As a horror fan, I'd been flirting with the idea of subscribing to the horror-themed streaming service Shudder for a while. But this spooky season, I finally decided to take the plunge, and I've been getting my nightmare-fuel fix on the AMC Networks-backed service these past few weeks.
Now, with Halloween fast approaching, I'm struggling to justify adding Shudder to my seemingly ever-growing list of monthly subscription costs. The days when cutting the chord promised a cheap future are long past; if you have several of the best streaming services, your monthly bill might rival cable.
Shudder's library of on-demand shows and movies has plenty for genre fans to sink their teeth into. The best part of all is there are no ad breaks to kill the creepy ambiance mid-watch. But unless you're a diehard horror fan or are looking to binge some B-movie favorites or cult classics, there's not enough on offer to convince your average viewer to stick around for more than a month or two. And with some of Shudder's original content like Skinamarink or the V/H/S series eventually making their way over to other streaming platforms, you're better off saving your money and buying/renting whatever you want to watch when it pops up on Prime Video or Vudu.
What is Shudder?
Shudder is a streaming service for horror, thriller, and supernatural fiction movies, shows, and podcasts. At $6.99 per month, Shudder's entrance fee is cheap compared to the ad-free tiers for Netflix or Max. It's even less with the purchase of an annual membership, which shaves the monthly cost down to $5.99.
For that price, you get access to Shudder's catalog of titles as well as its Shudder TV service, a 24/7 live stream of movies and series curated by the team at Shudder that features new releases and classics alike. While the lack of ads is nice, there are some drawbacks. Most movies max out at a 720p resolution, and older titles can drop down to 480p. Though original series do offer a 1080p option. Offline downloads also aren't available.
However, I was pleasantly surprised by the robust user review system on offer. On both desktop and mobile, you can submit and see reviews from other members for each title, which gives the service a bit of personality, even if the quality of the reviews themselves varies.
Shudder has one plan available and serves it a few different ways: on its own website or app on iOS and Android; bundled with your subscription to AMC Plus; or as a channel on Prime Video, Roku, Xbox, Sling, Dish, Vizio, or Samsung Smart TV.
When Shudder first debuted in 2016, it launched exclusively in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Ireland. In 2020, the service expanded to Australia and New Zealand. (Note: The available library can vary by country due to licensing issues.)
What can you watch on Shudder?
Since Shudder is owned and operated by AMC Networks, there's a lot of overlap with their offerings, including The Walking Dead series and Creepshow, a horror anthology that serves as a continuation of Stephen King and George A. Romero's 1982 film of the same name.
Previously, Shudder let you browse its library of titles without having to make an account. But now you must sign up for a free, seven-day trial to check out the movie and show selection without paying for a subscription. You can also submit titles to be added if you don't see your favorites on there already, which is a nice touch.
If you're not sure where to start, Shudder's curated some helpful collections of the best of the best in horror to kick things off. For example, the Shudder Essential collection includes the likes of The Babadook, Perfect Blue, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Shudder's Horror 101 collections, which dive into different sub-genres, vary widely in quality. While I was impressed by its selection of queer horror and Giallo films, its "Slashics" collection of classic slasher movies was disappointing. There's the original Halloween and a handful of random sequels, the aforementioned Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and...that's about it. No Freddy, no Jason. But you do get, erm, "Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge." Which is hokey and fun in its own way, but not exactly what I'm looking for in a slasher movie marathon.
There are several Shudder originals too, from sequels to modern horror series like V/H/S in V/H/S 85 and 99 to documentaries that take a closer look at the trends and monsters haunting our collective nightmares. One of my favorites was Sharksploitation, which explores how blockbusters like Jaws have shaped the cultural consciousness and conservation efforts around sharks. Another great watch was The Found Footage Phenomenon, a history of found footage films from their beginnings with The Blair Witch Project and Cannibal Holocaust to their boom in the noughts and subsequent rebirth through the screenlife format.
There was one big surprise I wasn't expecting: I was blown away to see legendary director Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue on offer. Even in the age of VOD, his animated movies are hard to track down without purchasing them outright (I'm only able to regularly revisit his mind-bending thriller series Paranoia Agent because I snagged it at a Blockbuster going-out-of-business sale way back when). I jumped at the chance to revisit Perfect Blue, a terrifying psychological thriller about the dangers of parasocial relationships, its message all the more terrifying by the fact that it predates social media by over a decade. The last time I watched it was in 20-ish parts on YouTube back when that was still a thing you could do.
Shudder’s TV shows are pretty light compared to its movies. For Walking Dead fans, there's Daryl Dixon's spin-off and Fear the Walking Dead. If you regularly tune into movie critic Joe Bob Briggs, you can check out his running commentary on a host of movies and shows. All told, though, there are only bout 50 shows and podcasts in Shudder's library. Yes, you read that right, podcasts. Some are atmospheric, Nightvale-esque series like Video Palace that accompany original creepy tales with B-roll footage of a Shudder-themed movie rental storefront. While others just show a static logo as the podcast plays.
Final verdict: So is Shudder worth it?
While I enjoyed my time with Shudder, its sparse library and lack of several classic horror movies and series fall short of convincing me to renew my subscription once Halloween has come and gone. Sure, the addition of Shudder sweetens the deal if you already have an AMC Plus subscription, but on its own, it's a tough sell, even at just $6.99 a month.
Maybe if Shudder adds some more hard-to-find animated classics like Perfect Blue, I could be convinced to come back. But as of now, I can find more of my favorite horror movies on other streaming services. I think my money's better served going toward buying or renting the few Shudder exclusives that aren't already there instead.