WGTC: How does Shudder look to set itself apart from a rival like Netflix? To me it’s more quality vs. quantity aspect, but how does your company view it?
Sam: First thing – we’re not so concerned with calling Netflix a rival. We, after all, have a much different focus, which relies on quality and curation. Which is lucky! We get to play within the breadth of horror and attempt to bring our viewers what we consider really special. My ambition is that Shudder members will “feel” the curation. I want them to see mine and Colin’s hands. I think, like our audience, Colin and I are devoted to the genre, so the curation is somewhere between an ongoing conversation and hopefully the viewers feeling as if we’re looking out for them with our choices and recommendations. The focus on curation also allows us to provide context. We don’t just like these films, we know them, and want to present why they’re interesting, or great, or weird, or distinctive.
WGTC: How did the idea for Shudder come about?
Sam: AMC Networks has seen great response with SundanceNow Doc Club, a subscription streaming service focused on documentaries. They saw similar space to do the same with horror. I believe/hope/think we’re moving beyond a time where horror fans are underestimated for their taste and knowledge, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they were being served as much. I was fortunate enough to be a small part of Shudder’s early development, and even more so to not only be called up to shape its library and mission, but work alongside Colin to do so.
WGTC: When you set out to license a film for the collection, what criteria are you looking for? What’s that eye-catching quietly that makes a title “must-have?”
Sam: As vast as horror is, I think so are our criteria and choices. We’re going after essentials, contemporary greats, overlooked films and especially hard-to-find films. Really elegant stuff to real gnarly shit. I’m excited by everything, and as long as we’re into its quality, its impact, its history, etc., we want it.
WGTC: Do cult classics like Nekromantic present contracting problems where I’m assuming the rights and whatnot are much harder to track down?
Sam: They can! Fortunately, Nekromantik and another film I love, Angst, have recently seen resurgence of interest and availability. A few years ago, I think Angst – which is an utterly crucial piece of home invasion horror – would’ve been harder to nail down. As Blu-ray and home video moves into a Collector space, with amazing labels like Synapse, Arrow, Scream Factory and Severin giving loving treatment to obscure films, movies [like Nekromantik] are re-surfacing. There are some movies Colin and I are currently on the hunt for, though. That may be tough, but it’ll be a big reward to bring them to our members.
WGTC: What’s been the hardest, or most rewarding acquisition so far?
Sam: Luckily, nothing has proven terribly hard yet, but there’s plenty I’m really quite proud of. Angst may be tops. It’s a groundbreaking, totally insane film I’ve loved for a while and one of my main goals is to help film fans find strong, legal access to movies like it; movies they’ve always heard of or meant to see. To that end, it’s heartening to host films like Nekromantik, In a Glass Cage, Dead & Buried, Ganja & Hess, Tourist Trap, Cannibal Holocaust and more. It’s also delightful to help get folks into the genre. We have silent classics, we have a lot of Mario Bava– films to really give hungry viewers an education.
Also, with acclaimed films like It Follows and The Babadook, there’s a real eye on horror right now. That’s both exciting and misleading. Those two exceptional films brought out a lot of quotes from mainstream sources that could have someone believe there haven’t been any outstanding horror movies in 10-15 years. That’s a pretty nonsense concept, so I’m excited that Shudder has a lot of the best 21st century horror; films like Kill List, Dream Home, Let the Right One In, Sauna, Black Death, Left Bank, Murder Party, Pulse, Sleep Tight, Sheitan. There’s so much to explore, and a lot that I’m afraid got overlooked.
WGTC: With Shudder in its Beta format, what do you intend to bring when it finally goes “full” – for lack of a better phrase? Just more expansion? When do you see the Beta ending?
Sam: Soon! There are a lot of exciting things in development. Shudder is here to really support the genre, and lots of steps are being taken to do so!!
That concludes our interview, but please take note of Sam’s comments about It Follows and The Babadook – I absolutely agree that horror has been going strong for years, as long as you’re looking in the right places. Hell, I’m reviewing some 100 horror movies a year here at WGTC (more horror movies than some of you might see in a lifetime), much like Sam had been doing on sites like Fangoria and Shock Till You Drop.
With Sam and Colin on the prowl, you better believe that Shudder is going to offer all those hidden gems you’ve missed over the years (festival darlings without major releases, straight to VOD winners, international hits), only strengthening the case for it. Don’t continue being uninformed of all the greatness horror has to offer – Shudder is the answer, and it’ll be here to stay.