As someone who just produced her first horror feature, there is nothing more inspiring than seeing first-time filmmakers deliver killer debut films and this year, my Top 10 horror list has six of them. It’s a good time to be a horror fan because not only do we have new talent like Jennifer Kent, Leigh Janiak and E.L. Katz on the rise with all the potential in the world, but more seasoned directors like Adam Wingard and Mike Flanagan are taking their work to new levels. Whether we’re talking about vicious villains ripping helpless victims to shreds or more calculated scares that put you on edge, this year has been packed with films that excel because of thoughtful and thorough executions that lead to unique and refreshing experiences.
Check out my Top 10 Horror Films of 2014 after the jump.
10. Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead
Dead Snow is an outrageous, highly entertaining film, but Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead takes the art of Nazi zombie mayhem to a whole new level. The idea of Martin (Vegar Hoel) getting Herzog’s (Ørjan Gamst) arm is an absolutely ingenious place to start and then from there, director Tommy Wirkola embraces the absurdity of the scenario more than ever, unleashing one outrageous kill after another. It’s non-stop explosions, disemboweling and Sidekick Zombie (Kristoffer Joner) abuse, and it’s all wildly creative. Blowing up baby carriages, targeting the handicapped, using a zombie body for traction to drive a car out of the snow – it’s all so wrong, but right at the same time.
9. Stage Fright
After catching the very first trailer for Jerome Sable’s feature directorial debut, Stage Fright, I lost all hope. It just didn’t seem like the horror/musical combo could sustain a feature film without growing tiresome, but I sure did eat my words at the film’s SXSW premiere in March. Stage Fright certainly has flaws, namely a predictable narrative and a few bland performances, but there are more than enough insanely entertaining elements to make up for them. There’s a slew of unforgettable supporting characters, the kills are vibrant and cleverly woven into the musical theater camp setting and, overall, it’s just a blast to watch, especially with some good friends and a few drinks in hand.
I totally get why some moviegoers would rather not bother with found footage horror anymore, but trust me, you have to give Afflicted a shot. Derek Lee and Clif Prowse’s feature debut is expertly shot with just the right amount of image stabilization to keep you levelheaded without ever taking away from the point-of-view aspect. The micro-budget film is also packed with impressive locations, blocking and VFX work, making it feel surprisingly big in scale and scope. And not only do Lee and Prowse kill it behind the lens, but they make for two very likable leads in the film as well. You’re quick to care about them and that instant connection makes what happens to them especially engaging and fascinating to track.
7. Starry Eyes
I’ve heard folks dub Starry Eyes strong slow burn horror and perhaps that’s accurate to a degree because it’s got one heck of an ending, but a big reason the grand finale is such a powerhouse conclusion is because of the thoughtful and extremely disturbing character journey leading up to it. Watch out for writer-directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer because they really know how to do a lot with a little, and the same goes for their lead actress, Alex Essoe, as well. Her character’s situation is a bit extreme, but the filmmakers keep the scenario well rooted in the very relatable idea of doing whatever it takes to succeed.
Possession movies are one thing, but ones with haunted objects at the center of them are especially tough. Annabelle couldn’t pull it off and neither could Ouija. Some of the most frightening moments in those films aren’t the scares sparked by their namesakes, but rather by offshoot entities. Not so with Oculus. The Lasser Glass doesn’t move an inch, but everything that happens in the movie is so deeply connected to the mirror’s past and current agenda that you’re truly afraid of what this inanimate object is capable of. The time jump is another thing Oculus pulls off far better than most. You are getting two different stories when the film cuts between young Kaylie (Annalise Basso) and Tim (Garrett Ryan) and adult Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites), but the scenarios are so well connected that one is always enhancing the other. Oculus is a smart, well shot and very well acted film. Director Mike Flanagan is definitely someone to look out for.