Exhausted Netflix’s horror section and need something creepy to watch this Halloween? Try Shudder. The all-horror streaming service launched last year in the US and is now coming to the UK. Its hook is that it offers an ever-growing library of horror movies, shorts, and TV shows, all handpicked by people who know horror. Two of Shudder’s curators, Colin Geddes and Sam Zimmerman, chatted to us about what to expect…
How did you come to be involved with Shudder?
Colin Geddes: They reached out to me a couple of years ago, because they were looking for help developing a streaming site where the big difference was the curation: they wanted to select good horror films rather than bad or mediocre horror films, and they needed someone to help sift through all of that. And with my history as one of the programmers of the Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness selection, I guess they thought I knew a thing or two about horror films!
So for the US launch, I just started going through lists of films, trying to find the good ones and weed out the mediocre ones. After a year of preparation, the site launched in the US, and then we needed a bit more help with curation, so then we brought in Sam.
Sam Zimmerman: Yeah! I was part of the initial consulting team, and I was really privileged to do that, and then they said, ‘we need another curator full time’, and that’s when I found out that Colin and Colin’s wife Kat had been programming, and we were all pretty stoked to work on this together. And since then it’s just been a super fun dream of diving into the genre.
It does kind of sound like a dream job.
SZ: Yeah, there’s no time when you’re like ‘yeah, it’s okay’ – this rules.
CG: There’ll be times where my wife and I get into serious discussions about what categories to slot films into, and we’ll be like ‘we have a section called Zombie Jamboree, but where do you put Frankenstein? He’s not a zombie, but he is reanimated…’ and we’ll go back and forth arguing about it, and then it’s like, ‘wait a minute, this is our job’.
The category names are quite fun. How different will the UK site be to the US site?
SZ: Atmospherically it’s a similar collection, because we have the same goals. There’s both overlap and things that are totally exclusive to the UK. More often than not that’s just to do with territories and rights rather than wanting things to be different; ideally we’d want to have the best things in all territories, but every time I look at the line-up I’m pretty blown away by what we’ve put together. I’m really proud of this library of really cool stuff.
Which films are you most excited about bringing to the UK, then?
SZ: As far as older stuff goes, I’m really excited to have Blood And Black Lace and great Hammer titles like The Abominable Snowman. As far as new things, we’re coinciding with the international launch of Beyond The Walls, which is our premiere of a French mini-series that we’re really excited about. It’s three episodes long and it is this really beautiful, haunting, evocative piece of work that we couldn’t be prouder of as our first sort of premiere – a Shudder exclusive, or Shudder Original if you will. It’s a really wonderful eerie story about a woman who inherits a townhouse and finds this sort of metaphysical parallel dimension within it and it’s really creepy and really lovely.
CG: We’ve also got some other stuff that’s exclusive, like Álex de la Iglesia’s Witching & Bitching, which is a really goofy, fun kind of horror comedy. And we’re going out of our way to find the up and coming wave of good filmmakers. And we have a film called Therapy which is by Nathan Ambrosioni, a really young French filmmaker – how old is he, Sam?
SZ: I think he’s 17 now.
CG: And he’s made this film Therapy which is along the lines of a found footage film but it actually has rules that work. I’m no fan of the found footage genre, so when it’s done properly I get really excited. So that’s an exclusive we’ll have on the site as well. He’s definitely a filmmaker to watch.
I wanted to ask you about up and coming filmmakers, actually! Is there anyone else you’d recommend keeping an eye out for?
SZ: Oh, totally. I would say Mattie Do, her newest film Dearest Sister is the second horror film from Laos – it’s still a really developing national cinema – and she’s made this really sophisticated, dramatic ghost story. I think it’s reminiscent of 70s dramatic horror where the familial tension and the human drama is almost the horror of it and the ghosts are this weird atmospheric world-building part of it and it’s really great. I’m really excited that we’ll have it.
CG: We’re going to be showcasing international horror, not just English language horror, because we always say it’s fun to see how people around the world scream.
That’s something that really stands out, even on the beta site. I spotted a lot of cool Italian horror and some interesting Swedish stuff…
SZ: Yeah, it’s so cool. I think even just the two countries you mentioned, we have I Vampiri, which is one of the first Italian horrors: Mario Bava worked on that even before Black Sunday. And then we have Japanese horror like Lesson Of Evil, which is Takashi Miike’s recent unsung school based horror, which I’m really pumped for people to be able to see.
CG: One of the things about the site is that, right now we’re in an era where we’re seeing the demise of video stores, so people don’t know where to find these films. We really want to step up and be a platform where it’s like, okay, you met someone who told you about this cool film by Takashi Miike, where can you find it? Back in the day, you’d get videotapes or DVDs but that’s disappearing so we want to fill that void, and help educate people when it comes to horror films.
Both of you are obviously well established in the horror scene. How did you first get into the genre?
CG: For me, it was my parents letting me experience the right things. They let me read comic books, they let me watch horror films – well, they didn’t let me watch all horror films but we would watch the films together and talk about them. And I was always interested in dark fantasy and horror, I read a lot, and my interest turned into my profession. One way that I got into it in a professional capacity was that I wrote a fanzine about Asian genre films, and somehow people started taking notice of what I was saying.
SZ: As a kid, I think I just sort of had a real inclination for horror and the fantastic, the creepy and the gothic and all that fun stuff. I stumbled upon movies I shouldn’t have; at far too young an age, I saw Castle Freak and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, and then I just continued on that track as I got older. I had a friend who worked at a video store and we’d hang out on weekends and take piles of stuff home. And then as I got into college I figured it would be best to learn how to write and talk about films because I wanted to do it in a professional capacity, and while I was at school I found out you could intern for Fangoria, and that really blew my mind! That set me on my path right out of school. I stayed at Fango as a contributing editor and staff editor and since then have been entrenched in this whole world of talking about horror and writing about horror and programming it.
You said earlier that the point of the site is that it’s curated and only includes good horror movies rather than mediocre or bad ones. So what, for you, makes a good horror movie?
SZ: That’s such a subjective question…
Sure, but you’re the ones making the decisions here.
SZ: Totally, but I don’t think it’s just like ‘I love this’ because frankly Shudder would all be witch movies if it was just up to me! We think about it like ‘what movies do we love? What movies are contextually and historically interesting? What’s stylistically interesting? What movies do I know someone else will love even if I’m not 100% on board with it?’
What I think makes a great horror movie is a couple of things: I think it needs to be wildly atmospheric, it needs to be a film that is in awe of the fantastic – I tend to not be into movies about monster hunting or monster conquering, much more the Algernon Blackwood ‘this blew my mind and drove me crazy because the void is so unknowable’ stuff – but I also love comfort horror, like Black Sunday for instance, castles and Barbara Steele staring very intently and witchcraft! That stuff to me makes great horror too.
CG: For me, when you’re curating you have to think broad rather than narrow. And there are films on Shudder that aren’t particularly my favourite but I know they have a critical standing, they have an audience, they have a following. But for me personally, I’m drawn to films more about the supernatural and the uncanny rather than real life terror. I enjoy a good thriller, something like You’re Next, but I like films that have more of an element of the unknown about them, the more phantasmagorical, that’s my bag.
SZ: Stop copying me!
CG: No, you’re more witchy. I’m not as witchy as you! But I enjoy it all and one of the things critics have to understand is how broad the genre can actually be. We’ve had discussions about what horror is, and sometimes it’s not about content, it can just be about atmosphere. Horror is not as definable as romantic comedy, so we’ve been going through thinking about ‘what is horror? What is good horror?’ but we also like to think we’ve built a collection that the audience can really explore and discover on their own.
Finally, can you recommend something that our readers are unlikely to have seen that they should watch on Shudder?
CG: I’m going to go with Slugs. Slugs is really silly. Slugs is an English language film by a Spanish director and it’s just about these carnivorous evil slugs that start attacking a small town and it’s really goofy, really icky, but it’s just really fun. I like films where you kind of scream and giggle at the same time. It’s not the definition of horror but this might alleviate the tension of whatever Sam picks.
Okay. Pressure’s on, Sam. Pick something scary.
SZ: My pick is Pin: A Plastic Nightmare. I’m so glad we have this movie. It’s Canadian, I’m so glad we have it on Shudder UK, I’m jealous for Shudder US that we don’t have it! This is a super unsettling familial psychodrama about a pair of children who almost know their father exclusively through an anatomical dummy that he keeps in the house and talks to them with, and so when their parents die they form an unhealthy attachment to this strange doll and it gets real weird from there. It’s so creepy. It is a monstrously creepy movie!
Thanks guys. Shudder launches in the UK on 20 October.