Best Horror Movies of 2014: Direct-to-Video/Limited Theatrical Releases

As bad as 2014 was for horror/suspense movies receiving wide theatrical releases, there were plenty of viable options among the films that went straight to video or received limited theatrical runs. As evidence, here are my choices for the top 50 (or 51; who's counting?), from worst to first.

Honorable Mentions: , , , Stonehearst Asylum, , Don't Blink, Grace: The Possession, , , Missionary, Comedown, , , Omnivores, The Visitant, Memory of the Dead.

51
of 51

Ghost of Goodnight Lane

Ghost of Goodnight Lane
© Inception

Despite a low budget and some questionable direction, this is a fun and genuinely funny (thanks in large part to the always likable Billy Zane) horror-comedy that gleefully trots out all the standard haunted house tropes in the story of a building on a studio set that turns out to have a dark history.

50
of 51

Favor

Favor
© Kino Lorber
Old-fashioned cat-and-mouse thriller begins with a man asking his longtime friend to help him dispose of the body of his mistress, only to find himself indebted to a man whose increasing demands for repayment test the bounds of their partnership.
49
of 51

Come Back to Me

'Come Back to Me' movie poster
© Freestyle Releasing

Come Back to Me isn't a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, but the strikingly original plot crafts an irresistible mystery that must be seen through to the end. Despite a bright, Lifetime movie look, there's a seedy underbelly to this film that plays out rather nonchalantly (making it all the more disturbing) and culminates in an uber-dark finale that should give horror fans a grim chuckle.

48
of 51

The Midnight Game

The Midnight Game
© Anchor Bay
Short, simple, but effectively creepy, to-the-point tale about a group of teens who play a mysterious game they find on the Internet and end up conjuring an evil entity.
47
of 51

Antisocial

Antisocial
© Breaking Glass

Antisocial treads similar ground to and Pulse, with an emphasis on social networking technology turning on people, but it manages to come up with some neat ideas, with a smart script that takes time to build some emotional resonance into the plot.

46
of 51

Moebius

Moebius movie poster
© RAM Releasing

This South Korean thriller from auteur Ki-duk Kim rides the fine line between offensive and morbidly fascinating, its sense of imagination and unpredictability making it a can't-turn-away affair even if the action on screen is, by nature, repulsive.

45
of 51

The Returned

The Returned movie poster
© levelFILM

Unusually dramatic for a zombie movie, The Returned feels basically like an allegory for the AIDS epidemic, and like almost any terminal sickness drama, it's somber, serious-minded, emotional and deliberately paced. While it might not provide as much genre gratification as a dozen exploding heads, it's admirable and refreshing in its approach.

44
of 51

Torment

Torment
© Vertical Entertainment

Sure, it's a poor man's The Strangers mixed with The Hills Have Eyes, but this tale of a family's country vacation being interrupted by a masked clan is well done with a strong lead by Katharine Isabelle.

43
of 51

Solo

Solo
© The Orchard
In this straightforward but tense thriller, a wannabe camp counselor must prove her outdoorsmanship by spending two days on a small deserted island across from the campsite, only to find herself not so alone. Similar to but superior to last year's .
42
of 51

Wolf Creek 2

Wolf Creek 2 movie poster
© Image Entertainment

Wolf Creek 2 is an inferior but still entertaining sequel that's more cartoonish in nature than its predecessor. The extreme violence is still here -- perhaps even more so than in the first film -- but it comes off as less shocking and more like splattery fun.

Read the review

41
of 51

Late Phases

Late Phases movie poster
© Dark Sky Films

A welcome throwback to the '80s heyday of werewolf movies that included classics like The Howling, An American Werewolf in London and Silver Bullet, Late Phases most resembles the latter, with its handicapped protagonist in a seemingly idyllic setting preparing for an attack by a creature he is trying to expose. Its simple, straightforward approach and old school practical makeup effects are refreshingly retro in an era when horror movies seem to feel like they have to trick viewers or subvert their expectations.

40
of 51

I Will Follow You Into the Dark

I Will Follow You Into the Dark
© Epic
An unusually dramatic and -- dare I say -- romantic ghost story starring Mischa Barton as a woman whose faith in life after death is tested when her boyfriend disappears from their bed one night, leaving a trail of blood that leads to the supposedly haunted top floor of his apartment building.
39
of 51

13 Sins

13 Sins movie poster
© Radius TWC

Like the original Thai film (13: Game of Death) upon which it's based, 13 Sins is a fun and frenetic thriller, propelled by a killer premise that, with 13 tasks to cram into 92 minutes, promises a fast-paced joy ride -- as well as the schadenfreudian glee of seeing a poor shlub squirm out of one awkward situation after the next.

38
of 51

Devoured

'Devoured' movie poster
© Gravitas Ventures

Atmospheric and creepy, this low-budget, minimalistic horror flick masks layers of meaning, from sexual politics to the plight of the immigrant working class, without sacrificing thrills.

37
of 51

Fresh Meat

Fresh Meat
© New Video Group

This fun horror-comedy from New Zealand toys with racial and sexual dynamics as it tells the tale of a group of criminals on the run from the cops who break into a suburban house and take a family hostage, only to realize the homeowners are cannibals.

36
of 51

The House at the End of Time

House-at-End-of-Time.jpg
© Dark Sky/MPI

This Venezuelan film effectively spooky "old dark house" fare with a twisty plot that, while not original, is tricky enough that you won't be able to predict it completely. Although it's a horror movie, it has a broad appeal beyond the typical genre fan base, thanks to its non-explicit content and a surprisingly heartwarming (at times borderline melodramatic) storyline that celebrates family.

35
of 51

Mischief Night

Mischief Night
© Lionsgate
Not to be confused with 2013's , this entry in the After Dark Originals series begins with a similar concept -- a young woman (in this case, a babysitter with an infant) home alone on the night before Halloween who's stalked by a masked stranger -- but it takes an abrupt turn that toys with genre conventions, turning expectations upside-down with a deliciously dark streak.
34
of 51

Not Safe for Work

Not Safe for Work
© Universal
Blockbuster director Joe Johnston ( Captain America, Jurassic Park III) unexpectedly tackles a small-scale thriller about a young paralegal who, staying after hours in his nearly empty office building, witnesses a murder and finds himself stalked by the killer. It's taut, fast-paced and to the point, running only 74 minutes long. If only more films would realize you can deliver plenty of entertainment without dragging the story out longer than is necessary.
33
of 51

Dark House

Dark House
© Cinedigm
Victor Salva's films ( Jeepers Creepers, Rosewood Lane, Clownhouse) aren't necessarily works of art, but they're consistently unpredictable and entertaining with intriguing mythologies and mysteries that unfold with cinematic flair. Dark House, about a young man with telepathic abilities who inherits a mysterious house with dark presences attached to it, is no exception.
32
of 51

Almost Human

Almost Human movie poster
© IFC Midnight

It's appropriate that Almost Human is set in the '80s, because it has a throwback feel, like a nostalgic love letter to popcorn flicks of yore. It combines the alien abduction element of Fire in the Sky with the alien invasion element of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and throws in an unexpected splattery gore aesthetic ripped from the '80s heyday of slasher movies. Of course, that means it's not terribly original, but it tackles all the horror and action elements so well, it's hard for any genre fan not to get a kick out of it.

31
of 51

Tusk

'Tusk' movie poster.
© A24 Films

Kevin Smith's mad-scientist-animal-inspired-body-horror film is grotesque and ridiculous (like the similarly themed ), but it maintains a surprising sense of humanity and even some heartfelt drama -- a bit reminiscent of the 1982 cult film Basket Case or classic "sympathetic monster" movies like Frankenstein or King Kong -- with measured doses of humor.

30
of 51

Cheap Thrills

Cheap Thrills DVD
© New Video Group
A simple but fascinating and increasingly dark tale about two friends drawn into a game of "what would you do for a dollar" by a mysterious couple who seemingly have money to burn.
29
of 51

The Machine

The Machine movie poster
© XLrator Media

Though a much smaller film, The Machine's vision of a dystopian future in which man and machine find themselves on a collision course for social dominance compares favorably to similarly themed cinematic blockbusters like The Terminator, Blade Runner and I, Robot. A futuristic Frankenstein movie, the philosophical implications of the storyline are fascinating and far more thought-provoking than your average genre flick, although it still manages to deliver ample action, intrigue and bloody mayhem.

28
of 51

Life After Beth

Life After Beth movie poster
© A24 Films

Funny zom com with a great cast and a fun, unique spin on zombie-dom by showing it as a gradual deterioration of faculties AFTER resurrection.

27
of 51

Honeymoon

'Honeymoon' movie poster
© Magnet Releasing

A wonderfully executed slice of paranoia reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Rosemary's Baby and propelled by strong performances by the two leads, Honeymoon is a fascinating mystery with a increasingly tense buildup that feeds on the fear that the person you've most come to love and trust is no longer who they appear to be.

26
of 51

At the Devil's Door

At the Devil's Door DVD
© IFC

In his second movie, filmmaker Nicholas McCarthy () flexes his gift for crafting spookiness through simplicity -- unnerving silence and slow zooms that heighten anticipation as the camera drags you into the unknown whether you're ready or not. He overcomes the limits of his small, confined settings by playing with camera angles and reflections, enhancing the sense of discomfort he sets up with his well-paced scripts. At the Devil's Door isn't as clever or unpredictable as The Pact, but it doles out plot details at a measured clip to ensure we never jump too far ahead.

25
of 51

Panic Button

Panic Button
© Phase 4
Engrossing, if not particularly original, this British film plays like Saw on a plane with an Internet twist, as a group of strangers who think they've won a trip courtesy of a Facebook-like website are taught to be careful what they share online when an unseen figure forces them to play a deadly game.
24
of 51

Big Ass Spider!

Big Ass Spider
© Epic Pictures

SyFy could take a few pointers from Big Ass Spider. It doesn't do anything original; it just takes all of the familiar elements of a typical giant-animal-run-amok (in this case, a spider) creature feature and does them VERY WELL. A good cast of recognizable character actors has great chemistry, the script doesn't take itself too seriously, the CGI effects are excellent for a low-budget film, the action scenes are well done and the plot is fast-moving and to the point.

23
of 51

Chemical Peel

Chemical Peel
© Lionsgate
A taut, paranoid chiller with gross-out elements, this film plays a bit like an all-female Cabin Fever mixed with the dirty bomb thriller Right at Your Door, as a bachelorette party in an isolated house is interrupted by a nearby chemical spill that engulfs the area in a toxic, flesh-eating fog.
22
of 51

The Butterfly Room

The Butterfly Room
© Naedomi
Quirky and borderline campy but fascinating tale told cleverly in non-chronological order. It stars horror icon Barbara Steele as a reclusive old woman who forms a strange relationship with a young girl that starts off mutually beneficial and ends up deadly.
21
of 51

Stage Fright

'Stage Fright' movie poster
© Magnet Releasing

Stage Fright is an spirited film that couples exuberant musical numbers with splattery violence in an uncommon and exceedingly fun package. While rarely laugh-out-loud funny, its consistently lighthearted tone makes for an engaging viewing experience, buoyed by the cast's excellent comedic performances and some genuinely catchy musical numbers.

20
of 51

Haunt

'Haunt' movie poster.
'Haunt' movie poster. © IFC Midnight

Haunt is a good old-fashioned ghost story, a haunted house tale with the sort of classic appeal that made such a hit last year. Like that film, it's got a creepy villain, a series of taut scares and an involving mystery to unravel inside a tropish Old Dark House. It's a remarkably assured narrative debut from director Mac Carter, who has a real gift for building tension and framing scares.

Read the review

19
of 51

Extraterrestrial

Extraterrestrial movie poster
© IFC Midnight

A modestly budgeted alien invasion tale that squeezes impressive cinematic scope out of its limited resources, this is knowingly dumb, escapist fun that embraces familiar horror tropes with a wink-and-nudge attitude.

18
of 51

The Den

'The Den' movie poster
© IFC MIdnight

A powerful "cyber home invasion" film that taps into the same sense of vulnerability that made traditional home invasion fright flicks like The Strangers, and so powerful. The feeling of helplessness is palpable, as viewers can readily place themselves in the role of a victim of identity theft or hacking taken to the extreme. WAY to the extreme.

Read the review

17
of 51

Eat

Eat movie poster
© The Orchard
Overshadowed by the overrated -- another horror film that follows the physical deterioration of a struggling Hollywood actress -- Eat actually packs more bang for your buck, delivering the most cringe-worthy movie of the year in the story of a stressed-out thespian who develops an unusual eating disorder: she eats her own body. You know when you pull a hangnail, and it goes too deep and yanks out a hunk of flesh? Imagine that times 10,000. Uneven acting aside, it's bold with impressively grisly makeup effects and a sharp, ultra-dark sense of humor.
16
of 51

The Sacrament

The Sacrament DVD
© Magnet Releasing

Even if you're familiar with the events of the Jonestown Massacre, seeing it played out as vividly on screen as it is in this thinly veiled recreation highlights the dramatic, larger-than-life nature of the tragedy. It's an atmospheric film whose ominous score and straightforward plot channels the growing sense of dread. 

15
of 51

Jessabelle

Jessabelle poster
© Lionsgate

A measured haunted house movie that's as scary as its more well-known contemporaries, Jessabelle accomplishes something perhaps just as important: it oozes atmosphere. While it isn't unique, it's still very entertaining, with an undulating supernatural mystery whose revelations will make you want to go back and watch it all again.

14
of 51

Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin
© Radius TWC

Although Blue Ruin is a bloody, brutal revenge thriller, the core of its potency is as a drama. This is a deadly serious film with a human element and a streak of indie cinema realism that heightens its tragedy. A simple but effective tale with a refreshingly unconventional, tragically flawed lead.

13
of 51

The Hunted

The Hunted
©

Very few found footage movies nowadays can escape feeling derivative, but what The Hunted lacks in originality it makes up for in execution. The story of a pair of wannabe TV hosts shooting the pilot episode of what they hope will be picked up as a hunting/nature series -- only to encounter a supernatural entity in the woods instead of the deer they're targeting -- it comes close to capturing the sense of paranoid tension that propelled The Blair Witch Project to such success in 1999, similarly utilizing the ambient sound of a forest setting to generate nerve-jangling terror.

12
of 51

Witching & Bitching

Witching and Bitching DVD
© MPI

Insane, imaginative Spanish fare with a wildly fun streak revolving around a group of bank robbers who take refuge in a town filled with man-eating witches.

11
of 51

Borgman

'Borgman' movie poster
© Drafthouse Films

This quirky, playfully cryptic Dutch film's enigmatic format serves to heighten its surrealism and fairy tale nature. It feels like a modern-day Grimm story, full of death, mysticism and subtle morality that proves fascinating, thought-provoking and borderline frustrating but still highly entertaining.

10
of 51

Shock Value

Shock Value movie poster
© Gravitas Ventures
An indie horror-comedy that doesn't go the expected goofy, "splatstick" route, instead sticking with a subtle, dry, smart sense of humor that pokes fun at Hollywood in the tale of a struggling horror director who witnesses a serial killer's exploits and decides to blackmail him into starring in his next movie. What could go wrong?
09
of 51

Wer

Wer
© Universal
How a smart, slick, well-made horror movie like this is relegated to direct-to-video status while dreck like , and polluted theaters is beyond me. Inexplicably (and annoyingly) shot in a found footage style even though it's not found footage, it's a fast-paced tale that does a wonderful job of reinventing the werewolf mythos by presenting a "realistic" werewolf condition -- i.e., no elaborate transformations, and it's debatable for much of the movie whether or not the antagonist is even a werewolf. However, it still manages to be one of the most crafty, havoc-wreaking werewolves in cinematic history, laying waste to heavily armed police, outrunning cars and leaping with superhero ability.
08
of 51

Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek
© Well Go USA

This Korean thriller grabs you from the creepy opening scene and never lets go. It's a twisty, mesmerizing, tense and relevant whodunit with Hitchcockian overtones and clever storytelling that parcels out details to heighten the sense of mystery.

07
of 51

The Guest

The Guest movie poster
© Picturehouse
I wasn't really sure if this would fall into the horror-suspense category before I saw it, but it's largely a "seemingly nice maniac insinuates his way into a family"-type thriller, along the lines of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle -- if Rebecca De Mornay were Jason Bourne. The concept, execution and even the soundtrack deliver a wonderfully kitschy '80s throwback vibe that doesn't bring anything new to the table, but it does it all very well.
06
of 51

Proxy

Proxy movie poster
© IFC Midnight

This wildly unpredictable thriller unfolds in quirky, unexpected directions, driven by complex characters whose motives we don't always understand, but whose emotions nonetheless ring oddly true and mercilessly raw. This is the darkest of character studies, rife with broken people who in turn break those around them in a grimly fascinating chain reaction.

05
of 51

Housebound

'Housebound' movie poster
© XLrator Media

This horror-comedy from New Zealand is genuinely funny, propelled not only by nuanced comedic performances, but also by a plot that maintains enough of a creep factor to elicit nervous chuckles during tense moments. What pushes Housebound over the top, though, is its heart. It's actually a subtly touching ode to family and the unspoken connections that can be awkward and strained, but when push comes to shove, they're as strong as any bond there is.

04
of 51

Coherence

Coherence movie poster
© Oscilloscope Laboratories

What this sci fi thriller lacks in superficial bells and whistles it makes up for in sheer impact. Coherence doesn't have much action and doesn't overwhelm you with terror, but it generates a pervasive sense of dread and anxiousness and cleverly constructs a plot that expands throughout the movie, ramping up the possibilities and the tension. It's a smart film, with a well thought-out plot that snakes through mind-bending twists that will have you questioning how you perceive what's going on.

03
of 51

Big Bad Wolves

Big Bad Wolves
© Magnolia

Although this Israeli revenge tale reflects the absurdity of blind vengeance and the cycle of violence inherent in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it manages to make a movie revolving around torture and child rape and murder that is genuinely funny. The plot is simple, but there are enough twists and uncertainty to keep it fresh and enough oddball yet relatable characters and situations to keep it fascinating.

02
of 51

The Canal

The Canal movie poster
© The Orchard

This Irish ghost story is an undulating supernatural mystery with a quiet creepiness and a dreamlike sensibility that reflects the lead character's tenuous grasp on reality. It channels elements of classic ghost stories like The Innocents, The Shining and The Ring, presenting a final product that's not only nerve-wrackingly scary, but also tragically human.

01
of 51

The Babadook

The Babadook poster
© IFC

Already earning cult status, this Australian film is the rare type of horror movie that can draw in non-genre fans -- a dramatic, complex and emotionally powerful work that uses its fright film trappings not only to scare but also to convey a message that is undeniably human. Its characters are imperfect but instantly relatable, and it captures not only the boundless imagination and seemingly irrational fears of childhood, but also the adult frustrations of parenting a youngster, toying with the two roles by slowly transforming parent from protector to prey while illuminating the possibility that childhood fears might not be so irrational after all.