There are plenty of streaming services out there right now — arguably, too many. I’m happy enough to dip in and out of them based on what I’m in the mood for. I’ll sign up for CBS All Access while I’ve got new Stars Trek (Discovery, Picard, or Lower Decks), and then cancel it for a few months between seasons. Peacock gets my money while there’s new Amber Ruffin or Larry Wilmore, but I won’t stick around after that.
There is one service, though, that I’ve been subscribed to nonstop for years: Shudder, a streaming service from AMC dedicated to movies and TV of the thriller, suspense, and horror varieties. It’s a niche, for sure, but I keep it around because I can always find something new on it.
Shudder offers classics like Halloween, Hellraiser, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (and even Heathers). It also has a great selection of non-English-language movies like Train to Busan, One Cut of the Dead, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and Ichi the Killer. Oh, and series, too! Like Channel Zero, The Dead Lands, and (the delightful) Todd and the Book of Pure Evil. I really love this service is what I’m trying to say.
As a taste, here are six movies I’d recommend from the last few years in no particular order:
At its heart, Host is a pretty average ghost story. But since it’s set during 2020’s pandemic, it’s told through a socially distanced video call seance. The result is a surprisingly effective found-footage-by-way-of-Zoom hour of creeping dread and jump scares. The isolation of the characters (and the viewer) gets amplified by the style and the setting into something utterly immersive. It might not be original, but it’s a great ghost story for 2020.
Mayhem is a violent, gory, funny, and just plain fun romp through a soulless corporate office building. Remember that scene from Wanted — you’ve probably seen it as a GIF — where James McAvoy hits Chris Pratt in the face with a keyboard? It’s that for an hour and a half. Mix in plenty of digs at wealth and economic disparity, plus performances by Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving, and Mayhem becomes as cathartic as it is blood-soaked.
I love a good zombie flick, mostly because zombies are rarely just zombies. They’ve been (thinly veiled) representations of consumerism, fear, greed, and just about anything else for decades. Blood Quantum is no different, but it comes from a unique and much-needed perspective. Set on a Canadian First Nations reserve, Blood Quantum’s zombies stand in for colonialism and racism, and that perspective turns the movie into something a lot more inspired and important than just another zombie flick.
Moving from a serious topic to a much less serious one now, Scare Package is an anthology of seven low-budget shorts, all woven together into a larger narrative set in Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium, a video store straight out of the ’90s. More than that, though, it’s a love letter to (and subversion of) the tropes, trends, and fandoms of horror in general, and slasher flicks specifically.
Color Out of Space
Another 2020 movie, Color Out of Space is just as funny as Scare Package, but less intentionally. This adaptation of H.P. “Extremely Racist” Lovecraft’s story of the same name stars Nicolas Cage, and that’s really all you need to know. Color Out of Space is Nic Cage at his most undirectable, chewing every inch of scenery in an idyllic setting filled with cosmic horror and alpacas, and also Tommy Chong is there. (If you want more Nicolas Cage and have two hours that you’re looking to actively ruin, you can also watch 2018’s Mandy on Shudder. To be clear, though, Mandy is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen and no one should ever watch it. I will not be taking questions at this time.)
[Ed. note: Jeff … how dare you.]
The most recent addition to Shudder on this list, 2020’s Scare Me is written and directed by Josh Ruben, who you may know from College Humor and their streaming service Dropout (remember when I said there were too many streaming services?). What makes Scare Me remarkable is that it’s a horror movie where the scares are explicitly imaginary — everything in the movie is framed within two people telling each other scary stories. And it works.