We’ve had haunted mirrors and troubled children, we’ve had vampire lovers and vampire mockumentaries, we’ve had serial killers and zombie apocalypse-surviving baseball players. It’s been another strong year for the genre and, as ever, choosing a list of the very best was a tough choice. We’re sure we’ve missed some out, so let us know if your favourite didn’t make the list.
As always, films need a full UK release in order to make the list, so some of the great films we saw at this year’s FrightFest (both Glasgow and London) and London Film Festival will have to wait until they hit our screens next year to make it (sorry, It Follows, Proxy, Creep, etc…) but that takes nothing away from this year’s excellent selection, starting with…
This micro-budget slacker horror from writer/director/star Jeremy Gardner finds two professional baseball stars attempting to survive the zombie hordes by taking off into the countryside. Slacker Ben (Gardner) is eminently comfortable putting the undead down, but Mickey (Adam Cronheim) has a harder time of it sleeping in cars and using his bat for a more violent purpose. As the two men try to get through each day, they begin to grate on each other. It’s a very well-written (almost entirely) two-hander about a couple of guys who are forced to deal with the fact that they only have each other. The Battery is a little slow in places, but it builds towards a superb final act that earns the film a place on this list. Gardner is definitely one to keep an eye on.
You can buy The Battery on DVD for £11.39 at Amazon.co.uk.
The Mo Brothers followed up 2009’s Macabre with this striking international serial killer tale. The story of an Indonesian journalist who becomes obsessed with a Japanese maniac, Killers shifts between glacial chills and lunatic action as it travelled between the two countries. Timo Tjahjanto’s time spent with The Raid‘s Gareth Evans on V/H/S/2 is evident in the protracted, beautifully clumsy sequence in which Bayu (Oka Antara) attempts to commit murder in and escape from a heavily guarded hotel. It’s a little overlong and self-indulgent, but it’s gripping, ambitious stuff that revels in portraying the grit and grime of its murky world, and the performances from Antara and Kazuki Kitamura (as the insane Nomura Shuhei) are superb.
You can buy Killers on Blu-ray for £10 at Amazon.co.uk.
This low-budget found-footage effort from Derek Lee and Cliff Prowse stars the pair as two guys embarking on a round the world trip. After Derek leaves a party with a beautiful woman in Paris, he feels a bit rough the next day, but as they travel onto Italy it becomes clear that he’s not suffering from a bug. Whatever has been passed onto him has given him amazing strength and agility, but a terrible aversion to sunlight and a powerful hunger…Like a lot of the films on this list, Afflicted makes sure the audience are on board early with engaging performances and well-written characters. By the time Derek is going through his terrifying changes, everything that hurts him hurts the viewer. The found-footage and sheer energy and invention recall Chronicle, but this gripping and surprisingly moving debut is strong enough to stand on its on two feet.
You can buy Afflicted on DVD for £6 at Amazon.co.uk.
Bobcat Goldthwait (World’s Greatest Dad, God Bless America) turned his sharp eye for eccentricity and keen ear for dialogue to horror with Willow Creek. Jim (Bryce Johnson) has convinced his other half Kelly (Alexie Gimore) to join him as he makes his own documentary about hunting for Bigfoot. When the two arrive at the small town of Willow Creek, they manage to upset the locals and accumulate plenty of warnings before they set off on the trail, and it isn’t long before things start going horribly wrong. Goldthwait has great fun portraying the oddity of Sasquatch culture and creates a strong atmosphere of unease before launching into the film’s standout final act. We don’t want to give anything away but you will be gripped.
You can buy Willow Creek on DVD for £4 at Amazon.co.uk.
Lucky McKee (The Woman, May) and Chris Sivertson (The Lost, I Know Who Killed Me) took a surprising turn into dark comedy with this deliriously entertaining ‘80s throwback. When a group of cheerleaders are killed by drunk jocks, they’re brought back to life by needy Wiccan Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) to claim their vengeance. There’s a huge amount of energy on display and some excellent performances (Smit-McPhee and Caitlin Stasey are particularly good). Rather than turning the story into a grim revenge tale, McKee and Sivertson show off a love of practical effects and Amblin films, blending a wonderfully dark sense of humour with a nostalgia for oddball fantasy movies. All Cheerleaders Die is a thrilling, sharp horror comedy that may be an acquired taste, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
You can buy All Cheerleaders Die on DVD for £7 at Amazon.co.uk.
Writer-director Chad Crawford Kinkle’s hugely impressive low-budget debut skilfully creates a convincing backwoods community centred around the worship of a deity in The Pit that demands regular human sacrifice. When young Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) shirks her responsibility, events are set in motion that will tear the group apart. Jug Face is a confident, atmospheric and complex first film that subverts the backwoods subgenre expectations, looking instead to films like The Wicker Man and The Devil’s Backbone. The performances from Carter (The Woman), Sean Bridgers (Deadwood) and genre godfather Larry Fessenden are excellent, keeping us invested as the story and characters become more complex. This may have had a muted release in the UK but Jug Face is most definitely worth seeking out.
You can buy Jug Face on DVD for £8 at Amazon.co.uk.
British rising stars Rose Leslie (Game Of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway (Penny Dreadful) play Bea and Paul, a pair of newlyweds who travel to her family cabin for their honeymoon. After going sleepwalking in the woods, Bea’s behaviour becomes erratic and Paul struggles to understand what is happening. Who is this woman he’s married? Leigh Janiak’s first feature introduces a well-written duo that’s easy to like before she begins undoing the seams that hold them together. Insidiously creepy and very well performed (Leslie is particularly good), Janiak’s film slowly builds to a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking crescendo.
You can buy Honeymoon on Blu-ray for £15.99 at Amazon.co.uk.
Fine, so Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s mockumentary is much heavier on the comedy than the horror, but it’s about vampires so we’re claiming it. Watching pervy Vladislav (Clement), foppish Viago (Waititi) and self-described “cool guy” Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) bicker over the washing up before re-enacting scenes from The Lost Boys made us giggle more than any other comedy this year. It’s perfectly acted, beautifully observed, endlessly quotable and it’s just very, very funny. If you’re not laughing by the time Vladislav explains why virgin blood is preferable, we’re not sure we can help you. Oh, and let’s not forget Stu.
What We Do In The Shadows is in UK cinemas now.
Elliot Goldner’s found-footage ghost story The Borderlands made excellent use of the format, using its handheld POV style to create camaraderie then claustrophobia, as investigators Deacon (Gordon Kennedy) and Gray (Robin Hill) look into an apparently haunted country church. The chemistry between the two leads is superb as they sell us on the set-up and make sure we care about the bickering duo before the tension is expertly ratcheted up. The script draws on a wide range of classic horror, from Lovecraft to MR James, to keep the audience on its toes and delivers one of the strongest British horrors in recent memory.
You can buy The Borderlands on DVD for £7 at Amazon.co.uk.
Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett followed their brilliant You’re Next with another crowd-pleaser, this time paying homage to John Carpenter and James Cameron. Dan Stevens shakes off the spirit of Cousin Matthew with a magnetic turn as returned veteran David, who moves in with the family of his dead buddy. He quickly proves to be invaluable to the household and even seems to be winning over suspicious Anna (Maika Monroe), but his methods are…unorthodox. The Guest is a gleeful love-letter to the thrillers of the 1980s that sees the duo on their most stylish form, while Wingard sinks his teeth into some excellent action sequences. With a synth-heavy soundtrack, a hazy neon colour palette and an unstoppable antihero, this is a hugely entertaining genre throwback that will put the biggest grin on your face.
You can buy The Guest on Blu-ray for £11.52 at Amazon.co.uk.
Karen Gillan made a strong start to her post-Doctor Who film career with a superb performance in Mike Flanagan’s follow-up to Absentia. She plays Kaylie, who tries to prove that her brother didn’t kill their parents by demonstrating the malevolent power of an antique mirror. Flanagan and Jeff Howard’s script niftily deconstructs the haunted house movie and establishes its own slippery set of rules, as the film slides between the past and the present. Before long, it becomes clear that Kaylie’s grip on the situation is loosening while Flanagan’s grip on the narrative remains unflinching. Oculus may not have been the box office smash that some were expecting but believe us when we say that this is a superb horror that confirms Flanagan as a talent to watch.
You can buy Oculus on Blu-ray for £13 at Amazon.co.uk.
Arthouse darling Jim Jarmusch presents his languorous, lavish take on the vampire genre with this deeply romantic, deeply stylish love story. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are perfect as the ancient husband and wife (they’ve been married several times) who reunite in Detroit after it becomes clear that he’s suffering a bout of existential angst. When Eve’s sister Eva (Mia Wasikowska) comes to visit, she throws their reunion into turmoil. Only Lovers Left Alive is Jarmusch’s best work since Ghost Dog, as the superb cast make the most of the script’s deadpan wit and the love story at its core. Swinton and Hiddleston are simply perfect together, and there’s excellent support from a livewire Wasikowksa (also superb in this year’s not-quite-horror Maps To The Stars), and Anton Yelchin and John Hurt as a dopey roadie and an ancient Christopher Marlowe respectively. Warm, funny and utterly lovely, it’s the cinematic equivalent of a bottle of wine with old friends.
You can buy Only Lovers Left Alive for £14.46 at Amazon.co.uk.
Under The Skin is arguably more sci-fi than horror, but Jonathan Glazer’s triumphant return packs more haunting, nightmarish imagery into its 108 minutes than most genre films managed this year. His stunning adaptation of Michael Faber’s book quickly dispelled any concerns of seediness or trashiness conjured by the basic plot description (sexy alien seduces men before killing them) and instead offered a cinematic experience that dazzles the senses while engaging the head and the heart. Scarlett Johansson delivers a career-best performance as the unnamed extraterrestrial protagonist who finds her essential otherness being compromised by spending time around humanity. There’s a definite detached, often shocking coldness to the film’s first half but as the story progresses and she begins to question and feel, Under The Skin makes us care about this strange visitor. And, lest we forget, the sequences in which the hapless targets are taken home are some of the most striking and unsettling of the year.
You can buy Under The Skin on Blu-ray for £10 at Amazon.co.uk.
The Stake Land duo of Jim Mickle (director) and Nick Damici (actor) took on Jorge Michel Grau’s divisive Chilean cannibal horror and gave us a remake that everyone could seem to agree on. The biggest argument was: is it actually better than the original? We would say so, as this waterlogged American Gothic took the essential conflict of the story and created a strong identity of its own. Bill Sage (American Psycho, Mysterious Skin) plays Frank Parker, the patriarch of a fiercely private family who tells his two daughters (Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner) that the responsibility of upholding their tradition has fallen to them after the sudden death of their mother. The film holds off on making anything explicit, instead constructing a tense family drama that offers glimpses of something very, very wrong. Sage, Childers and Garner are fantastic, and there’s a brilliant turn from Michael Parks as Doc Barrow, a man determined to find out what happened to his daughter. The torrential rains and the march of time may be conspiring to wash the Parker family away, but they will cling onto tradition until their last breath.
You can buy We Are What We Are on DVD for £3.70 at Amazon.co.uk.
Jennifer Kent’s debut has recently been released in the US and has received a huge amount of plaudits from such genre luminaries as Stephen King and William Friedkin, and with good reason. The Australian filmmaker created a terrifying conceit and one of the scariest horror children’s stories we’ve seen in years (we would very much like a copy of that book, please), but the film is about character first and foremost. Essie Davis is utterly compelling as Amelia, a still-grieving single mother struggling to handle her difficult son Samuel (the excellent Noah Wiseman). As he becomes convinced that the titular monster is real, the sleep-deprived and fragile Amelia begins to lose her grip on reality. Kent delivers some fantastically tense sequences and plenty of genuine scares, but what truly horrifies about The Babadook is watching a mother lose control. Could she really harm her child? How much can Amelia take before she snaps? It’s moving, it’s beautifully performed, and it’s truly scary. The Babadook certainly earns its place as the best horror film of 2014.
You can buy The Babadook on Blu-ray for £17.99 at Amazon.co.uk.