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Rebirth of the Shtick: Reimagining 1980s Horror on Shudder

If you are not a subscriber to Shudder, I don’t fault you for it. With Hulu, Netflix, CBS All Access, Disney+, and now uber-niche streaming services like ConTV, Crunchyroll, and Shudder available, there’s a lot to choose from when picking a content provider. Since these services cost money in most cases, the expense can also add up quickly (and, as we all know, you’d much rather take that money and put it to good work in the Madness Heart Press Patreon, wouldn’t you?). As a result, it’s a worthwhile exercise to point out the ways in which some of these services stand out – such as Shudder.

Horror fans will find ample meat to feast on adorning Shudder’s bones. They have an excellent library of classic horror from yesteryear (including slightly more obscure selections like Deep Red), as well as interesting modern offerings. In recent years, they’ve branched out from curation into original content, and I’ve been quite happy with the results (which include the must-watch documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, based on the book by Robin R Means Coleman). The most titillating offerings in their original content lineup have been two series that harken back to the heyday of shlocky 1980s horror. I speak, of course, of Critters and Creepshow.

The original Critters, for the uninitiated, is one of horror’s all-time great in-jokes: an intentionally dumb and hilarious tale of alien invasion by a voracious race of beings: the Crites. If you’ve ever wondered what a bonkers knockoff Gremlins fueled by cocaine and swagger and little else is like, be sure to check out the 1986 original (I’d skip the sequels – watch one of the many other inexplicable mini-monster movies of the 1980s instead). Shudder are lovers of 1980s horror, and they’ve reintroduced the menace of the Crites to the wild in the form of a Shudder original comedy-horror series. I find it completely charming; the special effects are kept practical and low-quality (in honor of the effects work in the original), the characters are dumb, goofy, and likeable, and overall, Critters: A New Binge just has the feel of an authentic 1980s crap-fest, the exact type of video my friends and I used to watch on the VHS late at night in the basement, giggling at the stupid monsters. This is obviously the demographic that Shudder is going for with this reboot, and I have to say: they’ve got my number. I love Critters: A New Binge. As though that wasn’t enough, Shudder has opened up the vast and echoing crypt of their heart and given us Creepshow as well. Creepshow, like Critters: A New Binge, is based on a classic of 1980s horror. In this case, one that was originally dreamed up by my Maine man, Stephen King, with an assist from no less a director than George Romero. Here is where Shudder’s interpretation of the source material ascends from clever to genius.

The showrunners behind Creepshow fully comprehend what King was going for with the 1982 original: a loving, tomb-mold-scented, shambling tribute to the immortal horror comics of the 1950s, in particular the ones published by EC Comics (about whom I have written lovingly and slightly obsessively in the past). Team Shudder has kept this spirit alive, obviously, but with the interesting twist of keeping the 1980s shlock vibe as well. The result is a vision of horror that was originally a creature of the 1950s:,

… filtered through the shiny, slimy practical-effects horror sensibility of the 1980s:

and, finally, reimagined for the arch, ironic, and retro-obsessed 21st century:

It’s a conversation between six decades of storytelling across mediums ranging from the big screen to television to comic books – nothing short of remarkable.

Now, 1980s revivalism is hardly a genre that Shudder holds a monopoly over. From Stranger Things to the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (which has its own 50s-revival thing going on, as I’ve written), Netflix knows where there’s a smart demographic dollar to be made, and the budget that they’ve lavished upon some of their horror projects should inspire awe and gratitude in horror fans. That said, there’s a particular sort of spaced-out retro vibe going on over at Shudder that Netflix can’t match. This is an aesthetic shared by others: Shudder has hitched their wagon to the star of acid-outlaw horror director Panos Cosmatos, who is the sorcerer behind both 2018’s magnificent Mandy (discussed here) and 2010’s study in depth and terror, Beyond the Black Rainbow. That’s a good star to have your wagon hitched to, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that at some point in the future Shudder works directly on a project of some kind with him.

Up to and until that time, there’s plenty to keep me happily ensconced in the tomb of excellent horror that is Shudder. They know that there’s beauty and meaning in storytelling ranging from the psychedelic to the silly. Most of all, they value the shlock horror of the 1980s as much as I do. I’m glad they’re keeping that flame alive.

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