For those of us social distancing alone, technology is not only a conduit to reaching friends and family, it often becomes a friend or cool cousin. When lockdown rules are relaxed, it will be interesting for us lone stay-at-homers to mingle with real people again, rather than exclusively talking to faces on Zoom. I foresee awkwardness.
Technology, specifically a Roku box and my TV, enabled me to spend last Sunday with Shudder, immersing myself in independent horror cinema. By independent I don’t mean cheap, but rather imaginative, surprising and exhilarating film making.
No, Shudder are not paying me or offering a free subscription to write this. To prove it, on the Roku box cast and director details are not listed for any of the movies. This can often mean the difference between a yay or nay on watching a film, so it would be useful if this was included. True, the information is present on the website and Apple app versions but integrating it into Shudder on Roku would improve the experience.
Bear in mind also that a subscription through their website does not sync with Shudder on Amazon Prime, hence the Roku box.
Okay, credibility establishing grumbles now done, my first Shudder binge was a Sunday in the company of five great movies that I wanted to share. First up was…
MOVIE ONE: RUIN ME (A Shudder Exclusive)
This was one I tried to see at FrightFest back in 2017, but tickets sold out early. Not difficult to see why: Preston DeFrancis’ feature debut is a canny blend of slasher movie conventions mixed with David Fincher’s The Game.
Marcienne Dwyer is Alex, dragged on a real-life slasher weekend experience by her boyfriend. Problems arise when what should be a game turns deadly serious. DeFrancis and co-writer Trysta A. Bissett have fun poking holes in slasher movie clichés. The tone believably shifts from jokey to menacing, while confident plotting ensures the audience can play along in guessing who is behind this weekend from hell.
Fright fans will spot early on that Alex, the one non-horror buff of the group, will be Final Girl come the climax. But, a sensitive performance from Dwyer, strong characterisation across the board and an unexpected denouement make this an engaging post-modern horror and a good start to the day.
MOVIE TWO: THE ROOM (A Shudder Original)
It is either an act of supreme courage or total folly to name your film The Room. One, it risks becoming lost amidst myriad other movies with a Roomy title and two, do you want to be confused with Tommy Wiseau’s deranged worst-film-ever-made™?
No matter, the title zeroes in on the film’s irresistible Faustian premise. Olga Kurylenko and Kevin Janssens are European couple Kate and Matt, moving into a large, isolated house they have purchased in Massachusetts. While clearing out old furniture, Matt discovers a hidden room. A room that grants whatever is wished for.
Wishes in horror cinema never pave the way to happiness. But, writer/director Christian Volckman and co-writer Eric Forestier deliver fresh surprises on Mephistophelean bargains and demonic house plot beats. To reveal more would be to spoil the well-executed story turns, but The Room escalates tension when Kate wishes for something a little more profound than diamonds and money.
Volckman has fun with temporal jumps as the couple begin to lose control of their situation and the climax uses the potential of the film’s premise to imaginative effect.
And, of course, any movie with people reluctant to leave the house in fear of bad things happening is going to resonate in these odd times…
A recommendation from the Shock Waves podcast placed this one on my radar. Hopefully Blumhouse are asking Volckman and Forestier to pitch ideas as you read this.
MOVIE THREE: BLISS (A Shudder Exclusive)
I missed this at FrightFest 2019, but Joe Begos’ drugs, sex and violence fuelled dazzler is an amphetamine rush on the small(er) screen.
Films about self-obsessed artists can be horror shows for all the wrong reasons.
But, channelling the punk drive of vintage Abel Ferrara, Begos transforms Bliss into a remarkably sustained sensory assault. Sharing credit for the film’s propulsive energy is lead Dora Madison as Dezzy. Turning the insolent artist cliché into something truly monstrous, Madison’s Dezzy is often loathsome, but also a rush to be around. For 80-minutes. She’d be a waking nightmare for a whole day.
A plot of sorts revolves around Dezzy’s search for chemically-based inspiration to help her complete an overdue painting. We won’t reveal here how this all shifts into horror territory, (although the above trailer offers clues) but gore fans will be left soaking in one of the most blood-drenched movies of recent memory.
When low-budget cinema meets raw talent, it is bliss.
MOVIE FOUR: REVENGE (A Shudder Original)
My first encounter with Coralie Fargeat’s thriller was the inspired Shudder trailer that incorporated toxic YouTube quotes from outraged males. Said trailer is featured above.
Fargeat’s directorial debut takes that staple of 70s and 80s exploitation cinema, the rape-revenge movie, and refashions it for modern audiences. She achieves this by draining the assault of titillation and devoting most of the runtime to the revenge rather than the rape.
Shot in North Africa but based in the US, the plot follows Matilda Lutz’s Jen as she hooks up with married boyfriend Richard (The Room’s Janssens) at an exclusive hunting lodge in the desert. Joined by Richard’s slimy friends, matters darken when one of them mistakes Jen’s partying for a come-on. When attempts to cover up the crime fail, the men try for a more lethal form of silence.
A lean hunt movie, Revenge features a plot event so audacious you wonder if the film will suggest a supernatural power is at play (it isn’t).
Fargeat understands the mechanics of suspense and stages several effective set-pieces. She also displays a penchant for squirmy moments of intimate pain, assisted by first rate practical make-up effects and a vat of fake blood (this is as wet as Bliss).
Subtext doesn’t run much deeper than Jen brandishing a phallic shotgun. Although in a nice inversion of the genre, Janssens displays far more flesh than Lutz, particularly in the locked n’ loaded climax.
The unforgiving, sun-bleached landscape is a suitable arena for this game of catch and kill and Lutz convincingly sells her character’s shift from party girl to avenger. Hopefully, film no.2 from Fargeat will be not too long in arriving.
MOVIE FIVE: SUMMER OF 84 (A Shudder Exclusive)
Shudder Sunday closed as it opened, with an effective slasher movie, here from the directing team behind Turbo Kid.
Drawing on Stranger Things style nostalgia, Summer of 84 follows the teenage Davey (Graham Verchere), who becomes convinced his neighbour is a serial killer. Problem is, said neighbour (GLOW’s Rich Sommer) is a town policeman and friends with Davey’s dad, a fellow officer.
Recruiting friends to help him in the investigation, Davey vows to prove his theory correct. But, is he right or is someone else in the neighbourhood not all they appear to be?
Rear Window, Disturbia and Fright Night hang over the film. But, Summer of 84 has the feel of a classic 1980s horror paperback. The kids are likeable, but not above crass jokes and spying on the girl next door, and time is taken to feature angst and domestic worries alongside the shivers. Particularly affecting here is Caleb Emery as Davey’s friend Woody, who frets over his nurse single-mum.
The dark denouement would have been rewritten if this was a studio movie. Thankfully it isn’t and those closing moments pack an emotional punch.
On Shudder.com, a customer review suggested a sequel, Summer of 94. That is a killer idea…
So, that was Shudder Sunday. The current catalogue has enough for themed movie days, pre-curated for your convenience…
Of course, you can also programme your own mini-festivals. I’m thinking Vault of Horrors, featuring old school chillers including The Baby, Romero’s Season of the Witch and Robert Altman’s Images.
After that, Shock Docs, so I can catch up with Horror Noire, King Cohen and two-part Hellraiser documentary Leviathan.
Shudder is also home to movies that played well on the festival circuit and deserve a revisit. Topping my re-watch list are Found Footage 3D, It Stains the Sands Red, Sadako Vs Kayako, Terrified, One Cut of the Dead and Mayhem.
With the outside world so scary, the safer horror is at home.