Horror fans should be grateful for Jason Blum’s Blumhouse. The little horror engine that could, Blumhouse’s low-budget, high freedom model first began in 2009 with the unprecedented success of Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity. Produced on a budget of just $15,000, Paranormal Activity grossed over $193 million worldwide in the weeks following its wide release. More than that– and for better or worse– it transformed an entire subgenre, having an arguably bigger effect on horror writ large than its found footage progenitor, The Blair Witch Project.
With Jason Blum at the helm, the model was clear; give filmmakers a small budget and infinite freedom. Granted, that budget was tight– largely inexorable, there are few, if any, opportunities for more money– but the creative freedom was unprecedented, especially in a genre whose early decade output was largely profit-driven, remakes of remakes and diluted adaptations of well-regarded international horror hits. There were successes and classics, yes– Saw’s impact on the genre, for all the series’ detractors, cannot be ignored– but the genre was growing stale in that liminal space between the decline of the VHS era and the slow but steady rise of streaming giants, future platforms for indie gems and provocative auteurs.
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Resultantly, the genre’s entrance into the new decade was bold, inventive, electrifying, and risky. James Wan’s Insidious is an enduringly frightening reinvention of haunted house tropes. And a heady and dense mythological exploration of astral projection and realms of the dead beyond our world. Scott Derrickson’s Sinister, 2012’s most dour spectral spook show, was similarly potent, an intoxicatingly brutal and unflinching found footage, haunted house hybrid. Insidious grossed over $100 million on a $1.5 million budget. Sinister? Well, it raked in $87 million against $3 million.
Even if those early, legacy titles weren’t to your liking, Blumhouse partnered with distributors for multi-platform genre releases. The likes of which included Rob Zombie’s sensationally demented The Lords of Salem and Kevin Greutert’s markedly underrated Jessabelle, a contemporary gothic tale of ghosts in the bayou anchored by an exceptional lead performance from Sarah Snook.
Already, Jason Blum’s Blumhouse catalog of genre titles is diverse. Found footage like Barry Levinson’s The Bay was restrained, an eco-terror tale imbued with Levinson’s trademark Oscar-caliber filmic sensibilities. Leo Gabriadze’s Unfriended, a high-concept, high-tech slasher, practically invented a subgenre of its own. The likes of which have been replicated in 2018’s Searching and 2020’s COVID-induced sleeper hit Host.
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The impact is undeniable. Beyond their elevated and acclaimed filmic and television work outside the genre (see Sharp Objects or Whiplash), Blumhouse was a horror juggernaut. And it was no fluke. In 2017, Get Out defied the odds as both an uncompromisingly remunerative horror movie and serious Oscar contender, earning Writer/Director Jordan Peele the golden statue for his screenplay. That alone is serious business for a fledgling production company. Let alone one with a preeminent focus on giving genre features their due credit. Then, Halloween came.
Released in 2018 with a production budget of anywhere between $10 and $15 million dollars, Blumhouse’s Halloween reboot, helmed by indie darling David Gordon Green, grossed $255 million worldwide. $76.2 million came in its opening weekend. That’s the largest-ever October debut and the largest ever for genre icon Jamie Lee Curtis.
Halloween, despite a mixed critical reception, looked and sounded incredible. The blocking, the lighting, and the mise-en-scene– everything was inspired. Halloween not only made Michael Myers scary again– they made him look perhaps the best he ever has. Blumhouse took a forty-year-old horror villain and reinvented him for an entirely new audience. Principally, though, it was just incredible to have Michael back after years spent in franchise limbo.
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Granted, not every output has been successful. I still take great umbrage with a friend’s mother who remarked, “I bet Chad will be seeing this” after catching a Truth or Dare television spot one afternoon. I mean, I did see it, and I thought it was just fine. But it certainly isn’t indicative of just how profound an impact Jason Blum and Blumhouse writ large have had on the horror genre.
Even psycho-stalker January releases such as the Jennifer Lopez-led The Boy Next Door have a degree of inspiration and gnarly grit (e.g., graphic eye-gouging) not seen in other company’s releases. Blumhouse is part of why Mike Flanagan is now Mike Flanagan. Ouija: Origin of Evil was and is one of the genre’s best sequels. Blumhouse is part of the reason we have Jordan Peele. Blumhouse gave us The Hunt and Split– Blumhouse brought M. Night Shyamalan back, and he was better than ever.
Every output, even the lesser ones, is electric and energized. They have expanded into book acquisitions, podcast networks, and television features, both standalone and serial. There is certainly still room to grow. A conspicuous lack of women-helmed features among their slate comes to mind. But by and large, the last decade of horror is really the last decade of Blumhouse. They are one and the same, both the ghost and haunted house; property and resident. Good, bad, and everything in between (though mostly good), Blumhouse has revitalized the genre. Thank you, Blumhouse, and I cannot wait to see what’s next.