31. The Noonday Witch

The Noonday Witch draws comparisons to Shudder Exclusive Blind Sun in that blistering heat and sunny rays stave off nightly location haunts. Gorgeous cinematography captures wheaty golden hues as crops sway in the breeze, but Czech’s poetry adaptation is as sleepy as the farming town it centralizes. A woman and her daughter move to find peace, lies about where daddy’s gone are told, and lonely men attempt to finagle sex as payment for chores. A few scenes feature said “Noonday Witch,” yet despite striking camera work of the brightest horror presentation, HBO Europe’s daytime dreadfulness only manages short bursts of spooky intrigue.

30. 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.

29. Small Town Killers

Shudder’s definition of horror spans all subgenres, and Small Town Killers is a perfect example of some of their most spookless fair. The Norwegian import is about two buddies (Id and Edward) who both agree to divorce their wives at the same time because their sex lives are dead. Then, after finding out how much they’d owe in alimony, a drunken night brings an even better idea – have a hitman eliminate their better halves. No money lost (from their “undisclosed” cash stash), no mess.

Things go wrong when their Russian hire-a-hitman shows up absolutely plastered, leading to a bevy of problems. Zaniness promised, zaniness delivered. Dead bodies, sweet old English women with poison bottles, regret, salsa dancing, horny construction workers pitted against their “cold,” withholding lovers – Small Town Killers has it all. A funny oddball dark comedy that bleeds physical and slapstick humor, but it does try a bit hard. It’s worth some snickers and sneers, but almost zero horror aspects are present. It’s lighthearted gender warfare. Know what to expect.

28. Phantasm: Ravager

For fans of Don Coscarelli’s long-standing Phantasm franchise, Ravager evokes the same do-it-yourself attitude that hedged the franchise’s origins in 1979. While some of the special effects in the latest entry will make you wince, the heart and soul of Phantasm is still as vibrant as ever. Reggie Bannister returns to face off against more floating silver orbs, except this time they’re bigger. And destroying cities. And alternating universes. Time to upgrade the firepower?

Those unfamiliar with the Phantasm franchise shouldn’t start with Ravager. Constant plot jumps revisit canonical properties without explanation (Morningside Cemetery, for example) because it’s assumed only fans are watching. Quality fluctuates and effects sometimes leave more to be desired, but Phantasm fans will be used to the same hijinks. Blood-squirting deaths and sphere-on-automobile chase sequences. Ravager gets the “nostalgia” pass, only suited for the most die-hard Phantasmers out there.

27. Sam Was Here

Filmmaker Christophe Deroo wants you to appreciate Sam Was Here as you would a painting, not getting “caught up” in continuity or payoff or binding logic. Watch as a forty-something door to door salesman finds himself stranded in California’s desert purgatory. Ponder as a red spot of light flashes in the sky. Question why townsfolk start appearing with intent to kill said stranded businessman after being instructed by a local radio host. It’s an episode of Black Mirror vaguely reminiscent of a dystopian indie titled Happy Hunting, but alas, one may struggle to appreciate artistic intent with such an ambiguous, disjointed end. Hopefully you’ll honor Deroo’s wishes far better than I could.

26. Ruin Me

Ruin Me is more The Houses October Built than Blood Fest regarding attraction mayhem believability – which is a good thing. Trysta A. Bissett and Preston DeFrancis toy around with horror tropes meant to lead patrons on a puzzling quest for answers, only to find “Slasher Sleepout” has been taken over by *actual* maniacs. Obvious clues drop as to who might be a plant or what might be real as a means of further ambiguity. Could the escaped mental patient who stumbles onto the players’ camp be a genuine knife-wielding nutjob? Ruin Me distorts implied game rules to stay one step ahead as often as possible. Maybe not bursting with surprises – tad predictable of a finale – but the right beats tiptoe their way around an ever-shifting roleplay competition. One complete with final girls, bloody deaths, and commitment to genre appreciation by means of intentional satire.

25. Found Footage 3D

Steven DeGennaro’s Found Footage 3D is subgenre satire that’s three-quarters baked. Filmmakers set out to create the first three-dimensional found footage film (Spectre Of Death) but accidentally find themselves living the exact brand of movie Found Footage 3D frequently jabs. Methods are relatively predictable – Character #1 makes a joke about a specific found footage redundancy or foreshadows via snark, said subgenre norm then occurs. Spectre Of Death undergoes further and messier production problems, while Carter Roy’s Hollywood-dreamin’ showrunner Derek keeps everything in perspective. Shout out to Tom Saporito as director Andrew for his enraged rant against found footage flicks, as well as an untimely cameo demise. It may not be as groundbreaking as scripted dialogue suggests yet Found Footage 3D is a cheeky enough roast for veteran horror fans.

24. Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl

A.D. Calvo’s Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl is a dive into supernatural-first agoraphobia with family playing a central theme. Atmosphere also plays a major role, which seems to be a constant through most Shudder exclusives. Even in acknowledging a slower beginning, Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girls still finds its bored-suburban-teen groove. Young love is so beautiful – and then the darkness descends.

Actresses Quinn Shephard and Erin Wilhelmi become friends who trade lusty gazes, as a fearful old Aunt holds one of the two back. Wilhelmi slaves away trying to make her room-locked master happy with each beckoning call, but what kind of life is that for a teenage girl? Shephard is her roguish escape. It’s the kind of selfish, ill-fated coincidence that ends in an understated curse; a fabled bookend that carries the weight of previous doldrums. Always better to end on the right foot!

23. Summer Of 84

Between filmmaking collective RKSS’s cult success and Summer Of 84’s sinister Stranger Things remix, Shudder was smart to snag exclusive streaming rights. RKSS have nothing new to say about serial killer mysteries or nostalgia filmmaking or obsessive 80s culture references, but generics are handled with confidence (and bolstered by Rich Sommer’s performance). Sometimes unnerving, sometimes funny, sometimes downright mean. All those “sometimes” moments add up to make a dark, by the books cul-de-sac thriller where children are forced to comprehend tragedy far above their maturity grade. “Even serial killers live next door to someone.”

22. Mon Mon Mon Monsters!

I first watched Giddens Ko’s Mon Mon Mon Monsters! at Fantastic Fest on little sleep, mid-week, and at the end of a *very* screening-heavy day. Ideals of cruel schoolyard bullying comeuppances and one sister’s quest to find her lost/kidnapped sibling – the sister is also said “monster” – were buried by the film’s tonally scattershot delivery. First goofy, then angry/borderline mean-spirited, next screaming bloody murder? Watched by weary eyes, Mon Mon Mon Monsters! can be a tough follow. That’s why I gave the film a second chance with rejuvenated energy, which helped me pay more attention to spectacular details like an intersection bus massacre spliced with the blending of watermelon juice (pulpy, red liquid). A bit long and all over the place, but Ko’s nastiness is sincere and unapologetic when reconstructing the horrors of childhood bullying. As painful that cyclical “victim turned abuser” depiction may be.

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