We’re fully drowning in streaming services at this point. You gotta have Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu, and you’re soon gonna need Disney+. Depending on your geeky interests, you might also need Shudder, CBS All Access, and/or DC Universe. Last month, yet another service joined the fray: the Criterion Channel. So what’s in it for you, especially if you’re already feeling over-subscribed?
Like many other services, Criterion Channel has a special niche; it’s one that fans of the fabled Criterion Collection line of Blu-rays and DVDs will immediately grasp. Forged from the ashes of FilmStruck, Criterion Channel launched last month (not without some technical hiccups, sorta like its predecessor) with a stable of classic, indie, international, and art-house films, plus the shorts and supplemental features (like trailers, commentaries, and behind-the-scenes documentaries) that the brand is known for. Criterion Channel will also rotate certain titles in and out month to month. You can check it out for free for two weeks, and if you stick around after your trial is up, it’s $11 a month or $100 for a year-long subscription.
While the Criterion Channel is tailored more toward fans of older films, foreign-language features, and offbeat indies, those classifications also happen to include several sci-fi, horror, and fantasy films. We dug through the site’s ever-growing list of titles to make a few recommendations.
1. The Love Witch
There’s no filmmaker today quite like Anna Biller, who pairs a boldly feminist point of view with a genuine appreciation for sleazy, cheesy, brightly-colored horror movies of the 1960s. Her 2016 second feature, The Love Witch (which the auteur wrote, directed, edited, scored, and produced), is both an insightful study of gender roles and a candy-colored supernatural fantasy, about a striking young witch named Elaine (Samantha Robinson) who rips her way through a series of suitors, spells, and potions as part of her determined quest to conjure up true love.
Though the wardrobe and production design scream “retro,” The Love Witch is set in a nebulous time period that feels a lot like now, and Biller’s mission of subverting the male gaze is emphasized by the many, many close-ups of Elaine’s perfectly made-up eyes sizing up every slab of beefcake that crosses her path.
2. Godzilla (and his many friends, foes, and associates)
The bombastic Godzilla: King of the Monsters hits theaters on May 31, but if you’d rather go old school, the Criterion Channel has an impressive back catalog to help beef up your knowledge of kaiju history. Ishiro Honda’s 1954 original Godzilla can be viewed many places, but Criterion (which also has the 1956 Western remix starring Raymond Burr, Godzilla, King of the Monsters) boasts a ton of extras, including interview clips with cast and crew, a scholarly commentary track, and a short doc about the real-life Japanese fishing boat vs. American nuclear test tragedy that helped inspire Godzilla’s story.
And if your hunger for rubber-suited monsters runs deep enough, Criterion also has All Monsters Attack, Destroy All Monsters, Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, Godzilla Raids Again, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, Godzilla vs. Megalon, Invasion of Astro-Monster, Mothra vs. Godzilla, Rodan, Son of Godzilla, Terror of Mechagodzilla, The War of the Gargantuas, and The X From Outer Space.
3. A hell of a Cronenberg double feature
Never get a peaceful night’s sleep again after stacking these two creepy classics from body-horror master David Cronenberg: 1981's Scanners, about a telepaths who engage in the ultimate battle of the minds, featuring one of cinema’s most legendary exploding-head special effects; and 1979's The Brood, about a woman whose rage is so powerful she unintentionally spawns humanoid “children” that attack the targets of her anger.
Just the films alone would be recommended viewing, but if you watch them though Criterion Channel, you can also access extras like an insightful contemporary interview with Scanners antagonist Michael Ironside; vintage talk-show clips (including a 1980 segment of The Merv Griffin Show with The Brood star Oliver Reed...alongside Griffin’s other guests, Orson Welles and Charo); multiple chats with Cronenberg himself; making-of documentaries; and more.
4. Top-notch (and très weird) foreign-language horror
One of the Criterion Collection’s most robust categories has always been international films, and there are some horror standouts lurking in its library of foreign selections. These include Guillermo del Toro’s first feature, 1993's Cronos, the thoughtful yet gory tale of an elderly antiques dealer who cuts himself on a mysterious mechanized device that slowly begins turning him into a vampire. It’s the first collaboration between del Toro and Ron Perlman, who pops up as the pugnacious son of a rich man who wants the device to secure his own immortality.
There’s also Georges Franju’s 1960 Eyes Without a Face, the chilling, black-and-white tale of a mad doctor on the hunt for the perfect replacement face for his daughter, whose own lovely visage was mangled in a car accident. And if you really wanna blow your hair back while reading subtitles, check out Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell—Hajime Sato’s 1968 tale of bickering plane-crash survivors who must contend with a skull-piercing alien blob that’s emerged from a nearby UFO, intent on turning humans into vampires as part of its plan for world domination. The special effects are rather lo-fi, but that doesn’t stop them from being unbelievably unsettling.
5. Time Bandits
With Apple’s in-the-works streaming service planning a series (with the help of Taika Waititi) based on Terry Gilliam’s 1981 time-travel fantasy, there’s no better time to revisit this film, especially when it comes with the option of watching with a commentary packed with memories and anecdotes from Gilliam, co-writer Michael Palin, stars John Cleese and David Warner, and others.
Yes, Time Bandits is a fairy tale with a kid protagonist, following the adventures of a history-obsessed tween who gets swept up with a gang of thieves who hop across time and dimensions with the help of a magical map. But there’s nothing twee about this imaginative story, a fact underlined by that bleaker-than-bleak gut-punch of an ending. Other extras included here are a short doc examining the film’s fanciful production design and costumes, as well as an extensive conversation with Gilliam filmed at a festival in 1998.
Eclectic British filmmaker Ben Wheatley (Kill List, Free Fire, A Field in England) directed this 2012 black comedy about a couple (the deadpan hilarious Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who also co-wrote the script) on a vacation from hell. The twist is that their road trip is actually pretty mundane; traveling by RV, they do things like visit a pencil museum and accidentally crash a bachelorette party. The “hell” part comes from the fact that they just can’t stop brutally killing people who get in their way—and considering they’re both pretty unstable, it doesn’t take much to piss them off. Sightseers is classified as one of Criterion Channel’s limited-engagement selections (it’ll be available through September 30), so move it to the top of your queue if you decide to take the plunge.
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