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January 2014 Horror Preview

For several years now, the early months of the year have been Hollywood’s dumping ground for unloved, unwanted and unsupported films. The powers that be know that few people have the spare cash to even go to a movie in the immediate aftermath of the Holidays, and that these films (which have often had troubled development and production periods resulting in multiple delays and jumbled results) are likely to be critically savaged. Put simply, if a movie is bumped from a prestigious summer or end-of-year release to January of the following year, you can bet that it’s a turkey – and the studio knows it.

All the same, in what is effectively Hollywood’s off-season, they also know that they may as well put these films out in theatres for a limited-run with limited promotion, rush them to DVD a couple of months later and see if they can turn a profit. It’s little wonder then that this fallow period is increasingly becoming home to the most disrespected genre in cinema: horror. Will 2014’s crop yield any hidden gems?

As always, dates can vary between territories, so rather than providing either one single release date per movie that may not apply to you or filling this page with a long list of dates for every country, I’d suggest checking IMDB or your local press for release dates specific to your region. That being said, let’s take a look at three of the most talked about horror offerings that should be showing up in a theatre near you over the next few weeks.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

This one is already playing in most countries, having received wide release last weekend to mediocre reviews from fans and detractors alike. This fifth (I could have sworn there were more) installment of the divisive found-footage franchise transfers the action – or should I say the long stretches of tedium punctuated by jump-scares – to Oxnard, California. Consequently ‘The Marked Ones’ is being billed as a spin-off rather than another sequel, though it hardly seems to matter at this point. The plot, such as it is, revolves around teenage pals Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) who impulsively decide to rummage around the apartment of a recently deceased neighbor, resulting in Jesse being targeted for demonic possession. Apparently there are some attempts to break with the established formula, such as dropping the night-surveillance scenes and the inclusion of an allegorical street-gang recruitment plot, so die-hard fans may find something fresh to enjoy. Those who were left cold by previous entries (myself included, as you may have guessed) will likely remain unswayed.

Devil’s Due

If you love horror movies but hate studio-quality camera work, boy, is this the month for you! Yes, it’s yet another found-footage movie – but perhaps not one that should be written off too quickly. Based largely on (or perhaps ‘cribbed from’) the much-loved 1968 classic ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, ‘Devil’s Due’ features ‘Friday Night Lights’ star Zach Gilford alongside Allison Miller as a recently married couple dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. Zach (also the name of his character) copes with this the only way he knows how, and the only way that a found-footage movie will allow: by shoving a camera into his wife’s face at every given opportunity. She begins to behave oddly, and as you might suspect, as the months wear on the source of this is revealed to be neither nervousness or having a camera-wielding putz for a husband – but something far darker.

An effective trailer has helped to create a buzz around ‘Devil’s Due’, as has the fact that it is co-directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, two of the names behind ‘V/H/S/’. Perhaps its most ringing endorsement however, has come from director Eli Roth who had this to say: “Don’t pre-judge Devil’s Due because Rosemary’s Baby is a ‘holy grail’ movie. It’s so smart, creative, inventive, and fun. Very very scary. The guys at Radio Silence killed it. Devil’s Due is a legit scary, smart, horror film. So many awesome scenes. I loved it.”

I, Frankenstein

Based on a graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, the man behind ‘Underworld’, ‘I, Frankenstein’ boasts an impressive cast including Aaron Eckhart as a more intelligent, evolved, superhuman version of the undead monster we all know and love. The central villain, Naberious (Bill Nighy) is a fallen angel and leader of a demonic tribe, one of two immortal clans who (according to the very scarce plot information currently available) are at war in an ancient city where the monster finds himself caught up in the conflict. Also featured are Yvonne Strahovski as Terra, a scientist who is also working to re-animate the dead, and Jai Courtney as Gideon, the leader of a gargoyle army. This is all pretty head-swimming stuff, even before I mention that in this movie the monster is given the cringeworthy name of Adam Frankenstein.

With a decent budget, iconic character and a talented cast, this will be a must-see for many. However, it should be noted that director Stuart Beattie’s best known works to date are ‘G.I. Joe: Rise Of Cobra’ and ‘Pirates Of The Carribean: Curse Of The Black Pearl’. Also be aware that the movie was first scheduled for release all the way back in February of last year, before being moved to September, and finally January 2014. I’d suggest approaching with caution, as I feel confident in saying that ‘I, Frankenstein’ will either be January’s biggest horror hit, or its most spectacular failure.

Which of these three are you planning on seeing? What are your other most anticipated films of 2014? Let me know in the comments below.