The cream of contemporary feature-length cinema isn’t always found in theaters. These days, smaller and more niche films often implement a same-day launch, simultaneously premiering in a select-city theatrical run and on video-on-demand (VOD) services. Moreover, streaming services are now offering original films of their own. Given the dire and disposable state of the horror genre at the multiplex, these release strategies are particularly suited to reaching a wider, more appreciative audience for cinematic chills. For horror fans in a mid- to small-sized movie market such as St. Louis, online streaming and digital rental/purchase are increasingly vital means of accessing noteworthy features. What follows is a brief assessment of the major new horror (and horror-adjacent) films that have premiered on VOD within the past month.
Horror streaming service Shudder demonstrates its ongoing commitment to entertaining and enlightening original documentaries with Scream, Queen!, which delves into the tumultuous history of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (1985) and its star, Mark Patton. Once ridiculed by Freddy Krueger fans and now regarded as a key work in the history of queer horror, the sequel essentially ended Patton’s acting career, as its barely-subtext gay subtext effectively outed him. Scream, Queen! is structured around Patton’s quixotic quest to elicit an admission and apology from screenwriter David Chapman, but its greatest strength lies in how it nimbly juggles a multitude of topics. These include not only the production of the film itself, but also the AIDS epidemic, queer film studies, the horror-convention scene, and the way that pop-cultural objects are constantly being rediscovered and re-evaluated. At the center of it all is Patton himself, a sweet, sad character who is unfailingly frank and reflective about his most notorious cinematic credit.
Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street is now available to stream on Shudder and to rent from major online platforms.
Although the marquee draw of the gruesome survival thriller Becky is theoretical comedian Kevin James playing radically against type as a neo-Nazi, the actor’s performance is more serviceable than revelatory. What makes Becky a worthwhile slice of exploitation trash is the titular eighth grader, played by horror fixture Lulu Wilson (Ouija: Origin of Evil, Annabelle: Creation) in surly adolescent mode. When her widowed father’s lake house is overrun by Aryan Brotherhood convicts searching for some valuable McGuffin, it falls on Becky to defend herself using every improvised weapon and ounce of teen rage at her disposal. Although there is nothing remotely original or nuanced about Becky – a formulaic thriller that hybridizes Straw Dogs, Home Alone, and Green Room – there’s an undeniable grindhouse pleasure in watching a 13-year-old girl murder the hell out of some Nazis. It might be gory, shallow B-movie stuff, but Nima Fakhara’s jolting, Hans Zimmer-indebted score and the expressive visual touches from directors Milott and Murnion lend the film a splash of artistry.
Becky is now available to rent from major online platforms.
Reportedly made for just north of $10,000 by married filmmakers John Adams and Toby Poser – who also star, alongside their teen daughter – The Deeper You Dig certainly does not lack for a chilly atmosphere. An old-fashioned ghost story in the tradition of Poe and Jackson, the film also draws influence from films such as The Changeling and The Ring. When a sullen house flipper (John Adams) accidentally kills a local girl (Zelda Adams), his attempts to cover up his crime are harried by the teen’s vengeful spirit. Meanwhile, the girl’s distraught mother (Poser) finds that her long-dormant psychic abilities have awakened, tugging her toward the terrible truth about her presumed-missing child. Moody, unhurried, and a somewhat ragged around the edges, story-wise – not necessarily a bad thing in a film that’s often aiming for a waking-nightmare sensibility – The Deeper You Dig is a fine example of how shrewd, ambitious filmmakers can leverage a simple scenario into a strange, haunting little story with minimal resources.
The Deeper You Dig is now available to rent from major online platforms.
A Jekyll-and-Hyde horror-comedy for our present era of overbearing dog moms and print journalism’s rattling demise, Good Boy follows Maggie (Judy Greer), a hapless reporter for a failing San Fernando Valley newspaper. After a series of demoralizing personal and professional setbacks, Maggie adopts an emotional-support dog, diminutive mutt Reuben, and the pair quickly develop a fierce attachment to one another. Perhaps too fierce, as – in a goofy variation on The Brood (1979) by way of The Howling (1981) – Reuben rather improbably begins eviscerating anyone who causes Maggie distress. Unsurprisingly, Greer elevates the film’s low-budget creakiness and broad comedy with her winning presence, even if her character is a bit of a colorless sitcom sad sack. However, Good Boy is not insightful or funny enough to function as a satire, nor is it scary enough to work as a horror film, despite the over-the-top gore effects. It’s a film that doesn’t have a plot so much as a gimmick, and there’s an unmistakable feeling that director Tyler MacIntyre (Tragedy Girls) is slumming it here.
Good Boy is now available to stream from Shudder.
The past decade has seen a boomlet in horror anthology features, but the downside to this trend is that viewers are often subjected to ramshackle claptrap like Scare Package. A meta horror-comedy of the most uninspired sort, the film is a collaboration between eight directors who all seem to possess a great deal of affection for the genre but nothing interesting or amusing to say about it. The frame story – involving an employee’s first day at a throwback VHS rental emporium – is a mess, replete with unfunny character shtick and barely making an effort to queue up the individual segments. Most of these are one-joke scenes that turn a horror trope on its head or take it to absurd extremes. Admittedly, Scare Package boasts wild practical effects – particularly in Chris McInroy’s segment, “One Time in the Woods” – but otherwise even an indulgent horror-comedy fan won't find much of interest here. Emily Hagin’s “Cold Open” is probably the best of the bunch, a mildly charming what-if slapstick sketch in the tradition of The Cabin in the Woods.
Scare Package is now available to stream on Shudder.
For about 20 minutes, director Lars Damoiseaux’s Yummy initially seems like it might be heading toward the low-budget, gorehound version of a “hospital of the damned” flick, such as Coma, Session 9, or A Cure for Wellness. When the well-endowed Alison (Maaike Neuville) arrives at a dubious Eastern European clinic with her milquetoast boyfriend (Bart Hollanders) and hypercritical mother (Annick Christiaens) in search of a cheap breast-reduction surgery, it is obvious that something shady is occurring in the complex’s hidden wards and laboratories. That something turns out to be zombies, and Yummy quickly turns into a generic single-location zombocalypse thriller once the flesh-munchers get loose. The film would be merely forgettable if it did not commit so enthusiastically to extraneous gross-out “humor” and repulsively cynical plotting in which both benign and loathsome characters suffer horrible, arbitrary fates. It feels less like apocalyptic nihilism – which is a common theme in the zombie sub-genre – than mocking, mean-spirited contempt for both the characters and the viewer.
Yummy is now available to stream from Shudder.