Why Hollywood is Killing Horror: A Rant

The Mist didn't do well; was it Hollywood's fault?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.

Will Pathology do better in its new slot?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.

Andrew Kasch

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  • Azrael

    Thank you for your kinds words, but I never saw this as a duel, just an attempt on my part to point out that it’s more than just the release date that affects the box office of a movie.

    Don’t get me wrong, it IS important Weaker films need to released at ‘slower’ times (non-summer and non-holiday) and need to be scheduled around other studio’s potential hits. Again, why Hollywood doesn’t saturate the Halloween season with horror films is a complete bafflement (and almost abdication of fiduciary responsibility on their part).

    But a film also needs to be marketed properly. As horror fans we can go on and on about horror films mis-marketed. But there are also spectacular successes – ‘The Blair Witch Project”s success was built on their brilliant marketing campaign and many now look back and wonder what the heck we were doing making this film a big hit.

    The film also has to be released on enough screens that it isn’t lost amongst the clutter at the multiplexes. If we can’t find a film then we obviously can’t give our money to it.

    And above all, you need a studio who understands not only horror films, but horror fans and the general population and can correctly gauge the relative strengths and weaknesses of the film and thus respond appropriately with the marketing and release date.

  • PelusaMG


    I just got back from seeing The Mist and they played the Cloverfield trailer again. Having watched it on the big screen now, and read your comments posted here, I think you are onto something about it being a hit. As for Slither, you make a strong case for your thesis regarding that flick too.

    I’m now off to bed hoping to dream nice thoughts, having been thoroughly mashed in this cinematic duel 😉

  • Azrael

    Well, before you make ‘Cloverfield’ your test case, why don’t we see if you aren’t comparing apples and oranges.

    ‘Slither’ is not so much a monster movie as it is a bug movie. People have phobias about bugs and things that slither. Not so much on Lovecraftian elder gods (or whatever the big monster is in ‘Cloverfield’). It had a modest budget (Wikipedia repeats the $30 mil budget, but imdb has the $15 mil figure – I wonder if the difference is marketing for the video?) and a (relatively) small marketing campaign. It was directed by an unknown director and had no big names attached to any part of the production. It was dumped onto few screens and against an obvious family blockbuster.

    ‘Cloverfield’ also has a modest budget (I’m seeing $30 mil but there’s a lot of secrecy around this film), but the marketing campaign seems bigger (maybe it’s just the viral nature of it and internet saviness). While it is also directed by an unknown director, that’s not the name associated with it. That would be J. J. Abrams who is red hot right now coming off of his hit TV series ‘Lost’ and being the director of the new Star Trek movie. We won’t know how many screens it will be launched on (but I bet it will be a wide release), but we do know that it’s not being released against anything big (‘Fanboys’, ‘Mad Money’ and ‘City of Men’). It should be noted that ‘Rambo’ opens the next week, though.

    In short, ‘Slither’ was a small film that got sacrificed on the alter of IA2.

    ‘Cloverfield’, though, is being positioned and marketed to be a big hit. At the very least, it should be the number one film its opening weekend.

    Unless ‘Cloverfield’ totally flops its opening weekend, then I don’t think that proves anything one way or another.

  • Terminal

    Also, I’m not a fan of the title: “Why Hollywood is Killing Horror,” I have to admit. It’s wreaks of sensationalism. Horror can’t die it just changes form, it adjusts whether by studios or artists. I’d have called it “Why Hollywood is Changing Horror,” or “Why Hollywood is Neutering Horror,” or something to that effect. The term of Horror is a very broad word. Some consider “Monster House” horror, and some consider “Gremlins” horror. There’s no clear definition.

  • PelusaMG

    Thanks for the insights Azrael, but according to ‘The Numbers’ Slither’s budget was $29,500,000 and it made a worldwide gross of $9,350,968. So based on those figures it was a flop…

    As for why it flopped, I’m sticking to my thesis (which will also be tested on the 18th January 2008).

    Oh, I’m a he (last time I checked anyway)!

  • Azrael

    Here my conclusions about how ‘Slither’ performed at the Box Office:

    1) (This is a standard Hollywood rule) Don’t open against a blockbuster – especially a family blockbuster.

    2) A film needs to be released in a large amount of theaters in order to make money (this isn’t a hard and fast rule since word of mouth CAN make a difference)

    3) Don’t open near a highly expected film in the same genre (‘Silent Hill’) Horror simply isn’t that big of a genre to support multiple hit movies.

    4) Small movies ($15 mil budget) by unknown directors shouldn’t be dumped against any big films. They need a place to breath by themselves to get word of mouth going.

    5) I also think ‘Slither’ has been a bit over-rated. It’s good, but not great. It’s a well done film in a sub-genre that we don’t see much from. It should also be noted that the greater viewing public doesn’t really care to spend money to be grossed out by creepy crawly bugs.

    Finally, I don’t believe that the reason it tanked is because people don’t want to see creature features. Releasing on so few screens and on the same weekend as a blockbuster had more to do with the bad performance than anything else. Now, had the studios sat on this flick until late September, early October, I think it have easily made back its budget.

    In the end, its about knowing the film, knowing the audience and finding the right combination of when and where to release the film.

  • Azrael

    I realize that we’ve probably beaten this dead horse, but I really think that there are many who really don’t understand everything that goes into releasing a movie and that there is more than just the release date that is important.

    Now Pelusa said that ‘Slither’ flopped and used that to back up his/her contention that people just aren’t interested in seeing creature-features. Well, let’s take a look at the data and see if that is the only possible conclusion.

    All of my data comes from http://www.BoxOfficeMojo.com – an indispensable source of movie box office information.

    First thing we note is that ‘Slither’ opened on March 31, 2006. More importantly, though, is that it opened on the say day that ‘Ice Age 2: The Meltdown’ opened (a movie that went on to gross a little under $200 mil!). That’s not a good time to be releasing a small horror film – against a big, family oriented sequel that many people were looking forward to seeing (it made $68 mil its opening weekend!)

    Even more damning, though, is that ‘Slither’ only opened on 1,945 screens. This sounds like a lot until you compare it to IA2 which opened on 3,964 screens or even ‘Failure to Launch’ which in its fourth week of release was still on 3,074 screens!

    Now, even with all of that going against it, ‘Slither’ did pretty well on a per-screen basis. It averaged $1,994 per screen. It doesn’t compare well against IA2, but then again, nothing that weekend did. But F2L averaged $2,102 and ‘V for Vendetta’, in its third week, averaged $2,163. All in all, ‘Slither’ compares favorably.

    ‘Slither’ made almost $4 mill its opening weekend. Not good, but not all that bad either. The next weekend it sank lower, to $1.6 mil and by the next week the bottom dropped out. The number of screens was reduced to 511 and it only made $314K.

    It should also be noted that ‘Silent Hill’ was released the week after that.

    I’ll post my conclusions in the next comment.

  • PelusaMG

    I would argue that…

    > AvP:R will only tank due to it catering to a very niche audience OR because people were forever tarnished by AvP. AvP:R will make a lot of money, but not necessarliy on its opening weekend!

    > The Mist did not do as well as might have been expected because it is another ‘Stephen King film’, and so many of his book adaptations have been shit – and I include 1408 in that list! I also think that people are all creature-featured out… I mean, what was the last creature-feature horror flick that did well? Slither (for example) was a genius film, but flopped! People will pay to see dinosaurs a la Jur-arse-sick Park and King Kong, but God-awful-zilla begun to nail shut the lid of the coffin marked ‘Horror genre’s creature-feature flick’ and (I would bet) so will Cloverfield, once we see exactly what is tearing NYC apart…

  • monzterz

    Part of the reason to release horror films on holiday weekends comes from the success Dimension Films had releasing Scream on Dec 20, 1996, ultimately grossing $99 million. But they only grossed $6.3 million the first weekend and grew slowly with word of mouth. Scream 2 was opened earlier on Dec 12, 1997 and grossed $32.9 million the first weekend.

  • Azrael

    Well, we’re all entitled to our opinions.

    The whole fact that we’re having this debate and that the box office was disappointing to fans would seem to indicate that maybe Mr. Darabont messed up this time.

    That said, the biggest indication will be the fall off this weekend. With no major new release, how much it drops off will tell how word of mouth is going.

  • Sirand

    I think Darabont successfully did all three.

  • Azrael

    Yes, I messed up on the Star Wars re-release – the Star Wars movies literally live in a different galaxy.

    However,the Exorcist re-release made nearly $40 million – not too shabby.

    As far as the box office for ‘The Mist’ affecting anything, first off we should understand that it basically met industry expectations (they predicted $10 mill, it made a little less than that).

    If there ARE lessons to be learned it will be:
    1) don’t muck up the ending
    2) leaving people on a downer will preclude repeat views (see John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ for further clarification).
    3) stay true to the what made the source material popular in the first place.

  • Sirand

    The Star Wars Special Editions cleaned house when they were re-released. As for the others, they were only limited runs of a few theaters.

    Most great films will find their audience, but usually not until years later. The Mist will do the same. But its box office failure still has a negative effect on the genre.

  • Azrael

    I’m not sure that the studios would handle the next “Exorcist” well, but it was just as great a surprise then as it is to us now.

    As far as getting ‘trashed’, name any other re-release that did boffo box office, ESPECIALLY when it has been tinkered with. “The Abyss”, “Blade Runner” and even the Star Wars flicks didn’t do so well when they were re-released.

    In the golden oldie days before videos, re-releases made sense and made money. But now if we want to watch a film again we either take it off our shelves or head down to the local Blockbuster. So it’s hard to conclude that the reason the re-release did poor business was the movie itself and not the over-familiarity of the film.

    It should also be noted that ‘The Exorcist’ came at a time when the generational gap was being felt greatly (early 70’s) and thus the films depiction of youth gone evil touched a societal nerve. This is something I think most great and popular films do.

    All in all, none of this goes anywhere near disproving my point that great movies will almost always make good money (especially if they’re marketed well).

  • Johnny Truant

    Yup, that’s a limb alright.

    “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” got through the process alright. I don’t see why “The Exorcist” wouldn’t. It depends on which studio is handling it though.

    It’s not the studio that would get the most flack over “The Exorcist” though, it’d be the tenacity of the director that would get it into hot water. Can you imagine the shit storm that would arise over a director slapping a real life preacher in order to get a better performance out of him? Or slapping anyone, for that matter.

  • Sirand

    Jaws pretty much gave birth to the summer movie. But The Exorcist? I’m gonna go out on a limb and say if it weren’t destroyed by the studio in this day in age, it would get mismarketed and royally tank at the box office. It would be critically admired, but mainstream viewers would trash it (just as they did when it was re-released in theaters) and folks would be all over the internet bashing the shit out of it. And we’re talking about a movie as close to perfection as horror gets.

  • Azrael

    I don’t understand what you mean by “current box office climate”. Are you suggesting that a “Jaws” or an “Exorcist” released today wouldn’t do as well?

    If so, what is the basis for this conjecture?

    And as far as being “big summer movies”, isn’t that what I was saying about marketing? And we should also note that there have been horror flicks billed as “big summer movies” that haven’t done well at all (House of Wax, 28 Weeks Later, Snakes on a Plane). And while ‘The Mummy’ films were more action then horror, “The Haunting” was all horror and advertised as such (as an attempt for a big summer horror movie).

    I think all of the data suggests these things are necessary for a good box office:
    1) make a good movie
    2) market it well
    3) if you can’t do either of these really well, release it in the fall or early spring.

  • Sirand

    Interesting points, Azrael, but it should also be noted that most of these films don’t reflect the current box office climate. And many of the titles listed (Mummy Returns, The Haunting remake) were produced as big summer movies rather than real horror films.

  • Azrael

    I went to http://www.hollywood.com/feature/Hollywoodcoms_Top_25_Highest_Grossing_Domestic_Horror_Films_of_All_Time/3466506 and looked at the top ten highest grossing horror films.

    Of these, 9 were released either in the summer or right before summer (May). The other one, ‘The Exorcist’, as noted previously was released the day after Christmas.

    So, again, it seems that the release date doesn’t really matter for the really good films.

  • Azrael

    Another thing should be said and thought about – before we blame when the movie is released, maybe we should also look at HOW the movie was released.

    How much marketing went into it? How well did that marketing reflect the finished product? Remember the marketing for ‘Nightbreed’? The studios had no idea what to do with it. I don’t remember much marketing at all for ‘Land of the Dead’ (in fact, it was hard to find a theater around here that was showing it!).

    I would also suggest that maybe the lack of box office for ‘Hostel 2’ probably has more to do with people tiring of the ‘torture porn’ genre and less of when it was released.

    Would the movies have done better released during October? Of course, and one had to really wonder why Hollywood ignores this opportunity to almost literally print money.

    But when you move it away from a ‘fail safe’ release time, then the flick has to stand up on its own merits and has to be marketed properly.

    Keep in mind that ‘The Exorcist’ was released the day after Christmas in 1973 and managed to make a decent amount of cash.

    Both ‘Jaws’ and ‘Aliens’ were big summer blockbusters (in fact, ‘Jaws’ helped CREATE such a designation!).

    A good horror movie with good marketing will almost always make good money regardless of release date.

  • Terminal

    I’ll be honest Andrew, this article doesn’t break new ground about Hollywood and ruining potential hits at the box office as it’s all been said before by many, BUT it’s well written and well researched. Good job.

  • Azrael

    I understand, but the article lifts up “The Mist” as a modern day classic and uses its poor box office to make the point that Hollywood shouldn’t release horror movies on Thanksgiving.

    While I generally agree with that point, I think that “The Mist”‘s poor box office is more to do with it being a bad movie with an ending that turns of people from re-watching it – which is where the bulk of a movie’s box office comes from.

    In other words, maybe a better movie would have done better box office, thus negating the point of the article.

  • Johnny Butane

    Would like to keep the discussion here about the article, not The Mist. There’s a nice, long thread about The Mist in the boards.

  • Azrael

    While I agree that not releasing horror films during the fall is a huge mistake by Hollywood, I have to vehemently disagree with the inclusion of ‘The Mist’ as a great horror movie.

    There are several good reasons why it isn’t doing well at the box office, mostly because it is one of the worst King adaptations.

    The story wisely kept Mrs. Carmody “off stage” most of the time. Sure, we knew what was going on and what she was doing – but only through the eyes and thoughts of OTHER characters. She is a one-dimensional caricature and King knew it and rarely put her in the spotlight. Darabont, on the other hand, makes her a main character and whenever she’s on the screen preaching her bizarre theology, the movie comes to a screeching halt.

    Also and even more importantly, the abomination of an ending will keep King fans and the average movie goer from watching it again. Most movies make their money in repeat viewings. Few people will want to watch this movie again knowing the horrible, out-of-place, nonsensical ending.

    In the end, most times there are good reasons why movies tank – that’s because they aren’t very good. There are exception on both ends, of course, but most really good movies will survive through word of mouth – either while on the big screen or on video.

  • Johnny Truant

    This has been said before 1,000 times.

  • Undeadmin

    fuckin-a Cotton!