Collins’ Crypt: Lionsgate Takes No Pride In Horror Anymore

BC bemoans the unsupported releases Lionsgate's been dumping on genre fare lately. 

Last weekend I took a road trip, the longest I've taken in state since Comic Con. But it wasn't to see a friend, or visit some tourist spot or landmark, or even to see a special event of some sort - it was to see the movie The Haunting In Connecticut 2: Ghosts Of Georgia. Despite living in a "select city" that should get pretty much every movie given how many movie theaters we have, the closest one showing the film was 57 miles away, in a town named Ontario that I'm pretty sure I've never visited in the 7+ years I've been in L.A.

But wait, you might ask, didn't the first Haunting in Connecticut make a lot of money? Yes it did; opening to $23 million in a crowded market and going on to gross $55 million, it was good enough to become Lionsgate's second highest grosser of the year behind one of the Madea movies, and nearly double that year's Saw entry and some of their other genre fare. It also did well overseas and on DVD, and thus the sequel was announced fairly quickly thereafter. At one point Ti West was set to direct, but after some "creative differences" he left the project, wanting to avoid another Cabin Fever 2 situation. First time director Tom Elkins (who edited the original) took his place, and filming took place in late 2010. And then... well, who knows? I dug around for a while but can't really find a reason why the film sat on a shelf for almost two years before being dumped into out of the way theaters (alongside a VOD release). One can assume test screening results were poor (the film isn't bad, but definitely lacks the sort of big scare moments that would win over the typical focus group members), and there appears to have been some re-editing (not to mention the idiotic new title - it was originally the much more logical The Haunting In Georgia), but none of that is unusual.

In fact, even the first film was tinkered with for a while; they shot it in 2007 and didn't release until 2009, and it certainly didn't hurt its appeal any. Add in the fact that horror has been doing OK again recently (Texas Chainsaw 3D's number 1 opening, Mama being the highest grossing horror film in over a year, etc) and you gotta wonder why Lionsgate didn't think this was worthy of a chance. But the sad thing is that this is nothing new for the studio - Haunting 2 is just the latest in a long line of Lionsgate movies that I had to trek far out of the Fandango-standard 15 mile radius to see theatrically.

See, for a while, Lionsgate was sort of the go-to studio for original/risky horror fare. They were the ones to pick up House of 1000 Corpses after Universal dumped it, and backed its superior sequel (The Devil's Rejects) a couple years later. They also distributed Hostel and Saw, two films that brought R rated horror back into prominence after the PG-13 heavy early/mid '00s, not to mention franchise starters that launched a million copycats, many of which were picked up for LG's home video division. And they made the rare choice to give wide distribution to a foreign film, over the summer no less - we can thank them for giving us an easy way to see Neil Marshall's UK masterpiece The Descent, a year after doing the same (to admittedly less success) with Haute Tension. Hell they even modified their logo for horror (and a few action) releases, offering a "dungeon" type series of gears and chains over the usual "pearly gates" version they use on their more mainstream fare. In other words, they were like what Dimension should have been but never actually was: a reliable source of top notch horror fare.

But sometime around 2008, something went awry. While they were still churning out the Saw sequels, their other horror releases were increasingly bungled. Repo: The Genetic Opera was probably the most frustrating, as it was from Darren Bousman (who directed the three highest grossing Saws), boasted an eclectic cast, and offered the rarest mix of genres: the gory musical. But it never got a chance to even recoup its budget, let alone match the take of Bousman's Saw entries - they opened it on a mere 8 screens with next to zero promotion, killing any chance of launching the next big franchise. Luckily, Bousman and collaborator Terrence Zdunich had the last laugh, taking the film on a tour from city to city (selling out most venues) and turning it into a cult gem not unlike The Rocky Horror Picture Show - to this day, over four years later, it still plays weekly or monthly in major cities, with "shadowcasters" acting/singing along the entire movie. It even spawned a spiritual sequel called The Devil's Carnival, featuring many of the same cast and crew but taking place in a different world (like Fierce Creatures to Repo's A Fish Called Wanda).

Other movies weren't so lucky. Had they just sat on it for another year or two, Lionsgate could have had a minor goldmine on their hands with Midnight Meat Train, as it starred future box office draw Bradley Cooper (it was shot in 2007, when his stock hadn't yet skyrocketed post-Hangover). Based on a Clive Barker story and boasting the American debut of Japanese filmmaker Ryűhei Kitamura (Versus), the film was easily the best Barker adaptation since the original Hellraiser, and seemed to be well-regarded by those who saw it (and could get past the title). But again, it had no chance - they dumped it into about 100 budget theaters, where even if the film sold out every show it couldn't make much of a dent at the box office, as tickets were only a few bucks even on weekend PM shows. A year later, they did the same thing with Blood Creek, which also had future box office stars at its disposal - wanna see Superman (Henry Cavill) fight Magneto (Michael Fassbender)? Check out this surprisingly enjoyable little gem, which I also had to drive about 50 miles or so to see when they released it in the fall of 2009 after a couple years on the shelf.

Ghosts of Georgia isn't even the first sequel to get such treatment - the tortured history of Cabin Fever 2 merits its own article, but the final word is that it never played in theaters outside of a couple of festival showings. Similarly, at one point The Descent Part 2 was up for theatrical release, but it never got it, as LG quietly tossed it directly to DVD about a year after an LA test screening. Now, in all of these cases, would the films have been 50+ million dollar hits? No. But you never know - I would have said the same about Saw back in 2004. And didn't Lionsgate get on the map by taking chances in the first place? 1000 Corpses wasn't their only rescue - they also picked up controversial films like Dogma and Fahrenheit 9/11 after their original distributors got cold feet. All of these films could have at least doubled their (small) budgets if they were merely given the chance to do so, and while opinions will of course vary (as they do for every film ever made), I personally don't think any of them were any worse than the things they did give wide releases to during that time - I'll take any of them ten times over before suffering through Crank 2 or The Eye again.

And the funny thing is, horror continued to do well for them when they let it. In 2009 they had My Bloody Valentine 3D, a huge success that came almost a full year before Avatar supposedly "revived" the 3D format, and in 2010 they distributed the smash hit The Last Exorcism. Interestingly, they mucked up sequels for these too - flat out refusing to do a MBV followup and for whatever reason CBS Films has taken over the upcoming The Last Exorcism 2. For a studio that kept the lights on by churning out Saws and Tyler Perry Presents Tyler Perry movies every year, they sure seem to look down on sequels all of a sudden. And also horror in general - they didn't put out a single horror film in wide release in 2011, and 2012's only offerings of note were The Possession and The Cabin in the Woods, the latter another rescue (from MGM) that scored plenty of acclaim and a decent box office take but seemingly didn't change their recent attitude toward the genre much. As recently as November they dumped The Bay on a few screens despite being part of the hot found footage genre and produced by Jason Blum, who had recently scored one of the year's biggest horror hits with Sinister (from Summit, which LG now owns). Indeed, that's part of what confuses me: even if the films themselves didn't meet the high standards of Saw V, they couldn't have been hard to sell. Sequels to hit movies are easy enough, but The Bay: "The producer of Paranormal Activity brings you..."; Midnight Meat Train: "From the writer of Hellraiser comes an all new terror...", etc, etc.

Hopefully it's just a phase, and before long they will see the value in the genre again. For all I know there were crazy circumstances revolving around all five or six of these movies' unsupported releases and it's just an unfortunate coincidence that they're all from the same studio. They're certainly not abandoning us entirely, at any rate - Texas Chainsaw 3D might have sunk like a stone, but it still made enough money to generate interest in a sequel, so let's see how that goes. And they were smart enough to buy You're Next, and will be putting it out in August in the same slot that they scored last summer with The Possession, which is a sign that they have faith in it (as well they should). They also have I, Frankenstein and Ghosts on the way, plus a new deal with WWE that means they will be distributing the Leprechaun remake (!). Let's just hope that genre fans don't have to worry about getting lost in remote towns just to see them on the big screen.

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