If you’ve got access to the horror streaming platform Shudder then here’s some original and exclusive content you might want to check out, or avoid!
Import The Furies (2019) offers old school blood and guts in the bright Australian desert. After waking up inside a mysterious box in the middle of the woods, Kayla (Airlie Dodds) finds herself and several other women being seemingly hunted by a pack of masked killers. Kayla and the others realize they are part of a staged killing floor created by forces unseen and the only way out is to fight to the death, not just with the killers but with each other.
Sort of a poor man’s Battle Royale, TF feels like it was an idea designed around a series of spectacular splatter effects. That’s to say it doesn’t feel like a cohesive film; underwritten characters and a shortsighted story dull the effect a better-made film may have. But, oh, those f/x!
The worst of the bunch is easily 30 Miles from Nowhere (2018), a rambling void of idiotic characters and uninteresting situations. Carrie Preston (Arlene on True Blood) is the saving grace of the movie but even her presence doesn’t help this mess. A group of ex-college chums back together to attend the funeral of a friend gather at Sylvia’s (Preston) guest house for a few days. Personalities clash and things get heated when strange things start happening around the house, including bloody tap water and an insect swarm.
I don’t want to spoil anything but essentially the film boils down to a psych/fear experiment melodrama that doesn’t work. It’s super anticlimactic and never fully explains itself or has a satisfying justification for the events that happen.
The Shed (2019) is an energetic vampire yarn in the vein of Stephen King. Dealing with bullies at school and a verbally abusive grandfather at home, outcast Stan (Jay Jay Warren) gets even more bad news when he discovers a vampire (Frank Whaley) hiding in his backyard tool shed. Fearing for his life, Stan plans to kill the monster but best friend Dommer (Cody Kostro) sees this as an opportunity to eliminate schoolyard Public Enemy No. 1 (Chris Petrovski).
A sense of humor helps a great deal and it’s nice to see the filmmakers (writer/director Frank Sabatella and co-writer Jason Rice) having fun with the material. But TS isn’t perfect; Stan is rather dull (the more interesting Dommer should have been the focal point), and the film relies too heavily on dream sequences as filler. But that said this is an enjoyable romp worthy of discovery.
A grief-stricken mother (Keegan Conner Tracy) becomes suspicious of her son’s imaginary friend in Z (2019), an amusing, creative potboiler. Things seem normal at first but after a series of disturbing events Mom taker Son to a psychiatrist (Stephen McHattie) who has even more unsettling news about the mysterious Z.
The film smartly avoids trying to explain itself with too much psycho-babble and the less it takes itself seriously the more entertaining it becomes, including a bonkers creepy scene that might make you think twice about sitting in a bathtub again. Tracy (Final Destination 2) is personable and gives a nicely understated performance. Unfortunately a pesky inconclusive ending mars an otherwise good little flick.
Random Acts of Violence (2019) is the latest release from Shudder Originals. Directed by Jay Baruchel and written by Baruchel and Jesse Chabot (based on a comic book by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti), the film centers on comic book writer Todd (Jesse Williams) whose series of comics called Slasherman has fired up controversy of the books’ hyper violence. Things get even worse when, while on a promotional road trip, Todd, his girlfriend (Jordana Brewster), and co-creator (Baruchel), are terrorized by a series of copycat murders.
RAOV has gotten criticism for its somewhat contradictory message about violence in the media, and I have to agree. We get characters grilling Todd over his books’ gory content and then a few minutes later are presented with scenes of excessive brutality. Characters are also massively under-written, especially Brewster’s Kathy who is writing a book on the actual serial killer Slasherman is based on yet only has a problem with Todd’s work when it’s convenient to the plot for her to pontificate about the dangers of media violence. Oh, also, the film makes zero sense.
The best of the pack is undeniably Host (2020), a clever, funny, and surprisingly scary found footage, or, what I call desktop horror, much in the same vein as the Unfriended movies. Filmed during the recent pandemic quarantine, Host features six friends who decide to have a Zoom meeting with a spiritualist. But things don’t go as planned when the group accidentally conjures a malevolent presence that slowly wrecks havoc in their individual homes.
What makes Host so much fun is its sense of enjoyment: this is a film that seems to have been made by people who actually enjoy horror movies, something unfortunately missing these days. The screenplay (written by Gemma Hurley, Jed Shepherd, and director Rob Savage) is also smart enough in creating likable characters whom seem real and that you might be friends with, making the horror of their situations even more suspenseful.