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Hollywood turned its nose up at horror — now streamers are racing for the next big scare

Amazon, Netflix, and smaller services like Shudder are all in

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Despite a long history of horror movies succeeding at the box office, Jason Blum struggled to get his movies into the theater. Conventionally wisdom relegated to a few times a year, mostly around Halloween. Horror movies didn’t have the prestige of dramas, or the universal appeal of blockbuster superhero movies, and were seen as risky investments, even if the numbers said otherwise.

But after a decade of hits — Paranormal Activity, The Purge, Get Out — Jason Blum’s company Blumhouse Productions finds itself no longer chasing theatrical releases, especially as AMC and Regal struggle during the pandemic. Instead, streamers are coming to him, and the best part: they believe horror is a year-round affair.

In many ways, Blum has often been ahead of the curve—and the scary, spooky, and violent movies he’s released on shoestring budgets might be the best signal of where streaming is going next.

“I’m acutely aware when you’re selling into someone for volume — without naming names — and I want to tell you that it makes you want to jump off a cliff,” Blum told The Verge. “All the fun of my job disappears when you drop a bucket of water into a lake and it disappears.” 

It’s a good time for Blum. His production company Blumhouse partnered with Amazon Studios for a series of films that belong to an overarching anthology series, Welcome to the Blumhouse. The first four films — Nocturne, Black Box, Evil Eye, and The Lie — are all streaming on Amazon Prime Video right now. Just a couple days before Halloween, Blum and Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke announced the next four installments in the anthology, all due out next year. All will premiere and live exclusively on Prime Video. 

Under Salke, Amazon Studios has seen a slight strategy shift. The company isn’t focused on getting all of its original titles out to theaters. Amazon Studios’ main driver is in line with the rest of the company — increasing the number of Prime subscribers. For Salke, that means taking Amazon Studios’ best projects and releasing them directly on Amazon Prime Video. 

“I’m acutely aware when you’re selling into someone for volume — without naming names — and I want to tell you that it makes you want to jump off a cliff”

“It always depends on what the next thing is,” Salke said. “If somebody comes in with something new, and the horror genre is going to reach a huge audience, of course we’re gonna jump right in.”

When Salke made the deal to bring eight Blumhouse films — a mixture of horror, thriller, and suspense — to Prime Video, the goal was always to give subscribers something new to watch from one of Hollywood’s most prominent production companies. 

“It felt like someone was really paying attention to what they were watching, paying attention to what we were doing and wanted that specifically,” Blum said of working with Salke and Amazon on Welcome to the Blumhouse. “That was a first for me with the streaming experience.” 

The first four films have performed better than Amazon was anticipating, Salke told The Verge, but wouldn’t specify any actual numbers. Salke said she was “exceptionally happy” with the turnout in the first week alone, adding that “Welcome to the Blumhouse really landed with a significant audience,” making her and her team feel “even more bullish about the next segment.” Even though Salke refused to give actual numbers on the titles, she didn’t shy away from noting that Blum’s movies were helping to bring in new subscribers — even if she said it in the most entertainment executive way possible. 

“We’re now driving so much of Prime engagement across the world through Prime Video customers, that we fill our schedule with a certain amount of volume,” Salke said. “We have alternate strategies to make sure we’re bringing in new customers, which this particular suite of movies has been successful at accomplishing.” 

“We’re seeing this explosion of real creativity and storytelling almost every single week because people have places to get it”

As Blum said, horror is going through a popular moment right now. People are obsessed with movies like Hereditary and Midsommar, and TV series like The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix are being streamed around the world. While Amazon is seeing more people tune in to watch horror movies and series like Welcome to the Blumhouse than expected, according to Salke, the company is far from the only one. 

Shudder, a smaller streaming service that launched in 2015 and is dedicated to carrying horror, thriller, and other related films and TV shows, surpassed 1 million subscribers in September. Part of that increase in subscribers was driven by the pandemic, and people stuck at home who were looking for new content to watch every single day, according to Craig Engler, Shudder’s general manager. Part of the reason, however, is because of a major shift in how most people get their entertainment. 

“People are finding new ways to tell new stories in what is, for horror, a relatively new medium,” Engler said. “Now that horror has jumped into the television space, into the streaming space, it’s here to stay at a higher level than it’s ever been.”

Shows like American Horror Story found new life on streamers like Netflix, and the increased attention helped creatives in the space land projects they might not have been able to get off the ground otherwise. Blum noted that “one of the great things about streaming is that we get to take chances.” That experimentation is landing with audiences who are willing to spend $6, $10, or even $15 a month for access to a streamer, Engler said, like Shudder’s Creepshow

“People are really seeking out new things in the horror space,” Engler said. “There hasn’t been anything like Creepshow in a very long time, in theaters or on the air. There’s been nothing like The Haunting of Hill House that appealed to both horror and non-horror fans, and was so immediately accessible. We’re seeing this explosion of real creativity and storytelling almost every single week because people have places to get it.”

“Every subscriber to Shudder is also subscribed to a Netflix or an Amazon Prime”

With a seemingly increased attention on horror titles, competition also heats up. Salke told The Verge that Amazon doesn’t have any plans to shift its content strategy (like increasing its spending on horror titles specifically to compete with Netflix and Hulu), but Amazon is committed to working with partners and licensing titles to remain in the game, like Welcome to the Blumhouse

Smaller services like Shudder are trying to find their own ways to stand out, according to Engler. Shudder can’t necessarily compete with the content budgets that Netflix or Hulu (owned by Disney) have, but the company’s subscriber growth and daily engagement proves there’s enough interest for everyone to have a piece of the pie, Engler said. 

“Every subscriber to Shudder is also subscribed to a Netflix or an Amazon Prime,” Engler said. “Those streamers always have a few interesting things in the works, but you’ll run through their horror inventory very quickly because they’re trying to be all things to all people. The genre itself is huge and broad, and there’s a ton of interest in it. On a big streamer, you’re only going to get so much. We’re the place that gives you more.”

Shudder has lost out on titles to Netflix or Amazon, and Engler acknowledges it’s likely to happen again. His bet at Shudder is that audiences are seeking out more horror than ever before on streaming services. Unlike the traditional theatrical model, which used to try and keep horror to the fall and winter months, horror is now a year-round affair. It’s a good time to be in the streaming business — and an even better time to be a supplier. 

“I’ve survived two full cycles of horror being in vogue, out of vogue, in vogue, and out of vogue. We’ve never changed our strategy,” Blum said. “If you’re making good quality, scary movies, you always find that audience. We are in a horror peak right now, and in two years, we’ll be in a valley, but we don’t want to change what we’re doing, and now the streamers are here asking what we’re up to.”