The 8 Best Horror Films I Saw in a Theater in 2014

If you were paying attention (it’s all right, I know you weren’t), you will have seen my bottom 8 horror movies witnessed in a theater. It is more than likely, if you saw it you realized how uninspiring those movies were, except maybe for The Quiet Ones, which I feel I need to revisit. On the other side of the coin we have the 8 top horror movies I sat through in a theater. It should be noted that this list is limited to new releases, if I opened it up to all I saw theatrically, you might see the likes of The Burning, Alone in the Dark, Who Could Kill a Child?, Christmas Evil, Shock Waves, Alucarda, The Beyond, and The Witch Who Came from the Sea. Yeah. I saw some cool horror in theaters. This list is limited to new releases, read on and see who made the cut.

This list is a bit more inspiring than the bottom 8 list.

8. Tusk. This is a movie that left me decidedly undecided. It is not a movie I really liked, but it is certainly one I respected. It is one of the weirdest movies I have seen in a mainstream theater in some time. It tells of a podcaster (Justin Long) in search of a story. He ends up at the home of an old man who tells a tale of being saved by a walrus and how he wants Long to act like one. It takes some weird and scary turns. It is not paced very well, makes its reveal too quick, and is a little too talky. Far from perfect, but certainly worthy of a mention.

7. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. No so much a sequel as it is a sideways chapter. It is the latest entry in the Where’s Waldo horror world. It is not going to win over any new fans, but I am still in for the ride. No, not a lot of replay value, but certainly worth a one shot. This one tells of a teen who discovers a mark on his arm and develops superhero-like abilities (Chronicle, anyone?), mood swings, and runs across the witch coven learned about in prior films. Not bad at all.

6. Deliver Us from Evil. The movie plays out like a mash of horror, noir, and police procedural. The three distinct styles come together to form an interesting slow burn, reminiscent of 70’s era films, with healthy doses of The Exorcist. It is not straight horror and has a nice blend of atmosphere and character. It works and it is involving, benefiting from a good central performance from Eric Bana.

5. Horns. This is a bit of a genre mash up, bringing together horror, fantasy, drama, romance, and maybe a bit of noir. The result plays like a darkly comic merging of The Crow and Brick, while not really resembling either one. It is a movie that is a familiar as it is unique. It is not a perfect blend or a perfect execution, but it has a lot going for it and I found it to be quite endearing and effective all the same. It is an odd film that find’s Daniel Radcliffe in a rather different role than we are used to seeing him in, and he handles it well, managing to be the emotional center of this strange feature.

4. The Only Lovers Left Alive. This is the mirror universe version of Queen of the Damned. The latter was not a good movie, but looked at vampires as literal rock stars, living a shielded, but still quite public life, making no attempts to really cover themselves. With Only Lovers Left Alive, we have a vampire who creates music out of boredom, it seems, and his wife. They live their lives avoiding the spotlight. They have lived for centuries, absorbing culture, inspiring artists, creating some of the world’s greatest art, seeing the squandering of scientific minds. The end result seems to be their existence becoming a life of contemplation on life. Interesting, far from perfect, but an intriguing slice of life from the night.

3. Oculus. This movie really split the horror community. I have seen folks on both ends of the spectrum. I really liked it. I felt it was a different take on the possession style of horror. It is open to multiple interpretations and seems to welcome the idea. It is a movie that keeps you a little off balance, unsure of what is coming next. It is a movie that deals with perception, memory, relationships, reality, illusion, and how these things interact with each other. It treats them in a way that at no point is there a reliable narrator. No matter how convincing things can be, there is a possibility that it is not actual reality. It is rather entertaining to watch as our characters try to navigate the dangerous waters around the mirror, how they must often fight their instincts, and no matter how many safeguards are in place, there is room for things to go tragically wrong.

2. Under the Skin. Every once in awhile a movie comes along that defies explanation. A movie that does not seem to make much narrative sense. A movie whose story dances around the edge of the frame. A movie that is light on details. A movie that is challenging, if you allow it to be. A movie that is easy to make a snap judgment against it. A movie that does not make any compromises. A movie that gets under your skin, lingers there like an itch you can’t scratch. A movie that draws you in before clamping down like a vise. A movie that tempts you with danger and mystery. That is Under the Skin.

1. The Babadook. Possibly the most hyped horror upon its limited release this year, it is a movie that is deserving all of it. This is a movie that takes its time to unfold, making you think one thing while being something completely different. It is not an overly complex film, yet it pays to pay attention. This is a movie that involves, holds the eye, and leaves you feeling just completely weirded out. Once you put the pieces together, the bigger picture begins to change. The reality of the horror begins to take shape. This is one of those movies where everything works in unison, from the wonderfully shot images, to the claustrophobic atmosphere, the fantastic performances, and, well, everything. It is a movie that just works, it wrangles the nerves, holds the eye, and just manages to scare just enough.

That sums up the new stuff I saw theatrically. I know there was more, so tell me, what did I miss that I need to catch on disk?

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