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The 10 Best Horror Movies of 2014

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People might tell you that 2014 was a lackluster year for horror. They would be wrong. Very, very wrong. In fact, 2014 was a superlative 365-days for the genre. So much so that piecing together a Top Ten List was exorbinately difficult as there were at a handful that may have earned a place in a lesser year but didn’t exactly have the goods to nose their way into the top slots. Among those notable contenders is Kevin Smith’s batshit walrus misadventure Tusk, superior alphabetical anthology flick The ABCs of Death 2, and a trio of delectable found footage flicks featuring werewolf realism – Wer – Altimizer’s gone demonic – The Taking of Deborah Logan – and a horrific vampiric flu – Afflicted. Cautionary internet tale The Den had a lot going for it as well, another strong contender for the year. Had I considered E.L. Katz‘ monstrously good Cheap Thrills a horror – I don’t – it might have topped the list but that’s an argument to be had in a separate space.

10. THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT

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It takes little imagination to find a souring brand of daunting realism in Bobby Roe‘s grizzly found footage account (one of four on this list) of a group of Halloween thrill-seekers who stumble too far down the rabbit hole. Going above the conventions of normalcy, The Houses October Built arcs at terminal velocity into the unforgiving maw of a real hellhole, offering scares that gingerly walk the fine line between reality and invention in which it’s improbable to parse the artifice of trying to scare the sh*t out of someone with actually, you know, trying to kill them. You’ll never enter a haunted house the same again.

9. THE BABADOOK

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A storybook nightmare come alive with electric performances from Essie Davis and youngster Noah Wiseman, the former of which offers a performance embedded with equal strands of motherly sacrifice and true terror, the later half-wittingly stumbling into one of the least self-aware performances from a child the year had to offer, regardless of genre. The Babadook may not present the bone-chilling frights some of the its chief pundits have claimed but its mightily well made, with fierce attention to relationships and an original enough concept to boot – an undeniably winning formula in our eyes.

8. THE BORDERLANDS

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The whole descent into hell thing has been done before (even once later on this list) and anyone a fan of the genre is no stranger to priests nosing into miracles-cum-hauntings but the way in which The Borderlands builds and builds while tightening and tightening makes it a fine study of found footage done justice. The other chief victory for director Elliot Goldner comes in his writing, which keeps us surprisingly invested in the characters, offering three-dimensional beings not often found in the found footage catalog. Robin Hill‘s wisecracking Gray clashes perfectly with Gordon Kennedy‘s damaged but devoid Deacon so that when things finally come to a head, and boy oh boy do they, you’re rooting for them, not against (as is too often the case.)

7. OCULUS

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2014 was a plugged full of studio misfires for the genre – a fact that has contributed to the misconception that it was a minor year for horror – what with Annabelle, The Purge: Anarchy and Ouija  all being marked gaffes and The Evil Within and The Quiet Ones failing to make much noise at all – but if there was one studio released scary movie that fans and critics were able to rally around it was this. Oculus thrives on its sense of internal consistency and increasingly high-stakes games of mindf*cking, and Karen Gillan s overly committed performance didn’t hurt. For a film about a haunted mirror, Oculus is able to inject an overbearing sense of dread into what could have easily been a disaster of epic proportions. That director Mike Flanagan  also managed to blend two time periods seamlessly into one, presenting a fully distorted picture that was great than the mere sum of its parts, is further evidence of his subtle mastery of the genre.

6. HOUSEBOUND

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Sam Raimi accidentally invented the horror-comedy in 1981, almost stumbling upon a wheelhouse hungry subcultures didn’t yet know they wanted, his whacked-out formula later taken by a young, tooth-cutting Peter Jackson to further extremes in the celebrated messterpiece Braindead. In the great tradition of wily horror-gone-funny, New Zealand’s very own Housebound jettisons the zany hallmarks of past horror-comedy successes – all the while very intentionally tipping their hat to them – giving it space to hone in on its very own import of yuck-horror and bloodspolsions. This tongue-in-cheek haunter may be bratty, puerile and claustrophobic but, most importantly, it’s laugh-out-loud funny.

5. CREEP

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Mark Duplass has always played something of an everyman. Even on The League – an FX comedy deliciously overstuffed with caricatures of characters – his Pete is snarky but believably human. Perhaps that’s what makes his turn in the delightfully eerie Creep so, uh, creepy. Starring opposite him is (first time) director Patrick Brice, playing a man who’s just responded to a mysterious Craigslist ad that enlists him as a cohort of sorts to Duplass’ increasingly odd asks. Never quite going the direction you expect, Creep relies sternly on the ever captivating presence of its two leads – who never disappoint – and their slightly askew developing relationship.   

4. HONEYMOON

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Rose Leslie melted many snowy hearts north of The Wall as Ygritte on HBO‘s winning Game of Thrones series but seeing her stripped of that throaty accent, her hoary nightgown and, eventually, her personality in Honeymoon showed a new side to her, one hemmed with dimensionality and rich with ambiguity. She was, in a phrase, a nightmarish panorama. Less a conventional antagonist than a harbinger of uncertainly and unease, Leslie’s Bea was one of the more interesting characters additions from 2014 and director Leigh Janiak knows just how to manipulate her stalwart tendencies and flip them on their head. In a film that’s all about marital bliss gobbled up, Honeymoon is one savagely appetizing gaze at alien femme fatality.  

3. AS ABOVE/SO BELOW

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Critically dismantled, criminally underseen, As Above/So Below was dealt a losing hand upon its unceremonious theatrical dumping. To get an idea of how little confidence Universal had in their picture, they screened the film at 7 PM the night of its official release. Meaning, they screening it a mere 3 hours before they started showing it to general audiences. Of all the entries on the list, this suffered the biggest blowback for its critical panning in the eyes of the suits – coming in with a shabby 21 million off an estimated 5 million production budget – but the true loss came on behalf of the audiences who skipped it assuming ineptitude. From the truly inspired Paris Catacomb settings to its litany of diabolical lore, As Above/So Below is stuffed with arcana and welcome scares, like a giddy, terrifying adventure of Legends of the Hidden Temple with an improved upon Laura Croft as your host.

2. STARRY EYES

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If there is one consistency from the year, it’s that 2014 was a moment for the woman in horror. From As Above/So Below‘s kickass Perdita Weeks to Honeymoon‘s subterfuging Rose Leslie, Oculus‘ exceedingly zealous Karen Gillan, The Babadook‘s sublime Essie Davis, Housebound‘s ever-angsty Morgana O’Reilly and It Follow‘s perfect casting in Maika Monroe, the stars have not shone brighter on the fairer gender within our beloved genre. But no entry on the list had as big an ask of their actress as Starry Eyes, a bone-dry, humorless waxing on the pitfalls of ambition. Alexandra Esso literally buried herself in the role and you won’t find another who chick on this list or any another that undergoes such a shocking 360. An absolutely blood-curdling series of dispatches – a barbell tops the gruesome weapons list – in the midst of Essoe’s particular brand of body dysmorphia makes it an unforgettable genre entry that’s slowly been earning a deserved cult following.

1. IT FOLLOWS

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The urban legend of the STDemon seems like one that’s been whispered amongst circles of throbbing-genitialed teenagers forever. Debuting at Cannes and making a hell of a festival circuit run, It Follows spins its own Are You Afraid of the Dark type mythos of a sexually transmitted entity that never stops, never sleeps, never reasons. Just follows. Brilliant in its simplicity, It Follows doesn’t squander time with getting to know you’s. Rather, it’s a raw, dirty, brilliant orgy of nail-crunching tension, rich with pregnant silences and offscreen moments of self-sacrificing, proving that sometimes the simplest of ideas are the best of them.

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13 Most Disturbing Horror Movies of the Last 13 Years

First of all, I’m gonna throw down the NSFW gauntlet for these 13 most disturbing horror movies of the last 13 years because what you are about to witness is, as the name suggests, a list of not exactly your grandma’s horror movies. These are the most twisted, most gnarly, most graphic horror films ever. Their intent is to scar you. Their purpose, to become your nightmare. In the patheon of twisted, these reign supreme. The sample pictures I’ve included alone should be enough to scare you off from ever watching any of these twisted entries in a troubled genre. Treat this as a dare, not a suggestion. You enter the territory of the twisted on your own accord. If you’re still around by the second to last entry, may God have mercy on your soul. Read More

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13 Most Disturbing Horror Films of the Last 13 Years

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First of all, I’m gonna throw down the NSFW gauntlet for these 13 most disturbing movies of the last 13 years because what you are about to witness is, as the name suggests, a list of not exactly your grandma’s horror movies. These are the most twisted, most gnarly, most graphic horror films ever. Their intent is to scar you. Their purpose, to become your nightmare. In the patheon of twisted, these reign supreme. The sample pictures I’ve included alone should be enough to scare you off from ever watching any of these twisted entries in a troubled genre. Treat this as a dare, not a suggestion. You enter the territory of the twisted on your own accord. If you’re still around by the second to last entry, may God have mercy on your soul.

 

When you get down to it, there are really only three kinds of horror movies. One revels in the viscus; the excrement, blood, and guts. Evil Dead (2013), Ichi the Killer (2001), Hostel (2005), Saw (2004), Wolf Creek (2005), The Human Centipede (2009), Cabin Fever (2002), or House of 1000 Corpses (2003) all fit the category. They’re bloody. They’re gory. They make you cringe and hide your eyes. They peddle in shocking you, they thrive on your disgust.

Another breed of horror plays psychological mind games, keeping you on your toes and daring you to predict the twisted turns they’ll take next. They seep into your subconscious. They welcome you to tear your hair out. Shutter Island (2010) is one such example. The Conjuring (2013) is another. The Orphanage (2007), Borgman (2014), Paranormal Activity (2007), The Sacrament (2013), Pontypool (2008), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), The Last Exorcism (2010), May (2002), The Ring (2002), Let The Right One In (2008), Honeymoon (2014) and The House of the Devil (2009) are others. They don’t necessary douse you in blood but their impact, though muted, is often even more sustaining.

The third is more campy, more goofy but usually equally, or even more, gross. Take the following examples of modern campfests: Drag Me To Hell (2009), Death Proof (2007), You’re Next (2013), Slither (2006), Fright Night (2011), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Zombieland (2009), Planet Terror (2007), Red State (2011) and Cabin in the Woods (2012). Each are entertaining beyond belief, making fun of and yet homaging the genre. They don’t entirely fit the description of most disturbing because of their light-hearted nature but when done right, they’re some of the best horror out there.

All of the movies mentioned above I would absolutely recommend but none quite had what it took to take one of the top spots. In order to make an appearance on this list to defeat all other lists, you needed elements of all three subsets of the genre. And remember this isn’t the best horror movies but the most disturbing, or I guess you could say the scariest. Do the two often overlap? Surely, but let’s just make it clear what we’re talking about.

Each entry needed to be psychologically deafening, excessively visceral and dark beyond belief. They must hold you hostile to the fear, to the violence and to the unrelentingly black atmosphere. This list of the most distressing modern horror films tries to capture an element of panic, of sustained psychological horror and of palpable fear but more than anything, they’re movies that will break you down and leave you utterly shaken. Though it doesn’t really need to be said, this list is not for the faint of heart.

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13. I SAW THE DEVIL (2010, South Korea)

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A deliciously devious tale of revenge, Kim Jee-woon‘s I Saw the Devil shows South Korea’s penchant for excessive ultraviolence amidst stunning technical workmanship. Kaleidoscopically epic, hopelessly violent and ruthlessly vengeful, this two-and-a-half revenge saga tells the tale of a special ops agent, Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee) who seeks retribution against the twisted serial killer (Mik-sik Choi of Oldboy) who raped and decapitated his pregnant wife. A few scenes of taunting torture surely lay down the tracks for this to stick with you at night but it’s the once good-hearted Kim’s transformation into a cold, calculated killer that really brings it all home. As he becomes a bona fide hunter of the criminally lecherous, Kim loses himself in a battle with his own soul. The blood drips bright stripes of red, complimenting the engrossing, challenging and yet playfully dark story from Hoon-jung Park. For those willing to go down a rabbit hole and be fully disturbed by their journey, I Saw the Devil is a must see.

12. THE DESCENT (2005, UK)

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It takes a while for The Descent to ratchet itself up to a bona fide horror movie and yet the most cringe-worthy, WTF-level scenes come in the claustrophobic first half before any monsters scurry out of the darkness. Edged in the thicket of an impossibly tight crawlspace, set against the facade of a crumbling cavern, the only lights a sickening green sheen of Cyalume chemical light stick and backed in by the brine of murky, cruddy, bloody water, a gang of sheros attempt to escape a spelunking trip gone super duper bad. The movie is so thick with atmosphere, so masterfully set and impeccably lit, you feel like you’ve been dropped in the cave alongside this poor troop of unsuspecting badlasses. But by the time characters are swimming in pools of blood and nocturnal terrors scuttle through the pitch black, the enduring terror has already settled in.

11. TUSK (2014, USA)

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Tusk is admittedly a bit of a mess. Kevin Smith doesn’t ever really commit to whether he thinks everything is a joke or not and gets mixed up with some French Canadian humor that falls flat on its face but it’s the sharp juxtaposition between the botched attempts at humor and the barbaric visual horror onscreen that makes Smith’s body transmogrification so fucking fucked up. The inhuman union between Smith and practical effects guru Alex Kurtzman birthed he-who-shall-not-be-named (cough, Mr. Tusk, cough) a protagonist sure to be amongst the freakiest incarnations of manimal to ever hit wide release. With Tusky in tow, Smith bombards us with a video collage of disquieting moans and groans that won’t ever seem to pipe down. The screams alone are doomed to forever rattle around my brain and yours. That’s because with Tusk, Smith performs a kind of Kafkaesque lobotomy. It’s “Metamorphosis” a la The Human Centipede. It’s The Fly meets Hostel. For those weak of stomach and mind, it might be advisable to bring a barf bag. Justin Long‘s grunting soundtrack should be enough to churn a tummy. And though it may often be sloppy, we should agree that one thing Tusk never is is toothless.

10. 28 DAYS LATER (2002, UK)

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An incredibly stylized take on the zombie genre, 28 Days Later is frantic and innovative with a thrashing soundtrack and a nasty but thoughtful examination of human nature unbound by civilization. Critically acclaimed director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) leaves his mark all over this edge-of-your-seat horror thriller, allowing it to transcend the bounds of your typical horror movie while still participating in the crazed bloodbath of it all. Perhaps the most incredible and disturbing part about Boyle’s descent into genre is that the zombie-like creatures at the forefront of his flick aren’t the most frightening part. Not by a long shot. It’s in the confines of man’s grasp that things really start to deteriorate and boy do they go off the handle here. Setting the course for the likes of The Walking Dead, Boyle’s twisted apocalyptic fantasy squeezes the dregs of humanity into a dirty playground, fills it with super-speed zombies and shakes it all up until it pops. Like a Pepsi plopped with Mentos, the ensuing madness will soak you down in a bath of frothy panic and is sure to stick with you for a long, long time.

9. ANTICHRIST (2009, Denmark)

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It’s not really a list of grotesqueries without mentioning the infamous Lars von Trier is it? With aesthetics operating within the realm of the operatic and beautiful, Trier uses them for evil means. With Antichrist, Trier crams masochistic, grief-laden, genitalia-mutilating, pornographic, torturous snuff down his audience’s horrified throats. And yet the shots are utterly terrific. They’re hauntingly perfect. It’s like he’s captured that turning point where a dream reveals itself to be a nightmare all on celluloid. Only Lars can make a baby slipping out a window to his death look poetic and lovely. Antichrist is kind of like if The Shining were in the woods and the wife went crazy and smashed and cut her way through her and her hubby’s privates in order to escape the hell that is their life. After that sentence, it won’t be hard to convince you that this film is homework. It’s not one you’ll want to stick with. You’ll likely hate it. If you’ve already seen it, it’d be close to impossible to convince you to watch it again. Lars von Trier is a sick, twisted, perverse genius who knows how to make the most horrible things in life look beautiful and Antichrist will make you feel terrible for joining his world, if only for a few hours.

8. STARRY EYES (2014, USA)

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Though still caught in the spokes of the genre festival rounds, Starry Eyes is a masterclass in disturbing its audience; one to keep your eyes peeled for if you’re in the mood to see eyes peeled. Blood-soaked, brutal and dejectedly campy, Kolsch and Widmyer’s sick story is a gnarled one set with snares primed to spring at every twisty, turny junction. As the campiness turns to outright villainy, Starry Eyes becomes such a horrifying victory because of the depths this demented duo are willing to go. This deep down the rabbit hole, everything is so pitch black that we can’t see even the faintest flicker of hope and they, in this realm of sensory deprivation, mine scares perfectly, with some third act body horror that’ll gross you out to the point of gagging. It’s the perfect synthesize of shock, shlock, disgust and angst that’ll have the most hardcore of horror buffs turning in their seats and watching through the crooks of their fingers.

7. BUG (2006, USA)

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Bug is the kind of movie that you almost want to write off after watching it for a good while and then it happens and, holy dog shit Mondays, everything changes. The ungodly performances from Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd are definitively mesmerizing and seeing them wind themselves up until their tickers break is what makes the movie such an atrocious experience in utter madness. What starts as an off-kilter romantic thriller builds and builds and builds until it seems that it’s only going to be a movie made of mounting tension and no payoff but then BAM! like a .22 to the chest, it changes gear into an absolutely madhouse effort that’ll have you pumping the breaks to find they’ve already been cut. No one can help you now. Experience Bug in a dark room with the lights off, wade through what seems like endless exposition and you’ll find yourself rewarded with a cinematic climax that rivals that of William Friedkin‘s other work: The Exorcist. Yeah, I just went there.

6. THE MIST (2007, USA)

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While the CGI monsters that lay the groundwork for this grocery store survival story are impressive only by 1990s standards, the story of slipping humanity and the mental cost of the apocalypse is an absolute jaw-dropper in The Mist. With a final moment that might go unparalleled in terms of its visceral gut-punch impact, this is a prime example of true psychological psychosis. Thomas Jane delivers a knockout performance and his last guilt-filled moment onscreen is so hard to watch, so filled with pathos and internal desolation, that it’ll be almost impossible to top in his entire career. I don’t recall an ending to anything that’s ever felt quite as horrifying and emotionally real as Jane getting his gun and popping off some ill-timed shots. It’s a scene that will stick with you whenever the film is mentioned and for good reason. Put simply, it’s the most distressing conclusion to a horror movie ever. Director Frank Darabont went on to make The Walking Dead and though his reign over WD never quite hit the same heights as The Mist, this oft forgotten gem should be sure to carve its way into your classic horror movie moments Hall of Fame.

5. THE LOVED ONES (2009, Australia)

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The Loved Ones is your classic girl asks boy to prom, boy shuts girl down, girl’s dad captures boy and throws prom in living room, boy doesn’t have fun. With pitch perfect pacing and a completely demented sense of humor, The Loved One keeps you engaged with its perfect balance of sadism and black comedy. Forget gender, Robin McLeavy is one of the greatest horror movie heavies of the last decade with her sadistic smirks offering as many cringes as her incest-y relationship with daddy. Like Veruca Salt, McLeavy’s Lola (that’s Princess to you) is a girl who’s never been told no, even when she started to develop masochistic tendencies and harvest the hearts of the local boys. As twisted as it is hysterical, The Loved Ones is a perfect example of when camp transcends its whimsy and becomes something utterly discomforting. It’s an absolute home run from director Sean Byrne that’s sure to shock horror buffs, young and old.

4. KILL LIST (2011, UK)

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Part crime thriller, part imploding family drama, all visceral horror, Kill List is an experience in unchecked fear. Perfectly paced and brilliantly directed, what begins as an ambiguous exercise in tension unfolds into a bloody road trip and explodes into a full blown panic attack. Questions pile up and answers are few and far between but Kill List is a movie that lends itself to deconstruction and theoretical questioning. Is it a religious parable about a modern day angel of vengeance? A commentary on an impending cultural apocalypse? Is it the devil’s coming of age tale? Or is it just threateningly vague to intentionally get you all in a tizzy? With music that is surely the soundtrack of Hell, Kill List burns itself into your subconscious and leaves just the kind of twisted questions doomed to keep you up at night. Not since Eyes Wide Shut has a cloaked cult seemed so menacing and real world and Kill List will have you questioning just what kind of evil might be hiding just next door.

3. INSIDE (2007, France)

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Is there a more sympathetic mark than a pregnant woman? How about a pregnant woman whose husband unexpectedly passed away? How about about a pregnant woman whose husband unexpectedly passed away who just started going into labor? How about a pregnant woman whose husband unexpectedly passed away who just started going into labor and has had her home invaded by an shadowy, murderous force armed with a pair of sewing scissors? Nah, didn’t think so. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo‘s Inside is home invasion by way of France, a merciless purge of all things good that must have fueled the French fake blood industry for its entire production. It’s the kind of movie that your local video store (and most certainly Netflix) shies away from so it’s not the easiest to find on the list but, holy monkey balls, if you do find it and want to put yourself through a ringer, this is where it’s at. Though it’s not really a movie that one can “spoil”, I’d recommend going into it as dry as possible. That way when you come out the other end splattered in bodily discharge, you’ll be all the more shocked and disturbed.

2. MARTYRS (2008, France)

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The picture above should be enough to scare you away from Martyrs but if you’ve made it this far, it seems that you’ve committed to taking the plunge into the most perverse, disturbing territory possible so have at it. Martyrs is a film that must go unspoilt and yet necessitates a blaring warning sign. Again, look at that picture. If that’s enough to unsettle you, don’t even dream of seeing the film. Part revenge fantasy, part torture porn, Martyrs is so blissfully horrifying because, by the end, there’s a smidgen of justification behind the heinous accounts taking place on the screen. It will make you not only uncomfortable for having watched it but for thinking about the implications of it all. It’s by all accounts, an absolutely horrifying, definitively disturbing movie.

1. IRREVERSIBLE (2002, France)

And then there’s Irreversible, an almost impossible to watch experiment in brutal storytelling with loopy camerawork that warns you of the immensely nauseating events to come. For those looking to “go the distance” and really challenge yourself to watch something so horrifying and so heinous that it will literally seer itself into your nightmares, this is it. Last stop, everyone off. To its credit, Irreversible is an incredibly well done and viciously visceral film. Filmmaker Gaspar Noé backwardly tracking two men’s hunt for a rapist who’s brutally assaulted one of their girlfriends, Alex. The scene in question is shown without interruption and will make even the hardest stomach sink, securing a top spot as one of the most gut-wrenching atrocities ever set to film. Gratuitous almost seems like an understatement as Noé lets the camera roll on and on and on and on. If the cinematic somersaults and seizure-inducing strobing don’t make you sick, the content just might. Sure to send any man, woman or (god forbid) child over the edge of their sanity, Irreversible is a glaringly avant garde effort, a near brilliant art film so committed to its contrarian cause that it’ll happily spurn the leagues of those who do attempt to consume it. For the few with a stomach of iron though, Irreversible will surely join the ranks of most “fucked up” movies you’ll ever see and is certainly one of the most disturbing things you can settle down to watch.

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So in recap:

1. Irreversible (2002)
2. Martyrs (2008)
3. Inside (2007)
4. Kill List (2011)
5. The Loved One (2009)
6. The Mist (2007)
7. Starry Eyes (2014)

8. Bug (2006)
9. Antichrist  (2009)
10. 28 Days Later (2002)
11. Tusk (2014)
12. The Descent (2005)
13. I Saw the Devil (2010)

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SXSW Review: STARRY EYES

“Starry Eyes”
Directed by Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Starring Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan, Fabianne Therese, Shane Coffey, Natalie Castillo, Pat Healy, Nick Simmons, Maria Olsen, Louis Dezseran
Horror
United States

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At the risk of emasculating myself, I’ll admit that Starry Eyes was so scary that it made me cry. Not ooey, gooey gobs of terror tears so much as the lone, solitary drop leaking down my face as my jaw was busy sagging half-way to the floor. Still, a tear’s a tear and a tear did floweth. So if this film doesn’t at least creep you out, check your pulse because you’re probably not human or may have already sold your soul to the devil. It’s more likely though that you’ll be sitting in a pile of your own yuck after the screening, tired, sweaty, fearful and all the more afraid of the dark.

Like last year’s very frightening The Conjuring, few to no jump scares are employed as this isn’t the brand of chilling that seeks to sporadically startle you and lap up easy frights. No, director duo Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer‘s plans are far more sinister. They would rather crawl deep inside you, settling in the nook of your cerebral panic center, and plant a seed of horror that’ll grow throughout the movie until explodes into a full blown anxiety attack. And just when everything seems like it possibly couldn’t get any worse, you turn a corner into a whole new realm of terror. A maze of shudders, a labyrinth of gore, Starry Eyes triggers your instinctual fight or flight mode and dares you to stick it out.

Wringing all the best elements of a dark character study with the deeply unsettling nature of the body horror genre, Starry Eyes soars on the wings of star Alex Essoe. As Sarah, Essoe embodies the 20something wanna-be starlet who will go to any lengths in order to achieve her dreams of fame and fortune. Her bedroom walls plastered with the icons of 1940s celebrity, she wants the world, and she wants it now. When a role comes along that would be the perfect launching pad to become the next “it” girl, she goes to anything lengths necessary to land the role, even if that means losing herself.

Essoe’s performance is the bombastic center piece of the film – the gory bride on a red velvet wedding cake, the bouquet of rotting roses on some unmarked grave. Her positively brilliant turn as Sarah reminds us of Natalie Portman‘s Oscar-earning performance in Black Swan and Shelly Duvall‘s massively underrated embodiment of horror in The Shining. She’s at once totally in control and veering from the tracks of sanity. As she makes more and more conceits of character and body, Essoe’s arc becomes unforgettable, an indelible bookmark of Starry Eye’s staying power. Without Essoe’s incredible and unflinching performance, this would be a whole new beast entirely.

There’s one point where we feel like all of the build-up may be for naught, that this would tilt into a cautionary tale that peters rather than commits to its zany over-the-topisms but that’s not the case. Once the third act rounds the corner, it’s an unrelenting marathon of what we – and Sarah – can and will endure. It’s chilling, the stuff of nightmares, but it hurts so good.

The whole selling your soul to the devil thing has been done before and probably in more subtle ways but subtlety is not Kolsch and Widmyer’s game. Rather Starry Eyes is such a horrifying victory for them because of how far they’re willing to take us. This deep down the rabbit hole, everything is so pitch black that we can’t see even the faintest flicker of light and they, in this realm of deprivation, they mine the scares perfectly. It’s unrelenting darkness opens the flood gates, letting the horror flows from what’s onscreen and those other thoughts that exist in our imagination alone. It’s the perfect synthesize of shock, disgust and angst that’ll have audiences turning in their seats and watched through the crooks of hands shielding their faces.

Starry Eyes conjures up quick similarities to Black Swan and Rosemary’s Baby but finds a perfect footing between the two so any similarities feel incidental rather than essential. It may wheel in the same thematic ballpark but, if you can believe it, makes both of those features look like a walk in the park. Both Swan and Baby may leave you unsettled but Starry Eyes will leave you shaken. At any rate, it’s unique and visionary take will all but guarantee a long shelf life among horror buffs and is sure to earn a deserved overnight cult following.

A

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