January 2, 2015

The Death Rattle's Top 13 Horror Movies of 2014

2014 was a great year for movies and especially a great year for the horror genre. I didn't do any end-of-year lists for 2013 because I was on a hiatus, but you can check out my Horror list for 2012 HERE.

Feedback welcome and appreciated.

#13 WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (remake) - Expectations were low going into this for a number of reasons, but this ended up being a pretty solid remake all things considered. I'm a huge fan of the original and I still prefer it over this one, but the filmmaking duo of Jim Mickle and Nick Damici (STAKELAND) did a smart thing by making some simple changes to freshen up their Americanized take on it, like swapping genders and making some tweaks to the mythology of the cannibalistic family that serves as the film's focus.


#11 HELLBENDERS - This got some mixed reviews and I could understand some of the more negative ones after seeing it, but I quite enjoyed this horror-comedy from director J.T. Petty (THE BURROWERS) despite the horror and comedy not being well-balanced. For me this was concept over execution. The idea of a bunch of priests who are on a suicide mission and constantly go out of their way to sin as a means of luring demons is a great one. Even though it doesn't quite work on a few levels, HELLBENDERS was still a breath of fresh air for me.



#8 BENEATH - Respected horror filmmaker Larry Fessenden (HABIT, THE LAST WINTER) paid homage to the old-school with this throwback monster-in-a-lake movie. No fancy production, no crazy special effects; just a group of people in a boat and a big-ass fish with big-ass teeth that occasionally surfaces to terrorize said people. Some have complained about the minimalism of this movie and the low-budget appearance of the creature (it currently holds a 3.8 rating on IMDB), but those are the very reasons why I enjoyed this as much as I did. I also loved the interplay between the characters once the circumstances tested their loyalties to each other. Plus, things underwater just freak me out.

#7 STARRY EYES - This one got a lot of well-deserved buzz since its release. It tells a simple story of a struggling actress who resorts to black magic as a means of achieving stardom, and I was utterly impressed with how her slow transformation into something more than she bargained for played out. This is a stylish and nasty film with an outstanding synth score that brought to mind Goblin, John Carpenter, Tangerine Dream, and even Giorgio Moroder. Definitely one of the better indie releases I had the pleasure of seeing over the last year.

#6 THE BABADOOK - Another hyped horror film that I decided to see once EXORCIST director William Friedkin gave it high praise. I personally didn't think it was that scary, but when it comes to ghost stories that blur the line between the paranormal and psychological, this one was a motherfucker (no pun intended). Stunning camera work, a top-notch performance from lead actress Essie Davis, and tension and spooks galore - not to mention some very envelope-pushing scenes involving a child that were carefully shot by director Jennifer Kent. Oh yeah, and it's directed by a woman. I have to mention that because everyone is making a big deal about it. Who cares? Women are just as capable of making films as good (and bad) as their male counterparts, so gender shouldn't even be an issue. Just my two cents.

#5 FOUND - This was perhaps the biggest surprise for me when it came to horror movies of the last year. Every other movie on this list was met with expectations (some more than others) except for this one. I went into it blind and was sold just on the synopsis of a young boy who discovers that his older brother is a serial killer. Quite simply: FOUND is dark as fuck. If you've ever seen Douglas Buck's CUTTING MOMENTS or his entire FAMILY PORTRAITS trilogy, this would be right at home (no pun intended) with those films, in that it peels away the layers of domesticity to reveal something utterly disturbing. In a way, it's also a love letter to video stores and the horror genre. Any of you who grew up during the height of video stores knows the thrill of going through the horror section when you were probably too young to do so and discovering new films and this is something that actually plays a part in FOUND.

#4 ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE - I made it a point over the last year to better familiarize myself with the films of Jim Jarmusch (STRANGER THAN PARADISE, DOWN BY LAW). I only watched like five or six of his films that I'd never seen before, but it didn't take that long for me to understand and fall in love with his style. That said, it wasn't a hard sell for me to check out this new vampire movie of his. It's a somewhat sluggish but absolutely gorgeous film about the bond between a male and female vampire who have been around for hundreds of years. And, like Jarmusch's other films, music plays a big part in this one - and to great effect. The highlight for me, however, is how amazing Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are together. Watching them, you really do get the feeling they've known each other for centuries.

#3 OCULUS - Probably my second biggest horror surprise of 2014 behind FOUND. When the initial reviews for this one trickled their way on to the internet, they were mixed. So, with that in mind, on top of the fact that it's a WWE Films production, I was expecting something mediocre at best. Well, this ended up being one of the better mainstream horror movies of the last few years that I'd seen. OCULUS is surprisingly violent and effectively creepy. A good balance of cringe-inducing trauma and edge-of-your-seat moments of tension and dread. Pretty solid from from top to bottom. Also, Nebula from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.

#2 WITCHING AND BITCHING - I'm not as enamored with director Álex de la Iglesia as most of those who are familiar with his work. He has some movies I quite enjoy, but he also has some movies that I find to be annoying or a little too over-the-top. Ironically, WITCHING AND BITCHING might be the most over-the-top movie I've seen of his, but yet I enjoyed it immensely. If you're a fan of horror-comedies (specifically Spanish horror... and Spanish comedy for that matter) and you haven't seen this one yet, do yourself a huge favor: check it out and don't let its awful title mislead you. Indeed there's a lot of witching and bitching in this, but mostly witching. The film sees a couple of bumbling bank robbers stumble upon a coven of witches and hilarity ensues. It features one of the best worst bank robberies ever committed to film and one of the most amazing, glorious, absurd climaxes I've ever seen.

#1 ABC'S OF DEATH 2 - There's really not much I can say about this one, nor do I have the time to sum up 26 short films. You either love these movies or hate them. Obviously I fall into the category of people who love them. While I enjoyed the first one more as a whole, I feel like this one had less duds. Anyone who's read my blog long enough knows that I love horror anthologies, so it goes without saying that an anthology of this magnitude gets me all excited and fuzzy-feeling. Not only do you get chapters that run the gamut of styles and evoke different reactions, these films are also a sampler for a shit-load of horror directors who you may not have heard of, and they give established filmmakers the opportunity to put something out there while in between projects. I hope the ABC'S OF DEATH series continues on for years to come.


  1. Totally agree on Witching & Bitching and Oculus. I'm also not the biggest Iglesia fan, so it was a pleasant surprise to see how FUN that movie was. Lots more on here I don't know much about, so I'll add them to the long list. Though I'm doubtful that I can tolerate another ABCs.

    1. Fair enough on ABC's. They can be much. LAST CIRCUS was polarizing but I know a lot of people liked it. Iglesia kinda lost me with that one though. Nice to see him bounce back (in my eyes anyway) with something as fun as WITCHING. Glad you dug it too!

  2. Looks like I've got some watching to do, duder! Great list. Your year end wrap-ups always lend a hand in determining what I'll be watching in the ensuing months on the new year.

  3. I've seen three on this list, Aaron, and had FOUND in my hands but put it back. BENEATH and STARRY EYES I've not heard of, but am curious about them now. ABC's OF DEATH 2 as well, although the first was just sort of average to me on the whole, the concept itself was fascinating enough to override its drawbacks, imo.

    1. BENEATH has been out for a while but it hasn't been talked about in our circles much. STARRY EYES is available on iTunes if you're interested. I don't know if I'd give FOUND a glowing recommendation because of how grim and occasionally exploitative it is, but I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on it if you ever get around to seeing it.

  4. Great list, Aaron! Man, I have lost touch with the genre in a big way. I had actually missed most of these movies...even passing up a chance to see The Babadook on the big screen. (Part of that was the hype, and part of it was wanting to save ten bucks). What can I comment on? ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE was genius for me, too. Why? Because it made total sense to me that vampires would be bitter, aging hipsters. Sure, it was sedate and leisurely paced. But I really grew to care about the people (vampires) in it. OCCULUS was another surprise for me too...mostly because it is quite sad when you cut past the horror stuff. It also gave me one more reason to be weary about mirrors. (The other reason is that lame "Bloody Mary" game from elementary school...I know she's there). As for your other choices, I will be checking them out and appreciate the recommendations.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Dusty, and sorry for the late reply! I haven't been on blogger lately. Glad to hear you're just as much of a fan of ONLY LOVERS and OCULUS as I am! Jarmusch is a one of a kind director and I love his aesthetic. It seems like the vampire film is one of the few (if not only) sub-genres of horror that non-horror directors and "legitimate" filmmakers are willing to touch and not lose credibility, and as horror fans I think we're better off for having a guy like Jarmusch take a stab at horror. It's truly a special film.

  5. Finally saw Beneath. So odd. I enjoyed it. Probably the most fun I've had with some insanely unlikable characters in a while. Definitely no rewatchability.