horror films of 2014 and the runner-ups.
Anyone who follows The VHS Graveyard knows that our tastes may be wide-ranging but our true love will always be for the scary stuff. In order to get the best idea of what this year had to offer, I screened 70+ horror films: the films were released anywhere from January 1st, 2013, all the way to the end of this past November. Despite coming close to the triple digits, there were still plenty of notable films that I missed this year: as the year progresses, I expect to see most, if not all, of them…in certain ways, this list continues to be a work-in-progress but it should also be ready for public consumption as-is.
Before we get into the actual list, a final word regarding horror in 2014: despite what naysayers and critics continue to report, horror in 2014 did just fine. Sure, there may have been plenty of terrible multiplex stinkers like Ouija and Annabelle but there was also an enormous glut of quality indie films and plenty of surprises that flew below the radar. There were so many quality films last year, in fact, that I find myself in a bit of a conundrum: on any given day, any of the films in my “Runners’ up” list might have made the “Best of” column…in any other year, they all would have. It’s a problem that will repeat itself once we discuss the best all-around films of 2014 but it’s a really good problem to have: for the first time in ages, we’ve got more quality films than hours in the day to watch them.
For purposes of my list, I’ve gone ahead and numbered the Top 11 (because, obviously, this list goes to 11), although I’m still not sure if the order is correct. Let’s assume that the number one choice is but let’s also assume that rank, in this case, is a little fluid. Without further ado, I know present my favorite horror films of 2014.
The Top 11 Horror Films of 2014
ABCs of Death 2
I’m one of the people (apparently, the very few people) who really liked the first ABCs of Death, even if there were a fair amount of clunkers among the 26 shorts. When the film was good, it was astounding: when it was bad, it was also pretty astounding, of course, albeit for different reasons. This time around, the ratio of “great” to “awful” is much more balanced: to be honest, I didn’t really hate any of the shorts, although some of them were more tedious than others. When ABCs of Death 2 is firing on all cylinders, however, it’s just about the most fun film I saw all year. This is the perfect party movie: get a bunch of friends together, plenty of booze and let the good times fly. On an interesting side note, many of the foreign films in the first ABCs of Death were Asian, while the ones in this installment tend to come from South and Latin America. The ABCs of Death: making the world smaller, one hacked artery at a time.
I don’t normally like “gimmick” films but the one behind Toad Road is pretty irresistible: completely blurring the line between fact and fiction, filmmaker Jason Banker rounded up a bunch of young druggies, via Vice Magazine, let them indulge in the hedonism that would normally take place behind closed doors and filmed the proceedings. Were that all there was to the story, Banker’s film definitely wouldn’t make this list. As it stands, however, the writer-director folds the drug-taking/partying aspect into a real head-fuck of a story that involves (maybe) finding the doorway to Hell in the middle of the woods. Since the “real” footage blends so seamlessly with the faked stuff, it creates a completely disorienting feeling, as if one is actually disappearing into the film. Twisty, tragic and more than a little terrifying, Toad Road is one of the finest treatises on wasted youth that I’ve ever seen.
One of my constant laments about modern horror films is the near complete lack of originality that’s become an inherent trait of the genre: nowadays, the average movie-going public doesn’t seem to want anything but sequels, remakes and “re-imaginings,” and most genre filmmakers seem only too happy to oblige. Mike Flanagan’s stately haunted mirror opus, Oculus, ends up being quite the booster shot to help inoculate against the disease: mature, frightening, exquisitely filmed and prone to some pretty shocking violence (the apple scene is a neo-classic, as is the jaw-dropping climax), Oculus is a film that doesn’t take its audience for granted and offers little in the way of hand-holding. We’ve had other “haunted mirror” flicks in the past but Flanagan’s imposing follow-up to his sleeper, Absentia, should shut the door tight on the imitators.
Witching & Bitching
Without a shadow of a doubt, Alex de la Iglesia is one of my favorite writer-directors in this modern-day and age. A fearless innovator who’s been quietly ripping shit up since the early ’90s, de la Iglesia is like a crazy combination of Peter Jackson and Alejandro Jodorowsky, taking the zany, over-the-top fantasy-based humor of the former and the surreal humanism of the latter to create something wholly unique. While de la Iglesia’s range is impressive (genre-based or not, The Last Circus is one of the finest films I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching), I like him best when he’s in full throttle mode. Witching & Bitching takes audiences back to de la Iglesia’s early days, when nothing was sacred and one over the top setpiece would roll into another with little rest. This modest little film about witches and the men who fight/love them is crude, politically incorrect, gorgeously made, ultra vibrant and, quite simply, one of the most “alive” films of the entire year. I think my smile lasted for about a week after I saw the movie but it may have been longer.
Putting Borgman on a list of the best horror films of the year might seem like sort of an odd call but I’ll stand by it: this was one of the most harrowing, nightmarish films I’ve seen in some time. Ostensibly a retelling of Passolini’s Teorema, the film spins out in a million weird, unpredictable ways and often makes as sense as a fever dream. Is Borgman some sort of woodland spirit? The Devil? God? Is he even there? Are we even here? Think too hard about any of it and you’ll find yourself stuck fast in a world where Wes Anderson and Michael Haneke are equally beloved, if aloof, deities.
A Field in England
Against the explosive backdrop of 17th Century England, a few Civil War deserters end up in a massive, featureless field and wind up melting your face down to the bone. Not their faces, mind you: there’s nothing obvious about this film, least of all any conventional notions of “violence.” No, dear reader, I mean that they’ll melt your face off, at least if you’re anything like me. It might sound like silly hyperbole but when auteur Ben Wheatley’s film really roars into life, it feels like a tornado is blowing through your skull cavity. Many films will claim to approximate a drug experience “for the sober”: A Field in England doesn’t have time for silly promises or any sympathy for the unprepared…it just flattens you and keeps on rollin’. Wheatley is another of the film gods in my modern pantheon, a fearless, uncompromising force of nature who mines British history and culture for some of the most unforgettable films I’ve ever seen. The film comes with a warning about stereoscopic images. Jodorowsky would be proud.
11-6? Check and mate. What are my top five favorite horror films of 2014 (along with all the runner-ups)? Tune in for the next installment and find out who ends up ruling the roost.