Shudder, Filmstruck and the Classic Horror Desert

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In the same way that video stores supplanted TV as the place to get your movie fix, online streaming has replaced the video stores. But the problem with the streaming model has always been one of selection — there’s a lot of good stuff on Netflix, but the genre films offered have been pretty limited.

Fans of the horror genre were heartened to hear about Shudder, a really well-designed site that bills itself as the “Netflix of horror”. For the pretty reasonable price of $4.95 a month, you get access to hundreds of titles. And more stuff is added each day.

I signed up for the 14-day free trial, but dropped the membership before the two weeks was over. The problems with Shudder were about what I had expected. While I like some modern horror (The Witch, Oculus, The Conjuring, The Exorcist, Halloween, etc) I dislike a lot of what’s out there. I don’t like slasher films or torture porn or movies that are just excuses to depict human suffering and cruelty. I prefer the stuff from Universal’s golden age, Val Lewton’s strange and lyrical films, and the Hammer gothic titles. But come on, you already know that.

Shudder does have a nice selection of Hammer films, but there’s no Val Lewton and no Universal horror classics. I expect it’s an issue of securing the rights – Universal doesn’t make its classic horror titles available on any streaming services I’m familiar with. But Shudder does seem to be trying to offer classic horror, with some from the silent era (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, The Golem) as well as Hands of Orlac, White Zombie , some 1970s and 1980s titles like Phantasm, The Howling, Fright Night and An American Werewolf In London, and a bunch of Mario Bava titles.

On the other side of the niche streaming spectrum is Filmstruck, a cooperative venture of Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection. There’s a lot of great classic arthouse films streaming on Filmstruck, which is available at $10 / a month, but like Shudder, there aren’t a lot of horror titles available. The ones they do have are good, such as Carnival of Souls, Black Sunday and Eyes Without a Face, but it’s a rather grimly high-brow selection*. Where are the Universal monsters, the PRC programmers, the junk Monogram filler, the Columbia mad scientist flicks with Boris Karloff?

Where, in short, is Horror Incorporated?

Maybe it’s time to create a new streaming service for that niche, but how many weirdos like me are really out there, ready to shell out five or ten bucks a month to watch old monster movies?

Not enough, I suspect. But who knows?


*Filmstruck really becomes amusing when you look at what it lists under war movies — Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Mrs. Miniver and Grand Illusion aren’t what most people think of as emblematic of that genre.

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