Dusty’s Best of 2014

You’ve handled my worst, so you’re now getting my best.

Before I get to the list, here are some that just barely missed the cut (or maybe they didn’t, but I wanted to talk about them.)

Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer
Honestly, the only reason this one didn’t make the list is because I’m not sure if it qualifies as horror.  It has been a bit overhyped, and I don’t think it’s as good as all the breathless overanalyzing tends to make it sound.  But it’s a solid movie, and I had a lot of fun watching it.  The cast is terrific, the story – riddled with logistical holes as it is – is a lot of fun, and they do a great job with the video game type plot of moving car-to-car, finding a new obstacle in each one.  Try to ignore the hype and watch this for what it is: a fun and unique sci-fi movie.
My original review.

Godzilla

Godzilla
Pacific Rim has ruined me a little, because all I could think was, “Why not just build giant robots and punch Godzilla in the face with their rocket-propelled fists?”  But I got over that before I went into the movie.  I just wanted something fun.  Instead, all I got was a movie following the uncharismatic kid from Kick-Ass as he travels the world as the only bomb expert left, somehow staying in Godzilla’s direct path the whole time.  I also saw two great performers – Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Olsen – get completely washed out of the movie (an early exit and relegated to crying duty, respectively).  There were some good scenes and the last half hour made me walk out excited, but it wasn’t nearly as good as I was hoping.
My original review.

Cheap Thrills

Cheap Thrills
The hype train was all geared up for this one.  I lowered my expectations before I went in.  I’m glad I did, because, even with those lowered expectations, I didn’t enjoy it that much.  Sky high expectations would have led to me hating it.  The cast is terrific (Ethan Embry, David Koechner, Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) and there were some good dark comedy moments, but the story was extremely predictable, made even worse by the feeling that they were trying to deliver a huge emotional gut punch at the end.  (I could see the end coming from a mile away.)  There were also a few scenes that really drove the drama forward by actions that made no sense (I realize it’s a weird statement to make about a movie like this, given all the out-of-character things that happened, but I stand by that statement and am more than happy to discuss it).  It wasn’t a bad movie.  I thought it was decent.  But the overhype really hurt it.  If you don’t expect anything mind-blowing, you should have a good time with this.

Life After Beth

Life After Beth
I didn’t expect much out of this.  Just a fun zombie movie with a good cast.  That’s exactly what I got.  It looked at the zombie genre from a slightly different angle, and I enjoyed it.
My original review.

I, Frankenstein

I, Frankenstein
I know, I know.  Keep in mind that I’m a fan of the Underworld series, the first 3 Resident Evil movies and the first 2 Mummy movies.  I’m a sucker for a fun action/horror movie is my point.  This movie is way more complicated than it has any reason to be, but it was a lot of fun to watch.

Enough of this nonsense.  To the top 10!

Under the Skin

10. Under the Skin
All I knew going into this movie was, “Scarlett Johansson artsy Species,” which is really just word soup.  But that’s pretty much what this was.  There’s not a lot of dialogue, and there’s a lot of Scarlett driving around Scotland in a white van, talking to strangers.  There’s seduction and nudity, but none of it is alluring.  This movie definitely isn’t for everyone, and it’s not for every mood, but I really liked this a lot.  It has a hypnotic quality to it.  Once it clicked for me, I was glued to the screen.
My original review.

Sacrament, The

9. The Sacrament
Those of you who know me know that I have never liked Ti West.  I’ve never liked a single movie of his.  In fact, my favorite Ti West moment is when he gets shot in the head with an arrow in You’re Next.  But this was something different.  The first 30 minutes were pretty slow, and I started to tune out a little.  I knew where the story was going, anyway: it’s basically a retelling of the events of Jonestown.  But then it started to pick up a bit.  Even though I knew where it was going, it was still able to draw me in.  The paranoia and insanity increased incrementally.  By the time it got to the Kool Aid (or, more accurately, Flavor Aid) scene, I was all-in.  There are some images in this film that I’ll never be able to get out of my brain.  There were some extremely chilling moments.  I didn’t love the whole thing, and I had some logistical issues like, “How did they get the footage off that specific camera?”, but that’s just being nit-picky.  I liked this a lot more than I thought I was going to.
My original review.

Sacrament

8. Sacrament
Not to be confused with the last movie.  This one was directed by Shawn Ewert, and it follows a group of friends as they take a trip to Texas and find themselves in a town surrounded by religious fanatics and the sweet, sweet smell of meat.  This could have easily turned into a predictable slasher, but the religious angle helped to add another layer to the film, as did the fact that these characters felt like actual people.  Ewert made me care about the characters and what happened to them.  There were a couple scenes I wasn’t crazy about, but, again, that’s just being nit-picky.
This is also notable for being one of the final performances of the great Marilyn Burns.  She doesn’t have a huge role, but she’s fantastic when she’s on the screen.

Tusk

7. Tusk
I just watched this last week.  I’m still trying to make up my mind on it, so it has a chance to climb up the ladder or fall down, depending on where I settle.  For now, #7 seems about right.  I thought I had a decent idea of what this movie would be: crazy old man turns mustachioed Justin Long into a walrus.  I figured it would be really gory.  Something like Human Centipede or Hostel or something.  But it really wasn’t.  They didn’t show much of the transformation at all.  That’s good, because just looking at the walrus suit was disturbing enough.  There were a number of scenes in here that made me laugh entirely too hard.  It was a really well done dark comedy/horror.  I loved it.  I could have done without Johnny Depp’s character, and the podcast segment at the end reminded me of how much I dislike Kevin Smith, but those are small complaints.  I thought I would hate this movie, and I was completely blown away by how much I loved it.

Oculus

6. Oculus
I kind of lumped this into “mirror horror” (which I believe only includes Mirrors and Mirrors 2), so I wasn’t expecting much.  I came away loving this movie.  There were some great performances here (Karen Gillan and Katee Sackhoff were the standouts, but everyone was terrific.  Even the children were great, and I’m normally not a big fan of child actors), the story was good, and there were some really creepy moments.  I love how the film played with the perception of reality.  This is a great movie to put on when you’re by yourself in a dark house.
My original review.

Canal

5. The Canal
A great, claustrophobic movie about a man who discovers his wife has been murdered.  The use of old murder footage was really creepy.  This combined elements of The Amityville Horror and Sinister, but still had its own style to it.  I knew next to nothing about this movie going in, and I think I was better off for it.  Just watch this movie.
My original review.

WolfCop

4. WolfCop
Some glorious maniac submitted a review for this, and I don’t know if I can describe it any better than he/she did.  Take Hobo With a Shotgun and, instead of the hobo (sorry Rutger Hauer) and throw an alcoholic werewolf cop into the mix.  Bam.  WolfCop.

Horns

3. Horns
I read the book and, while I liked it, I didn’t love it like I thought I would.  Still, I was very much looking forward to this movie.  After Daniel Radcliffe’s work on The Woman in Black, I was excited to see what he would do here.  He was fantastic, and the movie was dynamite.  They nailed the dark-comedy-turns-just-plain-dark mood of the book.  A number of moments had me laughing really hard.  Beyond the humor, the story was handled great.  I loved that, behind all the insanity, was a simple love story/murder mystery.  There were times I was so involved in the story that I almost forgot Ig had horns on his head.  The cast was great, and the story was handled wonderfully.  It was everything I hoped it would be.
My original review.

Dead Snow 2

2. Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead
My love for the first Dead Snow is well-known, so it should come as no surprise that the sequel ranked so high on my list.  With the success of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Tommy Wirkola was given a lot more money to work with than he did with Dead Snow.  And he put that money to good use.  Everything was bigger.  More zombies.  More blood.  More intestines.  More insanity.  This movie is a ton of fun.
My original review.

Babadook

1. The Babadook
How could it be anything else in this spot?  It’s rare that a movie exceeds its considerable hype (for me, anyway), but this movie managed to do that.  The first 30 minutes or so were a bit dicey (screeching children have a way of doing that), but I totally understand why they had to do that.  Then it settled in, and I couldn’t look away.  I was completely drawn in by the story.  By the imagery.  By the relationship between mother and son.  By everything.  It’s a fantastically creepy movie.  Find a dark, quiet night, open a door you can see from your viewing area, and put this on.  Don’t look at your phone.  Don’t carry on long conversations.  Just sit down and drink this in.  You won’t be disappointed.
My original review.  (I may or may not talk about the Pinky & The Brain Christmas Special.)

31 Days of Horror Day 18: Oculus

Oculus - Poster

I know there are quite a few people who don’t really care for this movie, but I absolutely loved it.  I love how it plays with the uncertainty of reality for the characters.  What is real?  What is an illusion?  Oculus walks this tightrope the majority of the time, and they do a really good job with it.
It also jumps between present and past without it ever getting confusing.

JE3_7854.NEF

It’s a creepy, mind-bending movie that has some really solid scares, and a couple moments that really made me squirm.

OCULUS

It has a great script and a terrific cast.  I’m a huge fan of this movie, and it’s perfect for this time of year.

Oculus - Alan with ghosts

Oculus

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From writer/director Mike Flanagan (Absentia) comes a mind bending supernatural horror film.  The story, essentially, boils down to a woman who is hell bent on proving that her father is not guilty of the murder of his wife; it was the antique mirror hanging in his office.  Yup, known as the Lasser Glass, it is held in a single piece of ostentatiously carved Bavarian black cedar and all of it’s previous owners have succumbed to bizarre deaths.

The film flips back and forth between present day and eleven years ago. Eleven years ago, Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites) witnessed a horrible sequence of events that sent Tim into an institution and Kaylie on a tour of the foster system. The two have reunited on the day of Tim’s release and, conveniently enough, Kaylie has finally gained possession of the Lasser Glass. The two  of them made a promise to one another that they would kill the evil that lived in the mirror; Kaylie has, seemingly, spent her entire life preparing for this very event. Despite being a child of the foster care system, Kaylie still has ownership of her parent’s home, a university education that seems to cover all subjects and a large disposable income. She has thought of everything; this house is rigged in every possible way to help her entrap and kill the evil entity that lives in the mirror. She is absolutely, singularly focused on proving that her mother and father were driven insane by this mirror. The catch? Her brother does not remember their fateful evening the same way that she does.

From here, Kaylie and Tim debate the true events of eleven years ago all while they are enticing the evil entity to come out of the mirror. The tagline of the film is “you see what you want to see” and that is how the story is told; everything is viewed through the eyes of Kaylie and Tim both in present day and the past. This is what I enjoyed the most about the film. The characters are alternately played by their adult selves and their younger selves; there is no change of hue or any of the other myriad ways films use to let us in on the fact that we are moving between two different time lines. The young actors playing Kaylie (Annalise Basso) and Tim (Garrett Ryan) are absolutely outstanding; no annoying child actor mannerisms here. Truly, these two youngsters played their roles with strength and vulnerability better than a lot of adult actors can.

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At the very beginning of the story, all of the facts are laid out and you are expected to keep up; this is great for moving the story along and keeping the pace up. My biggest complaint is that of all of the information we are given, the one thing we never learn is the exact origin of the mirror. It is called the Lasser Glass because it’s first known location was in the castle of Philip Lasser of London. Maybe it’s just me, but I need the who, what, when, where, why and how; who felt compelled to create this mirror, why did they do it, where did it come from, what is it’s ultimate goal? Perhaps this is being saved for a subsequent film; because you know this movie ended with the possibility of a sequel(s).

 

Every single element of this movie is spot on. All of the actors did a fantastic job, especially Ms. Basso; it looks beautiful, the effects, or rather, lack of, are perfect. Paranormal stories work best when everything is bare bones; it just makes it so much more believable. The way the story builds really is a perfect dance of story and action. So, why did I leave the theatre feeling less than enthused? Maybe I just let what I perceived to be a lack of history make me overthink everything and that took me out of it a little bit? Maybe I wasn’t scared, at all, by the demons that came out of the mirror. Maybe I have paranormal fatigue. I don’t know. I only know that I really enjoyed Flanagan’s first feature quite a bit, and on all levels, this is a superior film, but it just didn’t do it for me.

 

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Trailer Talk – Oculus

Today we’ll be looking at Oculus.
Release date: April 11, 2014
Directed by: Mike Flanagan (Absentia)
Notable actors: Karen “Amy Pond” Gillian, Katee “Starbuck” Sackhoff

It’s nearly impossible for me to see a trailer involving a mirror and not think about Mirrors or Mirrors 2 (the former being a strange Kiefer Sutherland/Paula Patton vehicle, the latter being an excuse for Christy Carlson Romano to get naked).  Those movies were not scary, though they tried very hard.  I found them to be fun under the right circumstances, but I can’t see myself ever recommending them as serious horror movies.
I also think about the line, “Mirrors have always been gateways to another world,” from The Unborn (as it happens, that isn’t even close to the most ridiculous line in that movie).

With that background, it’s easy to see why I wasn’t overly excited about the prospect of watching a horror movie about a mirror.  Not a great track record.

Still, horror movies and mirrors have had a long history together.  It’s a list that includes the standard, “open bathroom mirror, close bathroom mirror, see demon/killer behind you that wasn’t there before,” (a well-worn trope to be sure, but one that can still creep me out when used effectively), the Anti-God invading our world through a mirror Prince of Darkness, Ash reaching through the mirror to strangle himself in Evil Dead 2, Olivia cutting up her face in the Evil Dead remake, Candyman, Bloody Mary, the “redrum” reveal in The Shining, and countless others.

My point is this: I have no issue with mirrors in horror movies, but walking into a pitch meeting with, “Mirrors be scary,” scribbled on a napkin isn’t the strongest idea for a movie.

All that being said, this looks like it could be really creepy.  It’s a chilling trailer, at least.  I’m hoping they kept something in reserve and didn’t show all the good stuff in the trailer.

There is some great imagery here.  Lots of shadows and figures lurking in the darkness.  There’s also a sense of uncertainty, like you can’t trust your own eyes or sanity.  It looks like a movie that can really screw with your mind and scare you at the same time.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie like that.

If it lives up to the promise of this trailer, it will likely be the frontrunner for my favorite movie of 2014.  Between now and the release date, I’m going to have to try to talk myself down a bit, or there’s a good chance I’ll be disappointed as a result of my sky-high expectations (that happened recently with Escape From Tomorrow, and I still haven’t recovered).