21. Sadako Vs. Kayako

While Sadako Vs. Kayako isn’t my favorite Shudder exclusive, it’s hard to ignore such a heavyweight bout of J-Horror muscle. Kôji Shiraishi’s midnight pleasures capture a more comical showdown than expected, but girls just wanna have fun after all!. Think “haunted house” with now-famous ghouls instead of invisible ghost archetypes. You’ve seen Ju-On/The Grudge and you’ve cowered during Ringu/The Ring franchise expansion (except Rings). Now watch Sadako (Samara, to us Americans) and Kayako (you know, the one with the pale pasty son) beat the snot out of each other!

Sadako Vs. Kayako plays all the Rings beats before F. Javier Gutiérrez could even get them into mainstream theaters. You’ve got the spread of Sadako’s curse through technology and the obsessed professor – except Shiraishi has way more fun exploiting the ridiculousness of it all. First, it’s a kill competition between murderous demons, then the unexpected ups Shiraishi’s greasy-haired ante. What happens when you introduce the most ancient of evils to one another? Either they’ll slay alone – OR BECOME BESTIES.

20. Still/Born

Brandon Christensen’s Still/Born may not rattle mommy-paranoia themes like Prevenge, but it’s still packed with unsettling parental imagery worth familial spooks. As themes of postpartum depression and grief warp a mother’s mind (Mary, played by Christie Burke), the reality of Mesopotamian demon Lamashtu remains wickedly in question. We behold said creature because we see through Mary’s eyes. Looming over a sleeping child or creeping ever-so-slowly. Lights-out sequences produce a haunting blend of ghostly attributes and a mother’s greatest fears with devilish regard. This is when Christensen is at his best, and when Still/Born executes its most horrific material. Rosemary’s Baby/Shelly/Mama vibes are on point. Not exactly powder-fresh, but worth the midnight ride as far as execution is concerned.

19. Cold Hell

If Stefan Ruzowitzky’s Cold Hell gets an American remake, it’ll be a surefire Ronda Rousey or Gina Carano vehicle. As is, Violetta Schurawlow plays Turkish cab driver Özge – a crippler of men twice her size via kickboxer takedowns. Expect “action horror” all the way, brought upon when Özge witnesses her prostitute neighbor’s murder complete with a full stare-down between killer and voyeur. It’s fairly light on “horror,” and isn’t action-packed 100% of the time, but Ruzowitzky constructs a fairly air-tight thriller that deftly continues forward. Hits hard when needed, bares emotional scars, and goes all serial-killer crazy with brutal results. A special showcase for Schurawlow’s talents.

18. Terrified

Demián Rugna’s Terrified boasts a generic title but isn’t altogether monotonous in its “haunted suburban street” folklore. This Spanish-language awakening of the dead pits horrified homeowners and paranormal investigators against a ghostly phenomenon that only seems to be worsening. Dead children, JavierBotet-like contortionist roommates, night vision cameras – it’s all a bit familiar, yet genuine frightening when successfully drawing out expected scares to the point of no return (that window back-and-forth jump). Plays somewhat like an anthology strung together without wrap-around filler, and gets into the spirit of spooky-scary thrills like a Halloween treat that checks necessary “BOO!” boxes. Truly, honestly, it’ll getcha!

17. Revenge

Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge is “rape revenge” from a female perspective that sets gender norms ablaze. Colorization is so vivid and bubblegum-pop bright, if only to highlight unfathomable quantities of blood that drain from human bodies. It’s a bit on-the-nose – Phoenix beer-can-brand and all – but Fargeat’s manipulation of the male gaze is what sets Revenge apart from the I Spit On Your Grave: Vengeance Is Mine grossness of our genre world. That and a gruesome, red-soaked finale like Elvira redecorated your luxurious vacation home.

16. Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel

What filmmaker Stephen Cognetti accomplishes using only some department store Halloween masks and basic ghost cosmetics should embarrass far-better budgeted found footage flicks. Hell House LLC unites the worlds of Halloween attractions and cult terror quite well, so it comes as no shock that Shudder nabbed exclusive rights to Cognetti’s surprise sequel. Right back to the Abaddon Hotel we go, splicing an investigative journalist’s death with on-air television panel discussions. This one dabbles a little more in paranormal happenings, but all the shapeshifter scares are there. Nothing fancy, killer atmosphere, no bullshit. I’ll be here to watch Abaddon’s legacy mount one horrific tragedy at a time.

15. Dearest Sister

Laotian ghost-whisperer Mattie Do weaves a sorrowful tale web with Dearest Sister, so specific in its haunting effects. There’s never an attempt to hide shadowy figures. Do instead utilizes blind characters, family suffrage and long-take gazes into the soul of “evil” to disrupt simple scares. Instead of jumps, full-frontal horror is depicted with the most deliberate focus. Totally visible. Nothing to hide.

You’d think this might rob the viewer of “surprise” shocks, but Do’s honesty lends to skin-crawling sequences that sustain storytelling. Non-conventional in today’s jump-scare-a-minute genre state, which is why bubbling tension represents such a breath of decaying air. Grief and regret play into poverty escapism, as one girl tries to bury her past. Yeah, like Ms. Do will let that happen. Note: she doesn’t.

14. Noroi: The Curse

Let’s next visit 2005’s Noroi: The Curse. Found footage movies are… Oh, wait. That “2005” thing? You read correctly. Kôji Shiraishi’s first-person chiller was released over a decade ago in Japan, but never received a North American treatment. Singapore, Germany, and Poland only. Cue Shudder digging for not only new releases without a home, but proven terrors that never crossed international waters. This is how you do streaming services!

The movie itself takes a bit to get started, which makes sense with an almost two-hour runtime. We follow a paranormal journalist as he tackles his creepiest case. Sound familiar, genre fans? Rest easy knowing that horror lies in execution, as Shiraishi commits to demonic mythos and possession rituals. Warped masks, fetus snatching, maybe a sorcerer or two. Once the ball gets rolling, it’s all downhill for our inquisitive host. Note the lack of jump scares and cheap thrills, because foreign filmmakers actually put care into story first. Such a novel idea.

13. Dead Shack

Peter Ricq’s Dead Shack is a familiar zombie vacation crash you’ve seen before that still gushes bloody fun. Teenagers find themselves tooled up and fighting reanimated corpses despite what logic tells them. It’s a woodland escape gone nuclear thanks to the undead next door. Think Zombies Ate My Neighbors with a New Zealand attitude and plenty of squirmy practical effects that may not be razor-sharp, but shoulder the film’s context for comedy. Donavon Stinson as pops Roger doles out awkward and out-of-touch humor like a middle-aged champion, tickling the most eye-rolling funny bone buried deep inside us all. Dead Shack – a genre film that knows how to have fun while splattering a few heads in the process.

12. Sequence Break

Graham Skipper’s Sequence Break showcases multiple things I love. Retro arcade cabinets. Freakazoid practical wiring effects that meld into human flesh. Creamy video game buttons that lead to orgasmic intertwining with players. Skipper’s sci-fi excursion is one of romance, binary fuckery, and conundrum-first filmmaking that gets as gonzo as it wants. Chase Williamson tries to hold a relationship while succumbing to techno-trippy panic attacks brought on by a blackened realm reminiscent to Under The Skin and possibly possessed motherboard. Strap in, hold on, and get Cronenberg freaky.

11. Shrew’s Nest

Shudder is home to extensive shelves of unique genre films, but Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel’s Shrew’s Nest may be my favorite example of inspired curation. This is a movie that played Fantastic Fest 2014 (where I caught it), and then poof – no mention ever again (Among The Living part deux). “How!” I wondered, given that this is a gripping a story that pits agoraphobia against maddening isolation in bloody, grotesque ways. Emotional torture, family resentment, unhinged absolution – you done goofed, indie distributors.

Then comes Shudder out of nowhere, sending a tweet about their “latest acquisition” Shrew’s Nest. A psychological thriller long forgotten, unearthed and unleashed on unknowing streaming audiences. Act I simmers claustrophobic atmospheres, Act II establishes conflict, and Act III pays off with reddish coats of enthusiasm. Far from perfect, but so unlike anything horror audiences are getting these days. Old-school paranoia with a healthy appetite for depravity. Give it to me!

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