What if Netflix were made up entirely of horror films? That’s the concept behind streaming video services like Screambox and Shudder, which offer a bevy of scary movies divided up into sub-genres like Hexes And Oohs, Killer Kids, Animals Gone Wild and more.
Launched in September of 2014, Screambox is the older of the two.
The main menu is broken up into 15 individual categories, such as Bad Science, which covers films like “Red Mist,” “Sanitarium” and several episodes of the “Masters of Horror” series dealing with experiments gone wrong. Critical Acclaim, which is stuffed full of films like the excellent real life story “The Girl Next Door,” “Hellraiser” and the original “The Hills Have Eyes.” And Extreme, which contains the subcategories Splatter, Torture and Brutal & Disturbing.
When I think Splatter, I picture blood and guts flying all over the place. I think “Dead Alive,” the comically gory “Laid To Rest” or maybe even “Evil Dead.” Under Splatter, we find the poorly reviewed Eric Roberts DTV slasher “Camp Dread,” “Silent Night, Deadly Night” (not a Splatter flick by any means. Just a plain old slasher) and several titles I’ve never heard of; “Secrets Of The Clown,” “Son Of Terror,” “Caesar And Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre,” “Fistful of Brains,” “Biohazardous” and “Johnny Sunshine”?
Truth be told, I have heard of “Summer Camp Massacre,” but not in a good way.
According to the synopsis of “Secrets Of The Clown,” a group of teenage friends pursue a fiendish killer through dreams and nightmares after the murder of their friend. Sounds familiar. Freddy Krueger might want to sue.
Next I clicked on Vampires, Werewolves And Classic Monsters. Both the original and remake of the Alyssa Milano soft-core porn vampire flick “Embrace Of The Vampire” were in the house, along with the Grace Jones classic “Vamp” and “The Howling Reborn,” the worst sequel to anything ever. It saved money on expensive werewolf effects and costumes by having the camera be the monster’s POV and victims reacting to it. This section does not include any of the landmark films that put these creatures on the cinematic map.
And don’t even get me started on the Sci-Fi And Aliens area. Just don’t.
- Screambox has a Favorites feature that allows you to create a handy list of titles to be watched, rather than slog through a million films every time to find the one you want.
- Shudder does not have such an option, and you feel the strange absence of this simple convenience.
I created a list which included the remake of Brian DePalma’s “Sisters” with Chloe Sevigny, the slasher flick “Rabid Love,” “Fall Down Dead,” the humorously titled “Slaughter Daughter,” the whale-themed slasher “Harpoon,” the adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s novel “The Lost,” a decent Nazi Succubus flick called “The Devil’s Rock” and more. There ARE good films to be enjoyed on Screambox, but they need to bring in more recognizable new titles and tons more older ones.
Every Friday, Screambox adds at least 3 new titles. You can find them in the section New On Screambox under Now Screaming.
Availability and cost:
$ 3.99 a month with a free 30 day trial.
Screambox is available on PC, Android, PlayStation Network, and Xbox One as well as Roku and Amazon Fire.
Shudder, which was created by AMC and launched in the summer of 2015, has far more categories and titles.
Looking for a monster movie? Click on Browse By Monster and then select the specific creature you’re looking for from a menu featuring 10 options ranging in alphabetical order from Alien to Zombie, each containing around 6 to 12 films.
The main menu is broken up into five windows. On the left is a video player in a small window that shows a random horror film 24/7. If you click on it, it becomes full screen. On the right hand side of the menu are Featured, Explore Collections, Browse By Genre and the aforementioned Browse By Monster.
Featured contains a random grouping of films that combines 1970s and 80s mainstays like “Bloody Birthday,” “Maniac Cop,” “Sleepaway Camp,” “Opera,” the original “Maniac,” “The House On Sorority Row,” “Pieces” and “The Beyond” with newer scares, including “Cub,” “Toad Road,” “Dead Snow” and “The Corridor.” It’s a pretty fantastic list of the old and the new.
Let’s Explore Collections next.
Here we have a lengthy list of sub-genres, starting with snowbound horror flicks under the heading Winter Chill. “Cold Prey” aka Fritt Vilt, “I Saw The Devil,” “Let The Right One In” and more comprise the ten films in this literally chilling collection.
Next up is Terror Transgressive, which gathers Jorg Buttgereit’s “Nekromantik” films and his less well-known ode to suicide “The Death King” aka Dertodesking, Italian cannibal classics, Takashi Miike’s “Audition” and of course the controversial German horror film “Angst.” If a film or a director has ever pissed off a critic or a parents group, you’ll find it here.
The next section, Shudder Halloween, has some fun films but oddly does not contain either John Carpenter’s “Halloween” or Michael Dougherty’s “Trick ‘R Treat.”
In fact, none of the titles are overtly holiday themed. This must be corrected!
Animal Planet, the next section, scores big by containing one of my personal favorite crazy animal movies, “Shakma.”
A baboon injected with an experimental serum terrorizes a group of scientists playing a live action role-playing medieval fantasy game (aka LARPING) inside a laboratory building. You’ve never seen ferocious, realistic attacks like these. We also have the silly and totally worthwhile “Jaws” rip off “Grizzly” from 1976, “Slugs” from 1989 and three other flicks featuring nature gone bonkers.
I liked the inclusion of violent films like “Hobo with a Shotgun,” “Dead End Drive-In” and “Tokyo Gore Police”; not exactly horror, though each contains elements of the genre.
There are 35 sections in all, with pretty specific niches. Do you like your vampires cast in a romantic light? They’ve got that. But what about vamps as vicious, bloodthirsty creatures of the night? Yep. There’s a separate category for them. There’s also a section called Foundations of Horror, showing “Nosferatu” and other black and white classics. It’s always a good idea to be able to introduce new fans to the beginnings of Horror.
Beginning with Body Horror, Browse By Genre runs the gamut of 9 subgenres: Paranormal, Psychological Thrillers, Horror Comedy, Gothic Horror, Extreme, Creature Features, etc.
During my inspection of Shudder, I experienced loading times that bogged down the experience when moving from one category to the next.
Availability and cost:
$ 4.99 a month with a 30 day free trial.
Shudder is available Desktop, iOS, Android and Roku platforms.
With all the generally tepid re-imaginings pouring out of Hollywood, it would be fascinating to see a Remake VS. Original section, which neither service has. Also, werewolves get the short end of the silver bullet on BOTH streaming channels. “Late Phases,” “The Howling,” “Silver Bullet” and other furry classics are missing. Inexcusable.
So what’s the final verdict?
Besides a slicker looking user interface with Shudder, the central difference here is content.
Both offer high-definition films, available commercial free and ready to go. But as far as the overall quality of the titles themselves and the focus on terrors of decades past and brand new scares, Shudder wins hands down. Screambox needs to purge some of its zero budget zombie and slasher films, many of which I was totally unfamiliar with and gave a look.
They feel like placeholders for better flicks that will occupy those slots in the future. A low-budget is hardly a sign of a bad movie, but on the flip side of that coin, any idiot with a digital camera can record 90 minutes of his talentless friends getting faux slaughtered and call it a masterpiece.
Casually searching the surplus of films on both sites, I found the hairs on the back of my neck standing up at the sight of a sought after gem much more on Shudder.
What got me excited? The French horror flick “Them,” which inspired the American remake “The Strangers,” the giallo “Don’t Torture A Duckling,” indie darlings “Kill List” and “Jug Face,” the Bigfoot flick “Willow Creek,” “Grapes of Death,” “Tombs of the Blind Dead,” the relatively new zombie film “The Battery,” several art house French vampire flicks from the 1970s and the list goes on.
Both channels have their good points, but Screambox needs to evolve their content and one of the best ways to do that is watching festival films. 80% of the hot titles I’ve heard of in the past decade have come out of Fantastic Fest, Sundance or other competitive festivals and garnered buzz before either going into theatrical release or hitting DVD.