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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)

The Babadook

Babadook - Poster

Synopsis (from the official website):
From breakthrough writer-director Jennifer Kent comes the creepy psychological horror movie The Babadook that has received an explosion of acclaim following its world premiere at Sundance 2014.  The film tells of a single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, who battles with her son’s night time fear of a shadowy monster.  But soon, she discovers a sinister presence is lurking in the house.
With echoes of past and contemporary classics like Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant, The Exorcist, The Omen and Let the Right One In, the film is an immaculately crafted tale starring Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman.  The supporting cast includes Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West and Ben Winspear.

My thoughts:

The hype machine was fired up for this one.  The Babadook had been making the festival rounds and was getting nothing but rave reviews.  I wrote a post about the trailer, in which I detailed my attempt to lower my expectations.  I succeeded to some degree, but I was still very much looking forward to this one.  When I finally got my grubby mitts on a copy of this (complete with a severely dialed-back version of the pop-up book), I squealed.  I squealed like a little girl.  In a little dress.  Little saddle shoes.  Little pigtails.

That does sound like a little girl
That does sound like a little girl

The first half hour of this was a little rough.  They needed to set up Essie Davis’ Amelia as an exhausted, barely-clinging-to-her-sanity mother of a problem child (the word they kept using was “disobedient,” but he was really just an unholy terror).  They needed to do this so that, when Mister Babadook showed up, we weren’t sure if there were really a monster in the house or if it was just the frayed edges of her sanity finally becoming fully unraveled.
It’s the way this was done that really wore me down in the early going.  Her son, Samuel, is a shrieking horror.  He sees monsters in the house from the beginning, so he comes up with a series of weapons to battle them (my favorite is a backpack that hurls a baseball with a mechanical arm).  As you can imagine, this ends with him breaking lots of things.  He doesn’t get along with other children, which leads to them picking on him and him retaliating.  Between his gadgets and his violence, he could be seen as a mix between Macaulay Culkin’s character in Home Alone and his character in The Good Son.  He is kicked out of school and forced to spend more time at home with his sleep-deprived mother.  But, most of all, he shrieks.  He kicks and screams and screams and screams and screams…

Babadook - Samuel Screaming

It’s really obnoxious.  I fully understand that’s exactly the point, but it’s grating.  We’re supposed to sympathize with Amelia when she feels like she just can’t go on.  She may not love her child, and we’re supposed to see exactly why she is at this point.  It’s effective, but it’s still not a lot of fun to watch.  Then again, we’re watching as a mother pretends to love her child, all the while fluctuating between being afraid of him and resenting him.  This isn’t supposed to be fun.

Babadook - Checking closet

Then Mister Babadook shows up, and the movie really takes off.  A pop-up book shows up and she reads it to her child.  It’s horrifying.  She destroys the book, only to have it show up later with some more pages added.  Are those new pages real?  Was the book put there by a stalker, or was it The Babadook?

Babadook - Babadook in book

She starts hearing noises in the house at night.  Seeing shadows move.  When the first growling strains of, “Ba ba-ba dook dook DOOK,” filled the room as she hid under her covers, I felt a chill go up my spine.
Even then, it was unclear whether or not The Babadook was real, or just a product of her deteriorating sanity.  Was she really hearing those things, or did she just think she was?  She was sleep-deprived to begin with, but, as the movie progressed, it seemed like she didn’t sleep more than 15 minutes a night.  That little sleep can do terrible things to a mind.


As Amelia’s sanity slipped further way, Samuel somehow became the voice of reason.  The tables had turned.  He was now terrified of his mother, and with good reason.  As much as she recoiled in horror when the book showed her killing her son, a part of her seemed like that would be a good idea.  As a child, what’s more terrifying than a mother who wants to kill you?  How she came to that point is trivial.  To Samuel, it doesn’t matter if she’s possessed by a monster or just exhausted: the end result is the same.


I don’t want to get into it too much more, lest I creep into spoiler territory.

I loved this.  As I mentioned, the first act can be a little dicey, but it’s a necessary evil.  The second act is great and filled with a lot of creepy moments.  The third act goes completely bonkers, in the best way imaginable.  It can be a little hard to watch at times – we basically have a front row seat for some nasty family violence – but it’s not pointless.  Everything is here for a reason.  It’s a film that doesn’t pull any punches, but also isn’t shocking for the sake of being shocking.
This is an extremely affecting psychological thriller that may-or-may-not involve an actual monster.  While it may not be as terrifying as I had hoped it would be, it was still really creepy and was on my mind for days.  A lot of these images and themes are extremely hard to shake.
This movie works best when you’re paying full attention to it.  Find a quiet night, turn off all the lights, and lose yourself in The Babadook.

Babadook - Amelia Screaming

Rating: 5/5

One final thought:
Rumor has it they were going to fire up a Kickstarter for a real version of the pop-up book seen in the film (I found this Thunderclap campaign that was fully funded, so this is probably it, but I kept hearing it was either Kickstarter or Indiegogo).  While I think that’s a really great idea, I do have some concerns.
Let’s say that reading this book wills Mister Babadook into existence.  Doesn’t it seem like a bad idea to flood households with a book that calls forth a monster?  It’s basically the plot of the Pinky & The Brain Christmas special, except instead of it ending with The Brain taking over the world through hypnosis, it ends with a ton of people housing a monster and possibly killing all their loved ones.  This seems like a very bad idea.

Noodle Noggin Lit UpAlso, is there only one Babadook, or will each book conjure up a separate Babadook?  If there’s only one, the results would be delayed.  He would terrorize one family until he’s done, then move on to the next (or he would try to split his time equally and end up with all of us being mildly inconvenienced by his presence).  If there is one Babadook for every book, we’re in big, big trouble.
I’ll still buy that book, though.  I know they say you can’t get rid of him, but I take that as a personal challenge.  You and me, Mister Babadook.  Let’s dance.

Trailer Talk: The Babadook


Release date: November?
Director: Jennifer Kent

I have heard great things about this film.  Early reviews have been favorable, with Rotten Tomatoes currently sitting at 100% (albeit with only 21 critic reviews).  I had heard a lot about this movie and how creepy it was before I finally got around to watching the trailer.  I had even read some articles talking about how the trailer was incredibly creepy.  I had high hopes.

It looks good, but not nearly as creepy as I hoped it would be.  From everything I had heard, I thought I would watch the trailer and immediately find a place to hide.  Every odd noise in the house would be The Babadook coming to claim me as his next victim.  But I would never see him.  I’d spend the rest of my days in a state of panic, never getting more than 3 hours of sleep a night.  I would eventually find myself in a padded room, muttering “Babadook” under my breath while my wife stood weeping outside the door.  And that’s when The Babadook would strike.  My final words would be, “I’m not crazy.  I’m not crazEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”  (I haven’t yet worked out how The Babadook would get to America from Australia.  The cargo hold of a boat, probably.)
Even though I have watched the trailer and know what he looks like, I still think The Babadook looks like The Gentlemen from the best episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Hush”.  (He also looks nothing like The Bobbum Man, and will not try to mess with your equipmunk.  Probably.  I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I can’t make any promises.)

Not the Babadook
Not the Babadook

The trailer wasn’t quite as creepy as my mind had made it out to be.    My sanity is still (somewhat) in tact, which means The Babadook hasn’t yet won.
As it stands, it still looks pretty good.  My expectations have been dialed back a bit, but I’m still very much looking forward to this film coming out.  Movies about boogeymen that may-or-may-not be anything other than the fears of a child can be pretty hit-or-miss (although I suppose this is true in every genre).  I tend to like them more often than not, though, so put me squarely in the “excited” camp for this film.  I firmly believe that the creepiest stuff was left out of the preview, so I’m hoping for plenty of scary surprises when the film actually comes out.  (As I listed above, the closest thing I can find to a US release date is some time in November.  I hope it’s sooner.  I hope this and Dead Snow 2 both drop within the next week, in my mailbox if nowhere else.)

Fun fact about the director, Jennifer Kent: she had a role in Babe 2: Pig in the City.  She is listed as “Lab Lady”.  Scary!