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Just when you think horror cinema has been done to death, the victim of market overkill, there comes yet more evidence of commercial life. This is one bloody-minded genre that simply refuses to give up the ghost. A total of 329 horror films have been seen at North American movie theatres since 1995, according to The Numbers, and countless more titles have been watched on cassettes, discs and computers. And yet we keep being scared witless. Literally. At this year’s Sundance, paramedics had to be summoned to revive one festivalgoer who passed out during a midnight screening of V/H/S; another audience member was then treated for nausea.
It didn’t take long for news of this to spread in Park City. Within twenty-four hours, Magnolia Pictures had walked off with the North American rights to this low-fi found-footage anthology, beating two other distributors with a winning offer of slightly more than $1 million. In all probability, this will be money well spent. Horror cinema may have experienced its own stomach-churning fluctuations at the box office judged in terms of gross ticket sales and market shares, but it remains a slayer in terms of profitability. Just look at Paranormal Activity, written and directed by Oren Peli, and reckoned to be the most profitable film ever made after generating $194 million at the global box office from an original production cost of just $15,000.
Team Slated looked at a sample of 810 independently produced films that all had a US domestic release in cinemas during the period 1995-2011 and found that horror films enjoyed an average 140% return on their investment. The research was limited to films budgeted between $100,000 and $15 million with the assumption that roughly 60% of the production budgets were equity financed. Across such a sample, only theatrical documentaries fared better.
“There are signs that horror is getting people excited again after the recent glut diluted the genre’s appeal,” confirms Jeremy Kay, U.S. editor for Screen International. As evidence, he points to the breakout success in the U.S. of both The Devil Inside and Paranormal Activity 3 over the last 12 months, and to The Woman in Black at the U.K. box office.
Although ultra-gruesome still registers, Kay tells us that the marketplace is now receptive to a wider menu of scare tactics than just splattering body parts. “The novelty of torture porn has worn off although it has left an indelible mark: distributors are not shy to embrace the cultural drift towards extreme violence because they know what’s required to capture the attention of teenagers who are being courted by a million other distractions. That said, a broader range of sub-genre seems to be returning to the market, so we are seeing monster, supernatural, slasher and home invasion storylines.”
Evan Ferrante, who, along with fellow actor-turned-filmmaker Adrian Grenier, is producing Slated comedy/horror project Family Slaycation, also believes there’s plenty of horror ground left to unearth. “There are infinitely creative ways to skin a cat…or human being for that matter,” says Ferrante.
“Each time I swear ‘I’ve seen it all’ I get the wind knocked out of me by boundary-pushing films such as A Serbian Film (Serbia), Martyrs (France), We Are What We Are (Mexico) or Inside (France). Despite the enormous success of the Saw franchise, it is my feeling that ‘torture porn’ has grown quite tiresome unless there is greater meaning in the underlying story and motivation behind the central characters. I am much more interested in films that transcend their genre(s) and reach a wider audience, such as the brilliantly executed Shaun Of The Dead (the British “rom-zom-com”) and the highly innovative Cabin In The Woods, which was a mash-up of conspiracy movies, horror, and comedy. And that perfect concoction of genre blending is what we are trying to achieve with Family Slaycation, not to merely push the limits of taste for shock value.”
With Family Slaycation, and its anticipated string of sequels, Ferrante is looking to strike enough of a balance that audiences also root for his family of loveable serial killers. Calibrated doses of humor will be stirred into the mix, along with some shrewd casting choices. “We were advised by specialists in the industry to make every effort possible to ensure that our genre mash-up of horror/comedy was blended in the right proportion; that we built up enough ancillary creative content and transmedia storytelling devices to satisfy our voracious fans and gatekeepers within the horror community; and the suggestion was made that our ensemble cast should be primarily made up of recognizable comedic personalities so that the horror/gore component was easier to digest.”
The fact that horror can be blended in so many inventive ways was highlighted by Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, the multiple-Oscar winner produced by Frida Torresblanco. Released in 2006 by Bob Berney, while he was running Picturehouse, it’s a truly phantasmagorical mix of historical drama and childish fantasy, each equally unnerving. Its box office success also underscored horror’s art-house potential, something mirrored by the worldwide growth spurt in festivals dedicated to genre films. Horror films can be subtle too.
With one of her current productions, Magic Magic, Torresblanco is looking to capitalize on this adult appetite for terror and tension, the kind that gets under your skin rather than bludgeons your senses. Produced by Braven Films, the production house she spearheads with her investing partners Eric Laufer and Giovanna Randall, the Chile-set film tips its hat to Polanski, Cronenberg and Aronofsky. “You have to follow your instincts and ask yourself what can we do that‘s different,” says Torresblanco. “After all these years of extreme horror, my feeling is that we should look for material that is intelligent and complex. I believe there is room in the market for the kind of psychological horror we felt in Rosemary’s Baby.”
Earlier this year, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions pre-bought Magic Magic for a wide swathe of territories – the happy by-product of some astute packaging choices designed to give buyers the comfort to invest in a fresh filmmaking voice. Torresblanco combined her own track-record in making budget-stretching, complex films in Latin locations with the proven firepower of producers Christine Vachon and Mike White, and harnessed that all to a project written and directed by a Sundance-winning filmmaking discovery and a cast that resonates in both English and Spanish-speaking territories. Evidently, the same rigor that went into scaring potential audiences also went into soothing the nerves of her would-be backers.
Famed director Ridley Scott will direct six films covering the genres of horror, thriller and Sci-Fi in near future.
All of these films will be filmed in Ireland. These low budget feature films, for which the production company of Scott, Scott Free London, is collaborating with Orchard Media and Focus Features International, will be directed over a time span of 3 years. Shooting of the films would primary be done in Northern Ireland using the local crew, cast members, services and facilities. The international sales of the movies would be handled by Focus Features International. Talking about the initiative, Ridley Scott said that the aim of these projects is to give the new and aspiring directors an opportunity to “innovate through narrative, production techniques and distribution strategies.”
According to Alison Thompson from Focus Features International, there is a considerable scope for high-concept and low-budget films and Ridley Scott’s pedigree would further make these films highly attractive for the international audiences. Orchard also released a statement calling this initiative an exciting new opportunity for the upcoming distributor and investors.
Head of production for Northern Ireland Screen, Andrew Reid, highly appreciated this venture and said that it would be very beneficial for the future production opportunities in Northern Ireland. He added that “Orchard and Scott Free brought us a compelling proposition to complement our other large incoming productions, such as Game Of Thrones.
Released in August 2010, The Last Exorcism was budgeted at merely 1.5 million dollars. It wasn’t as lucrative as the Paranormal Activity films, but it brought in nearly seventy million dollars. Not a bad haul for its backers. I really liked this one, too. It’s one of my favorite horror movies of the last decade.
Last year’s Insidious had the same million-and-a-half dollar budget that The Last Exorcism had, but it was even more profitable. Insidious made over ninety million smackers home. I did like Insidious, and I felt that the first half had some seriously intense moments. It kind of fell apart in the end for me, but not enough so that I hated it. Insidious is a pretty good horror movie. I sure as hell have seen a lot worse.
Now we have The Devil Inside. It has only been in theaters for a couple of weeks, but it has brought in almost fifty-million dollars so far. And that number is rising. Its budget? One million dollars.
I have not seen The Devil Inside yet, but I plan to before the week is over. The trailer looks pretty damned good to me.
I know that a lot of independent, low budget horror movies are made, but the movies I have talked about here have gotten wide theatrical releases and they have all been huge money-makers. I’m not talking about Avatar-type money, but for the relatively small investments, they are, in my opinion, just as successful.
We’ve all seen big budget horror done well. The Exorcist, The Silence of the Lambs, and Scream come immediately to mind. But for most longtime fans, the most effective horror movies have been done in the low budget arena. Big budget horror in recent memory has been acutely disappointing: The Wolf Man, Van Helsing, and that Underworld crap come immediately and painfully to mind.
I urge everyone to get out and see The Devil Inside. As well as any other low budget horror movies that come to theaters near you. I know it’s hard to tear yourself away from your beloved home entertainment systems, but we need to continue to send the message to Hollywood.
9 Most Profitable Horror Movies
Horror movies it is the genre we love and the genre we love to hate. We all love original horror films and a lot of us love to bag on studios and their horror remakes, gimmicks and 3D trickery. All of this has led to my latest editorial which with the help of The Numbers looks at the most profitable horror films of all time. So let’s get right to the meat and potatoes of things and then we can wrap it up with a message from your sponsor… me.
#9 – The Evil Dead – Made for $375,000 / Made $29million: Evil Dead has gone down as one of the greatest horror films ever made and to this day has maintained Bruce Campbells super star status amongst horror fans.
#8 – SAW – Made for $1million / Made $100million: This film helped launch not just one directors career but also went on to spawn a billion dollar franchise for the studio.
#7 – Friday the 13th – Made for $500,000 / Made $60million: Friday the 13th is a horror staple that to this day is one of the best horror films ever made.
#6 –Open Water – Made for $500k / Made $50million: Open Water with its combination of a unique script and a great cast proved that budget means very little when it comes to box office profits and overall film quality.
#5 – Halloween 1978 – Made for $325,000 / Made $70million: Just like many of the other films on this list Halloween continues to scare horror fans. It has spawned a series of sequels and a dubious remake none of which have been as profitable as the original master piece.
#4 – Night of the Living Dead ’68 – Made for $114,000 / Made $110million: Two words sum up the success of Night of the Living Dead: George Romero. I used a photo from Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of the film because its a great film I had to sneak into this list and is also one of the few horror remakes as good as the original.
#3 – The Blair Witch – Made for $600,00 / Made $250million: Blair Witch is one of the few movies that left me sleepless and spawned a new trend in horror films, the found footage film.
#2 – Mad Max – Made for $200k / Made $100million: At one time Mel Gibson was not known for being on TMZ on a regular and his film Mad Max is not only one of the greatest end of days movies ever made its also the second most profitable
#1 – Paranormal Activity – Made for $15,000 / Made $195 million. : Honestly dont think we need to say anything about this one. Paranormal Activity is the most profitable movie ever made regardless of genre and has already spawned two sequels with Paranormal Activity 3 hitting theaters this October.
Now with any good editorial we need to have some super important message. Some deep thought that will resonate with you. What message am I trying to in still with this editorial? It is simple. Show me which of the movies on this Top 10 Most Profitable horror films is a remake. Show me which of these movies was converted to or shot in 3D. Show me which of these films started out as a major blockbuster studio project.
The top 10 most profitable horror films come from all sub-genres within the hallowed libraries of horror filmmaking. From the classics like Halloween to new modern masterpieces like SAW and Paranormal Activity horror movies have made studios literally boat loads of money. This clearly shows that when studios take gambles on great films which focus on originality and not on catering to the lowest MPAA rating or the latest camera technology can and will make money.
Now ask yourself why Trick R Treat was dumped onto DVD without so much as a theatrical whimper when it is in fact one of the greatest horror anthologies ever made. Why was Toby Wilkins SPLINTER relegated to the DVD shelf when it is one of the best modern monster movies ever made? Why are great talents like Alex Ferrari still struggling to get a feature film made?
What will it take for studios and horror fans to get together to better the genre as a whole? The studios want to make money and we as horror fans want to see great horror movies not cliché horror gimmicks. How do we make that happen? How do we make sure that talented directors like Adam Green ( Hatchet / Spiral ), Toby Wilkins ( Splinter ) , Michael Dougherty ( Trick R Treat ) get the funding and support they need to keep making damn fine horror movies?
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