Friday, 26 December 2014

Top Ten Films of 2014

It’s that time of year when blogs, forums (?fora), newspapers and every other kind of media are clogged with people’s Best Of lists, and I don’t see why House of Mortal Cinema should be any different. So, for the third year running (I know, I’m as shocked as you are that this site has been going for that long) below are listed what I consider to be my top ten films of the year. It’s an entirely personal list, so as always please feel free to nod in agreement or become so apoplectic that your fury could power the national grid. As always, the rule is that any film is up for consideration as long as it was either released this year in the UK (in the cinema or on DVD) or was shown at a festival and I got to see it. That gets me out of having failed to include IT FOLLOWS as I understand it’s very good but I just haven’t caught up with it yet. I have, however, reviewed a record-breaking number of films on the site this year, and watched twice at least as many that I haven’t written up, so here’s my pick of many pleasurable hours spent in the company of movies great and small.

The Worst of 2014

Of course, before we go on to my favourites, it’s traditional (three years in I’m allowed to call it that) that I now pause to consider some of the films that came out this year that weren’t very good. Some were deliberately bad, like SHARKNADO 2 - THE SECOND ONE in which twin sharknados threatened New York and the acting challenged everyone in it. SHARNADO 3 has been announced, and I may just have to watch it.
As always, there was an awful lot of straight to DVD stuff that didn’t bear mentioning. Found footage is alive and well and being used as an excuse to call that scrappy camcorder footage you made of you and your friends on holiday a film as long as you stick a bit of horror in the form of some killings into the last five minutes. At least that’s what THE PIGMAN MURDERS and its ilk felt like. As well as a writing a record number of reviews this year, I also made record use of the fast forward button for movies like this. Because that’s what it’s there for.
Festivals also offered some right old rubbish. FrightFest Glasgow gave us a number of films with interchangeable one word titles, the worst of which was probably SAVAGED. This native American revenge pic promised THE CROW meets I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE but was more like a limp robin being incontinent in the gutter. THE SCRIBBLER was a dull, appallingly over-stylised graphic novel adaptation, and VHS 3 proved that there are still plenty of film makers out there who haven’t a clue how to make a short horror piece or a framework story that either makes sense or can hold your attention. 

       Worst film of the year, however, goes to Jessica Cameron’s TRUTH OR DARE, which I still hate five months after having seen it - a nasty, mean-spirited film with no redeeming features that reminded me of the very worst work of Herschell Gordon Lewis. Apparently there have been censor problems with this one, and while I don’t endorse censorship in any shape or form, I have to agree with Milton Subotsky when he once said he couldn’t help feeling it wouldn’t hurt if some films were never seen,
Right that’s enough of the rant section (which seems to get longer every year). It’s time to celebrate what was good about cult cinema in 2014. 


There I go saying found footage is a bit rubbish and the first film in the top ten is from that subgenre. This one’s a bit different though, and actually does something creative with the medium. Two best friends take the world trip of a lifetime when one of them is diagnosed with cancer. When he seems to develop superhuman powers after a night of passion their holiday takes a turn for the horrific. Good use of special effects within the found footage format lead to some surprising moments and overall this was well worth staying around for its midnight showing at Glasgow FrightFest.


I get sent a lot of straight to DVD stuff to review and the reason I sit through all of it is that occasionally you get a film like this. A complete unknown that kicks off with a man waking up in a mass open grave with no memory of how he got there. He gets out but the people he meets have lost their memory too. Slowly it all comes back and the films turns into a refreshing spin on a tired subgenre.


Did I say occasionally? 2014 was a better than usual year for straight to DVD fare with THE PIT / JUG FACE. This was an offering from the Larry Fessenden / Lucky McKee / Andrew van der Houyten school and was a fine backwoods USA horror about a community in thrall to a Machenesque monster lurking in their midst. Highly recommended.


Those who yearn for the action-and-synth direct to video days of the 1980s will be well served by this, the best film so far from director Adam Wingard. Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens turns up in small American town and causes havoc when people look at him in a funny way. It’s all part of a military experiment that’s turned him into the ultimate killing machine. Inspired in equal parts by John Carpenter films and THE TERMINATOR this one had plenty of in-jokes for fans as well as excellent set pieces and acting across the board.


This may well be many people’s number one frightening film of the year. I have to hold my hands up and admit it didn’t scare me at all, but that’s the way these things go sometimes. Very well made and acted, and operating on a number of psychological and emotional levels, THE BABADOOK dealt with a single mum and her autistic child battling fear, guilt, horror and regret taking the form of the titular creature. 


On the other hand, here’s one that really did scare me, and left me feeling very moved by the end as well. Director Oliver Frampton and writer James Hall wanted to do Henry James on a council estate and they achieved far more than that. Unnerving, scary, emotionally wrenching, and with a sound design that reminded me of Delia Derbyshire’s work on LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, this is another top notch horror piece from producer Jen Handorf. Definitely one to chase up when it gets a DVD release.


Those who have read my review of the BFI’s OUT OF THE UNKNOWN set will know I love weird art house British science fiction, which is exactly what UNDER THE SKIN was. Mesmerising, engrossing, at times beautiful and others extremely gloomy and grim, Jonathan Glazer’s latest picture is one I can’t get out of my head despite only having seen it once at its Glasgow premiere back in February.

My personal scariest film of the year, I have to say THE CANAL terrified me. Ivan Kavanagh’s film tells the story of a film archivist who moves into a house where there was a horrific murder in the early 1900s. He discovers newsreel footage of the killing and shortly after his life starts to fall apart, but is he going insane or are supernatural forces at work? Supremely scary imagery and a downbeat ending all go to make this a film I crawled out of feeling I'd been hit over the head with a very large scary stick


From the scary to the silly. All hail Astron 6, who have followed up the superbly daft MANBORG with this hugely entertaining riff on the Italian giallo and poliziotteschi subgenres, or rather the 1970s films that belong to them. Murders are occurring at the kind of film studio where all the product has to be dubbed. Is Rey Cisco, the wooden-handed editor of movies like The Cat With The Velvet Blade and The Mirror And The Guillotine to blame? Or is it any one of a multitude of stereotypical genre standbys? Hilarious dubbing, spot on costume design, and references to everything from Sergio Martino’s STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH to Argento’s INFERNO make this one an absolute winner that’s going to reward repeat viewings. 


 Getting a UK cinema and DVD release a year after its US premiere, GRAND PIANO is a stylish Euro-thriller of the highest order. Elijah Wood is the concert pianist who will be shot dead by John Cusack if he gets a note wrong during his return to performing after five years away from the limelight. Anyone who had ever had to perform in public will feel his pain. Nods to Hitchcock and de Palma abound, including one fantastic use of split screen. Most of the action takes place within a concert hall during Wood’s classical music recital. The concerto in question was written especially by composer Victor Reyes and it’s marvellous. Thrilling, suspenseful and so well directed (by Eugenio Mira) that some of his transitions had me applauding, the icing on the cake is that the composer of the famed ‘unplayable piece’ (La Cinquette) which Wood has to perform at the end is played by Euro-acting legend Jack Taylor. Pretty much everything I could love about a thriller all in one film makes it my number one picture of the year. 

And that's about it for 2014. It was a year in which I watched around 350 films, and ended up writing about quite a few of them on here. As always I'd like to thank everyone who has taken the time to pop along and read my reviews. The site's been more popular than ever this year, and while I doubt you've agreed with everything (or even anything) I've said, I hope you've found something here to make your visit worthwhile. As I'm always happy to admit, writing this stuff isn't exactly hard work, but watching some of the films certainly is, but knowing there'll be an audience for what I end up writing about them helps my finger from hitting the fast forward button too often. 

So take care, keep being nice to each other, and I'll see you all in 2015. When I'm not watching what's on the screen. 

House of Mortal Cinema will be back in 2015

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