Leo Francis - Best of 2014

The Best of 2014 - by Leo Francis

Well, with 2014 is drawing to a close, it's a good time to look back over the last twelve months and remember all of the amazing films I've had the opportunity to enjoy. And while this is a horror site, and this is a 'Best of Horror Films' list, the genre of horror doesn't have to be so short-sighted. Because a film doesn't necessarily have to be classified as a horror film to shock or disturb you. A movie doesn't have to have a ghost or supernatural killer to be scary, so why not be open-minded? Why not embrace it all? So I did. And in fact, I would argue that the content of each of these films could easily qualify as one of horror's many sub genres, but let's not waste time on that. Let's just get to it. So without further ado... here they are - my fourteen favorite films of the year. 

14. The Damned

"In The Damned director Victor Garcia creates an absolutely bleak and chilling piece of cinema that slowly works it's way into your bones. For me, it is one of the most pleasantly surprising horror films of the year." The atmosphere alone made this film worthy of a spot in my top fourteen. But it was much more than that. The cast was fabulous and the movie provided a ton of genuinely chilling moments. But most of all it surprised me. I thought I had this film figured out before I even watched it and I was completely mistaken. And writer Richard D'Ovidio gets a ton of the credit for that. You can read my full review here, or watch it on Netflix. 

13. Oculus

Oculus is completely inventive and refreshingly original, which is why I put this at number thirteen. With a strong cast including stellar performances by Rory Cochrane, Karen Gillam, and Katee Sakhoff, "I had high hopes for this one — and I was not disappointed. This film successfully weaves together the present with events eleven years in the past, as told through flashbacks." And despite some minor pacing issues, "the two stories move together relatively seamlessly," You can read my full review here. The movie is now available on Netflix. 

12. Almost Human

"Joe Begos' directorial debut, Almost Human, is a genre-bending, throwback indie-horror masterpiece that falls into the extremely rare 'instant classic' category. Seamlessly weaving together both an alien abduction story and an homage to classic slasher films, this film instantly goes for the jugular and never lets up. The breakneck pace of the film fits the tone of the narrative flawlessly, and makes for a taut, action-packed shockfest." This was definitely one of the best films of the year. You can read my full review here or read my interview with star Graham Skipper. The film is now available on Netflix. 

11. Mockingbird

One of four found-footage style films that appear on my list - "Mockingbird is the second film from the twisted mind of writer and director Bryan Bertino. His first film, The Strangers, was insanely creepy and  twisted, and his follow is absolutely no different. Bertino presents us with a truly depraved tale that at times feels like an assault on the senses.  The opening scene alone is so vicious that it will leave your jaw hanging in disbelief. And this only sets the tone for a movie that is both relentless and utterly cruel." This film managed to set itself apart from the many other found-footage films this year with an extremely original spin on the style, and in its' sheer depravity. Read the full review here. The film is now available on Netflix. Enjoy. 

10. The Sacrament

Inspired by the legendary Jonestown Massacre in Guyana, Ti West's The Sacrament is absolutely his most accomplished work to date. Some people were upset that he stayed so close to the actual events, but it didn't bother me at all. Not to mention that the pacing of the film was impeccable. But the real reason this film is on my list is the performance of Gene Jones. "Nothing can compare to the master class put on by Gene Jones as Father. His presence looms largely over the entire compound before he even appears on screen, and once he does, Jones is a tour-de-force. His larger than life personality dominates every frame." You can read my review here, or watch the movie on Netflix. 

9. Pinup Dolls on Ice

"Geoff Klein and Melissa Mira's Pinup Dolls on Ice plays out like a cross between a traditional slasher movie and a drunken night at Jumbo's Clown Room, and it works like a charm. It is a fun homage to classic slasher-films like Sleepaway Camp, with a youthful, sexy twist. Recommended for fans of classic 80's slashers and anyone who just likes cute girls doing a burlesque style striptease. Cause there is plenty of both to go around." If you've followed this page at all over the last year, you've definitely heard me mention Pinup Dolls on Ice. I mean, I did a nine part series of interviews with the film makers and the entire cast, which you can read here. And you can read my full review here. Cheers. 

8. The Possession of Michael King

"Yet another 'found footage' film and another possession film, in a year with no shortage of either, The Possession of Michael King sets itself apart from the others in its' brash filming style and the intensity of lead actor, Shane Johnson. The first act of the film is nearly perfect and provides some genuinely disturbing moments which build toward an intense second act that manages to imbue the viewer with a sense of paranoia and dread." The film centers on a documentary film maker hellbent on disproving the supernatural, who goes so far into the world of the occult that he begins to doubt his own hypothesis. The first act of this film was utterly terrifying, and stayed in my head long after the film was over. That's why this cracked the top ten on my list of this years best. You can read my full review here or find this on iTunes and VOD. Enjoy. 

7. The Den

"Lead actress Melanie Papalia carries most of the movie here, bringing a naivety and sincerity to the role of Elizabeth that makes the premise work. Papalia is charming and versatile, and her sustained believability only adds to the swelling sense of dread that the director creates." Zachary Donohue's masterful found footage film, The Den, manipulates the mind in ways that none of the other POV style offerings this year could match. In fact, it may be one of the first films in history that is actually scarier if you watch it on your laptop. I've rewatched this film a few times this year, and after re-reading my review of the movie, I think I may have been a little harsh on it. Because this is a truly inventive and fun film, that was extremely well directed and scary as hell. This one is also available on Netflix, and I highly recommend it. You can check out my interviews with lead actress Melanie Papalia, director Zachary Donohue, or read my full review here. Cheers. 

6. Grand Piano

"Eugenio Mira's taut psychological-thriller Grand Piano, starring Elijah Wood, is equal parts Alfred Hitchcock and Brain De Palma. And the balance between the two styles makes for a film that is near-perfect on every level. Writer Damien Chazelle manages to create an interesting and innovative take on the classic 'cat-and-mouse' movie, that is mesmerizing from the opening credits to the final frame. With dazzling performances from the entire cast breathing life into the rich characters, the result is truly one of the most well-constructed thrillers released in the last decade. And everyone that worked on this film deserves to share in the credit, because like pieces of a puzzle, each element was integral to the success of the picture as a whole." This film was definitely one of my favorites of the year, and sincerely recommend you check it out. You can read my full review here. The film is now available on Netflix. 

5. The Purge: Anarchy

"Sequels can be extremely hit or miss. Usually the most you can hope for is that it is as good as the original film. The Purge: Anarchy not only fixes almost all of the problems and missed opportunities of the first film, it also manages to construct a simple but effective narrative to immerse the audience into Purge Night head first. The concept of the Purge, the central focus of writer / director James DeMonaco's political allegory, was wasted on the first film, which amounted to nothing more than a home invasion thriller. And although I quite liked a majority of the Purge, I found the ending of the movie to be immensely disappointing and impossible to believe. But any doubts I had going into this movie were washed away within the first twenty minutes. This will, without a doubt, go down as one of my favorite films of the year." I said that in my review not long after I saw the film, and nothing has changed. I loved it. Plain and simple. You can read my full review here or find it on VOD. Happy Purging. 

4. House of Manson

"Writer-director Brandon Slage's House of Manson, presented as part biopic and part true crime thriller, is a pretty straightforward retelling of the story (of the Manson Family Murders), and absolutely his strongest work to date. The film is told from the perspective of a fly on the wall, and therefore is neither a direct condemnation nor a glorification of the man who orchestrated the murders of no less than seven people, including a very pregnant Sharon Tate. Instead, the movie allows the viewer to be seduced by his charms before being thrown head first into the sheer brutality of his madness. House of Manson is an extremely powerful piece of film making that will stay with you long after the final frame of the movie." Technically this hasn't been fully released yet, but it's played at a few festivals this year - and frankly, it was too good to wait until next year. You can read my full review here. Cheers. 

3. Annabelle

Playing on one of my deepest childhood fears - creepy-ass old dolls - Annabelle was everything I hoped it would be. "I think the decision to let John R. Leonetti, who was the Cinematographer on The Conjuring, direct the film was crucial to keeping with the same style and tone of James Wan's work without feeling unoriginal. Leonetti is a pro at building the tension. He lets us have plenty of really good scares, but it's the more subtle moments that really get under your skin." The film was also penned by an old friend and fellow Temple University alumni, Gary Dauberman. "The plot is taut. There aren't many wasted words here, and the dialogue feels completely naturalistic. The story is interesting, but not overly complicated and serves to move things along at a brisk pace. He focuses not only on the moments where the characters are speaking, but also on the moments where the silence does all of the talking. This is a masterfully crafted piece of screenwriting." You should definitely check this one out, especially if you're afraid of dolls. You can read the full review here

2. Truth or Dare

Of all of the films I had the pleasure of viewing during the past twelve months, none were more brutal than Jessica Cameron's directorial debut, Truth or Dare. And almost a full year later, it's still among the best... and certainly the most extreme. Now, I consider myself to be pretty hardcore... I sat through A Serbian Film without flinching, but one scene from Truth or Dare was so incredibly graphic that I literally passed out in the theater. The film is utterly incredible. I can't say enough good things about the film makers and the amazing cast, including Ryan Kiser, Devanny Pinn, Heather Dorff, and the extremely talented co-writer and director, Jessica Cameron. In my review, I said, "All in all, this is one of the finest indie-films made in the last couple of years. A ruthless and sadistic experiment in torture that is not for the faint of heart." You absolutely must see Truth or Dare. And check out my interviews with Ryan Kiser, Devanny Pinn, Jonathan Scott Higgins, and Jessica Cameron. Cheers. 

1. Cheap Thrills

"E.L. Katz's directorial debut, Cheap Thrills, is anything but what the title may suggest. It is so much more than that. The movie is an unflinching Black Comedy that is, in turn, both relentlessly hilarious and deeply disturbing. The remarkable cast, including Ethan Embry, Pat Healy, David Koechner, and Sara Paxton, bring an unsettling realism to the taut script, resulting in one of the best horror-comedies ever produced." This movie was perfection in every aspect, that is why it is my favorite film of the year. Now, you may be saying that Cheap Thrills isn't actually a horror movie. But I'd argue that the subject matter leaves that open for debate. And frankly, it was my favorite film of the year regardless of the genre, so here it is. And if you haven't seen it yet, you're missing out. You can read my full review here, or just drop everything and watch it right now.