When AMC Networks’ horror-only streaming service, Shudder, debuted a year ago in open beta, horror fans salivated. Despite the genre’s rich history and ongoing growth, fans have long been underserved by the limited selection and variety of horror films available to stream, on major mainstream services like Netflix and smaller, more niche-focused players alike.
And with the studio’s hit TV series The Walking Dead currently reigning over small-screen horror, it made sense to branch out and try to extend its reach. After all, horror movies have long been one of Hollywood’s safest investments thanks to the proven loyalty of horror fans, who tend to flock devotedly to anything bearing the label and to welcome low-budget indie fare along with mainstream trendsetters, terrible B movies, and classics. AMC itself has a rich history of working with horror filmmakers and studios thanks to its themed horror movie guides and its yearly Fearfest (formerly Monsterfest), now celebrating its 20th anniversary. It makes sense for that collaboration to expand.
Of course, the real proof of Shudder’s appeal would come with time: Could the site attract a loyal following of horror fans while boasting a collection unique enough to draw in new users? A year later, with the site out of beta and Halloween on the horizon, the answer seems to be yes on both counts, thanks to an unrivaled combination of variety, quality, and curative ability.
The biggest challenge of launching a horror-only streaming service is cultivating enough quality content
Shudder is not the first horror-only streaming website in existence. Others, like streaming subscription services Screambox and Full Moon, and digital rental service Monsters and Nightmares, have managed to carve out niches for themselves among the horror fan community, leaning on their scrappy independent status to set themselves apart from much larger competitors like Netflix. (“We are not here to make you feel safe or even comfortable,” reads Screambox’s mission statement.)
But such sites have largely been hamstrung by their inability, as relative outsiders, to curate truly attention-getting collections. Streaming rights are a highly desirable, highly lucrative commodity these days, and acquiring them can be a challenging and expensive endeavor, especially for smaller streaming players that don’t have mountains of cash to burn.
Thus, despite their best efforts, horror streaming upstarts too often wind up with many of the same, oft-recycled titles that are already available on larger services, or else end up serving up low-quality indie fare. And without any high-profile exclusives on offer, it’s difficult to woo potential subscribers who could just as easily find the same selection elsewhere.
But Shudder, which is flush with corporate backing and studio cooperation, is largely immune to these obstacles. Sure, the recycled, also-ran titles are all there — but so are a wealth of others that are rarely available to stream or rent anywhere else.
As a result, the service essentially outpaces its competition on a number of fronts. The price of a subscription, $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year, is slightly higher than a subscription to Screambox, which costs $4.99 per month on a month-by-month basis or $2.99 per month with a 12-month subscription. Shudder subscribers have access to more than 500 films; a Screambox representative confirmed to Vox that the site carries over 400 movie titles, with several new titles added each week, but fans with subscriptions to both sites generally describe the quality of Screambox films as much lower.
Meanwhile, the site’s digital TV network, Shudder.tv, broadcasts movies nonstop to preview Shudder’s wares for anyone who’s in the mood for some scares, including non-subscribers. And once you do sign up, the service also boasts an attractive design that heavily emphasizes its curated collections.
Shudder’s only real drawback, at least according to multiple reports on Reddit, is that some users have experienced significant glitchiness while streaming — though it appears to have improved over time, and I haven’t encountered any issues while trying out the service. On the whole, users’ technical concerns haven’t been enough to stop them from broadly recommending the site through word of mouth.
Shudder’s competitive advantage means it has a stunning variety of worthwhile content, to serve horror die-hards and newbies alike
A common complaint among horror fans is that their online streaming options are far too limited, due to the endless glut of low-budget horror films being churned out by indie filmmakers on the regular. Shudder’s impressive selection of higher-quality films comes as something of a relief.
Along with plenty of exciting titles I’d never even heard of, there are plenty of offerings here that are hard to come by through regular channels, from several films by veteran horror director Larry Fessenden (Habit) to classics like F.W. Murnau’s Haunted Castle.
Campy, niche classics like Witchery and Wes Craven’s Deadly Blessing mingle with newer cult favorites like Home Movie and Absentia. If you want gore, Shudder devotes entire categories to showcasing such staples of the genre as Blood Feast and Cannibal Holocaust. And if you’re the kind of fan who likes to watch bad movies ironically, there are more than a few movies here that’ve doubled as Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax fodder — Horror of Party Beach and Ghosthouse being my personal favorites.
The site’s foreign roster is also notable, featuring a string of Asian horror hits like I Saw the Devil, European horror classics like Jean Rollin’s Fascination, and the original Mexican version of We Are What We Are. The Giallo collection — referring to the subgenre of slick, noirish Italian slashers made in the late ’60s and ’70s — is especially choice, featuring a string of irresistibly titled, critically acclaimed Italian must-sees like Lucio Fulci’s Cat in the Brain, Antonio Margheriti’s Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye, and Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange?
The collection also includes two newer homages to the Giallo subgenre of the past — 2012’s chilling Berberian Sound Studio and the 2013 French-Italian noir The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears. And if you’re looking for precursors to Giallo, fear not: Mario Bava gets his own collection.
In other words, the bases are clearly covered: Genre classics, recurring favorites, and challenging newer films are all here. And while Shudder’s selection is definitely designed to appeal to horror die-hards, there’s enough of a mainstream vibe that newcomers can jump right in and get their feet wet (with blood).
But Shudder’s standout feature is its careful curation for horror fans of all stripes
Shudder has been quick to tout its “depth of content and experience” as its main assets in becoming a destination for horror fans, citing its curators, Sam Zimmerman and Colin Geddes, as horror experts with one eye on the audience and the other on the industry and history of horror. That love is evident, and their curation effectively serves as Shudder’s calling card.
The site’s larger collection feels wide-ranging and diverse, while the curated categories are both entertaining and savvy, diving deep and guiding users through horror’s many, many subgenres. With names like “Urban Decay,” “Slashics,” and “Not Your Ordinary Bloodsucker,” many of Shudder’s categories serve as an education about the basic elements and fundamental classics of each subgenre — making them perfect for the average horror fan looking to boost their knowledge.
But they also maintain enough personality and flair to keep even the most die-hard horror fans on their toes. For example, I laughed out loud when I saw horror comedies Creep Van and Blood Car listed side by side in the “Comedy of Terrors” category, forming their own little mini group of killer autos.
The site boosts its role as arbiter of all that is good through prestige guest curators. Even while it was technically still in beta and users needed an invited to sign up (which is no longer the case), it offered specially curated lists from longtime directors like Fessenden and Karyn Kusama (The Invitation), as well as newcomer Robert Eggers (The Witch). And while the guest curators’ tastes are often repetitive — many of the greats really want you to watch Anthony Hopkins play a ventriloquist in Magic — the fact that Shudder can call up Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes) and ask him to name his favorite horror films leaves an impression.
This is all bad news for fans of independent horror streaming sites, because they really can’t compete with what Shudder has to offer. But it’s great news for horror fans who are constantly seeking more films to watch, or who are looking to branch out from the typical Netflix and Hulu fare and really dig deep into the best the genre has to offer.