Shudder, with full hyperbole intended, is a must-subscribe service for any level of horror fan. Those just beginning their descent can trust robust curation from a team that’s drenched in horror academia and experiences. Any veterans will benefit from the same catalog, but with the understanding that Shudder’s crew is dedicated to housing horror films that don’t resemble what’s typically available in mainstream cinemas (when they were open). For horror fans of any status or devotion, Shudder continually covers all the bases. It has since streamer zero got down with the sickness.
In addition to restocking and reshuffling its available horror roster, Shudder also acquires festival favorites and produces programming that’s dubbed either a “Shudder Original” or “Shudder Exclusive” by contractual specifications. Titles that you’ll only see under AMC’s genre banner, from an endless selection of continental backdrops, dialects, subgenres, and other individual signifiers. Films that might struggle to secure mainstream distribution deals and fall to the wayside in less attentive companies find a natural home at Shudder, where horror fans appreciate the bold, the unique, and the different. Don’t believe me? Here are the ten best Shudder Originals/Exclusives available as of this article’s posting date, and please, take note of each production’s country of origin or primary backdrop.
10. Blood Quantum
Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum is like so many The Walking Dead look-alikes for, maybe two minutes? Right before its Native American viewpoints take centerstage. In a world where zombies threaten civilization, the Mi’gMaq reserve of Red Crow remains untouched because its inhabitants, indigenous peoples restricted to a chunk of land, are somehow immune. The narrative points crosshairs on the real-world issues plaguing such sites. Alcoholism, poverty, discrimination, the works. Now it’s the apocalypse, and those who once drove these people behind walls are clamoring to get inside, which, if you’ve seen The Walking Dead (or any undead takeover where life moves onward), reactions may vary. From lawman attempting to keep the peace to rebellious teens now leading dangerous coups. Plus, there are some GNARLY zombie deaths. Don’t worry, horror freaks, we get all the fixings.
9. Shrew’s Nest
In 2014, baby’s second Fantastic Fest, I gambled an 11:00AM screening slot on Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel’s Shrew’s Nest. Bleary-eyed, maybe a bit hungover, I watched what would end up becoming my favorite blind discovery that specific event. It took two years to get any stateside general public attention on Shrew’s Nest, once Shudder nabbed the agoraphobia nightmare in its early days of exclusive releases. By virtue of her isolating phobia, a lonesome woman cares for her sister in 1950s Madrid and happens upon a neighbor who breaks his leg. Think Misery, but focused on a seamstress and way zanier but still noose-tight in terms of tension. Over half a decade later, I’m still waiting for its true “discovery” period.
There is no such thing as a “bad” creature-feature creature, only good monsters forced into aggressive retaliation by humanity’s failures (aka bad creature owners). South Korea’s Monstrum is such an example, featuring the lumbering lion-bear gargantuan known as, wait for it, “Sparkles.” It’s the 1500s, mysticism and fantasy are alive, and an ex-general is contracted to hunt the savage beast threatening a ruler’s kingdom. Then you learn why Sparkles is attacking soldiers, and anyone who dares threaten the so-called devil becomes an enemy. It’s high-flying, immensely entertaining, and carries all the excitement of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but with Rampage-sized conjurings and thugs used as chew toys.
7. Scare Me
Scare Me accomplishes a feat in oratory command and punctuates the assertion that you can get away with anything thanks to a good story. Maybe even murder. Josh Ruben writes, directs, and stars alongside Aya Cash; two tiers of writers - the fledgling nobody and the award-winning star - while they pass a power outage by telling one another scary stories. No, monsters don’t crawl from hellfire cracks. Slasher killers don’t come knocking. As I stated in my review, think of this as a Middleditch and Schwartz Halloween special. Which, thanks to the talents of Ruben and Cash, this very well could be.
6. Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror
To spotlight the versatility of Shudder’s arsenal, allow me to recommend - for the zillionth time - Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror. On the heels of Jordan Peele’s emergence as one of modern horror’s must-value voices, as tokenization reforms in the slightest, Xavier Burgin’s documentary proves how far the horror genre has come in terms of representation - but how much work remains unfinished. Written by scholar Ashlee Blackwell and Danielle Burrows, adapted from Robin R. Means Coleman’s literature, the recounting of black history throughout horror’s many evolutions is as essential as it is entertaining. You will learn, you will be angered, and hopefully leave with a better sense of how movies assumedly made for everyone have neglected vast communities and experiences for longer than audiences might acknowledge. In five more years? I hope there’s a sequel that addresses what’s been accomplished, whether victorious or once again undercut by frustration.
5. La Llorona
Jayro Bustamante's La Llorona - no relation to Warner Brothers' attempt to culturally heighten another generic Waniverse Wannabe - is significant beyond words. As of early November, it's the second film of Bustamante's submitted as Guatemala's selection for the International Oscar category. Also, the second Shudder title to achieve this honor in 2021, alongside Joko Anwar's Impetigore for Indonesia. But, sticking to La Llorona, one can only marvel at how Bustamante and co-writer Lisandro Sanchez adapt the Hispanic "Weeping Woman" fable while aiming crosshairs at corrupt Guatemalan governing in the 1980s. It's a reconciliation of class warfare and ruthless bedtime stories, imbued with national significance. As I've said a thousand times, and again in my full review of La Llorona, the intersection of horror and history is where the murkiest, most thought-provoking redefinitions of "monster" exist.
During the pandemic, amidst England’s lockdown, Rob Savage accomplished the unthinkable by filming one of 2020’s standout haunted thrill rides. Host snatches all the consistent signatures of socialization through Zoom calls and form-fits each quirk into a seance-gone-wrong dressing. It’s the best of screen-life horror distilled into a sub-hour runtime, which by the dial-tone of Oden’s internet connection needs to be normalized in horror cinema. I’ve already praised the film ad nauseam upon its premiere in my full review, so I’ll keep it briefer here. Host is like Discord compared to so many other subgenre examples that are still on AOL Instant Messenger.
You’ve seen Alice Lowe as an actress in Ben Wheatley and Edgar Wright films (amongst many others), but on Shudder is her directorial debut Prevenge. The slasher genre gets a maternal makeover as Ruth (Lowe) embarks on a UK killing spree guided by the voice in her head...of her unborn child. Lowe doesn’t skimp on the grotesqueries of murder as she carves genitals and bashes skulls with a baby-on-board, amplifying the demented internal voice calling for the death of “innocents.” Is she crazy? A bout of prenatal paranoia? You be the judge as DJs (Tom Davis) and callous businesswomen (Kate Dickie) meet the edge of her blade.
2. Tigers Are Not Afraid
Tigers Are Not Afraid is my second-most written about Shudder title. Festival after festival the film sat without distribution, collecting accolades, until Shudder showed, once again, its importance to the horror industry. López tells a Mexican fairytale about wretched cartel-cursed slums and how children are left behind. It’s a bastion for the importance of cultural relevance in storytelling, as López morphs bleakness and heartbreak into this immensely moving war against street-crime evils told from immature perspectives attempting to make sense out of violent tragedy. It’s a stunning visual experience complete with an animated tiger mascot, but those adorable glimpses aren’t sunny enough to fend off the darkness that makes such an impact. This ain’t another Mother Goose chapter. López is full of passion, revolution, and infuration, all of which come out in this alarming “Lost Boys” (Peter Pan) spectacle adventure.
1. Satan’s Slaves
America has James Wan, and Indonesia has Joko Anwar. Satan’s Slaves, a “loose remake-prequel” to 1980’s similarly titled tale, is hands-down Shudder’s most terrifying label release (yes, over Terrified). Trust me; I’m quoted on the blu-ray (HUMBLEST OF BRAGS). I make the Wan connection because Anwar accomplishes the same mastery of shadowplay, tracks dreary shots down never-ending hallways, and provokes emotional storytelling that’s steeped in national flavors. Culture influences the practices and perspectives of “just another ghost story” that’s, per benefits of Indonesian attributions, refreshing as children face portrait demons or the camera whips to another fierce jump-scare (because when done right, jump-scares elevate overall tension). I have a lot to say about this movie, and have, all in the most positive of lights.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for such outlets as What To Watch, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria, Shudder, Ebert Voices, and countless other publications. He is a member of the Hollywood Critics Association and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.
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