50 STATES OF FRIGHT and THE STRANGER: Digging into the Some of the Strong Quibi Horror Offerings

Quibi (/kwĭ-bee/ noun) is the latest streaming service that just launched, and it differentiates itself from its plethora of competitors in more ways than one. Founded by former chairman of Disney Jeffrey Katzenberg, the service hopes to take advantage of our busy lifestyles by offering “Quick Bites” of entertainment in episodes that are 10 minutes or less. The platform hit with more than 20 shows ripe for viewing just in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, when everyone could use a bit of fresh new content. While there was a 90-day free pre-launch special, hitting subscribe on this one will run you $4.99 a month with ads and $7.99 without ads.

Another thing that is interesting is since the shows are made to be consumed on your mobile device (there’s no set-top app, sorry), the episodes are shot exclusively and formatted to be viewed in horizontal or vertical format of your smart phone. We‘re not simply talking about panning and scanning either here; it appears scenes were shot from different angles or framed completely differently depending on your viewing preference. Given the amount of content Quibi started with, needless to say there are a few clunkers. Luckily, the two shows I got to review here were both solid horror offerings; and from the 3 episodes I saw, each were starting off in the right direction.

First up was Sam Raimi’s 50 States of Fright, which will explore stories based on urban legends from Michigan, Kansas, Oregon, Minnesota, and Florida, with more states to come in future seasons. Given urban legends are usually pretty short to begin with, they should lend themselves pretty well to the format. I got to see 3 episodes that were written and directed by the man himself, Sam Raimi, adapting the story The Golden Arm, that was most famously told by Mark Twain. Totaling about 30 minutes, Raimi does what he does best, turning in a blood soaked tale that has humor, hand trauma, and makes it really hard for the guy that has to follow this one up.

The Golden Arm is the story of a lumberjack who’s married to the most beautiful woman in a small town. One day she loses her arm to a tragic logging accident, and he makes a her a prosthetic made from gold. She soon gets sick and dies, but before she passes has her husband promise to bury her with her beloved golden arm. I mean, of course he falls on hard times and goes after the arm, and Raimi does a very Evil Dead inspired take on the tale — and I am not going to complain about that one bit. The violence here is just as visceral as you’d expect, and the story is simple and to the point, leaving you wanting more.

Next up was Veena Sud’s (The Killing) super timely The Stranger, starring Maika Monre (It Follows) as Clare, a rideshare driver who just moved to LA from Kansas in the hopes of being a writer. Clare gets more than she bargained for when she picks up the creepy and devilish Carl E (Dane DeHaan). While 50 States of Fright was more of an anthology setup, this is more of a serialized show. Each chapter is broken up as an hour during the night this transpires, with 12 total, as Clare tries to figure out what the crazed rider’s plan is for her. The story here feels like it’s much more than it appears to be, as this weird Wizard of Oz theme begins to emerge through the series.

With The Stranger, Veena Sud starts off running, leaving me wondering what could happen next after the rather abrupt end to that third episode. While this this is a longer piece of material edited down for Quibi consumption, it definitely is edited in such a way that you’re properly cliffhangered and must watch the next episode. Maika Monre is pretty great here as our Dorthy-esque lead, and Dane DeHaan does crazy very well. Given the length of the show, I am curious about the depth we are going to go here, because this feels like there could be a lot more under the hood the further we dig. With 9 more episodes to go, I am definitely vested enough from these three to want to see just where this night takes our characters.

For horror fans like myself, 50 States of Fright is a no-brainer. Folktales have some great ideas, but they don’t always lend themselves to feature film adaptations. I think here the shorter format will work in the favor of this kind of anthology show. With future episodes by Ryan Spindell (The Mortuary Collection), Scott Beck (A Quiet Place), Adam Schindler (Intruders), Bryan Woods (Haunt), Yoko Okumura (Kimi Kabuki), and Daniel Goldhaber (Cam), I think this could be one of the best shows Quibi has to offer. The Stranger has me interested as well; it’s got some interesting ideas since it is from a female writer/director that add something refreshing to this genre. I am definitely hooked on both of these and recommend them for those who just downloaded the app and are looking for something to start their Quibi viewing experience.

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