Terror Tuesday: Why Is Lionsgate Sitting On Surefire Hit YOU’RE NEXT?

YOU’RE NEXT swept the Horror awards at Fantastic Fest and killed at Toronto, but Lionsgate is holding it for release until… a year from now? Brian examines other options.

NOTE FROM DEVIN: The busy events of Fantastic Fest (ie movies and karaoke and beers) kept me from posting this in a timely manner, but Brian had it all ready to go for Tuesday. This week it’s Terror Wednesday, and it’s all my fault.

DISCLAIMER – As I said last week, I am friends with certain members of cast and crew on You’re Next and also contributed end credits to the team’s previous film A Horrible Way To Die. Hence why I have not nor will I be writing an “official review” of any sort, nor will I submit any sort of quotes for advertising (and I do NOT give permission to take any from this article).

One of the highlights of Fantastic Fest (which is still running, though I believe all films have shown at least once by now) was easily You’re Next, a tight/scary yet crowd-pleasing home invasion/slasher film that offered some fun humor in place of the grim areas that these sort of films tend to dwell upon more often than not – even the great The Strangers still ended with our heroes tied up in chairs and screaming, something this movie avoids entirely. Virtually everyone I spoke to enjoyed or downright loved the flick, and it ended up walking away with four Fantastic Fest Awards, including Best Horror Feature.

But it was not without a minor red mark. A few days before the festival began, it was announced that Lionsgate had acquired the film after a bidding war following its equally triumphant screening at the Toronto International Film Festival just a couple of weeks before, with plans to release sometime in the Fall of 2012. However, this seemingly resulted in the film losing one of its two screenings at the Alamo for FF, turning the midnight screening on Saturday into the festival’s hottest ticket, as it would be the only time anyone got a chance to see it (just about every film in the fest showed two or more times). While many of the midnight screenings had a few empty seats because folks decided to go drink at the Highball or go back to their rooms early to get some sleep, You’re Next was over capacity – I spied screenwriter (and eventual award-winner) Simon Barrett sitting on a folding chair.

And while this initially caused a lot of grumbling and tweets along the lines of “Fuck you Lionsgate!” (some folks even reported that BOTH screenings were pulled, which is, obviously, inaccurate), the reaction to the film was so strong that such animosity was more or less quenched. The few persistent whiners (whom I don’t blame for being upset) were largely drowned out by the number of positive reviews and eventual awards won, and the Gate was actually lauded for picking up and guaranteeing a big push for such a great film. While IFC and Magnolia and places like that are terrific genre supporters that have helped us see a ton of independent and foreign horror films, they have yet to secure that sort of big theatrical clout that Lionsgate has. In other words, when this movie comes out, if all goes to plan, it’ll be playing at the big multiplexes, not tiny art houses.

However, the problem isn’t WHERE, but WHEN the movie will be available. The plan to sit on it until fall of NEXT year just seems ridiculous to me, as well as several others I spoke to after the screening and throughout the rest of my time there. I must admit, I do not run a major film distribution studio nor do I understand much about advertising, but I do know a bit about horror, and horror fans. And I can tell you – we need a movie like this, fast. You may recall that I was not particularly thrilled with 2010’s horror output and otherwise correctly predicted that 2011 wouldn’t be much better (if anything it’s actually worse – one of the best movies was Shark Night for Christ’s sake, which means this will be another year where my “Top 10” list is more of a “Least Terrible 10” selection). Barring a miracle from Paranormal Activity 3 or Dream House, 2011 will go down as a particularly sorry year for wide theatrical releases.

So why sit on it? The film is practically guaranteed to make some dough, given that it didn’t cost a hell of a lot to make. In fact I believe the budget was less than that of Saw, another indie horror film that was picked up by… hey, Lionsgate! And they sat on that one for a while too, but only about 9 months, not over a year. Plus it’s not like they used that time to build up buzz – after Sundance, it didn’t really have any awareness until September of that year, when it played at the same Toronto festival that You’re Next would premiere at seven years later.

If I had to guess, I would assume that they figure that there’s no time to mount an effective marketing campaign and get it out by Halloween, and that is probably true. But why Halloween? There’s no law that says every scary movie should aim to be out by that date. In fact, one of the films that You’re Next is being compared to (a not very accurate comparison, if you ask me) is Scream, and that came out in December, as did its first sequel. The Friday the 13ths always came out in the spring or summer (and less than half of them even bothered opening on its namesake “holiday”). Hell, even the Halloween films rarely come out during October anymore; the last one to be playing in wide release on the actual holiday was Halloween 5, back in 1989.

However, Thanksgiving would be perfect for this particular film. It takes place in a snowy time of year, and centers on a family gathering. So it actually fits the mood of the season better than Halloween anyway, and since it’s not actually TIED to a particular event (they have gathered for an anniversary dinner, not Thanksgiving or any other holiday), it wouldn’t have to worry about feeling “outdated” the way some Hallo-centric films are once October is over – who wants to see Michael Myers stalking kids in November? A few years ago, Dimension made the boneheaded move to release Black Xmas ON Christmas Day, making it an instant “leftover”, but a Thanksgiving release for You’re Next could actually carry it all the way until the Christmas holiday as folks getting fed up with their own families might find a film in which annoying in-laws and “new boyfriend” types are violently dispatched.

And if they think that’s not long enough to turn the film into a hit, they’re insane. I’m pretty sure that somewhere in the Lionsgate offices is a poster of Paranormal Activity with several hundred dart holes in it, all made after it basically killed the Saw series. Little history lesson here - let’s flash back to this time of the year, 2009. Despite being one of the series’ best entries, Saw VI was trampled and torn asunder by this little haunted house movie, and the irony is that it wasn’t supposed to even be a contender. Paramount had bought Paranormal a while back but wasn’t sure what to do with it, even contemplating sending it direct to DVD for a while, before finally giving it a midnight only release in 13 cities in late September of 2009. Ordinarily, its theatrical journey would have ended there, but strong reviews/buzz and huge fan support resulted in the movie suddenly being booked in regular limited release 2 weeks later, then wide release a week after that, and yet another expansion after that, ultimately hitting over 2,700 theaters on what would become a 107 million grossing run – well over that of the highest grossing Saw movie.

Can You’re Next equal its financial success? Probably not. While it deserves it (and is a better film), the reality is that slasher types rarely match the ticket sales of ghost/supernatural films. Also, while both films are rated R, Paranormal was the type of movie you could recommend to just about anyone, even younger teens (the R rating was basically for language). But that doesn’t mean it CAN’T. Sure, the horror films have been tanking this year, but look at what we’re dealing with here. Final Destination 5 was the best of the lot, and it’s fucking Final Destination 5. Even I wasn’t all that excited about it until I saw the opening scene at Comic Con – I figured there was no way in hell it could be legitimately good. And every other film I recommended had major caveats (i.e. the PG-13 rating on Shark Night, or the schizophrenic structure of The Rite), so I can’t really blame folks for merely adding them to their Netflix queue. But with horror AND mainstream press championing You’re Next, paired with the fact that it’s an original R rated horror film (if released this year, it would be the ONLY R rated original horror film to net a wide release in 2011), could result in some very lucrative earnings for LG, who has had a tough year in and out of the genre. Lincoln Lawyer has been their only real hit other than the latest Madea film, which is sort of like a freebie as those movies are consistent earners. And both of those came out in the spring - wouldn’t it be nice to have such a profitable, well-received movie to cap off an otherwise lackluster year? Why the hell not, right? Might even make up for Conan.

I also think its high time we had another horror film that female audiences can appreciate. Without spoiling much, lead actress Sharni Vinson (another Fantastic Fest winner) is an instant all-time great horror heroine, an asskicker that can proudly stand alongside Laurie Strode and Ellen Ripley as the sort of characters we can point to whenever some ignoramus tries to claim that the horror genre is nothing more than an excuse to kill women. No male in the film does anything as awesome as what Vinson is already pulling off at the halfway point, and she just gets more heroic as it goes. As I was saying earlier to someone, a lot of the great horror heroines don’t really DO much until their film’s final reels – Ellen Ripley is a borderline anonymous crew member until Dallas bites it in the first Alien. But Vinson skips over that stuff; her actions in the film are more like Ripley in Cameron’s sequel Aliens; kicking all sorts of ass when there are still plenty of men around to play the hero.

Again, I don’t understand the business/marketing aspect of it, so forgive my ignorance. But apart from a Los Angeles test screening tonight, I don’t know if the movie will be shown again until next year, and thus I don’t know if it can effectively hold onto the buzz its created in the past few weeks. Plus, for all we know there could be another movie next fall that we also champion, perhaps even prefer. What we DO know is that the horror market is wide open for exactly this sort of home run, and horror FANS are hungry for the next thing, NOW. Don’t forget, this is the first year without a new Saw film since it began (I still don’t think it’s really OVER), and so far there doesn’t seem to be much excitement over Paranormal 3 (PA2 made some coin, sure, but has anyone mentioned it since?). The only other possible rival is Dimension’s Piranha 3DD, and there’s been about as much marketing for that as, well, You’re Next, and without the benefit of two very successful screenings. If Dimension thinks they can turn a profit on that one without as much as a damn poster 8-9 weeks before its supposed release, I don’t see why Lionsgate can’t build a campaign out of what they’ve already got (dozens of very positive reviews, for starters) and book it for what seems like a very slim November schedule. Hell, they can even use Paranormal’s release model if they want, and secure the same sort of “must see” status for the movie that Paranormal was riding when put the first nail in Jigsaw’s coffin. All of the points I made above got nothing on good ol’ fashioned Hollywood revenge!

But mostly I just don’t want to wait a year to see the part I missed when I ran out to the bathroom (a hilarious monologue by AJ Bowen that I could hear being applauded as I raced back into the theater - I only caught the tail end of it) . Damn you, bladder! Damn you, Alamo and your excellent value for a bucket of beer! Never said I didn’t have a personal agenda here.