On the surface, it seems like insanity. Self-inflicted mental torture at a time when you would think the exact opposite would be more beneficial to our psychological wellbeing. Perhaps, but when streaming horror TV service Shudder increased the free trial period from 7 to 30 days while people are stuck at home (just enter the code SHUTIN during the subscription process), this writer jumped at the gift.
Shudder isn’t for everyone — that much is clear and obvious. There are plenty of people who would be utterly confused by the very notion of watching horror at all, but especially right now. “Why would I want to increase my anxiety when the whole world is a horror show,” they would say, with some justification. But the reality is, the reasons people have for watching horror movies at any other point in their lives remain the same now: escapism, and a punk-like desire to push boundaries.
Shudder offers a lot of that, in the wider genre’s varying forms. There’s probably enough to keep the average horror fan occupied way beyond the 30 free days, but if you use that month properly there’s tons of fun to be had.
We started by finally getting around to watching Nicolas Cage’s deliciously weird fever dream Mandy. While utterly bleak and drenched in loss, the heavy metal filmmaking and gonzo violence perpetrated on or by demonic bikers is so far removed from reality that it was impossible to relate it to what’s going on in the real world. And to be honest, that trend continues with every film and show on the service. As a result, it’s all very therapeutic, and it makes you think, “Well, things are bad but look at this — they could be worse.”
By “this” we might mean 1989 Japanese cyberpunk flick Tetsuo: The Iron Man, in which a guy slowly transforms into a mangled metal sculpture (some might say “robot,” but the transformation is too haphazard for that). Humanity is fighting a virus but at least it isn’t transforming people into mangled metal beasts complete with drill genitals, thank fuck.
And things aren’t likely to get as bad as they do in the two notorious early ‘80s Italian cannibal movies on offer here in all their uncut glory, either: Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox (we watched Ferox this week because we had only recently watched the far superior Holocaust). Both films are difficult to stomach but if you were a fan before, nothing about current events will change that. We’re unlikely to devolve into flesh eaters in the near future.
There’s one section of films dubbed “The End is Nigh,” with the tagline “It’s the end of the world as we know it. Stay in and watch as the apocalypse approaches.” You’d think those films might be a bit tough to sit through at present, but no — the plots are so outlandish, about zombie plagues and monstrous, desert-roaming gangs, that it’s impossible to see them as realistic even now. Or at least, more realistic than they were before.
There’s some fun original programming, including the Creepshow series which breathes new life into Stephen King’s old vehicle; King himself wrote one of the stories, as did Bird Box author Josh Malerman. Elsewhere, Cursed is a fun documentary series delving into legendary horror films such as The Exorcist, while The Room is a fascinating “monkey’s paw” sort of parable. Other newer films on the site right now include Satanic Panic and Nekrotronic, two unfathomably dull movies considering they’re about satanism and demons, but you always take that risk with low-budget gore. There’s also Rob Zombie’s latest, 3 From Hell, which sees the return of the weirdo Firefly family from The Devil’s Rejects and House of 1000 Corpses including the late Sid Haig.
So it’s a very mixed bag between intense, super-violent movies old and new, great and bad films, funny and serious flicks, laughs and screams. Discovering something new that gives you a gut punch, and recalling old favorites such as the original Hills Have Eyes, Slumber Party Massacre and Phantasm.
Again, Shudder isn’t for everyone. It’s totally understandable that people might turn to Friends or Seinfeld for comfort during all this. Perhaps Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing for an idealistic vision of American politics. Art is subjective. But the horror genre offers the same escapism that it always did, and for some of us that’s bloody wonderful.