* The Dirty Deacon is my nickname…and, coincidentally, one that has just recently been made official.

If I had to pick a film genre that I invest the most time in watching, reviewing and writing about, it would definitely be horror. If you have been reading Mockingbird the last couple of years then you may already know this, but this is my first time sitting down and making a horror-related list for the end of the year. I figured I would inject a little Halloween into the Christmas season for all of those who, like me, tend to be a little grinchy around this time of year. So below are my top 5 horror films of 2014 along with a few other horror-related matters.

Top 5 Horror Films of 2014

5. Geung si [Rigor Mortis] (dir. Juno Mak)

Asia is definitely the weak point of my horror cinema knowledge. I’ve seen some of the more well known titles but I haven’t dug very deep into the world of ghoulish dead girls and crazy visuals. However, I happened upon Geung si during the previews for another film I was watching, and it looked interesting enough, visually, to give it a shot. According to those who know more than me, it is a film that attempts to contemporize the 80s Chinese vampire flick (yeah, I didn’t know that existed either!). And it is good. Very good, in fact. There are some nice plot twists towards the end that will bend your mind. The thing that really brings this film into the top 5, though, is its visualization of vampires, which are almost like possessions rather than actual beings. This film is not for the squeamish. It is bloody and gory–stylized blood slapping the camera lens–and it is pretty relentless when it comes to the violence and horror imagery. But it is a rise above about 90% of American horror film in terms of creativity and vision. Definitely a film to check out if you dare.

4. Død Snø 2 [Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead] (dir. Tommy Wirkola)

For those of you that missed Død Snø from 2009, then you have missed out on, potentially, the most fun horror comedies since the original Evil Dead series. Død Snø 2 takes off right where its predecessor ends as we follow the only survivor of the first film in an all out battle against the historic evil that is wreaking havoc in a small Norwegian town. What is the evil wreaking havoc, you ask? Nothing more than a zombie Nazi general and his zombie battalion and fresh zombie recruits! I was concerned about how well a second film would play, but I enjoyed it just as much as the first film because at no point does Tommy Wirkola, the writers or cast take themselves completely seriously. In true Sam Raimi-fashion, there is much playfulness, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. I would almost say that Vegal Hoel’s Martin may be just as likable and easy to root for as Bruce Campbell’s Ash. This is a sequel that is worth the price of admission, plus it stars Martin Starr (Bill Haverchuck from Judd Apatow’s terrific Freaks and Geeks).

3. The Sacrament (dir. Ti West)

Along with James Wan [Insidious (2010), Saw (2004), The Conjuring (2013)], Ti West is one of my favorite directors in the recent annals of horror. It is not because I think he is especially creative or original, because I don’t think that is really his aim. What I like about West is how he takes the usual horror film concepts and makes solid, well-built entries of each. With The House of the Devil (2009), he gave us an atmospheric, moody and Dario Argento-infused film that dealt with a babysitter, a creepy old house and Satanic cults. In 2011, he directed The Innkeepers, a humorous, but effectively creepy haunted house story. With The Sacrament, he tries his hand at the found footage genre that has been all the rage in the last 5-6 years. This time, however, we follow a Vice reporter and his crew at they visit a commune where one of the crew’s sister lives with a religious cult. As soon as the crew enters Eden’s Parish, the tension builds and builds until the air is thick and suffocating. The wonderful Gene Jones delivers a frighteningly real and intense performance as “Father”, the enigmatic leader of the cult a la Jim Jones. If found footage films want to be taken more seriously, then they could learn a lesson from this, another strong entry into Ti West’s filmography.

2. Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer)

I am generally a hard sell when it comes to Sci-Fi–with a few significant exceptions–but Glazer’s Under the Skin is such a beautifully bothersome film that it did more than a majority of horror films do for me: it actually got under my skin and stuck there for weeks after. Most of the film is following a nameless alien woman–played brilliantly by the beautiful Scarlett Johansson–around the highways and streets of Scotland as she lures men into coming back to her lair never to be seen again. On the surface, this doesn’t sound like anything terribly out of the ordinary, but Glazer is smart in how he frames the film, because, unlike most “alien” films, the nameless alien woman starts becoming cognizant of what it means to be human, and actually starts attempting to become human. The climax of the film is so intense and brutal that the layers of interpretation become many and diverse. Plenty of feminist subtexts and identity politics spring to mind, for example. This is Sci-Fi done right, truly thoughtful and beautifully crafted.

1. The Babadook (dir. Jennifer Kent)

The main reason this little Australian film takes the number one spot for the year is because it did something that no other horror film has compelled me to do: watch it a second time the very night after my first viewing. Say what you will about the pacing, the annoying actor playing the son, or the lack of mythos behind Mr. Babadook–the entity wreaking havoc on mother, Amelia, and son, Samuel–this film made me afraid of the ghoulies, ghosties and long-legged beasties that lurk in the dark corners. I am a sucker for saving the big reveal of the monster/creature/ghost/entity until the very end or not revealing them at all but only showing quick glimpses now and then. I can’t help it; I would rather walk about of the dark theater disoriented and confused as to where it/they came from than I would dissecting the likelihood of the provided explanation for said beings. As far as I am concerned, the only thing that needed to be said about The Babadook was given via the mysterious and creepy children’s book that showed up on Samuel’s shelf to be read by a grief-stricken and tired mother and her clingy, outcast son (who already sensed a monster was coming to visit them). It is a deceptively simple film, and that is the beauty of it, in the final judgment. Director Jennifer Kent was more concerned with atmosphere than exposition, allowing the mother-son dynamics to become distorted by external and internal forces to do most of the work. The Badabook renewed my faith that horror films can both be scary and very, very human and humble.

The Top 3 Horror Films That Might Have Made The List If I Had Seen Them:

1. Tusk (dir. Kevin Smith) – Kevin Smith’s filmography is incredibly hit and miss for me, but seeing Justin Long in another horror film–not since Jeepers Creepers (2001) and Drag Me to Hell (2009)–and the return of Haley Joel Osment to horror is a bit too much to pass up. Plus the film looks incredibly quirky, always a plus.

2. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour) – Look at this synopsis from IMDB: “In the Iranian ghost-town Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness, the townspeople are unaware they are being stalked by a lonesome vampire.” Is there anything that’s NOT intriguing about that?

3. Annabelle (dir. John R. Leonetti) – In this spinoff from The Conjuring (2013), we learn the backstory of the creepy doll in the basement of the Warrens. I am hesitant about this film since it is not directed by James Wan, but I’ve read enough decent reviews that it might have been a wild card pick.

The Classic Horror Film I Re-Watched This Year & Didn’t Hold Up:

Night of the Living Dead (1968) [dir. George Romero] – I’ve seen this film several times, but in my most recent viewing I found myself much more critical of the film than I had been in the past. This was in part due to the reason I was watching it–a project I’m currently working on and is soon to come!–but, also, because, outside of the social commentary, there is not a whole lot to say about Romero’s first film. The acting is stiff, the pacing is inconsistent, and after watching several documentaries about the film and Romero where neither is looked at critically, the film and its director are falling out of my favor. Plus, everyone knows Dawn of the Dead is the best entry into the series.

The Classic Horror Film That I Saw For The First Time & Did Hold Up:

Fright Night (1985) [dir. Tom Holland] – starring the incomparable Roddy McDowall as the late night horror feature host/hack actor, this 80s vampire flick delivers humor, actual creeps, and has every bit the charm of a John Hughes film even though it was directed by a guy who is not known for much more than this and Child’s Play (1988), another genre classic. It may just be that I am a fairly big fan of 80s horror. So sue me.

The Best Horror Documentary I Watched This Year Even Though It Didn’t Come Out This Year:

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010) [dir. Daniel Farrands, Andrew Kasch] – I will just put this out there. Nightmare on Elm Street may have been my first introduction to horror, and I may have been afraid of Freddy Krueger for a while in my childhood because of it, but, as an adult, I find the films laughable, even at their best (which is when Wes Craven is directing). I am a bigger fan of Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972) than most of the stuff he has done since–People Under the Stairs (1991) and Scream (1996) would be exceptions. So I would not have expected to be thrilled about or have actually liked a three-hour documentary on the Elm Street Legacy. But I did. It was engrossing to the point where it did not feel long at all. Tons of interviews from actors, directors (including Craven) and crew bring to life the rather strange and zany stories behind the making of the films and the cult following they received in their wake. Well worth the time and admission.

and, finally…

The Horror Short Film That Gave Me More Existential Dread and Fear Than Any Other Horror Film This Year:

Tuck Me In (dir. Ignacio F. Rodó) – Coming in at a gargantuan one-minute runtime, this short film may have done more damage to the parental psyche than the whole of horror film cinema. At the end of the film, the only question remaining is: Which one do you take out?