2014 has seen the likes of Dan Gilroy’s harrowing noir thriller Nightcrawler and Jonathan Glazer’s haunting masterpiece Under The Skin blur the dividing lines of the genre. These are two of the most frightening films of the year and should be sought out at all costs. The number of independently produced pieces on my list below pays testament to a resurgent underground horror scene.
Some films which deserve an honorable mention and have just missed out on my top ten: Werewolf thriller Late Phases, Kiwi horror-comedy Housebound, Till Kleinert’s unclassifiable The Samurai, The Purge Anarchy, Jim Jarmusch’s moody vampire drama Only Lovers Left Alive and the surprising As Above So Below.
10. THE SACRAMENT
Ti West’s burgeoning reputation continues to grow with a familiarly slow burning descent into horror. A religious cult residing in a utopian drug/violence free village called Eden Parish welcomes journalists into its community. Led by a commanding figure, Father (brilliantly played by Gene Jones), the residents of the parish appear to be content living in a sheltered vacuum, away from the excesses of modern civilization. Things take a despairing turn to the worse as it becomes apparent that some folks are being held against their will. Inspired by the Jonestown Massacre of 1978, this is disturbing cinema that borrows shades of darkness from The Wicker Man.
Mike Flanagan’s refreshingly inventive and clever supernatural horror film, Oculus, interlaces a series of haunting flashback sequences with the present day to great effect. The haunted mirror plays tricks with the mind and stimulates a disturbing series of hallucinatory occurrences. Flanagan is able to warp reality in a subtle blend of horror and psychological games. Oculus is proof that object horror still has the ability to captivate if executed correctly.
8. STARRY EYES
Starry Eyes feels like it was born in darkness. Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer's perilous tale of obsession is vividly told in a savage mishmash of body horror interlaced with cult theatricality. Alex Essoe's breakthrough performance as Sarah is staggering in its depiction of the creeping phases of madness. From the bright-eyed student through to the Faustian egotist, Sarah succumbs to an ugly brand of tragic delusion. The final third sacrifices the creepiness of the sensational first hour for unrelenting brutality; it is not for the faint of heart. The false friendships and forced bonds are shattered in a blazing gore-fest that leaves its mark. Be sure to listen up for one of the most iconic scores in recent years.
The Mo Brothers’ Japanese-Indonesian collaboration is a disturbingly horrific vision. The wealthy introvert, Nomura, begins posting anonymous videos of his murderous actions online. The videos go viral and it isn’t long until disgraced journalist, Bayu, becomes aware of them. Instead of turning him into the police, a sadistic game unfolds as both men try to imitate one another by committing violent crimes. Killers is a pulverizing, brutal fall into psychological trauma. Tjahjanto has created a hard-hitting, velociraptor of a thriller that is criminally under seen. Not an easy watch but highly recommended.
6. THE GUEST
Adam Wingard’s pulsating throwback horror- thriller swoons into town and captures the beating heart of the genre fan. The Guest evokes a gleeful sense of nostalgia by unashamedly drawing inspiration from John Carpenter and seminal sci-fi classics such as The Terminator. With a typically witty script by Simon Barrett underpinning this deliriously entertaining and atmospheric thriller; it’s the Gosling-esque turn from Brit, Dan Stevens, as the mysterious guest that will undoubtedly propel the Downton Abbey star into one of Hollywood’s leading men. Stevens is daringly charismatic and exudes a badass demeanour which borders on iconic.
James Ward Byrkitt has created a truly mind-altering experience. This wickedly intelligent sci-fi horror drama is a mind-boggling head trip of alternate realities that will turn your world upside down. Coherence is undeniably provocative, wildly unpredictable and soaked in a glowing pool of intrigue. Prepare to disappear into one rabbit hole and then the next, Byrkitt's film commands attention and a willingness to go along for the ride. Understandably divisive due to its theoretical nature, Coherence pays testament to the power of virtually zero budget filmmaking. Unmissable.
4. THE STRANGE COLOUR OF YOUR BODY'S TEARS
The arrestingly titled Belgian production The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (L’étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps) is a highly experimental psycho-horror that would be reminiscent of the bastard child of a flawed Argento-Lynch collaboration and a grungy grindhouse thriller. Forzani and Cattet have created a wildly ambitious interpretation of the hyper-surrealistic elements of the Giallo and caked them in subversive and undeniably sensual metaphors. It’s a wicked head trip that will send pulses racing. Not for all tastes but easily the most visually dazzling genre production this year.
3. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
Jermaine Clement's vampire mockumentary is the best genre comedy since Shaun of the Dead. It is beautifully self-aware and laugh out loud hilarious. It works just as well as a documentary on a group of friends living together, it just happens that they are bound to live forever and suck blood for sustenance. From the reluctant purger through to the Nosferatu-like sensationalist, we are instantly connected to characters we care about. The introduction and interaction with the werewolves is sublime and baked in comic genius. A real gem.
2. THE CANAL
The Canal begins in the vein of an archetypal haunted house affair but soon transcends into a nightmarish deluge of spiralling terror and psychological torment. It is a bruising vision viewed through the eyes of a sincere family man (brilliantly played by Rupert Evans) who iteratively loses his mind to madness. Kavanagh pays tribute to the power of the cinema by elevating the role played by the film archive. The grainy imagery portrayed in the crime footage is unnervingly authentic and haunts the very moral fabric of the present day. The picturesque canal serves up one apparition after another; likenesses can be drawn to Jack Clayton's The Innocents (1961). The finale delivers a sucker punch that lingers on the mind for weeks on end. Bold, adventurous and downright terrifying, The Canal is a rare breed of horror that genuinely unsettles.
1. THE BABADOOK
I was lucky enough to see this in a preview screening before the hype really kicked in for Jennifer Kent's unmissable film. The Babadook crawls under the skin with a bloodcurdling menace; it unsettles with its uncanny atmosphere before spitting out a jet-black spray of venomous terror. Beneath its brilliantly woven fantastical elements, The Babadook is without question one of the most emotionally captivating, character-driven genre films to emerge in recent years. While being genuinely frightening, newcomer Jennifer Kent's superb screenplay works remarkably well as a profound yet metaphorical meditation on grief and the rocky terrains of coping after loss. It's a deeply unsettling slice of Australian horror that truly delivers on its creepy premise.
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Having Hadouken'd Scorpion in an epic encounter at Mortal Kombat, Hamzah is now residing peacefully in the subterranean lair at the Overlook Hotel in Outworld (aka London town) where he can often be found playing chess with Pennywise the clown and Freddy Krueger.