August 17, 2023
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What Is Shudder Buying These Days?

Chris Cullari
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As the year winds toward October, the days are growing shorter. A chill will creep into the air soon, and Halloween decorations will fill the aisles of stores nationwide. 

For one streaming service - Shudder - this is the most exciting time of year. 

The horror-focused streamer is the premiere destination for everything gooey and gory, spooky and scary. Horror fans can’t get enough. 

Horror filmmakers have one big question: what is Shudder buying? How can they get their films programmed among the pantheon of classics and indie successes?

Read on, boils and ghouls, as we search the catacombs for an answer.

What is Shudder?

Founded in 2015 as a subsidiary of AMC Networks, Shudder launched with the promise of being a one-stop shop for horror fans. At a price of only $5.99 on a wide variety of devices and services such as Android and Apple devices, Amazon Video, Xbox, Chromecast, etc., It has long quickly outpaced competitors like Screambox.

What is Shudder Buying These Days - Wrapbook - Shudder Logo
When it comes to horror streaming services, Shudder is the pumpkin king. SOURCE

Thanks to the exquisite taste of horror hound programmers Sam Zimmerman and Colin Geddes, Shudder is generally considered to have a higher quality collection than its competitors as well. 

By 2016, Shudder was carrying more than 500 horror films broken down into categories like "Urban Decay," "Slashics," and "Not Your Ordinary Bloodsucker.”

They placed a premium on carrying some of horror’s holy grails exclusively on their service, like the 4K remaster of Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm and the full 109-minute unrated cut of Ken Russell’s 1971 cult classic The Devils.

But to become one of the industry’s leading screamers, Shudder would also have to fill their library with new hits. 

How does Shudder buy films?

While they don’t discuss their process publicly, there are some hints scattered around the internet. We know that at first, the process was heavily rooted in the catalogues of studios and distributors, both major and independent.

What is Shudder Buying These Days - Wrapbook - Sam Zimmerman
Ex-Fangoria writer Sam Zimmerman initially headed up curation at Shudder. SOURCE

In a 2022 Fast Company article, Sam Zimmerman was quoted as saying:

“I would typically go in [to a catalogue] with an idea of some of the stuff I knew they had, especially when it’s a major studio, but I would also know going in there are some hidden gems in here. There are some films they either don’t license that much or that other streamers aren’t going for, and I’d get excited to bring them to Shudder. Beyond crowd-pleasers, we love providing these movies that deserve more—whether they’ve been underrated in the passage of time or never got the proper acclaim in the first place.”

Though Sam originally led the programming charge, that changed with the arrival of Craig Engler in 2018. Craig’s task as Shudder’s general manager was to expand the service’s offerings. Upon his arrival he noted:

“I had heard about Shudder before, but I was never a subscriber. I wanted to turn people like me into subscribers. ‘You didn’t get me yet.’ Why not? Let’s talk about that.”

While Craig dissuaded the powers that be at Shudder from expanding their offerings into action, science fiction, and other popular genres, he spearheaded an expansion of original programming and acquisitions designed to appeal to fans across the board.

For many horror filmmakers, becoming one of those acquisitions is a dream come true.

What has Shudder bought in the past?

While Shudder’s exact needs are an ever-changing and tightly kept secret, we can make some educated guesses by looking at what hits the service has purchased or produced in the past.

While some of these hits have been produced in house - think Creepshow, Horror Noire, and Host, many have been acquisitions. Below, we’ll take a look at a handful of these buys and what made them stand out from the rest of the bloody pack.

Mayhem

Joe Lynch’s triumphantly cynical satire of American office life, Mayhem, was one of the first big hit acquisitions Shudder made.

Effortlessly blending action, horror, and comedy, with two killer performances from Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving Mayhem hit the sweet spot for Shudder viewers.

Though it only cost $2.5 million to make, this film resonated with fans because it represented the eclectic variety of genres across the service. 

If you came to Shudder for their gory horror films, Mayhem appealed to you. If it was for their horror comedies, Mayhem appealed to you. If it was to stay on top of the best independent horror films, Mayhem appealed to you. 

Skinamarink

On the other end of the spectrum, Skinamarink is cutting-edge experimental horror that almost wasn’t distributed at all. After premiering at the Fantasia International Film Festival in July 2022, an accidental leak from the festival’s servers resulted in Skinamarink being pirated and blasted out over the internet.

What could’ve been a disaster turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as clips from the film circulated on TikTok and word of mouth deemed it one of the scariest films ever made.

This film is a true oddity. At times it feels more like a high concept art piece than a narrative film, making it a tough sell for distributors looking to pack theaters. For Shudder, these challenges represented opportunities. 

They could not only be heroes to the horror community for supporting a truly fresh and unique vision, but they saw how to capitalize on the groundswell of internet buzz. In fact, Shudder was so confident in the film, they‌ gave it a small theatrical release, grossing over $2 million on a $15,000 budget. 

Tigers Are Not Afraid

This 2017 Mexican magical realist fantasy horror film sounds like an impossible tonal mishmash that might get lost in the streaming shuffle. It was only after it caught the attention of industry giants like Guillermo Del Toro that it was clear this was a film to be championed. 

Despite its challenging subject matter involving small children caught in the crosshairs of the Mexican drug war, Shudder took a big bet. They gambled that their viewers would appreciate and embrace the film’s jaw-dropping vision.

And they were right. The response to the film was massive, launching director Issa López into the top tier of horror directors working today. She was immediately courted by major studios and landed the coveted job of directing the fourth season of True Detective.   

Shudder might be a good fit for you if…

Keeping these case studies in mind, we can begin to decipher a more concrete answer to the question at hand. Shudder’s acquisitions usually fit in one of three boxes. If you fill them, you may want to consider applying.

1. Your film is a cost-effective purchase

Something to note if you’re looking to sell your film to Shudder is that they generally don’t buy the biggest and flashiest horror films. Besides Mayhem, some of their other low-budget hits include Beyond the Gates, Daniel Isn’t Real, Jakob’s Wife, and Kids vs. Aliens.

They also seem to avoid snapping up big festival hits like Talk To Me or Hereditary. If your film is currently receiving raves on the festival circuit, it’s worth weighing your options. Going with Shudder gives you the benefit of their wide reach, but might result in a lower purchase price.

Then again, if your horror film is receiving raves on the festival circuit: A) Congrats! and B) A24 and Blumhouse may be talking to you already. We think you’ll be okay.

2. Your film has a unique voice and take on the genre

One thing we do know Shudder loves are titles that stand out for their uniqueness. They want the service to appeal to all kinds of horror fans, which means they’re on the look out for all kinds of films. 

Titles like Skinamarink and The Amusement Park would have trouble living on any other service, and so would Shudder selections like the gonzo The Scary of Sixty-First, Psycho Goreman, and Glenn Danzig’s Verotika.

On Shudder, they all live side-by-side with the more mainstream selections on offer. If your horror film is an oddity in style, tone, or subject matter, Shudder might be the perfect home for it.

3. Your film was shot outside of the United States

Shudder loves programming internationally financed and produced films that bring flavor and variety to the platform. Hits like Train to Busan and Parasite have demonstrated that Americans are more open than ever to exploring the literal world of horror films.

Shudder has responded in kind, bringing titles like Nocebo (Ireland/The Philippines), On The Third Day (Argentina), and Huesera: The Bone Woman (Mexico/Peru) exclusively to the service.

Plus, Shudder is already available outside the US in the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. If your film was shot outside the United States, it might be particularly appealing to the service as they have plans to expand even further with a variety of selections both from and for different countries.

Wrapping up

Whether your film checks one of these boxes or all of them, it’s helpful to have a sense of what the marketplace looks like and what’s working for streamers like Shudder. From international indies to American art-horror, the streamer is in business of pleasing the most die-hard fans of the genre - as well as more casual victims.

Er…viewers.

To learn more lessons from the horror genre, check out our budgets and breakdowns of Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project, or examine some low-budget films that made millions.

Disclaimer

At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

About the author
Chris Cullari

Chris Cullari is a writer/director based out of Los Angeles. His most recent film, THE AVIARY, is available for streaming on Paramount Plus and Showtime. You can find him tweeting about monsters, pro-wrestling, and horror movies.

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