Terror Tuesday: Where’s The Horror?

Brian sees a long, unscary summer for horror fans.

So far there have only been six wide genre releases in the first four months of 2011, and that includes some tenuous offerings like Nicolas Cage’s Season Of The Witch (a Middle Ages set fantasy with some supernatural elements) and Red Riding Hood (a shockingly dull romance very occasionally broken up by equally dull werewolf scenes).  I can’t even count Drive Angry, another Nic Cage movie (a far more enjoyable one) with minor supernatural themes, because the nature of those elements is part of what’s actually a twist in the movie (one its own distributor spoiled in their terrible ads).

Another only “sorta horror” movie was The Roommate, a woeful thriller that ripped off so much from Single White Female, they might as well have just called it SWF3 and dumped it straight to video (yes, there’s a Single White Female 2 already in existence).  Christ, the movie is so lackluster and dull that even a few fake scares would have improved things.  Instead, it’s just an endless cycle of scenes in which the unhinged Leighton Meester does or says something inappropriate to heroine Minka Kelly, only for one of them to walk away, followed by a scene of Meester staring at Kelly from afar (or someone else in Kelly’s life - her best friend, boyfriend, sleazy teacher, etc).  She also pulls back from actually killing anyone (except a poor kitten and Kelly’s ex); the movie constantly sets up these potential moments of violence and then has Meester settle for a sneer and/or an angry storm off.  Hell, they don’t even bother to explain what Meester actually WANTS out of all this – a girlfriend?  A sister?  Who knows/cares.  I saw it with a bunch of teens (the movie’s target audience) and even they were snickering at the dialogue and attempts at scary moments.

Then there’s The Rite, which was actually a fairly decent exorcist drama that unfortunately got silly whenever they tried actually going down the horror route, with a demonic mule being a particular howler.  Also, the PG-13 rating didn’t really make any sense; the movie starred adults and was far more dramatic (read: talky and “boring”) than anything that would attract teens.  With an R rating, the demon could actually be profane, instead of asking about “kissy lips” and whether or not our hero priest had “done” one of the female characters. I mean, it’s hard to top “Let Jesus fuck you!” or “Do you know what she did?  Your cunting daughter?” anyway, but it’s even worse when it sounds so sanitized.

Really, the only two real horror movies that got a wide release so far are Insidious and Scream 4.  The latter has been on the schedule (and even advertised) for a year now, so perhaps the other studios were just afraid to put something up against this once-mighty franchise?  Didn’t matter though; not only did the film fail to live up to the first two entries (topping Scream 3 on a creative level would be like taking candy from a baby – pointing out that it did so is just sort of pointless), but it didn’t really succeed in the only area anyone in Hollywood cares about – the box office.  While respectable when stacked up against other slasher sequels or R rated horror films of late (and by late I guess I mean 2010 – it’s the only R rated movie in this entire bunch), it performed pitifully compared to the other Screams, making less than half of what S3 pulled in (without even having to factor in inflation, which would make the final total even more embarrassing), and will ultimately be lucky to even break even with its reported 40 million production budget.  And when you consider that it had no R-rated/slasher competition whatsoever, it’s just a total disappointment no matter how you slice it.  If there is a Scream 5 (this was reportedly the start of a new trilogy, which I found a bit hard to believe since – spoiler – at the end of the film it’s still the same three goddamn characters still alive), I suspect it will go direct to DVD as a “Wes Craven Presents” (read: he won’t really be involved) and won’t have any of the cast or crew returning.  Well, maybe David Arquette.

That leaves Insidious as the only real success story, on all fronts.  This PG-13 haunted house movie was a big hit as part of the Midnight Madness series during last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and deservedly so.  Laudably free of any fake scares but chock full of real ones (anyone who doesn’t jump when that one ghost paces by the window a couple times and then charges into the bedroom is quite possibly a robot), it proved once again that a horror movie doesn’t need to have gore (there isn’t a single drop of blood in the film) or even an R rating in order to work.  And it must have truly stung the notoriously stingy folks over at Dimension, who saw their 40 million franchise reboot get trounced critically and commercially by a little indie production that reportedly only cost around a million bucks.  As of this writing, Insidious has grossed about 10 million MORE than Scream 4, and remains in the top ten thanks to strong word of mouth business – it’s ironically the type of sleeper hit that the original Scream was. In fact, it’s the highest grosser of ALL of these movies, and will likely remain one of the year’s top grossing genre films once the end of the year rolls around.

Of course, there were a few smaller, “art house” releases such as Rubber, I Saw The Devil, and Stake Land, but it’s hard to gauge their success or lack thereof due to their distributors making them available through “on demand” services before their theatrical bows.  None of them came close to breaking any per-screen records, that’s for sure.  But then again, gas is up, cell phone usage gets more and more annoying – as much as I love going to the theater, I can’t say I’d blame anyone for opting to (legally) watch it at home instead of heading out to some uncomfortable indie house. These were, unsurprisingly, also the year’s better movies (I Saw The Devil is my favorite genre film of the year so far), but even some of THOSE shy away from full blown horror; Stake Land is a post-apocalyptic road movie with some vampire action, and Rubber is… well, I don’t know what the hell Rubber is, but it’s certainly more of a comedy than a horror film.

Now, while only Insidious can be considered a smash hit, none of them were flat out disasters either – the lowest grossing of the bunch was Season of the Witch and even that brought in 25 million (and a healthy 60 million internationally – it’s actually, technically, a hit movie).  But it’s not the box office that puzzles me – it’s the lack of options, a trend I was already noticing in 2010 and seems to just be getting worse. Insidious and Scream 4 were both April releases, that means 2011 didn’t have a single full blown horror film in wide release for its first three months, which is just absurd.  It’s not like the last couple years have been unkind to horror; we’ve had Zombieland (highest grossing zombie film of all time), the two Paranormal Activity movies, the latest Resident Evil and Final Destination sequels (both of which outgrossed their predecessors), and commercially successful reboots of Friday the 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street.  Hell, even Legion made 40 million and there isn’t a single person in the world that walked out of the theater telling their friends to see it.  In other words, in commercial terms it’s hardly been dire for our genre, and keep in mind the majority of these movies didn’t cost a lot to begin with.  Horror fil ms have almost always been an attractive option for studios, as the costs can be kept low without sacrificing the things that get butts in theaters (as opposed to low budget sci-fi or action movies that lack the big spectacle to play along with the big budget behemoths), but it’s starting to feel like the mid 90s again, where there was only a handful of legit genre offerings per year, forcing the likes of Fangoria to cover sci-fi stuff like Judge Dredd in order to fill its pages.  I almost want to make a joke that they’ve remade just about everything so they just don’t know what else to do (it’s interesting that Scream 4 is the only sequel, and none of them are remakes unless you want to count Red Riding Hood, which you shouldn’t), but I’m not even entirely sure it would be a joke.  Is that what’s actually happening here?  They’re forced to choose between original ideas or nothing and going with the latter?

The next few months don’t look to be much different, either.  In a couple weeks we have Priest, which is yet another “not really horror” movie, and in 3D to boot, which as of late seems to be acting like more of a disincentive to see a movie. Other than that, we have to wait until August for anything that can be considered a full blown horror movie, and most don’t really hold much promise: a 3D remake of Fright Night, the 5th Final Destination movie, and Dimension’s oft-rescheduled Apollo 18, which is, sigh, half sci-fi anyway.  The only one I’m really looking forward to is Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, which can boast the involvement of Guillermo Del Toro (yes, a movie he’s involved with actually completed production!).  I’m sure there will be a few smaller indie releases, and of course the DTV world always offers a few surprises, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t massively disappointed that I seemingly have to wait until the end of the summer season before I get to put “Theatrical Screening” at the top of one my reviews again.