Streaming and live-streams, and scares—oh my!
Like any self-respecting content consumer, I subscribe to an embarrassing amount of podcasts. As a result, I’ve heard my fair share of gotta-keep-the-lights-on adverts, but I’ve never been bothered to use a promo code, let alone google or buy a product. That is until I heard Elijah Wood sing the praises of Shudder, a niche, subscription-based streaming service geared to horror nerds. I’ve never opened a search bar so fast.
Maybe your project goal this summer is sanding canoes or building miniature Japanese rock gardens, but maybe, just maybe, you’re looking to become a horror aficionado. Listen. I hear you. You have enough streaming options in your life. But horror fans, in the event that you’ve never heard of Shudder, have I got some news for you. In addition to being packed with cinematic gems like a goddamn geode, as a service, it is the diamond in the rough of the streaming world. Shudder’s not the first horror streaming subscription service, but as it stands, it reigns supreme. Here’s why:
1. The Facts
Shudder bills itself as a “diabolical” premium streaming service with “something for everyone, from the casual fan to the hardcore horror devotee.” Backed by AMC Networks, Shudder’s ever-growing library (+700 films) is available on browser, mobile devices, Roku, Chromecast, and as an Amazon Video subscription for a very affordable $4.99/month ($49.99/year). Since Shudder’s beta launch in 2015, they’ve also presented the genre-focused Beyond Fest and opened Shudder Labs, a creative workshop retreat for emerging horror filmmakers. Last week, it was announced that Shudder would forge its way into the original programming Thunderdome with Rodney Ascher’s documentary Primal Screen with more original projects on the way.
2. The Curation
Arguably Shudder’s most defining (and attractive) feature is its attention to curatorial detail. Rather than implementing algorithms and viewer statistics, Shudder’s library is carefully stitched together by a crew with particularly genre-dextrous hands. More specifically those of Sam Zimmerman and Colin Geddes, the former being an ex-editor at Fangoria and the latter being the powerhouse behind TIFF’s Midnight Madness and Vanguard selections. At TIFF, Geddes has hosted the premieres of beloved films like Miike Takashi’s Ichi the Killer; Alex Aja’s High Tension; James Wan’s Insidious; Mike Flanagan’s Oculus; and Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever. Considering Shudder’s commitment to mindfully assembling and highlighting its content, it’s not all that surprising that Geddes has his roots in the film festival circuit.
In addition to a library of several hundred carefully-selected horror titles, Shudder provides savvy and lovingly populated horror sub-genres called “Collections.” Some of my favourites include ‘A Woman’s Touch’ (feat. the likes of Shudder-exclusive Prevenge, and the 70s erotica classic The Velvet Vampire); ‘Love Sick,’ which covers the “thin line between love and terror”; and the grab bag of gory goodies that is ‘Zombie Jamboree,’ which includes everything from Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead to Raw Force aka Kung Fu Cannibals. There have also been guest curations from the likes of Karyn Kusama (The Invitation), Robert Eggers (The Witch), and Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes).
Showing up to Shudder without a crystal lake clear idea of what you want to watch feels like visiting a (now-extinct) independent video store. The collections make discovery easy and the curatorial (read: non-algorithmic) nature of the site provides a more nuanced (read: human) kind of authority. Meanwhile, rummaging around Netflix or Hulu can sometimes feel like trying to navigate a VHS bargain bin. Or trying to find a light switch in a dark room. In comparison, Netflix’s horror sub-genre pages feel lazy, if not disingenuous (in particular, “Cult Horror” is laughably vague and in Canada it is—I shit you not—30% Sharknado).
3. The Exclusivity
Late last year, Shudder began to stake its claim on exclusive titles, premiering Rob Zombie’s 31 two weeks in advance of its home video release. This month, they’ve acquired exclusive streaming rights to Noroi: The Curse, Among the Living, and Show Pieces, among others. Shudder also provides exclusive cuts and restorations. This includes the 4k edition of Don Coscarelli’s wild ride Phantasm.
Likewise in March of this year, Shudder streamed the full 109-minute unrated version of The Devils, marking the first time since the film’s 1971 release that the unrated cut of the film has been made properly available in the US. By successfully securing corporate backing and studio cooperation, Shudder has been able to provide more than just recycled titles and low-quality indie fare. They’ve made available films that were otherwise hard to come by through the regular channels; from Larry Fessenden’s Habit to classics from F.W. Murnau. Perusing Shudder feels like being let into a fallout vault, well-stocked with everything from old favorites to genre classics, to challenging new fare.
4. The Free 24/7 Livestream
One of Shudder’s more intriguing curiosities is Shudder TV, a free (!!!) live stream feature that rotates through roughly eight films on loop 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As Charlie Lyne of The Guardian puts it: “we’ve sacrificed the personal touch of scheduled programming—and the giddy feeling of spontaneity that comes with flicking on the TV at 3 am and catching the bottle scene from Pan’s Labyrinth.”
There is, as Lyne notes, a forgotten joy to decontextualized no-pauses-allowed viewing; “perhaps the most potent mechanism horror cinema has ever had for burrowing into your subconscious.” Having been subjected to, and greatly affected by piecemeal glances of Altered States and From Beyond, this warms my heart cockles. I for one turned to Shudder TV in time to catch a particularly disturbing scene from the arthouse shocker Tenemos la carne. As the horror gods intended. Truly Shudder is doing a public good by ensuring that some of today’s young folks have their precious childhoods corrupted by confused late-night glimpses at the horrors of Shudder TV. It only seems fair.
5. The Solution to the ‘Horror-loving Canuck’ Conundrum
Canadian that I am I was delighted by Shudder’s ‘It Came From the North’ collection with its amalgam of hoser-originating flicks like Tucker & Dale vs. Evil and Dead Ringers. I’ve heard through the back channels that Netflix’s US horror content leaves a lot to be desired; that the selection and variety are limited. This, despite horror being a longstanding safe investment as far as genres go. Upon its release Shudder boasted over 180 titles that weren’t on US Netflix, a disparity I’m sure’s grown in the intervening years. I have no way of verifying the state of streaming services in America, but I can speak to my experience with Canadian ones, specifically Netflix. By my count, there are 182 films categorized as horror on Canadian Netflix and more than double that amount on Canadian Shudder. And for every Scream 4 (boo!) on the former, a Santa Sangre (fuck yes!) on the latter. Horror friends, particularly those of you who don’t live stateside, take a peek at Shudder: it’s an oasis with not only more, but better quality water. I’m not saying it’s a perfect service. But do give it a look. Quoth Colin Geddes: “with the death of video stores and the [lack of] accessibility for films, we’re going to be suffering a film illiteracy very soon. People are not going to be aware of older films just because they can’t see them.” Get cracking folks, Blood Feast, Jack Attack, and Death Bed: The Bed That Eats People aren’t going to watch themselves.