One interesting thing that I’ve noticed about Shudder’s perception publicly is that people seem to think that there simply aren’t enough horror and horror-adjacent movies to fill out an entire streaming service. Not only are there plenty there, however, but there’s certainly a fair bit left over for Amazon Prime, Netflix and all of the other streaming services out there. Horror is easily one of the most robust and prescient genres out there, and there’s no end to the hidden gems, gold-star classics and fascinating nightmares waiting to be discovered by the curious horror hounds out there.
Night of the Living Dead (1968) — While it’s true that there were zombie movies before Night of the Living Dead, they were nothing like what we think of when we talk about zombie movies today. Rather than the risen cannibal corpses of the living dead, they were living people enslaved by witchdoctors and voodoo practitioners. They didn’t eat brains or even flesh, but simply did what they were told: a fitting metaphor for European imported slavery and the history of race relations in this country, but not particularly compelling as a cinematic subject by and large. Romero, however, changed everything. He took the idea of the zombie and transformed it into a marauding horde of flesh-eating ghouls and, accidentally or not, imprinted them with the deep-felt politics of the late 1960s. The result was this cult, low-budget classic, whose enduring legacy has been a series of acute indictments of the American dream, whether in the form of race relations (Night of the Living Dead), consumerism (Dawn of the Dead), the military-industrial complex (Day of the Dead) or class exploitation (Land of the Dead).
Ganja & Hess (1973) — In addition to a bunch of great movies, Shudder also plays host to a number of phenomenal documentaries. The best of these, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, which guides the viewer through the touch-and-go history of black filmmakers in the overwhelming white film industry. One of the highlights of that film was Ganja & Hess, a thematically rich and incisively shot film that “used vampirism as an ingenious metaphor for black assimilation, white cultural imperialism and the hypocrisies of organized religion. Four decades on, it still packs a primal punch.”
Escape from New York (1981) — One of the most endlessly rewatchable films from one of the world’s most endlessly rewatchable directors, John Carpenter’s Escape from New York is a masterclass is dark, post-70s action cinema. When the Air Force One goes down above Manhattan, which has been converted into an “inmates run the prison” maximum security facility. In order to retrieve the commander in chief (as well as the nuclear launch codes he was carrying), the government enlists notorious badass Snake Plissken to bring them out again. In essence the nightmarish afterimage of The Warriors (1979), it is a bleakly gorgeous film that presents danger as lurking around every corner, inside every alleyway and underneath every sewer grate.
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, South Korea has a rich and endlessly fascinating film industry to represent it on the international stage, especially over the last twenty years. And in the year of Parasite (2019), as many films as possible deserve to be brought to ardent cinephiles’ attention. One such movie that may have flown under many a radar since its release is Kim Jee-woon’s A Tale of Two Sisters. Based on an ancient and popular folk tale, the film follows a recently released mental patient who returns to live with her sister, only to be haunted by the ghosts of their shared past. Dark and compelling and every bit as fascinating a cultural artifact as Oldboy (2003) or even Parasite itself, this is a must-watch feature for horror afficionados who have convinced themselves that they’ve already seen everything there is worth seeing.
Revenge (2018) — The rape-revenge subgenre has had a long and fascinating history of the years. Beginning, in spirit, with Igmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960), which was then remade and modernized by Wes Craven as The Last House on the Left (1972), it became a fascinating and complicated space in the 1970s and 1980s that explored the sexual violence inflicted on women (and sometimes men) on a daily basis. But as the 1980s folded into the 1990s, the genre faded from cineplexes as audiences sought a less extreme and more comfortable brand of horror franchise. But with women’s place in horror again a visible subject within the genre, French director Coralie Fargeat put her own spin on the rape-revenge narrative: making it bloodier and more harrowing and more aligned with the female victim-hero at its center than earlier films of its kind dared to. The result is a grim and gripping and fist-pumpingly powerful spectacle of brutal, vengeful violence.