Streaming services are all the rage right now – and why wouldn’t they be? Paying one set price for unlimited access to a whole range of movies and TV shows? Yes please. We’re not saying you should only use streamers (because you should definitely still buy physical media), but they do have their advantages.
One service that tends to get overlooked is Shudder. The horror-based streamer has a lot going for it, especially if Disney+ isn’t giving you your required dose of adrenaline, and it’s consistently great at producing excellent original movies – it just doesn’t get the love it deserves! So what better time than now to run through ten absolutely essential Shudder originals and exclusives? There isn’t one – let’s do this!
Anti-capitalism is all the rage right now – as it should be – so what better way to enjoy a slice of it than with Joe Lynch’s utterly bonkers Mayhem? The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun stars as a corporate lawyer who’s fired from his job just as his office is put into quarantine to contain a dangerous virus that removes people’s moral inhibitions. Forming an unlikely alliance with Ready Or Not’s Samara Weaving, the pair must fight their way to the top floor to bring justice to the merciless suits that punished them so unfairly.
Mayhem is a movie that doesn’t skimp on either its violence or its political commentary. There’s blood and guts galore, with plenty of corporate criticism to wash it down – what’s not to love? Yeun and Weaving are on top form, and Lynch takes a delightful sense of glee in his (very valid) criticisms of capitalist corporations. Plus, at only 83 minutes, it’s barely a moment of your evening – so really, what have you got to lose?
Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge is perhaps Shudder’s crowning jewel. The French writer-director’s feature debut is nothing short of a masterpiece: a visceral, sensory, gut-wrenching work, it’s a film that dares to defy the patriarchy, and wants nothing more than to burn it all to the ground. After the credits roll on Revenge, you’ll be extremely hard-pressed not to agree with her.
It follows a young woman assaulted and left for dead by her boyfriend and his friends. Simple though it sounds, what the film may lack in narrative complexity it more than makes up for with bombast and anger. Fargeat spares no one: she’s clearly had enough of how society treats victims of sexual assault and wants to make a very, very big statement – and boy how she succeeds. Revenge is far from a comfortable watch for its viewer, but if you can stomach its message and sheer, unrelenting brutality, then you might have just found a new favourite movie.
Blood Machines (2019)
Perhaps one of the most ambitious Kickstarter films ever attempted, Seth Ickerman’s Blood Machines truly is a sight to behold. Self-described as a “cosmic space opera,” it’s a film that takes its cues from cyberpunk canon to explore humanity and femininity with more neon colours than you could even attempt to name. Following the crew of a ship who set out to retrieve a wreckage, a galactic chase ensues when the downed ship’s soul is freed from her body and escapes across the cosmos.
If nothing else, Blood Machines is certainly a feast for the senses. Visually it stands entirely alone, while its gorgeous synth soundtrack from Carpenter Brut pairs perfectly with what we see before us. It’s bloody, baffling, and breathtaking, and while it certainly won’t please everyone that watches it, it’s an absolute must for genre fans.
Rob Savage’s Host is probably the only good thing to come out of the pandemic situation. Taking place entirely over Zoom, it follows a group of friends who attempt a séance over the video-chat service, only to have it go completely wrong and end up being haunted by a malicious presence. It might sound fairly cliché, but the virtual element lends it an air of revolution: never has a laptop been utilised so effectively in a horror film.
We all know how awkward Zoom calls can be, so why would we want to watch an hour-long Zoom featuring people we don’t know? Well, that never actually becomes an issue: Host’s biggest strength is probably its performances, meaning that we engage with the group instantly as they go through the overly familiar awkwardness of the initial moments in the meeting. It’s also packed with some of the best scares in recent memory, most of which we don’t see coming, making them all the scarier. The word “revolutionary” perhaps gets thrown around too often, but with Host it’s never been more appropriate.
Anything For Jackson (2020)
Grief is a common thread throughout the history of horror, but rarely has it been explored from the point of view of the elderly. Justin G Dyck’s Anything For Jackson follows a couple turning to satanism to resurrect their grandson (the titular Jackson) who was killed in a car crash. Predictably things don’t go to plan, and Henry and Audrey find themselves haunted by things they can’t control. Oh, and they’ve also kidnapped a pregnant woman to try and latch Jackson’s soul to her unborn child. As you do.
This is a film that’s modern in every sense of the word: it seems to be inspired by recent successes like The Witch and Hereditary in its pacing. It starts slowly, but always engaging and deliberate, and gradually dials up the tension and the scares until we can barely take it anymore. Anchored beautifully by superb performances across the board, Anything For Jackson is a truly terrifying affair that should be on every horror aficionado’s watchlist.
The Beach House (2020)
A movie about a viral contagion that threatens to wipe out the entire planet might not be top of everyone’s ‘desperate to watch’ list right now, but The Beach House is more than worth the effort. Its tiny scale works in its favour as it follows a young couple on a getaway to the titular seaside hut who find themselves in danger when they realise there’s something funky about the water. Jeffrey A Brown directs with confidence well beyond his years in a flick that’s always unnerving, consistently squirming, and occasionally horrifying.
Liana Liberato puts in a cracking lead turn as Emily, a young woman who just wants a nice weekend away with her boyfriend. She grounds the whole movie really well, and is especially impressive in the film’s ickier moments – of which there are quite a few. Add in some genuinely gorgeous visuals, a near-constant sense of unease, and a reminder that the ocean is terrifying and there’s nothing we can do about it, and you’ve got yourself one brilliant little movie.
La Llorona (2020)
Horror has always been political – anyone who tells you it hasn’t is either lying or hasn’t seen enough horror movies. But rarely has it been so ferocious as in Jayro Bustamante’s La Llorona, a Guatemalan flick that grapples with the country’s history of genocide under a corrupt leader. While the film never claims to be a true story, the fictional general at its centre is based on President Rios Montt, who was sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity.
It’s this real-world horror, rather than anything supernatural, that makes La Llorona tick. The titular weeping woman here finds her purpose as an entity bent on finding justice for the thousands murdered by Rios Montt – justice that was never found in real life. It might be too slow for some, but stellar performances and an electric screenplay make this one extremely uncomfortable viewing.
The Power (2021)
What is it about us Brits that make us so good at horror? Director Corinna Faith’s first foray into genre fare certainly marks her out as one to watch: The Power follows a young nurse on the night shift at a hospital in London amidst rolling blackouts, who becomes convinced there’s something after her. Faith clearly has a strong grip of the genre to the extent that the hospital itself feels evil and oppressive, but it’s Rose Williams as Val who makes everything come together.
The Power’s subject matter is hardly comfortable to engage with, but Williams sells the whole thing with ease – especially when her talent is combined with Faith’s excellent eye for a good shot. Whether in light or in dark, Faith knows just how to press her audience to slowly push them into extreme unease, with fantastic results. Like most films on this list it won’t please everyone, but it’s easily one of the strongest British horrors of the last few years.
The possessed object subgenre is one that’s been well-worn for years now – so what Elza Kephart does with her latest feature is to give it a truly modern spin. With Slaxx, she takes aim at the fashion industry; specifically the effects that fast fashion is having on the lesser-developed countries it knowingly exploits. Given this, we might expect Slaxx to be a deadly serious genre movie – no chance: the possessed object in this case is a killer pair of jeans.
Yes that’s right, denim kills in Slaxx, and it’s delightful. Set in a clothing store the night before a new line is launched, Kephart’s movie knows exactly when to take things seriously, and exactly when to take the piss. It’s a tricky line to walk, but she does it as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. She’s helped along by some terrifically fun performances and a series of brilliantly grisly and inventive kills, but it’s the message that solidifies Slaxx as excellent genre fare. We really should be more careful about where we buy our clothes – because we never know which item of dress may turn out to have a bloody and haunted past…
As rape-revenge movies go, Violation is one of the most brutal out there. In many ways it’s a fascinating sister film to the aforementioned Revenge, as each work demonstrates a completely different way in which the subject matter can be explored. Make no mistake, Violation is not easy viewing: it’s a brutal watch, haunting and hostile, yet ever-so-precise in its cuts. Co-director Madeleine Sims-Fewer puts in a stellar turn as Miriam, who’s betrayed by her sister and brother-in-law when a camping trip takes a nasty turn.
Violation is not like other revenge movies. It isn’t loud, or bombastic, or celebratory – instead it’s quiet and uncomfortable, focusing on conveying Miriam’s broken and fractured mind after she’s attacked. Its non-linear structure is disorientating at first, but it helps us buy into and engage with Miriam’s mindset, the impact of which is solidified by a superb script and even better performances. For all these reasons and so many more, and perhaps more so than any other film on this list, Violation is a film that’ll stay with you long after the credits have finished rolling.
That’s all for our list here, but Shudder has plenty more to offer – let us know your favourites!