Here’s a free streaming service you’ve probably never heard of, stuffed full of complete trash. The majority of films on Tubi are nigh-unwatchable, writes Travis Johnson, but bless their crazy socks for giving us access to them.
The streaming landscape is getting increasingly crowded. We’ve already got our big mainstays like Netflix, Stan, and Amazon Prime, plus our free-to-air based offerings like ABCiview, SBS on Demand, and the various catch-up options offered by the commercial channels. Soon we’ll be getting Disney+, which promises to swallow the entire entertainment universe like a hungry black hole, with the remnants falling into the gravity well of whatever Apple’s cooking up.
Australia was supposed to get specialty services Sundance Now (festival darlings) and Shudder (horror) late last year, and apparently a launch is still on the cards. It can get exhausting trying to keep up with who’s streaming what. But there’s another streaming service you should be keeping an eye on, especially if you’re a connoisseur of trash cinema.
It’s a free service, for one thing, so it’s not going to put any extra dents in your wallet. Plus it has no truck with so-called “prestige television” – you won’t find Game of Thrones here, or The Expanse, or Better Call Saul, or any of the high-concept, high-price-tag offerings the big brands use to lure subscribers.
No, here you’ll get some real deep cuts, like the 1984 Italian werewolf thriller, Monster Dog, starring Alice Cooper; composer Danny Elfman’s nigh-forgotten 1980 dark musical fantasy, Forbidden Zone; and whole host of cheap genre actioners starring the great Tim Thomerson, including Trancers (aka Future Cop) and Dollman. This, friends and neighbours, is the wonderful world of tubi.tv.
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What the hell is a Tubi?
Tubi has been around for a few years now, having launched in San Francisco back in 2014. It’s ad-supported, which means no subscription fees – you don’t just get to try before you buy, you can try and never buy – which is about the right price point for a lot of its local offerings, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Now, in the US, Tubi is a pretty respectable streaming service with a fair whack of prestigious titles available to view. At the time of writing they’ve got the Coen Brothers’ True Grit, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Christopher Nolan’s Memento, and the usual slew of mid-range titles that seem to crop up on every streaming service at one time or another, like Species and the DiCaprio version of The Man in the Iron Mask.
None of those are available on Tubi in Australia, mind you.
That’s a feature, not a bug, though. A relative latecomer to the Australian market, poor Tubi is basically scavenging through the wreckage like a character from a straight-to-video Mad Max rip off, desperate for licensable content. Ninety-nine percent of the good stuff has been sewn up by the big companies, but Tubi has not let itself be crippled by this awful truth in the way that Sony Crackle has. Rather, they’ve dug deep, gritted their teeth, and served up a menu of the most bonkers B-grade movies they can lay their hands on.
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro
Let Stan keep all the Disney offerings. Why watch Ant-Man when you can watch Dollman? Tim Thomerson is way cooler than the freakishly ageless Paul Rudd.
Or perhaps your tastes skew more towards the borderline-plagiaristic works of the merry madmen at The Asylum, such as Snakes on a Train?
There’s no ground floor in hell.
The Australian version of Tubi is basically a clearing house for stuff that not only skipped theatrical distribution, it all but eluded home release – the cheapest, most lowbrow horror movies, awful sex comedies, and the odd rather decent copyright orphan, like the post-apocalyptic thriller Slipstream with Bill Paxton and Mark Hamill:
There’s some good stuff in there, too, if you want to spend a lot of time panning for gold in this metaphorical creek. George A. Romero’s The Crazies crops up, as does the weird Swiss lesbian mermaid coming-of-age tale Blue My Mind, which made a minor splash on the festival circuit a couple of years ago. The original Suspiria has a home here, but then so does The Gingerdead Man:
…and really, which one seems more transgressive?
And if you’re feeling really adventurous, and have a firm grip on reality and your own personal ideology, a deep dive into the Documentary section is a must, where you’ll find such gems as The End Times: In the Words of Jesus (apocalypse cult hysteria), Unhung Hero (man with a micropenis searches for answers), Freemasonry and the Knights Templar (post-Da Vinci Code conspiratorial ramblings) and The Truth About the Philadelphia Experiment (invisible boat melts sailors).
Dear God in heaven, why?
Why? Because if you sow a big enough field, you’re gonna grow some strange flowers. As mainstream avenues of distribution become more and more conservative in their efforts to service as broad an audience as possible, you’re going to have to look harder and farther afield to find anything that isn’t easily categorized, indexed and marketed. Tubi, bless their crazy socks, is doing us a massive favour by collating together all this insanity.
Yes, the vast majority of films here are nigh-unwatchable. No, it doesn’t matter – the oddball gems this grab-bag of cinematic misfires contains are valuable because of their rarity, not in spite of it. Let’s face it, any yutz with enough money could have made Avengers: Endgame. Very few people could have made Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe:
…and we are lucky to have it. Any fan of outre cinema is going to have an absolute blast with Tubi – it’s the Criterion Collection of the Upside Down.
Note: a representative from Tubi contacted Flicks, and stated that the website is current in BETA mode. The craptastic selection of films detailed above may not be available when the service officially launches.
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