Well, this godforsaken year is behind us, and so we have a whole new year's worth of genre releases to look forward to (including, supposedly, the long-delayed new Friday the 13th movie). But we can't let 2016 go just yet - we have to recap how much money all the horror movies made over the last four months! Or, should I say, how LITTLE they made, as this season produced a number of disappointments and only one legitimate smash - and that was Madea's Halloween, which wasn't even really a horror movie. In fact, the period's best performer was Don't Breathe, which was released in August but continued to sell lots of tickets throughout the fall, a surprising result for such an average horror thriller (IMO), ultimately closing with just under 90 million dollars - more than all of these others (save for Madea) combined.
Alas, for every Don't Breathe there were a couple like Morgan, which was released over Labor Day weekend and set the tone for several releases that followed. And by that I mean it played to empty theaters and disappeared quickly, ultimately failing to recoup its meager $8m budget, which I thought the cast alone (Kate Mara, Paul Giamatti, Toby Jones, and Witch darling Anya Taylor-Joy as the title character) would have propelled it over, not to mention the involvement of Ridley Scott (who produced; his son Luke directed). While not a traditional horror film, it was marketed as one, suggesting a "lab experiment gone awry" thriller in the vein of Splice and Species, though in execution it was a straight up sci-fi thriller, which may have been responsible for some of its box office misfortune. Another factor may have been that people just plain didn't like it (I seem to be in the minority for merely thinking it was a decent time-killer), with its early buzz from the teaser all but evaporating by the time folks actually saw the whole thing. Anya will likely fare better in Split, but fans of Kate Mara's ass-kicking "corporate risk-management consultant" probably shouldn't expect to see her popping up again - even if the film's twist seemed to suggest that the film was actually a stealth prequel to a well-regarded (and ongoing) sci-fi property.
But even those numbers were better than The Disappointments Room could scare up a week later, opening in 17th place on its way to a pitiful $2.4m gross (that's total, not just the opening weekend). Star Kate Beckinsale and writer Wentworth Miller pointedly did not promote the film (both tweeted about other things on the day it was released without mentioning their new film hitting theaters, burn), so we can assume that the film they intended to make was not the one a handful of us saw. And one must particularly feel bad for Miller, who went from having his first script (for Stoker) directed by Chan-Wook Park (Oldboy) to his second by DJ Caruso (Eagle Eye). Unlike Morgan, this film got what it deserved at the box office; it was a thrill-free thriller with a baffling resistance to tonal consistency, and any number of dropped plot points (a publicity shot of co-star Lucas Till might as well have been from another film entirely, as it has nothing to do with anything his character experiences in the final cut). I often say I'd happily watch Beckinsale read a phone book - it's not often that it would actually be preferable. Insult to injury - Relativity dumped this one out on the date originally meant for Mike Flanagan's long delayed Before I Wake, which still awaits release. Flanagan has made 2-3 (released) films since shooting this one, and if it doesn't get out there soon it will officially be into Area 51/Poughkeepsie Tapes territory.
Speaking of long delays, while most fans had given up hope that the Blair Witch series would continue, Lionsgate seemed to think the time was right for a revival. However, they went about it in a very odd way - instead of a remake or stand-alone story (i.e. the long-rumored prequel about Elly Kedward), they opted to make a direct sequel, focusing on Heather's brother and his friends (and their cameras, of course) looking for her in the same woods. But they also simply called it Blair Witch, which along with the found footage aesthetic had many people thinking that it WAS a remake. Adding to the confusion, they first announced the film as The Woods, only to reveal the secret at a Comic-Con screening, which was probably really awesome for the 300 or so people that were there, but meant very little to the average moviegoer who might have been wondering where that Woods movie went. With all of these puzzling factors, it's hard to say if the movie would have been a bigger hit if they just advertised it normally and gave it a clearer title ("The Blair Witch Returns" or something along those lines; "Blair Witch 3" would be tricky since no one besides me wants to remember Book of Shadows), because while it was technically profitable (just under $21m on a $5m budget), I doubt anyone could have been happy with those numbers, especially considering Book of Shadows sold twice as many tickets back in 2000. I had issues with the film but overall found it to be an enjoyable enough return to a franchise I really love, and was sad to see that it wasn't embraced as it surely means the end of it (again), as now I'm stuck with even MORE unanswered questions (unless they revive Cade Merrill's Blair Witch Files series, that is).
But all of this was in September, when horror films aren't expected to break records. No, October is where the big money is, and that's why both Lionsgate and Universal were able to release the month's only two major genre releases - Boo! A Madea Halloween and Ouija: Origin of Evil - on the same day and make some decent money. As I mentioned, Madea was the bigger hit, opening at #1 and performing well even after Halloween, eventually topping out at $73m - good enough to rank as Tyler Perry's 2nd highest grosser ever (after fellow Madea entry Madea Goes To Jail). Not bad for a movie they reportedly shot in just six days (the film itself often supports that theory), especially considering the film's biggest hook - Madea fighting zombies and ghosts - was a total copout and barely even a factor in the film. It took nearly an hour for any of the "supernatural" stuff to happen (it's not really a spoiler to say it's all faked - the characters tell you it's all staged before they even do it) and most of it was in the trailer, so I guess folks were either not as discerning as they should be for their Halloween selections, or were just there for another Madea movie. I myself made it my first experience with Evan's favorite filmmaker, and while the lack of horror elements was disappointing (I wasn't exactly expecting a classic horror comedy, but I WAS taken aback with how minimal that stuff actually was in the film), I kind of fell in love with Perry's bizarre choices and complete disregard for normal human behavior, and look forward to seeing a few of his other "classics" when I can find the time.
That left Ouija to settle for the silver, though its $35m take on a $9m budget is still fairly impressive considering the competition and the fact that it was a sequel (well, prequel) to a film no one in the world likes. Or even remembers, as it turns out - I talked to more than one person who thought Lin Shaye's cameo in the post-credits scene was her Insidious character, as they had forgotten that she was in the original Ouija (the prequel focused on her character's first experience with the "witchboard", as a teen in the 1960s). Needless to say since it was written and directed by Mike Flanagan, it was superior to the original in every way that mattered, trading that film's lame jump scares and anonymous teen characters for a struggling family - a mom and two daughters trying to make ends meet after the patriarch died. Add in some minor evil child stuff (the youngest daughter falls under the board's influence) and a very cool little gimmick (Flanagan added "cigarette burns" at the appropriate moments to simulate reel changes for his throwback horror film) and you're left with one of the season's few fully satisfying genre flicks, further proving Flanagan (Hush, Absentia, and, we hope, Before I Wake) is the real deal.
Alas, as soon as October was over so was the relative hit streak, with another talented actress stuck in another dull thriller. This time it was Naomi Watts in Shut In, a housebound chiller set during a raging snowstorm, where Watts' psychologist character had to care for her invalid teenager son while looking for one of her patients, who stopped by the house after running away from his foster home and then promptly disappeared again. Perhaps with some supernatural elements, a visiting slasher killer, or hell even a giant hamster on the prowl, this could have been mildly entertaining, however the film has a really stupid twist that not only isn't satisfying on its own accord, but it's also one of those reveals that means the movie has to remain inert in order to work. So Watts has an inordinate number of nightmare scenes to give the movie a pulse (well, TRY to give it one) until the dumb twist can be revealed, at which point we just get an equally dull series of brief chase scenes because they stay inside. Luckily I saw it at one of those theaters with the reclining seats (and footrests), so I was at least fairly comfortable while the movie bored me to tears (how I stayed awake, I'll never know). While I relaxed in my seat I often thought about who exactly the audience was for this movie - Watts is a solid actress but hardly a big draw, and I can't even imagine what would possess someone to write a script with such minimal stakes. Who cares if she finds this random kid we meet exactly twice before he disappears? Oliver Platt gets to play Scatman Crothers in The Shining, which provides the film with some mild amusement, but it ultimately left me more indifferent than Disappointments Room. In fact I considered walking out since there was nothing engaging about the film at all, but by that point, the movie only had about 30 minutes left and I figured by law SOMETHING had to happen soon. How it managed to scramble its way to $6.8m (yep, more than Morgan and Disappointments combined) is beyond me. Maybe every screening had those comfortable seats?
The last major release for the period was Incarnate, a Blumhouse project that had been on the shelf for a while (director Brad Peyton shot it before 2015's San Andreas) and wasn't given much of a chance to prove that it was worth the wait. Barely advertised and dumped into theaters on what is traditionally one of the slowest weekends of the year (post-Thanksgiving), it couldn't even manage to match its minuscule $5m budget, and will sadly be yet another thing keeping Aaron Eckhart from being a big star (it wasn't even his only dud of the month - he also co-starred in the boxing drama Bleed for This, which was met with similar indifference). It's not a great movie by any means, but it was certainly more interesting than a few other Blumhouse joints of late (such as this year's earlier The Darkness), and Eckhart's character's ability to enter the mind of a possessed person to help them break free of the demon's hold offered a much more visually appealing take on what were otherwise typical possession scenes. It felt like the kind of movie that would have yielded a really good sequel now that all of the setup had been established, but by dumping it with no fanfare, Blumhouse and High Top Releasing denied it that chance. Perhaps they can refashion it as a TV show? It lent itself to a procedural format, and Blumhouse has established enough of a brand in theaters that they should start branching more into TV anyway.
There were also a few indie/limited releases over the past few months, albeit with few breakout success stories. One would probably be Demon, a Polish horror film (!) that grossed over $100k despite only playing in 24 theaters at its peak. Meredith's fave The Love Witch also performed quite well with $156k on even fewer screens than Demon, though fellow festival darling Eyes of my Mother topped out at a mere $26k, unable to hit those heights despite strong reviews (not from me, however - I found it to be a solid short film idea being repeated over and over until a feature length runtime was hit). The Strangers' Bryan Bertino fared even worse with his film The Monster, which scored a mere $12k, giving distributor A24 one of its all time lowest grossing films in the same year as one of its highest (The Witch). But the real winner was Shin Godzilla, the first Japanese Godzilla film given a theatrical release in the US since Godzilla 2000 in, er, 2000. While $1.9m is hardly a huge number in general, it's pretty big for distributor FUNimation (it's only the 2nd of their releases to top $1m) and will hopefully be enough for them to consider releasing future installments in US theaters, allowing us to see G doing his thing on the big screen instead of waiting for El Rey marathons.
Long story short, this wasn't exactly a banner period for the horror genre. Granted, many of these were more thriller than traditional horror, but they'd all be covered in Fangoria if the magazine wasn't dead, and all of them were marketed in a way that was meant to entice genre fans. Even Ouija - the only traditional horror success - came up short of the original's gross (on a bigger budget to boot) and performed under par for Platinum Dunes. Perhaps after all of the successes over the summer (Purge 3, The Shallows, Don't Breathe, etc.) horror fans felt they had their fill of big screen scares and opted to get scared at home with Netflix and the like? Maybe nothing was as scary as what was happening in real life? Granted, almost none of these movies were GOOD, but since when does that ever stop us (especially on opening weekend, before we know better)? I guess we will find out soon, as January finally gives us a showdown of sorts between the Resident Evil and Underworld franchises, both of which have been chugging along for over a decade and consistently grossing an average of $50m or so - will their hit streaks continue, or will the longer than usual gap since their last entry (five years for both, as opposed to the usual two or three) prove fatal? And if so, will Screen Gems eke a little more life out of them by finally giving us a crossover entry that pits Milla Jovovich against Kate Beckinsale (for the first act or so anyway, then they'd team up against a werewolf/mutant hybrid, I imagine)? Time will tell, and even if you don't care about them, the next two months is offering a shockingly high number of horror flicks - The Bye Bye Man, Get Out, A Cure For Wellness, and (maybe?) Rings are all coming out in January/February, and then March gives us Skull Island and the awesome looking Belko Experiment.
In other words, the next Drawn & Quartered piece will be super goddamn long. Boo for me and my carpal tunnel, but yay for horror!