Shudder is a new streaming service dedicated to terrifying us. GARY STEEL had a close look at its content.
Shudder describes itself as a premium streaming service that will appeal to anyone keen on horror, thrillers and the supernatural. But the question on the minds of both horror connoisseurs and the merely curious will be: BUT IS IT ANY GOOD? I decided to immerse myself in its featured content for a week in an attempt to get a broad idea of where Shudder’s at in the horror universe.
The idea was to do everything that doesn’t come naturally to me as a (so-called) discerning viewer, and simply press ‘play’ on randomly chosen featured content.
The Beach House 7.5/10
A film that perfectly sums up the Shudder aesthetic, The Beach House is a creeping horror that gets more unsettling and disgusting as it goes on, but it’s also a well-acted film with intelligent, almost spontaneous-sounding dialogue. And in keeping with the horror genre freshening itself up for the new millennium, the female lead (Liano Liberato as Emily) just happens to be a student of astrophysics, so she’s no dummy.
Let’s face it, those like me who are long-in-the-tooth find it hard to see anything new in film or music, and The Beach House doesn’t do much more than recapitulate and refresh the kind of “unknown and unseen thing attacking us and turning us to mush or aliens” subgenre that’s been around since the 1950s. But there’s just enough that’s contemporary about it to make it work for a new generation.
This reviewer lives in an isolated beach community that’s almost abandoned in winter, so the scenario depicted in The Beach House had a spooky resonance for me that it may not have for everyone. But first-time director Jeffrey A. Brown has chosen a swell spot for a horror and there’s both a beauty and a sense of something amiss as the young couple – back together again after a break – move into Randall’s (played by newbie Noah Le Gros) parents’ pad.
One of the highlights of the film are the older couple, family friends that it turns out are also staying in the house. Jake Weber (Medium) is great as Mitch and Maryann Nagel is pretty good as the disturbed Jane, but sadly, the characters are written off pretty quickly.
It’s never really explained what the creeping terror is but when the fog-like sticky substance rolls in you know that humans are going to die and turn into giant slushies, so anyone looking for a happy ending better look elsewhere.
Goodnight Mommy 7.5/10
This 2014 Austrian film, rather than being an out-and-out horror, is genuinely creepy and strange, although it won’t appeal to those who can’t handle a little torture. (And I must confess that a mother having her mouth glued shut by her two pre-pubescent boys is just a little too much for my delicate sensibilities).
Directed by the dynamic duo, Veronikia Franz and Severin Fiala, Goodnight Mommy takes place at a beautiful if incredibly claustrophobic setting in a house that’s presumably in the Austrian foothills.
Two boys are alone in the house when their mother (played by Susan Wuest) comes back from what one assumes is cosmetic facial surgery. (Ha-ha). She’s wearing a head full of bandages and has undergone a complete personality change. Instead of the kind mother they know, she’s really mean and spiteful, and they begin to suspect that she’s an imposter.
Once the tables turn and the boys hold all the power, things get even grimmer than they were before. With her mask off the boys are even more certain that she’s not their real mother, but even when restrained she refuses to admit that fact.
There’s an inevitability here that is excruciating, but it’s all very well done in a clinical, almost fly-on-the-wall fashion, and the big surprise, when it comes, is terrific.
Remember The Blair Witch Project? A film very much of its time that took the then-novel approach of using a documentary-style amateur video recording of a horrifying night in the woods, purportedly shot by film students, it was briefly a genuine phenomenon.
Things have moved on, and now we have this short (50-odd minutes) 21st Century take on supernatural horror that’s entirely viewed via a Zoom call made by a group of friends holding an online séance.
Clearly shot during the early days of Covid-19 stay-at-home cabin fever, at first Host’s seemingly static Zoom screen seemed like a rather limited proposition in terms of filmmaking. But as odd and very scary things start happening to the participants (all but one of whom are fairly attractive young females) the limitations imposed by that screen become an opportunity.
Just as The Blair Witch Project capitalised on the scare-value of lo-res visuals (proving the dictum that the shadowy impression of a monster in a dark room is much more frightening than a beast detailed in 8K), Host uses the low-lit rooms in each square of the Zoom screen to maximum impact.
What really makes the film work, however, are the actors who at first carry on a conversation as naturally as any group of young adults, so the viewer is lulled into feeling that it’s real. When one of the young women makes fun of the spirit world and the clairvoyant’s call is cut off, it seems like it’s mission aborted, but then a malevolent presence starts to make its impression on one zoom screen after another.
There’s a certain inevitability that the characters are going to die horrible, savage but creative deaths. After all, the concept and brevity both prevent a complex storyline or a hero that saves the night.
The film’s genesis was a scary YouTube short that director Rob Savage made in his attic which quickly went viral, and Host was ‘shot’ entirely remotely with each of the actors figuring out their own scary sequences. It didn’t freak out this hardened horror hound, but then, I thought The Blair Witch Project was tame, while many of my friends at the time said it was the scariest thing they’d ever watched. Horses for courses and all that, but this unusual project works well and is unexpectedly convincing.
It’s nice to see Shudder grabbing the rights to foreign language horrors like Impetigore, an Indonesian film that is worth seeing if only for the exotic touches it brings to its well-worn theme of demon spirits putting their curse on a community.
It’s location, location, location as two city young women head for a remote, well off-the-beaten-track village. It turns out that Maya (Tara Basro) was born in the village, but her parents died young and she was brought up in the city without knowing anything of her past. Dirt poor, Maya hopes that there might be a house and land waiting for her in the village, but finds instead that the ghoulish experiments of her Dad had led to a curse which meant that every baby in the past 20 years was born without skin, and therefore died.
The villagers believe that Maya needs to be killed for the curse to be lifted, but the truth is more sinister.
As things progress the plot gets more and more preposterous and the kind of medieval beliefs that run through the film are scarcely believable. Having said that, there’s enough bloodletting to please horror fans, and when Maya’s friend Dini meets a gory end it’s quite shocking because she’s a likeable character.
Impetigore manages to keep you involved because you’re rooting for Maya, who throughout is completely vulnerable and at risk. The story might seem silly in some ways to hardened Westerners but the village setting and its people make the film uniquely enthralling.
Random Acts Of Violence 6.5/10
This feature-length film has a plot about a horror comic book artist/writer who goes on a road tour with his girlfriend, publicist and secretary from Canada to New York to promote the newest entry in his series about Slasherman, a real-life serial killer.
Somewhat predictably, along the way Slasherman-style murders start to occur around them, and eventually the killer moves in on the core cast. But while Random Acts Of Violence fulfils the demands of typical slasher films (notably blood, gore and bizarre deaths) it’s much more than that.
It’s interesting that the movie was adapted from a graphic novel because the subtext here – and the subject that’s confronted by the cast along the way – is the irresponsible and dangerous glorification of violence. And that, of course, is something that the film’s (and Shudder’s) very existence could be accused of doing. The audience watching the film is ultimately implicated as well because we’re viewing the violence.
Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) plays the increasingly confused lead character, Todd, while Jordana Brewster (Fast & Furious) plays his conflicted girlfriend, Kathy. She’s working on a book about Slasherman’s victims and finds herself increasingly frustrated at the weird pedestal horror fan dweebs put serial killers on.
The dialogue presents Random Acts Of Violence with a strange dilemma and leaves it (and us) feeling as conflicted as Kathy. She’s right, of course, and yet we find horror alluring on some deep, instinctive level.
Its main problem is a lack of engagement. While the acting and script and direction are all competent, it lacks a certain frisson and some scenes are a little lacklustre. Having said that the denouement – which contains a surprise that I’m not going to spoil – partially makes up for the viewer’s mounting frustration.
Does the world need even one more zombie movie? The genre barely existed when George Romero made his grisly trilogy (Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead and Day Of The Dead) and his approach was both fresh and disturbing.
Since the first of those films changed everything in 1968, however, the zombie movie has slowly become moribund, with a plethora of sub-genres, some playing on humour and others – like the TV series The Walking Dead – attempting to combine genuine drama with splatter-gore.
And I’ll admit that however predictable most of the zombie flicks got, I was there to soak up the blood and guts. But in 2020, with the whole world living in a kind of suspended hell with a very real pandemic caused by a virus rather than zombification, the zombies seem like a really tired concept.
Belgian film Yummy is billed as a movie that gives fresh life to the munching dead (ha), so I had to see it just to convince myself otherwise. In the end, I reckon that they’re right (but so am I, sort of). Yes, it’s true that Yummy has a kind of frenetic indie energy and the film has quite a few good deaths that are as funny as they are yucky. But it’s also a film that’s so loaded with the history of the zombie film that rampant clichés are unavoidable.
It’s not exactly a comedy-horror but it comes close because the story (such as it is) is so ludicrous and the whole scenario so unlikely that you can’t really take it seriously. Really wanna know? Okay, here goes: Couple and the wife’s Mum drive to a cosmetic surgery hospital in the middle of nowhere where it’s immediately apparent that things are loose and weird. She’s about to go under the knife for breast reduction surgery when a junkie orderly discovers that the hospital is experimenting on corpses and reanimating them. Naturally, they’re flesh-eating zombies, which get loose and all havoc breaks loose.
Maaike Neuville is perfect as Alison, a “girl-next-door with D-cup boobs”, but her idiotic nerd boyfriend is pure caricature. It’s not the characters/actors that make Yummy, however, it’s the variety of ingenious horrific/funny scenarios that arise from the zombies getting loose. There are some frustratingly dumb scenes where zombies are chasing people from ward to ward but no one thinks to do something as simple as closing or locking a door, probably because then the camera couldn’t go through.
But in amongst the creative and disgusting tomfoolery, there’s a kinetic energy that makes parts of Yummy worth the ticket price. I wish they’d dropped the zombie theme altogether and instead figured out some other monster concept that was a bit fresher, though.
Ironically, the best scene doesn’t involve monsters at all but a TV star who is at the hospital for penis enlargement surgery. After saving a young woman from a zombie attack, she insists on losing her virginity to the movie star, who unwraps the bandage of his freshly-minted “big one” to carry out the dirty deed. I shouldn’t spoil what happens next but it’s hilarious (and will have any male squirming in his seat in sympathy).
So it’s both good and bad, really. At its best, Yummy is indeed a fresh entry into the zombie genre, but is it a genre worth reviving? I hope that next time this creative team get to create a whole new genre, and some horrific gut-busting laughs along with it.
- This time we had a stroll through some of Shudder’s featured film content. Next time we’ll have a look at the various TV series’ available on the streaming service.