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We celebrate the genre streaming service, Shudder, and the incredible indie films that helped us survive a fear-filled year.

You don’t need us to tell you that 2020 was a crazy year — a real life horror show more nightmare-inducing than anything playing out on our television screens. More than ever before, we needed the healing escape of genre entertainment to cope with the stress of living in what felt like an actual horror movie. Fortunately, there was wealth of such entertainment courtesy of many talented indie filmmakers and top streaming services. And no platform delivered the goods quite like Shudder, a dream streaming service for us horror fans. Already an essential platform for genre junkies, Shudder continued to delight by stepping up their original content in terms of quantity and quality, giving us some amazing offerings last year.

Two of our talented writers share their top five independent scary flicks from the platform in 2020: The Year of Fear.

Top Five Shudder Picks of 2020 by Chris Maino

1. Scare Me

Josh Ruben’s directorial debut about people telling each other scary stories in a cabin was my favorite thing I’d seen in a while. The concept is unique yet simple. You’d think it’d get boring fast, but you stay engaged and entertained throughout since the talented actors do an amazing job keeping things funny and spooky. Acting out different characters and scenarios is the main joy of this surprisingly well-done little comedy that slowly reveals itself as a thriller in disguise. I was so into it and loved the characters. It’s like a film version of hanging out with your friends who all love scary movies. You’re laughing and having fun, and you don’t feel alone because you’re in a room full of people who all love the same thing you do. Then, brilliantly the story hits you with “Yo. You forgot this was an actual horror movie”.

That’s the power of creativity, people. You can’t help but admire someone’s ability to scare you.

2. The Mortuary Collection

I’m a sucker for a good anthology. Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt did that to me. So anytime I see the promise of a few good horror stories in one sitting you know I’m in. I’m happy to say this one lived up to the standards. Lots of times the stories are only as good as their frame story and this manages to deliver. Everything ties together well, like all good anthologies. Everything is connected in some way, despite being different tonally or thematically. The stories are great, classic morality tales and it’s very well shot; the whole thing having a vintage Hammer Horror vibe to it.  This is another really good entry into the vastly underrated sub genre that is anthology horror.

A celebration of spooky stories being told well.

3. Color Out of Space

I’m a sucker for Lovecraft stories and the Cthulhu mythos in general. While the classic short story this one’s based off of is more or less outside the famous mythos, it’s a testament to that tale’s brilliance and innovation that they’re still readapting. What sets this one apart from the others however, is the rather smart way they’ve reinvented it for a new audience: it’s a family drama disguised as a horror film. With Nic Cage. Already screams watchable and you haven’t even seen any of it, right?

A family moves into a new house for a much needed change of pace, looking to breathe some fresh air in a rural area. Upon their move-in, a meteor hurtles through the atmosphere and smashes into their front yard, emitting a brilliant light all throughout the hose and surrounding area. What’s the meteor contain? Something truly alien. Seeing our family contend with a whole other kind of lifeform is the second best feature for this well-produced fright flick, the first being the emotional connection that builds with the characters.

This one ticks multiple boxes at once, so it’s got a pretty broad appeal; horror done right.

4. Porno

Watching all this twisted genre content with such frequency often makes people question our sanity. Many horror fans are regularly asked, “What attracts you to such a visceral genre, and what exactly do you get out of watching all this sick stuff?” Often, the answer is trauma and perversity developed at a young age. The darkness touched you, and you can’t help but embrace it.

That brings us to Porno, where the core theme of this sex-filled gore fest is a question: why are we attracted to the deviant side of things?

The teenage movie theater workers in this film find themselves facing off against a demon, which as unleashed by their viewing of an old film reel. For a small indie film, the creative team behind this gem did an amazing job. Everything gradually crescendos into a symphony of sex, nudity and violence. The teens are being faced with the exact opposite of the values that keep them sexually repressed. That first scary movie you saw, the first time you saw somebody naked, the time you accidentally witnessed people having sex; these are the things which create the demon in the back of your head.

Now imagine that demon is out of your head and you’re trapped with it in a movie theater. Yeah. Good luck.

5. Spiral

First off, there’s like three horror movies with this title now, and I love it. Moving on, this particular film is about a man named Malik and his husband moving into a new town. It’s a great little paranoid thriller, especially when you realize that it ain’t paranoia. Malik is perfectly smart to be worried that the neighbors are up to something — but not in the way any horror fan is going to assume. It’s not about prejudice. It’s about exploiting prejudice. If bigotry is fear, fear can used to manipulate people. Considering the hard lessons learned from the past four years under the Trump presidency, you can see how relevant this story set in the mid-90s is.

People just can’t help but be a slave to their fears. History just keeps repeating itself. A never-ending spiral. Break the cycle and check out this gem, one which adds so perfectly to the social thrillers that are starting to become more and more prevalent (which I think is a very good thing).

Top Five Shudder Picks of 2020 by Christi Bandy

1. Host

One of the standouts of the year and extremely relevant to 2020, Host may run for roughly less than an hour, but you’ll be on the edge of your seat and terrified for the entire time.

The entire film takes place via Zoom as six friends meet up online to have a virtual séance. Sounds harmless and fun, right? Wrong. Things escalate pretty quickly as each woman deals with what’s been conjured up through the wires. You’ll never look at voice calls the same again. Yes, there are actual jump scares, and you WILL jump! And you’ll love every second of it.

This is a prime example of not needing a huge budget to make an amazing horror film that puts a fresh spin on some already covered territory.

2.  Z

When you think of movies about imaginary friends, you may be like me and think of Drop Dead Fred, but this film is a far cry from that.

Elizabeth (Keegan Connor Tracey) is a mom with a small son named Josh who is pretty introverted. Elizabeth is kind of cool with the fact that her son has an imaginary friend named Z; hey, at least he’s talking to someone, and the kid is creative, right? But pretty soon Josh starts behaving oddly, and Elizabeth feels there’s more to Z than she may have thought. Turns out, Z is no ordinary imaginary friend (you know, a harmless, invisible pal that many kids have growing up). Instead, he’s a dark force that starts to infiltrate the family’s life and cause actual physical turmoil.

There’s a satisfying twist as well as several jump scares that make this movie well worth the watch.

3. Scare Me

This simple, streamlined film is carried by the talents of two actors, and they handle it beautifully. The premise is straightforward: two writers, Fred (Josh Ruben) and Fanny (Aya Cash) are holed up in separate rental cabins when a storm comes and causes the power to go out. They end up hanging out together and decide to pass the time by telling each other scary stories.

These aren’t just regular scary stories. Fred and Fanny get into it and act out their separate stories, trying to one-up each other on who can spin the most terrifying yarn. These actors have so much chemistry and are so charming, cute, fun, and tongue-in-cheek that you find yourself smiling as you watch. The result is extremely entertaining and yes, even, yes, scary! I had no idea going in that this would be such a fun watch.

Less is more when it comes to some of the best horror movies, and this is a great example.

4. Bliss

Imagine dropping a hit of acid and falling into a colorful, blood-oozing painting backed by a pounding, pulsating soundtrack and wild visuals… and you get some idea of what Bliss is like. You don’t watch this film, you experience it.

Dezzy Donahue (Dora Madison Burge) is a talented artist trying to complete her masterpiece, but she’s blocked. To try to recapture her creative groove, she drops a drug that sends her spiraling into a hallucinogenic nightmare fueled by horror. As Dezzy falls deeper into her addiction in order to complete her piece, she begins to transform into something else altogether. It’s visually spectacular and takes you on an unforgettable ride.

Bloody, polarizing, and satisfying, Bliss is, well, bliss.

5. The Beach House

Good old-fashioned sci-fi fun, The Beach House is a creature feature that takes us along a wild ride with college-aged couple Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros).

The couple head to Randall’s family beach house for a relaxing vacay. Or, so they thought. Turns out, they’re not alone. Friends of the family who also have access to the beach house thought they’d spend some time there, too. So the two couples decide to share the space, as awkward as that is seeing as Randall and Emily were planning some quality time together alone. Mix up some Lovecraft, some body horror, and some relationship growing pains and add in some questions about where life is going for all four of these characters, and you have a recipe for serving up sci-fi scares.

It’s a well-done movie with perfect pacing and great character development. The creatures are pretty cool, too.

“Thanks for taking the time to consider movies that actually need some exposure, not just action epics with 150 million dollar ad campaigns. In a year where commerce took a big hit, you can only imagine how that works in the entertainment industry. Hopefully you’ll check these out and they’ll be a good way to escape. We all we need it after last year. Until next time: grab somebody you love, order some food, and watch horror movies.” – Chris Maino

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