General manager Craig Engler says subscribers are requesting "more pandemic programming."
Credit: Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

Escapism can take many forms. During the Great Depression of the 1930s cinemagoers flocked to see the lavish song-and-dance extravaganzas created by choreographer and director Busby Berkeley. But movie fans also filled theaters to be scared by the monster movies pumped out by Universal, including Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Invisible Man.

Cinemas may currently be closed because of the coronavirus. But in these terrifying times, people are once again finding cathartic release — and maybe a few a tips about how to survive in times of plague — by watching scary movies. Craig Engler is the general manager of Shudder, the streaming service which specializes in screening horror movies and thrillers and which, he reveals, has attracted record numbers of subscribers since the current crisis began.

"This is obviously a terrible time," says Engler, calling EW from New York. "But Shudder is having a moment. We are signing up record numbers of subscribers and our viewership is through the roof. For sure people are turning to Shudder during the pandemic to watch more horror movies."

What kind of horror movies are viewers watching?

"The number one request I get personally is to add more pandemic programming to the service," he says.

Shudder viewers have also been drawn to films which reflect their own quarantined situation, even if they don't involve disease. One of the biggest hits for the streaming service over the past few weeks has been the new movie The Room. Not to be confused with the Tommy Wiseau-directed cult movie of the same name, the film stars Olga Kurylenko and Kevin Janssens as a couple desperate to have a child who move into a house which grants wishes.

"It's kind of a 'Monkey's Paw' tale," says Shudder head of press Sean Redlitz, referring to the famed short story. "But it's also about these people basically stuck in a house."

"It did really well the first week," says Engler. "You would expect some drop off after that. But viewership more than doubled in the second week." (In a real world twist, Quantum of Solace actress Kurylenko was among the first high profile people to be diagnosed with the coronavirus.)

This month, Shudder is debuting a documentary series called Cursed Films which details the productions of  The Exorcist, Poltergeist, The Omen, The Crow, and Twilight Zone: The Movie. Subscribers can also now watch the first eight entries in the Friday the 13th franchise. "People are very excited about that," says Engler.

Shudder has encouraged horror fans to subscribe to the service with a promotion which allows people to access the streaming service free for a month by using the code "SHUTIN."

"A couple of weeks ago we launched a 30-day promo because a lot of people were stuck at home, looking for things to watch," says Engler. "Normally, our promo code is for seven days — you can do a seven day free trial — we extended that for thirty days thinking that there’s a lot of people who are not only stuck at home, but maybe out of work, don’t have the resources. It has taken off like wildfires. It is by far the most successful promo code in Shudder history."

"In the second half of March we were seeing sign ups that exceeded what we tend to see in October, which is Halloween season, our busiest season," says Redlitz. "We were seeing above Halloween-level interest in horror."

Shudder has even curated a "Shut In" collection of films with plots about "confinement, quarantine, and home invasion," including director Rob Zombie's 31, the late Stuart Gordon's Stuck, and John Carpenter's Body Bags.

"We're also streaming Escape from New York," says Engler. "Which seems appropriate given that's what people want to do right now."

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