How Shudder Became The Home Of Horror And The Genre Phenomenon Of 2020, ‘Host’

2020 has been a nightmare for many, but for Shudder, this hellish year has seen the horror streamer consolidate its position as the king of genre content.

Having surpassed the one million subscriber mark, 2020 also saw the platform greenlight and release the terrifying phenomenon, Host, one of the year’s best-reviewed and most talked about movies.

“We had no idea how it was going to turn out. I don’t think anybody did,” confessed Craig Engler, Shudder’s General Manager. “Host’s director and co-writer Rob Savage had been on our radar, we knew about his work, and he was doing great stuff. He did an awesome two-minute short prank video he put on Twitter, where Rob was doing a Zoom call, and he goes up and investigates something in his attic and falls to his death. It was brilliant. “

“One of our team said we’d been talking to Rob’s manager, and they wanted to pitch a film. They sent us their pitch. It was about a six-page deck, but two words in it stood out – Zoom seance. We knew right away that there was a movie. Rob said, ‘I need 12 weeks and X amount of money,’ and we just told him to go for it. What was super interesting was when we got the first rough cut, I literally typed a message to our head of development that said, ‘Is this as good as I think it is?’ We probably could have just aired that, and it would have been fine. We had so few notes on Host, it was ludicrous.”

He added, “They wrote, shot, produced, and delivered Host in 12 weeks. It’s one of the few things that we wouldn’t have had without the pandemic. Some people tweeted that it was the only good thing to come out of the pandemic.”

Engler, responsible for the long-term business, programming strategy, and content production for the network, joined Shudder at the beginning of 2018 and was no stranger to genre content.

 “I had actually come from working at SyFy and also Chiller TV. Chiller TV was a horror network which was quite successful, but in the world of Comcast, they’re not looking for modest success,” he explained. “They’re looking for a huge, billion-dollar business. One of the things I learned there is that if you’re going to be a genre play, you have to be that genre, you have to own it, and you have to own it in a way that no one else is doing.”

“I think we started to emphasize what Shudder was and how Shudder was different, both in how we talked about ourselves and continuing that in what we’re buying and what we’re developing. The difference, too, is that we went from purely being able to buy whatever was on the marketplace, to now being able to do original productions.”

Host is a prime example of that, and how taking calculated risks has fuelled Shudder’s evolution and growth as a viable business that does things differently. The streamer is owned and operated by AMC Networks.

“When we were originally pitched Host, they were thinking it was going to be about a 30 minute, but we said they probably want to get it over 30 so that people don’t classify it as a short film,” mused Engler. “The finished movie ended up being 57 minutes, which for us is fine. There was a whole side conversation that Host started asking the question, ‘Do movies need to be 90 minutes anymore? Has this proven that movies can be an hour in duration?’ For us, movies can be however long they need to be.”

“I think it’s just one element of an evolution that is driven by our acquisitions team. It’s their understanding of the ecosystem of how and why movies work with audiences. We’re not afraid at all of trying new things, so we are a streamer but also release some of our movies on DVD because we know that there’s a segment of our audience that wants to subscribe to Shudder and also wants physical media to put on their shelves. One thing we found is that DVD extra material isn’t super popular on streaming. Most people just want to watch the movie. They don’t want to watch things about the movie. On DVD, it’s still super popular, so we super-serve the audience that way.”

“We also have a theatrical strategy,” Engler assured. “Several of our movies we have put into theaters before they’ve been on Shudder. The earliest one that I can remember was Revenge, and then we also did it with Tigers Are Not Afraid. We approach every movie differently.”

Revenge ended up grossing $2.69 million at the box office.

Shudder’s streaming plans start at $4.75 per month. Recording one million subscribers in September came almost 12 months after the launch of the revival of Creepshow, the platform’s most popular IP.

“I think these incredible 12 months started 24 months ago. One of the things that we did back then was talk about what kind of programming people wanted to see that they weren’t seeing elsewhere and could break through the clutter?” Engler revealed. “It’s a very crowded marketplace, so we’ve come up with a lot of strategies around what we want to do and, just as importantly, how we want to do it. We have a chase list with all the properties we know ourselves and other horror fans, not even the hardcore fans but people who simply enjoy the genre would love to see. One of those items was Creepshow. We put the word out about what we were looking for. Most of the things might probably be big, and a lot of them we were not able to get because it’s at another media company or they were outside our budget range.”

“We also started doing things like Horror Noire, our documentary about the history of black horror. People had started talking about black horror in a new way ever since Get Out, and there’s a rich history that has never been explored before. Who better to explore it than Shudder? And we did Cursed Films, a docuseries about moves that were said to be cursed like Poltergeist and The Omen.”

And it seems like this, five years after the launch of Shudder and 12 stellar months of growth, is just the beginning.

“The next 18 months are going to be awesome,” Engler gushed. “It is by far the biggest lineup we’ve ever had in our history. We’re going to do original movies, original scripted series, more docuseries like Cursed Films, which is the second most successful series in Shudder’s history. Creepshow is the first. We were also able to get back into production on our series more quickly than other folks, so we’ve been able to get into production on new seasons of both of those. We’ve also ordered scripts for a potential season three for Creepshow. Because we’ve done a docuseries focused on black horror, now we’re going to make a history of queer horror, which is amazing. We’ve also got The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs returning for a third season as well as some specials. “

“When it comes to new original movies, our budgets are getting a little bit bigger, so we’re taking bigger swings at movies. Our budgets have probably doubled or tripled in some cases. We used to hold our breath and pay money that we thought would do well, and now we’re doing two or three or four of them. Next year, we’re going to be the exclusive streaming home of Peninsula, which is the sequel to Train to Busan. That’s probably the biggest movie we’ve ever acquired, and we wouldn’t be able to do that kind of movie before. “

Engler concluded, “I think we were doing well, but we have certainly benefited from the increased interest in horror. We would have been pretty close to where we are even without the upswell. I’ve certainly noticed in the last 12 months that Shudder has become a brand rather than just a platform in the way that Netflix has become a turn of phrase, things are described as a Netflix movie, and now people are doing with Shudder. I couldn’t be happier, and this is just the beginning.”

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