The shit storm that swirled around Netflix’s ill-advised plan to split its DVD service off into another company, the dead-before-arrival Qwikster, belies the fact that the service still offers something incredibly awesome—it magically delivers more movies than a human being can possibly watch. Thankfully for those with kids and jobs eating up precious movie-watching time, there are professionals like Phil Butcher, Craig Sauer, and Jonny Gausewitz to sort through the collective Netflix queue to pick out the gems from the piles of garbage. They’ve been recording their InstaFlicka podcast for a year and a half now to document their continuing mission of exploring the dark, uncharted parts of the Netflix content servers, all while sampling delicious Wisconsin microbrews. The A.V. Club sat down with Butcher and Sauer to chat about prepping for a full month of horror-themed episodes (which kick off today), finding beers to match the mood, and what the hell a bear-deer hybrid should represent.
The A.V. Club: How do you choose the movies you’re going to watch? Do you mostly try to choose movies that none of you have seen, or movies that have some buzz?
Phil Butcher: It’s kind of a blend of the two. For this month, where we’re doing horror, the first week ended up being all things that I’ve seen before, just because I’m the only one that loves horror.
Craig Sauer: It’s his month, so we let him go crazy.
PB: It wasn’t on purpose that I picked everything that I’ve seen—normally we try to do a blend. One of us will say, “I’ve seen this, and I think people should watch it,” or, “Let’s just pick this thing that none of us have seen to try it out,” making the selection about 50/50.
CS: Generally, we pick a theme for the week, and each of us will pick a movie we either want to see or think other people should see.
AVC: Forming your own opinions about films seems important to you guys. Is it ever tempting to use opinions or other podcasts as a guideline to what might be worth watching when it pops up on Instant?
PB: I’m lazy, and I never read other reviews. I always think I should, but I don’t—I end up finding something else to distract me. If someone says something about a movie, I don’t totally disregard it, and sometimes it will sneak its way out when I’m talking about it, but for the most part, I think I form my own opinions.
CS: We do a fair amount of research about the movies we’re watching. I’ll read a few reviews on occasion. I like to know where the director is coming from, and I think that informs the listener beyond telling them if a movie is good or if it sucks.
PB: I know that Jonny [Gausewitz, co-host and co-founder of the podcast] tries to track down awards and other background info about movies we watch. He’s really big into reading Wikipedia articles about whatever movies we happen to be watching to find out little background facts about it.
CS: I think we have a good split in how we try to put that opinion out there. We do a little debunking of how other people reviewed movies, and whether they deserved their awards or not. We do the same thing with nostalgia. People have this nostalgic view of some movies back in the day—for instance, we just watched The Exorcist. People remember that as a great movie; I think it even won a few Oscars. It’s a memorable movie; everybody knows that movie.
PB: But you go back and watch some of these movies and you wonder, “Did I like it because of when I watched it?” We’ve also done this with The Wizard and Little Monsters—movies you realize are shitty movies when you actually watch them.
AVC: Where do most of the Craptastic movies come from?
PB: In the beginning, we mostly came across Troma movies and stuff like that. But now we look through to see which movies have low user scores but look good.
CS: According to you.
PB: Well, not necessarily, like with Hobo With A Shotgun, which I knew was going to be good. That had a lot of buzz behind it. Usually they end up being movies that look horrible but could at least be fun, because no one enjoys watching truly bad movies. There’s a point where the irony dips too low and it just becomes unenjoyable.
AVC: Netflix Instant has changed a lot in the last year—big content deals like the Starz deal fell apart, but smaller deals like AMC’s shows and some direct programming seem promising. How do you see shifts like this affecting your show?
PB: Not really. I think when the Starz deal falls through, we might not be able to do as many new movies, since that’s pretty much the only place they come from at this point. We get complaints sometimes that there’s nothing on [streaming], or that everything that’s on there is shit, but that is so not the case. Seriously, there are some days where they add hundreds of films or TV shows. I think there’s always going to be content for us, it just might be different.
CS: At this point, Netflix is still the biggest provider on the block as far as streaming movies. If they have less content, that just makes what we do more important because we’re trying to find the diamonds in the rough.
AVC: Do you guys ever see yourselves defecting to another service or services if the content selection on Netflix gets worse?
CS: I think it’s possible, but we kind of have our niche with Netflix. I can’t see that changing any time soon, but a couple of years down the road, that’s certainly a possibility.
PB: You never want to say no to something like that.
CS: It’s such a volatile market—there’s going to be another major service that jumps up out of nowhere. But for now, it’s definitely Netflix for us.
AVC: You guys recommend a lot of Wisconsin beers, which is rad. Are most of your listeners local? Can they get stuff like Furthermore?
PB: There are people who listen from out of state, but not as concentrated as those from Madison and Northern Illinois. We’re a little Midwest heavy, but that way, it’s a little easier for people to get the beers we talk about. Still, we do try not to only try Wisconsin beers.
CS: But still, Wisconsin is such a hub of great local breweries.
PB: Yeah, and how can you not want to talk about Ale Asylum beers? They’re so good. Kind of like how not everyone will want to watch the movies we talk about, not everyone is going to get this beer. Like the whole show, sometimes it’s for us as much as it is for other people. We like talking about this stuff, and we just happen to do it in front of microphones.
AVC: Since it’s October, what pumpkin beers do you recommend?
PB: We just tried Pumpking from Southern Tier. That was a crazy beer.
CS: It tastes more like a cider than a beer.
PB: It was really good—interesting flavor. The only problem is that it has this weird bitterness at the end. You get this great taste of pumpkin flavor to it, and you get all that clove with a little bit of cinnamon and vanilla, and then it’s bitter, with no aftertaste. It’s bizarre, but I liked it overall.
CS: The smell of that beer is so pumpkin. It smells like October. The Disorderly from the Vintage is pretty good [as well], but we’d need to get a growler to try that on the show. And we’re also pretty big fans of New Belgium, and their seasonal Hoptober.
AVC: Also, the antlered bear that acts as the logo for the beer segment is amazing. Where did it come from?
PB: That is a great question. Jonny comes up with these segment things. I think that one might actually be from a T-shirt, like a Snorg Tee or something. It’s beer, so a combination of a bear and a deer makes a beer, or something. I have no idea.
AVC: October is usually stacked with horror movie recommendations. Do you guys have some unconventional favorites that can be found on Netflix Instant?
CS: Some people might have heard of it, but Dead Snow is a great zombie comedy to check out.
PB: I think it’s out of Sweden, maybe. Nazi zombies coming out of the snow. It’s really, really good. It has flashes of Evil Dead to it. They don’t have Nightmare On Elm Street and stuff like that, but I was flipping through and they do have Child’s Play, they have Puppetmaster. If you’re a fan of horror, Netflix is a great service to have. They have a lot of those obviously low-budget horror movies, with single names like Bundy and Sasquatch. But they also have legitimately good mainstream horror, and foreign horror.
AVC: Modern horror is plagued with remakes, but Netflix works as a great archive of the original versions. Do you have a favorite original film that people need to see if they’ve seen the remake? For instance, the 1985 version of Fright Night?
CS: [Laughs.] I don’t know if the original Fright Night is better than the remake.
PB: It’s not an old-timey classic, but this last week we watched Let Me In. Netflix also has [the Norwegian original] Let The Right One In, which is just from a few years ago. That’s definitely the better version, though not head and shoulders above [the American version].
CS: We also just watched the original version of The Thing. Well, not the original, but the one made with Kurt Russell.
PB: We found out that that was a remake of the 1950s movie The Thing From Outer Space. That was interesting to find out, since we were so pissed that they’re remaking it again. I was mad about remaking a movie that I’d never seen—we finally watched it, and that movie is great.
CS: The Thing is a classic creature movie, a classic John Carpenter movie. Probably his best movie. They’re remaking it now with younger, prettier people for whatever reason. I would suggest watching the Kurt Russell one just because there are so many good character actors in it.
PB: I think it’s worth watching for his beard alone. It is magnificent.
CS: It’s a great mane. It’s beautiful. Another movie that we watched a while ago that’s kind of a horror movie is Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. There’s a 1950s version, a 1970s version, and a 2000s version called The Invasion that… [sighs] whatever. The original is really good, the first remake might be better, and the new one… ugh. I think with a lot of those earlier movies, they have a perspective or meaning to them that gets stripped out when they’re remade.
PB: It’s a different era. Everything can’t be about communism now.
CS: Right, but those older movies are tied to something real. When they’re remade, they lose that. They lose their heart. It’s almost always better to go back to the original. Sometimes remakes bring some fresh insight, but not often.
PB: It’s weird talking about how a movie where people are getting mutilated can lose its heart by being remade, but yeah.
AVC: “Craptastic” seems tailor-made for this time of year. Any so-bad-it’s-good horror flicks to recommend to readers?
PB: Monsturd. I’m not sure if it’s still on Instant, but it’s a movie full of puns where a guy escapes from death row and ends up in a sewer where they’re dumping radioactive waste, so he becomes a poop monster. He comes out of toilets and kills people. It is amazing. Also Thankskilling. It’s got this weird puppet turkey that kills people.
CS: I usually hate movies like that, but I fell in love with it. I have no idea why. The turkey is just so over the top. It’s like [Triumph] the Insult Comic Dog, except he’s a turkey that kills people. And rapes people, too. And eats them. I recommend people watch it.