Craig Engler says these are boom times for horror. And then he would say that. Engler is the managing director of Shudder, a streaming service which focuses on the genre and has helped shape the future of horror movies in the process.
The form of horror has always been something slippery, something that Engler notes has had many eras. There is “the literal horror of The Exorcist and the omen” in the 1970s ; “the cheap and happy slasher era” in the 80s (think freddie); “90s meta-horror” (Scream). The current era of horror is a little less defined, an era that encompasses everything from Mike Flanagan’s chilling series for Netflix to A24’s so-called high horror to Blumhouse’s box office hits.
According to Engler, it’s a period that began in 2017 with Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning hit. get out, and one that brought a new generation of viewers into the horror fray. “get out was the defining moment,” he says. “It allowed people to rediscover horror as something more than slasher.”
The broadening and deepening of the horror is also the result of Shudder himself. Founded in 2015 by AMC Networks, the service has grown from a simple library of genres to a sprawling collection that includes original feature films, TV shows and unscripted content. Compared to major streamers, Shudder is a fringe operation. But in its niche, it’s accomplished something your Netflixs, your Amazon Primes, your Peacocks have all largely failed to do: build an identity beyond “Hey, we’ve got some stuff!”
Clicking through a giant streaming site these days can often leave you feeling either aimless and lost or subject to an algorithm. Shudder, because it houses a self-selected group of horror lovers, organically leads people to their true interests. Unlike superhero lovers, who have to go to Disney+ for Marvel movies and HBO Max for DC content and have few options beyond that, gore groupies have a service sure to have something they like, maybe even something they’ve never heard of.
And if you’re wondering, “Is that enough to sustain a streaming service?” Engler responds with a different question. “Who is Shudder’s audience?” Well, how many people have bought a Stephen King book? (Like their fellow streamers, Shudder is cautious about specific numbers, saying only that AMC’s targeted platforms, which include AMC+ and Shudder, have 10.8 million subscribers combined.)
Engler previously worked at SyFy Channel and NBCUniversal’s horror channel Chiller, which went out of business in 2017. He says Shudder found ground dubbing what people want. The Friday 13 documentary Crystal Lake Memories was a surprise success. “Not only were people watching it,” Engler laughs, “they were watching all six hours in one sitting.” Other unscripted programs therefore followed, including cursed movies and Horror Noire: A Black Horror Story.
Shudder has also found success in securing international titles like Taiwan’s Sadness and Indonesia Satan’s Slaves and spot smart ideas that major studios might not take a chance on. The company caught the 2020s Host, a perfectly lean film about a bizarre Zoom session, after the director wild rob posted a playful sample of the concept on Twitter. He also created a platform crazy goda weird passion project this visual effects legend Phil Tippet worked for 30 years. “Most people don’t say, ‘Oh, I really want to see a stop-motion animated fever dream,'” Engler says. But for Shudder, crazy god made some serious numbers, and Engler thinks it has a shot at being Shudder’s first Oscar nomination.