Shudder Recommendations: Fall 2017

Ryan: In our restless crusade to get people to subscribe to Shudder, we’ll be putting out a new list of Shudder recommendations every few months. Now, there are a lot (a lot, a lot) of films on Shudder. The selection is incredible – vast, diverse, and (for the most part) quality. By no means are these, necessarily, the best films on the service. They are simply some recommendations that we have.

In choosing them, we have gravitated toward films that you probably haven’t seen, and maybe haven’t even heard of. Thus, lesser known films have been given priority over better-known films, since, presumably, you’re looking through this list because you want to discover new gems. So without further adieu, we present 33 Shudder recommendations:

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  • A Field in England (Dir. Ben Wheatley)
    • This’n is pretty dang weird, but worth watching if you’re into nightmarish trips. It’s about some soldiers (in England) who (I think) abandon post(?) and retreat to a field(!) with a mysterious stranger who does some weird stuff. And then there are some hallucinatory detours. The film is about as eventful as it sounds. But it’s enjoyable if you are the right frame of mind.

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  • A Horrible Way to Die (Dir. Adam Wingard)
    • Before they became household names with films like You’re Next and The Guest, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett shot A Horrible Way to Die with next to no money – and, from the looks of it, their parents DSLR camera. Unpolished though it is, it may be their best work outside of The Guest. 

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  • Alleluia (Dir. Fabrice Du Welz)
    • It’s definitely one of Fabrice Du Welz’s lesser works – Vinyan and Calvaire are both better known and better.  Nonetheless, Alleluia is a strange and scintillating voyage into the minds of a pair of star-crossed lovers whose romance becomes murderous, spontaneously and often. It’ll get under your skin, as any good horror film ought to, but it’s also very funny.

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  • Always Shine (Dir. Sophia Takal)
    • One of the most pleasant cinematic surprises I’ve had this year, easily, was Sophia Takal’s Always Shine. A feminist reflection on the stringent and demoralizing expectations faced by women in Hollywood – and everywhere else – as well as the frightening and often gruesome length they are pushed to if they hope to assimilate to its male-tailored culture. But it’s not just a ninety minute lecture on Women’s Studies. It’s also a dang good horror film.

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  • Angst (Dir. Gerald Kargl)
    • Gaspar Noé’s favorite horror film is precisely as terrifying as you’d expect it to be. A worthy companion piece of sorts to films like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, I wrote about it here.

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  • Berberian Sound Studio (Dir. Peter Strickland)
    • Strickland’s playful homage to the Italian Giallo masterpieces of yesteryear is more timely than ever in light of the recent revelations about Harvey Weinstein, and the Hollywood culture that enabled him to get away with it for so long. That’s not a spoiler for the film, but watch it. You’ll understand. This is a film that steadily builds tension that it never quite pays off, but as the credits role, you realize why – and the result is something far more grounded, and far more frightening than it ever could have been had it gone the direction you’d predicted.

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  • Beyond the Black Rainbow (Dir. Panos Cosmatos)
    • Directed by the son of George Cosmatos (whom you may remember from basically every action movie released during Ronald Reagan’s presidency),  Black Rainbow is a strange, surreal adventure that you’ll either fall in love with or shut off at the forty minute mark.

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  • Big Bad Wolves (Dirs. Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado)
    • One of Israel’s only horror flicks was also Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films of that year – which will either compel you to watch it ASAP or deter you from it completely. It’s certainly not the masterpiece that he found it to be, but for a film of its type, it is daring, gruesome, and often funny, and it managed something rare: I did not guess the ending.

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  • Black Death (Dir. Christopher Smith)
    • Christopher Smith’s parable about out-group bias (I’m not kidding) is probably also an instant horror classic. Starring a pre-fame Eddie Redmayne and a post-Lord-of-the-rings-and-also-post-Game-of-Thrones-and-thus-irreparably-typecast-in-medieval-roles Sean Bean, it’s a sweet slow-burner.

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  • Coherence (Dir. James Ward Byrkit)
    • Coherence is the sort of film that you’ll probably enjoy the most if you enjoyed Denis Villeneuve’s  Enemy and also Phillip K. Dick novels, and, also, probably, Richard Linklater dramas. It’s about a diner party that gets weird, y’know, in Phillip K. Dickish ways.

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  • Cold Fish (Dir. Sion Sono)
    • The Japanese Serial Killer drama(?), Cold Fish is, uh, not for everyone. And depending on how you interpret some of its more visceral depictions of women, it might not be a film for anyone. It’s either a biting critique (among other things) of the belligerent toxicity of certain masculine tropes or a rather nasty bit of blatant misogyny put to celluloid. I encountered it as the former rather than the latter, but I’m hardly the final word on film theory.

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  • Daughters of Darkness (Dir. Harry Kümel)
    • This particularly beautiful reimagining of the Elizabeth Bathory legend is one of my favorite vampire films, and probably one of my favorite horror films altogether. Like most horror films, it’s subtextually rich, but even without its thematic undercurrents, it’s a wonderfully shot film with well-nigh perfect performances.

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  • Dearest Sister (Dir. Mattie Do)
    • The definition of a slow-burner, Laos’s second horror film is this year’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Feature, and it deserves consideration. I’ve written a lengthy review of the film here, which you should check out.

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  • Digging Up the Marrow (Dir. Adam Green)
    • I don’t like found footage, and didn’t particularly care for Adam Green’s better-known works (HatchetFrozen). So believe me when I tell you that Adam Green’s little known found footage horror, Digging Up the Marrow, is a genuinely earnest and thoroughly enjoyable flick.

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  • Exorcist III (Dir. William Peter Blatty)
    • Let’s be honest: You either watched the first film and never bothered with the sequels, or you watched the first two and were so thoroughly turned off by The Heretic that you swore off Exorcist sequels from that point on. In either case, you made a mistake.  A serious  mistake. Because Exorcist III is an unsung masterpiece that comes plenty close to reaching the heights achieved by Friedkin’s original. Cancel your plans. You’re watching Exorcist III this weekend.

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  • I Saw the Devil (Dir. Kim Jee-Woon)
    • If you hate Death Wish, this is the revenge horror-thriller for you. Kim Jee-Woon’s I Saw the Devil is easily my favorite South Korean revenge thriller (and there are a lot of South Korean revenge thrillers, and I’ve seen more than a few of them). It generally shows up on ‘most disturbing movies’ lists, but not for the gore. It’s a film that explores the reality of violence – how it’s ubiquitous, and cyclical, and how revenge often only furthers its scope.

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  • Let Us Prey (Dir. Brian O’Malley)
    • This film is part of a relatively unpopular and unpopulated subgenre that we might call religioush horror. That is, it’s a strange descent into spiritually-themed insanity. And I do mean insanity. It’s hard to describe what the film is like without spoiling the plot, so I’ll just leave it at that and let you experience the wackiness for yourselves.

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  • Mother (Dir. Bong Joon-Ho)
    • Remember that South Korean monster movie, The Host, that could have been retitled Little Miss Sunshine Meets Gojira? (Yes, I am aware that Gojira is Japanese and The Host is South Korean.) Well, this is basically like that except completely different and approximately as compelling. Both hilarious and heartbreaking, it’s one of the best films I’ve seen this season.

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  • Murder Party (Dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
    • All of Jeremy Saulnier’s films have the same subtext, and it’s a good one. In case you haven’t seen Green Room or Blue Ruin, I’ll refrain from spoiling it. But needless to say, his 2007 horror comedy about a group of art students who kidnap a lonely stick -in-the-mud fellow in order to murder him (so that their art will be more authentic) is as good as any of his more recent, more austere works. Additionally, it was shot for $0 on a fifteen year old digital camera, and it looks an awful lot better than that pretentious indie film you rented an Arri Alexa for $5000 per week to shoot last year. That’s an achievement.

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  • Nightbreed – Directors Cut (Dir. Clive Barker)
    • Nightbreed, along with the also fantastic Lord of Illusions, are oft-considered ‘lesser Barker’. But they’re both visceral, beautifully shot, and, especially Nightbreed, sprawling in scope. Although it is certainly a horror film, it plays out more like a fantasy-epic than a traditional fright-fest. From what I understand, Barker planned on expanding the story into an epic franchise that further broadened the scope, but for a number of reasons (read: Morgan Creek completely botched the release) this never came to fruition.

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  • Noroi: The Curse (Dir. Kōji Shiraishi)
    • Noroi might be, hands down, the best found footage horror film.  Emphasis on the might. It takes its sweet time unfolding, and this works to its advantage, as it repeatedly lulls you into a false sense of security as it develops its characters at a relaxed pace – before taking a number of turns that will make your blood run cold.

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  • Nothing Bad Can Happen (Dir. Katrin Gebbe)
    • Here’s another example of religioush horror – one that committed so thoroughly to its premise that it was dismissed by most critics upon release and only finally became widely available because Shudder picked it up for distribution in America and elsewhere. I won’t spoil any plot points, and I’d advise you stay away from reviews if you want to view it without spoilers (why do critics always feel they have the right to spoil every film they didn’t like?) but even if you know precisely what will happen, it’s a journey that director Katrin Gebbe wants to take you on. And it’s one worth following her through.

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  • Spring (Dir. Justin Benson, Aaron Scott Moorhead)
    • I think the critics have been describing Spring as H.P. Lovecraft mixed with Clerks, and that’s about right. This is another one that is worth watching completely spoiler free, so I will not go into plot details. Check it, and soon.

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  • Surveillance (Dir. Jennifer Lynch)
    • As it turns out, David Lynch’s daughter deserves to be famous for a heck of a lot more than being David Lynch’s daughter. Her first three (American) features have been as viscerally brutal as anything her father ever shot, and almost as mind bend-ish. Surveillance toys with the ‘unreliable narrator’ trope, and to good effect.

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  • Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl (Dir. A.D. Calvo)
    • 70s throwbacks are in right now, which means that we get a new one every few months, and they’re rarely any good. There are some brilliant ones – We Are Still Here, for one – but the majority are forgettable enough. Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl, on the other hand, is not only one of the best ‘throwbacks’ I’ve seen in a while (and, uh, yeah, I saw the new It movie), it’s also one of the best shot  indie flicks I’ve seen in a while. Nothing in the world will recreate the look of 35mm film – nothing. But Lonely Girl comes dang close.

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  • The Alchemist Cookbook (Dir. Joel Potrykus)
    • An exhausting number of horror films are about mental illness, and nearly all of them are terrible. One, because ‘mental illness’ is typically used as a kind of ‘gotcha!’ at the end (i.e. “Ooooooh no! It was all because the protagonist has  schizophrenia!“) But Alchemist Cookbook is different. Are the events of the film real, or are they projections of the protagonists subconscious? We never learn, and it doesn’t matter. Mental illness is scary from the inside – infinitely scarier than the manifold films that stigmatize it by turning those who suffer from it into maniacs who kill teenagers.

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  • The Interior (Dir. Trevor Juras)
    • The Interior is, I guess, the the art-house equivalent of a popcorn flick. It follows a young man who, after receiving a tragic diagnosis, decides to move out of his posh, big city apartment and become a woodsman deep in the heart of British Columbia. Then some spooky stuff happens. It’s every bit as funny as it is frightening, but it is frightening. And fun. Barely 80 minutes long, it’s never boring. And although it doesn’t wrap up with the kind of explosive conclusion you might have hoped it was building towards, its ending is plenty satisfying. Also, the cinematography is beautiful – at least, throughout the second half, which takes place entirely it is snowy woodscape.

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  • Living Dead Girl (Dir. Jean Rollin)
    • Living Dead Girl is one of my favorite horror films of all time, and for good reason. I wrote a full review of the film here, which, of course, I think you should check out. I won’t go into plot details here, but it’s one you should look into sooner rather than later.

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  • The Midnight Swim (Dir. Sarah Adina Smith)
    • The Midnight Swim was delightfully surprising. I had feared from the cover art that it would turn out to be only marginally a horror film, and I was half right. But once the film got going, it didn’t matter that it felt more like a drama than anything. It was exactly as frightening, insightful, and sublime as it could have been, and it very well may make my ‘favorites’ list at the end of this year.

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  • Trouble Every Day (Dir. Claire Denis)
    • And another one I’ve written a full review on. (Surprise, surprise: I’d recommend you check it out here.) This is another French film. And since it’s a French film, it’s kind of a vampire film but it’s actually about sex. If I haven’t already sold you on it, maybe the fact that it’s considered part of the ‘New French Extremity’ movement will. I’m not really sure why it’s roped in with those films, however – although many of the ‘New French Extremity’ films are fantastic, they’re all a heck of a lot gorier than Trouble Every Day. Nevertheless, it’s far more troubling (pun intended) than a film like Frontiers. This is another one that’s on my list of favorite horror films, and so long as you have the attention span of an adult human, it’s well worth checking out.

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  • We Are Still Here (Dir. Ted Geoghegan)
    • I mentioned this one earlier, and then remembered that it’s also available on Shudder. Like Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl, this one is a 70s-style throwback. And it’s good. I almost didn’t include this, even after remembering that it’s on Shudder, because it’s more high-profile than most of the other films on this list. Larry Fessenden’s involvement in the film gave it a built-in audience, and it’s attracted an awful lot of well-deserved buzz. Nevertheless, 33 is a nice number so I decided to throw it in.

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  • We Go On (Dirs. Jesse Holland & Andy Mitton)
    • This was another pleasant surprise – I went in knowing nothing about it and came out very pleased. It’s not a film for gore hounds, and its pace is glacial. But it’s one of the ballsiest horror films I’ve seen this year, because it dares to be about beauty. It almost counts as religioush horror, because it’s a sort of humanist parable about the value of life.

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  • Creepy (Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
    • This joke is low-hanging fruit, and I am not sorry: Kiyoshi Kurosawa may be the Akira Kurosawa of psychological horror. His poorly titled film, Creepy, feels a bit like Hitchcock, a bit like Thomas Harris, and a bit like that dude you unfortunately lived next to in college – you know, the one named Theophilus Jones, who collected spiders and named them all Lucifer. This is another one that will likely make my year-end ‘favorites’ list. And if you get around to watching it, it might make yours, too.

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