Jason Zinoman says one of the pleasures of getting scared at the movies is “that it focuses the mind.” The author of Shock Value, a book about horror films, uses the example of a baby being born.
“Try to imagine the shock of one world running into another,” he writes. “Nothing is familiar and the slightest detail registers as shockingly new. Think of the futility of trying to process what is going on. No wonder they scream.
“Overwhelming terror,” Zinoman continues, “may be the closest we ever get to the feeling of being born.”
Whether it’s as deep seeded as that or not, there is no denying terror is a primal feeling. It’s part of our DNA but, counter intuitively, it isn’t horrible when experienced at the movies.
Sam Zimmerman, the co-curator of the new horror streaming service Shudder, says watching scary movies is, “a beautiful way of confronting our anxieties and fears and laughing at those anxieties and fears. It’s a way of touching the void without actually stepping foot in it.”
Zimmerman, along with long time Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes, have populated Shudder with a comprehensive collection of horror films from around the globe, everything from classic horror like The Hills Have Eyes and newer shockers such as Sadako vs. Kayako.
“We are a curated streaming service and we’re trying to find the perfect medium between the streaming service and the best aspects of what we got out of video store days.”
In short, Zimmerman says, there are four main criteria when programming the service: Is it really cool? Do we think our members will love it? Is it contextually or historically interesting? Or is it just awesome?
“We want you to really trust us,” he says.
“Whether the movies are under the radar or mainstream, we want you to feel like we’re looking out for what’s going on the service as opposed to just filling the service with an old thing just because it is horror.”
Available in the U.S. since last year, Shudder makes its Canadian debut on Oct. 20, just in time for Halloween.
“I think horror fans are optimists,” Zimmerman says. “I think we find the good in things even when the movie doesn’t come together as a whole, we’re really excited to point out what stuck with us within it. Horror can be made up of such striking imagery. Even when we watch movies as kids and perhaps now re-watch them and think, ‘It wasn’t that great a movie to begin with,’ we still remember those images that grabbed us. You can’t deny the power of that. I think we are inherently excited about what’s good about a movie.
“I also think horror fans are really film fans. Horror, at least for me, was a real gateway into experimental cinema and really surreal, strange work because of the nightmare logic of them.
“But I think it’s an avenue into all other sorts of arts and media.”
At the end of the day horror fans will check out Shudder not for a lesson in horror history but for the variety of chills and thrills. But why do people like to be terrified while watching movies? Alfred Hitchcock summed up the appeal of the scary movie in one brief sentence: “People like to be scared when they feel safe.”