Last week, I had the immense pleasure of watching Eli Roth’s History of Horror, which aired on AMC sometime late last year (I think) and is now streaming on Shudder (which is an excellent streaming service that you should subscribe to if you’re reading this and don’t already), which is where I watched it and also where you should watch it—right this very second, even.
Some pertinent facts about this absolutely wonderful docuseries are that it is seven (objectively excellent) episodes long (too few), with each episode spanning a TV-tight 42 minutes (not nearly enough minutes).
But the most pertinent fact of all, without question, is that this series was one of the best five-hour journeys I’ve taken into the most delightful history of the most engaging and thrilling and creative and gritty and dedicated and immensely inspiring genre that I love so incredibly much.
This series was helmed by someone who cares, undoubtedly made by a team of dedicated and creative folks who care, is filled with people who have spent their entire careers caring, and you should absolutely watch it—right this very second, even(!)—because if you’re reading this, you probably care, too.
If you’re still somehow not convinced (you damned fool) and/or insist on taking this journey with me, here are three more reasons to watch Eli Roth’s History of Horror right this very second.
Eighty-eight, to be exact (sort of). Eli Roth talked to 88 people over the course of these seven beautiful episodes. Where did that number come from, Carly? Well, I actually went and hand-counted the “full cast and crew” IMDb page, which was a nightmare activity that I don’t recommend, and if there was an easier way for me to have done that, please don’t tell me because the knowledge might kill me on the spot. But you can also tell me if you want to; death is but a sweet respite.
Anyway, that number, 88 (?), is significant for how many people it represents, but it’s not just about the volume—it’s also who these people are. For obvious reasons, I won’t be listing them all, but I mean, we’ve got Tom Savini, we’ve got Diablo Cody, we’ve got Bruce Campbell, Edgar Wright, John Landis, and Andy Muschietti. Stephen King is there, Greg Nicotero is in all of it, Quentin Tarantino keeps his shirt on, Doug Jones and Jack Black and Leigh Whannell show up. Dee Wallace, Tippi Hedren, and Jamie Lee Curtis are all in it, sprucing things up.
I know that it really feels like I’m doing a bit here, but I assure you: I’m not doing a bit. All of these people are there, and this barely scratches the surface. Roth talks to so many more brilliant writers, directors, authors, actors, and movie-makers that I haven’t even mentioned, and essentially all of them have excellent things to say. Can you believe it?
We all know how often horror is brushed to the side and stigmatized in the wider world of film, treated as less-than and accused of superficiality and cheap tricks. It’s wrong, anyone who thinks that way is fundamentally wrong, uninformed, and also doesn’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. But it still happens fairly often. Watch an award show (LOL jk pls don’t).
This series, though, is the opposite of that. There is nothing cheap or surface-level about this documentary. Eli Roth goes deep into a lot of these films (as deeply as one can, covering ten or more films in 42 minutes(!)), spending time illuminating their rich contexts, like the political climates that influenced Romero’s seminal late-century zombie movies or how The Exorcist (1973) basically single-handedly convinced America the devil was real.
The series takes the time to really demonstrate how so many of our most excellent horror movies have been made and are continuing to be made by filmmakers that are just as thoughtful (and, I would personally argue, far more inventive and creative) as those working in less subversive genres. Their work should be taken just as seriously and treated with the same kind of well-earned reverence from the rest of the world that I was genuinely profoundly delighted to see throughout this series.
All of the contributors to the doc—the directors and authors, scholars and special effects artists and actors—are evidently passionate about the genre, respect the films they’re talking about, and admire their creators and contributors. Often makers of brilliant work themselves, impressive credentials lighting up the screen under the type of their names, no one is arrogant or boastful about their own work. Everyone is humble, everyone is passionate, and it’s really wonderful to see.
Sincerely, there was not a single episode that I hated, or even one that I really strongly disliked. Every one of them somehow managed to feel at once both exhaustive and sampler-sized, with how many movies they managed to package into such restrictive slices of time.
With no loose minutes for anyone to wax pedantic about general minutiae, everything that everyone says is on “That’s it, that’s The Line” level, and every clip shown is a banger, which was another thing—in addition to talking to everyone, the History of Horror really packs in the actual footage of the films that are being referenced as they’re being referenced. Having those visuals was really fun, very impactful, and made the series far more immersive than it would’ve been otherwise.
The series kicks off strong with “Zombies,” and it really never slows down. Slashers get two episodes, which is great because everyone loves slashers and if you say you don’t, you’re lying. Demons get an episode, and later, all manner of ghost stories are explored, from classics like Poltergeist (1982) to modern-day Crimson Peak (2015). The “Killer Creatures” episode was my personal favorite, showcasing (among so many other wonderful things) John Landis talking extensively about one of my favorite movies of all time, his An American Werewolf in London (1981).
My least favorite episode was definitely “Vampires” without question, but any critique I have of it should probably be prefaced by the fact that usually vampires really don’t do a damn thing for me. They’re so sexy, they’re so boring, and I also hate them. Oh. What?
But even if I didn’t feel that way, that way that makes me super biased against vampires, I would still definitely not like that Twilight (2008) was talked about, even if it was (mercifully) only a little bit. I mean, it’s just not a horror movie. And yet, I understand why it was still included, and that basically sums up exactly why I think vampires are often lame as hell. Sorry…True Blood.
And even so, on a whole? That episode fucked. Some objectively important movies were covered excellently, like Nosferatu (1922) and 1931’s Dracula starring the incredible Bela Lugosi. Lots of good stuff in there.
So, I mean, you really just need to watch this series because you’re not going to regret it. I don’t even like vampires and now I don’t know. I mean, I definitely don’t like vampires… but also, I don’t know. Go watch it! Shudder.com!
Another thing I learned from my sojourn through the IMDb cast and crew page earlier (and knew, intuitively, from watching the series) is that only a select few people appear in every single episode. Rob Zombie is one of those people.
If you think it’s because he has a ton to say, you’d be mistaken. He definitely contributes, especially later on in the series, but for pretty much the entirety of at least the first episode, he’s sitting at a table with Eli Roth and Greg Nicotero, and he’s not saying a thing. And you’re waiting for him to say a thing, because you’re new to the series and you’re still figuring out how it’s structured and you don’t know how it’ll work yet, and he never says a damn thing.
There’s a moment that you’ll notice if you’re looking for it (probably, but please don’t blame me if you don’t, I don’t know you), when the word “zombie” is uttered and the camera cuts to a very quick shot of an aptly named Rob Zombie, who, fittingly, says absolutely nothing.
So, I don’t know, if that doesn’t convince you, I’m not sure what will. You should probably just go watch Eli Roth’s History of Horror right now.