This past weekend saw the release of not only the year’s best horror film, but the finest creature feature since The Thing. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? A little movie called The Mist from this guy named Stephen King. Many of us have been waiting a few decades for it. Regardless, I’m willing to bet a lot of you haven’t even seen it. And it’s hard to fault you for that.
So why is this modern day classic dying at the box office? Your average studio exec will tell you that it’s because no one cared or that horror is dead, but a fifth grader could give you the real answer: Horror doesn’t sell during the holidays. It wouldn’t matter if half the world’s population were fear fanatics, most of us find it damn near impossible to pull ourselves away from the vice grip of family on Thanksgiving weekend. Even when our in-laws and nieces drag us to see Fred Claus.
So who in Hollywood is making these decisions and why hasn’t it penetrated their thick skulls yet? You would think a studio like Dimension Films would’ve learned after the colossal failure of Grindhouse on Easter weekend. Nope. The Weinsteins just scratched their heads, pulled all advertising, and ruined the whole project by splitting the films up on DVD. It never occurred to them that the lack of interest might be due to the fact that people don’t generally associate the Easter Bunny with exploitation movies? Imagine if Lionsgate had put Saw out on Christmas Day. We sure as hell wouldn’t have Saw II, III, and IV. Hell, we might not even have a Lionsgate.
I’m no psychic, but I’d bet my house the same fate will befall the R-rated “back-to-basics” Aliens vs Predator: Requiem this Christmas. Nothing reminds you of Baby Jesus more than a violent alien gorefest, right? That may hold true for a few hardcore horror fans, but something tells me the general public won’t jump on it. When the poor numbers come in, Fox will inevitably declare the franchise dead just as they did with the stand-alone Alien series after dumping Resurrection into theaters on Turkey Day, screwing legions of fans instead of taking the blame for their own lousy foresight. Sorry, folks, no Ridley Scott/James Cameron Alien 5 for us. According to Fox, we’re “not interested anymore” since we were at home eating pumpkin pie with our relatives.
This doesn’t just go for the holidays. The summer movie season is suicide for horror films, which can’t compete with movies 50 times their budget and hype. That doesn’t stop studios from lining up films like Land of the Dead and Hostel Part II for box office failure. Yet they always act surprised in the end. Why? Sure, every now and then there will be a moderate success (see last summer’s 1408) but they’re few and far between. It’s no industry secret: Horror scores big in the fall and in the dry months before summer. I realize that many studios are now running scared from the Saw franchise (Warner Bros screwed the acclaimed Trick ’r Treat by moving it to mid-2008), but I really have to ask the question: Do audiences keep going back to Saw movies because of their quality or because they’re now the only movies opening for Halloween?
Anyone who attended Comic-Con can tell you that one of the coolest looking horror films this year was Pathology, previously set for release next week. But the higher-ups at MGM wisely decided to bump the flick to the quiet January/February season. Whether this was a strategic move or due to last-minute studio changes remains to be seen, but the new release will definitely pay off with more box office receipts. The same goes for the sad-looking One Missed Call remake, which is guaranteed to clean house like Hostel and When A Stranger Calls did in past years.
Studios are so intent on screwing horror films by molding them to fit those formulas and demographics they think will equal that mystical gold mine. But what if they did the reverse? What if they let the filmmakers do their thing and turned those statistics on proper release dates and good marketing? Maybe then they’d have more hits than misses. News flash, Hollywood: Don’t ask yourself why the fans weren’t there and think about what you didn’t do to get them there in the first place. Just like a good scare, timing is everything.
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