prevenge

Any “horror fan” who isn’t planted A-Clockwork-Orange-theater-style in front of AMC’s shriektastic Shudder streaming service needs to change that malfunction immediately. I say this as an addicted subscriber myself. You’ll finally have the opportunity to watch all those “classic” genre films your pretentious cinephile friends wax so poetically about. But wait! There’s more! Shudder has officially entered the distribution game, offering exclusive premiere content that is alone worth the small monthly payment. Content good enough to spawn this entire feature!

I know you’re here for my ranking of Shudder’s first 20 titles (we’re only ranking the movies, not their TV shows), but hold your undead horses. We’ll get to the clicky-baiting in a second. First, let me start with a preface.

Shudder deserves all the credit in the world for their current library and support of indie horror filmmakers trying to sell the obscure. From festival darlings to forgotten premieres, Shudder is building a diverse, something-for-everyone catalog of exclusivity puts other streaming platforms to shame. Genre or not. Please understand that this is less a listicle and more an appreciation for what Shudder has done and continues to do – give a voice to originality and keep fresh, ambitious storytelling from going the way of the dodo. Not everyone has the same tastes, so please do try them all. Let me make that clear.

It should also be noted that more titles are being added all the time. More were added since this list was initially published. We hope to update this list and maintain it as a living document as time goes on.

With that said, you clicked on this link for a ranking. I know y’all love those sweet, sweet numbers and designations, so let’s start chopping through Shudder’s first crop.

20. Kuso

It’s impossible to confine Flying Lotus’ Kuso to a rating (that “20” could just as easily be a “undefinable” or “floating in the cinematic ether”). It defies all critical construct and reception. One person may say (h/t Josh Lobo) “I f&^%$#@ love it as an exercise in pure torture. I’ve never felt more uncomfortable.” Me? I’d switch the word “uncomfortable” with “violated” (cinematically, of course). Think of it as a variety show morphed into some bleak, dystopian, post-earthquake LA. One hosted by Satan, influenced by Terry Gilliam, and written by a room full of extreme beat poets tripping on psychedelics that haven’t been invented yet.

I mean, what’s there to say? Kuso opens on a news show that’s overtaken by one random man’s nihilist incantation. “Once you’re dead, then you’re dead, there’s no coming back.” Cut to a segment about autoerotic asphyxiation, love and schmear. Enter a cartoonish interlude about a rotting man calling to “dispatch.” Magical, anal-dwelling creatures with healing powers. A defecating boy who grows a…uh…bulb-human-plant by smearing poo on it? Pornographic Max Headroom animations. Hannibal Buress voicing a stoner video-box-faced alien who rips a woman’s fetus out, giving her an on-site abortion…that she then uses as a bong.

I’m just gonna leave things there and say it’s an ambitious piece of art. Kudos, Flying Lotus. You’ve broken me. But never wanting to watch a film again has to mean something…

19. 31

I’m not of the mindset that one bad movie can spoil a filmmaker’s entire career, but 31 tries. Pretty damn hard.

Rob Zombie has always been a love ‘em or hate ‘em kind of director, committed to sadistic pulp sideshows. His horror fare is gruesome, giddy and creative. So what happened to 31? Mean, nasty slasher schlock without an ounce of redemption in its doomsday game. Props to Shudder for housing such a vicious display of carnage. I just wish it was worth all the uncomfortable soullessness.

Serial killer clowns. Victim carnies. Malcolm McDowell as a powdery-faced, regal-wigged ringleader. In a post-screening Q&A, Zombie said he came up with the idea for 31 in about 10 seconds – and it shows. Chainsaw-slicing kills can’t distract from a vast emptiness in story and an utter lack of human connect. A middle finger to safeness and sanity, without characters worth investing in or even the slightest genre appeal beyond “I like watching people die!”

18. Show Pieces

From the mind of Alan Moore comes Show Pieces, a three-part anthology whittled down from its five-part original form. We follow a man’s journey into the afterlife (which is represented by a gaudy burlesque club). There’s more autoerotic asphyxiation (a Shudder theme?), mouthy clowns, and gold-painted performers, but very little staying power. Maybe that’s because two intended segments were left out of Shudder’s release, or maybe just because each short ignores certain building blocks.

Death becomes a devilish playground for Moore and director Mitch Jenkins. Gothic noir thrills accented by velvet ropes, lacy corsets and what have you. Some Egyptian rituals make for a screamy final act (“His Heavy Heart”), but it takes a while for Show Pieces to tie itself together like an out-of-practice contortionist. The first two segments feel disjointed (“Act Of Faith” and “Jimmy’s End” aren’t easily connected) and skimp on continuity detailing. Maybe some will find this posthumous “thriller” a bit of showy, sexy fun, but most will be underwhelmed. An exercise in the obscure that lacks necessary story direction.

17. Primal Screen: The Wooden Boy

From documentarian Rodney Ascher comes a new assessment of fear closer to the terrors explored in The Nightmare. One has to assume we’ll be getting new installments of this on Shudder since “The Wooden Boy” is a 30-minute quicky with Anthropomorphobia at its core. Three voices narrate their reactions to Richard Attenborough’s 1978 thriller Magic, but not the film itself – just the trailer. Now-adults recall how one rolly-eyed dummy became their new paranoia, down to rattled psyches and abandon ventriloquism hobbies.

As someone who can tie Seed of Chucky trailers to countless sleepless nights (not even the “serious” Child’s Play entry), The Wooden Boy does very little to address a much larger issue. Given another hour’s worth of digging, Ascher could have dissected greater thoughts about Anthropomorphobia and a fear of humanized objects. As is? Three floating narrator heads (who we never meet) simply state that Magic marketing freaked them out, but fears were ultimately conquered. It’s slight, anticlimactic and too short for discomfort.

Primal Screen could present a very keen take on the art behind a scare, but future substance needs to be meatier. Even as a short film, “The Wooden Boy” leaves you feeling hollow.

16. Blind Sun

When the words “arthouse horror” are used in a film’s description, pause is necessary. Sometimes this means “Oh, this is gonna get weird,” but a more common translation is “Hope you like slow-burners!” Joyce A. Nashawati’s Blind Sun – a temperature-scorched thriller – is an extreme case of the latter. A film that wavers under blazing rays that bake a certain type of paranoia, except with such a “sizzling” pace, the film’s fiery ending does little to make up for its sluggish pace.

Nashawati’s film follows Ashraf (Ziad Bakri), an immigrant who’s hired to look after a wealthy family’s walled-in villa. Tensions have spiked because of a devastating heat wave, making water a hot (er, cold) commodity. Ashraf has a list of chores but ends up going insane and failing very miserably to complete the tasks he was given. Things get destroyed, Ashraf believes there’s an intruder, dogs roam free… Unfortunately, stakes never increase like the maddening weather conditions. Definitely worth a watch for the “slow-but-psychotic-and-steady” crowd, but a hard pass for adrenaline junkies.

15. We Go On

Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton – previously of YellowBrickRoad fame – are pushers of unique genre content. You’ll get no argument from me there. We Go On features this weighty, human-fearing concept that pivots into brightness just as terror spikes – an ambitious move, no doubt. That’s most likely what attracted Shudder. This soulful fearfulness of the unknown, shared by a lead character and audiences alike. It’s just… Well, not everything “goes on” where tonality is concerned.

Actor Clark Freeman is anxiously charismatic in his search for afterlife proof as he solicits the general public for irrefutable evidence. Why stress about not knowing when so many have experiences to share (fake or real)? We’re led on a quest that makes us wonder who is telling the truth – not before fear turns into acceptance, and darkness into light. Some audiences will love where Holland and Mitton are willing to go, but the jump won’t work for all as I can unfortunately attest to.

14. Let Me Make You A Martyr

In parts, Let Me Make You A Martyr feels like another gritty, meth-injected redemption insta-classic – but it’s a heady high that dissipates in cloud-like form. This can be taken in two ways. The good? Filmmakers Corey Asraf and John Swab navigate an impoverished moral obstacle course with twisted, bridge-burning finality. The bad? As scenes pile atop one another, it becomes hard to decipher who – or what – actually matters in the grand scheme of underworld cleansing. Nameless characters being killed offscreen; jumpy scripting that walks a staggered narrative line.

While Marilyn Manson’s face adorns the film’s cover art, he’s only a reaper-like hitman “piece” fit into a bigger puzzle of perversion. Drugs, adopted siblings in love, suggestions of child abuse, hard-drug habits – these are the things that push Niko Nicotera’s Drew Glass to breaking. We don’t witness much of the action (Asraf and Swab continually cut away just as violence is about to erupt), but some may enjoy this more cerebral breakdown between dirty family members. The others? Stick to films like My Father Die that follow through on son vs. pops vengeance.

Continue Reading All 20 Shudder Originals Ranked >>

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