So far, 2014 has turned out to be quite a rich year in horror. From the big screen to the small, there have been some true genre standouts worthy of lauding halfway through the year. Here are the seven best things to happen in horror these past six months.
Horror that challenges clichés and creates monsters worthy of empathy is rare, but Jim Jarmusch’s latest film does just that. He takes the exhausted lore of vampire and finds new meaning as he tells the story of an old, married couple of bloodsuckers who’ve lost the will to get through another century. Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton) mourn the losses piled up in our modern era, including the desolation of Detroit and the deterioration of popular music. It’s a story that’s both poignant and blackly comic. And it’s also one of the more romantic films in some time, as you really want this couple to stay together for eternity.
Eva Green in “Penny Dreadful”
Perhaps it premiered too late in the television season to capture Emmy voters’ attention, but Eva Green should have been announced as a Best Actress in a Drama nominee yesterday. (Tatiana Maslany for “Orphan Black” and Vera Farmiga for “Bates Motel” too, for that matter.) John Logan’s ambitious new TV series for Showtime wasn’t perfect in its first eight episodes, but Green was. Her performance as Vanessa Ives was utterly captivating, whether flirting with Dorian Gray, betraying her best friend, or channeling the devil during a séance. Hopefully, she’ll be scooping up lots of awards in the coming years.
Unceremoniously dumped on VOD this past spring, this sharp psychological thriller should’ve gotten a national release. Instead, it only played on the big screen in New York City. Nonetheless, it’s one of the year’s best films and a must-see for thriller and horror fans. This is a shrewd work with a lot to say about the dangers of the male ego. Jake Gyllenhaal plays both an anxious college prof and his Lothario doppelganger, and it’s the performance of his career so far. Further fun with the movie can be had by exploring the various dissertations of its meaning online. The best one is by blogger/critic Chris Stuckmann, and it’s available on YouTube (http://bit.ly/1pECF27).
There aren’t many horror movies that cast the protagonist as the true monster of the piece, but this one does. Sure, there’s a demon in the mirror that’s haunted a few generations of the population, but survivor Kaylie is eminently more frightening. Karen Gillan gives one of the year’s best horror performances as the terrifying sis who drags her reluctant brother (Brenton Thwaites) into her scheme to destroy the demonic mirror. And it will be their undoing. The dread throughout is edge-of-your-seat palpable.
Mads Mikkelsen in “Hannibal”
“Hannibal” is an extraordinarily well-done series on NBC, and even Anthony Hopkins fans are recognizing how good Mikkelsen’s take on Dr. Hannibal Lecter is. He (ahem) carves out his own unique take on the role. He’s elegant, soft-spoken and full of sly, European charm. And yet, his sartorial shrink is absolutely terrifying throughout (http://bit.ly/W4ZCTt). You never know if he’s going to slice up dinner or a dinner guest. In a show that has A+ writing, acting, direction and production design, his work might be the most delicious achievement of all.
"From Dusk Till Dawn"
El Rey Network’s “From Dusk Till Dawn” aced its freshman season, bettering its pulpy movie origins. The story of the Gekko brothers and their dangerous trek across the border in Mexico turned out to be a ton of fun. But it also added some genuine seriousness to the mix, and that made it all the better than Robert Rodriguez' original 1996 thriller. The writing took lots of unexpected twists and turns. The characterizations of every player was deepened. And the ensemble was terrific throughout, handling the violence and the quieter moments with equal aplomb. The second season can't get here fast enough!
Horror on VOD
Certain horror movies don’t enjoy a wide release due to their smaller distribution deals. However, almost every new frightener eventually makes an appearance on VOD these days. And we horror aficionados are all the luckier for it. Such little gems like “Grand Piano” (with a superbly nervous performance by Elijah Wood), “Afflicted”, “The Den”, “Lucky Bastard”, “Cheap Thrills” and “Anna” have done the genre proud. And their filmmakers are truly talents to be reckoned with. Let's hope they get bigger launches and bigger audiences next time out.
There were other television shows of note too this year including “Bates Motel” which finished a very strong sophomore year this past spring. “American Horror Story: Coven” continued Ryan Murphy's brilliant horror reign on TV with a whopping 17 Emmy nominations. And "Sleepy Hollow" turned out to be the surprise hit of the 2013-2014 TV season with its clever mix of the American Revolution and the 'Grand Guignol'.
The next six months hold great potential too with the debut of movies like “Dracula Untold”, “The Green Inferno” and a sequel to “The Woman in Black”. And new seasons of the aforementioned TV shows aren't long off, including the fifth season of "The Walking Dead" premiering in October. That’s a lot of horror to look forward to. So much, it’s almost scary.