Collins’ Crypt: 2015 Drawn & Quartered Part 2 - On The Move

BC's tri-annual look at the last four months of theatrically released horror!

Summer is traditionally light on horror offerings, due to the fact that it's very hard for movies that don't feature spaceships, dinosaurs, spandex or the Pixar logo to find a big audience during the period. Every now and then a Conjuring comes along and blows everyone away, but for every one of those there are a dozen like Splice: an attempt at counter-programming that undeservedly failed miserably. But god bless Jason Blum - he has too many damn movies sitting around to just sit the summer out, and so if you are a fan of his Blumhouse brand you were in luck, with FOUR movies hitting multiplexes in as many months (and a fifth in limited release). Unfortunately for those who don't cotton to his brand of terror, there was only one horror movie in wide release that WASN'T from Blumhouse, an unfortunate trend that's getting tiresome. Every horror movie I see has a trailer reel filled with blurbs saying, "From the producer of Insidious and The Purge" (and/or Paranormal Activity, and/or Sinister), and it's getting kind of laughable. Is Blumhouse the only game in town? Are the studios simply not going to bother making anything for genre fans, assuming he has the market cornered?

So I guess it's no surprise that it seems like there were more limited release horror flicks from May-August than there usually are. Of the thirteen titles below, only six played on over 500 screens, and one of them is only a horror movie in the technical sense. When even an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie only opens on 79 screens, something seems wrong - and that was a huge number compared to a few of these others. And yet The Gallows, with no stars - and no discernible selling point - opens on 2,700+ screens? That's what the Blumhouse brand can do for you, I guess. Can't help but wonder if their saturation is hurting them though - with underwhelming grosses on Sinister 2 and another Paranormal Activity sequel no one really wants on the way, it seems that while the films remain profitable, interest is waning. I'm curious how this will affect future productions.

Anyway, the aforementioned Maggie kicked things off, opening on those few dozen screens in early May alongside a VOD release that was hopefully more successful. I know Arnold's star doesn't shine as brightly these days (this is his fifth straight dud if you include Escape Plan and Expendables 3), but I would have bet that his strong performance (one of his best, actually) and the ever-popular zombie genre would have sparked more interest in the flick than it seemingly had in theaters. Its pitiful $187,000 take has it coming in behind the foreign language Cemetery Man and even rancid garbage like Night of the Living Dead 3D among zombie movies; granted it's not even that great of a film (beyond Arnold's performance there really wasn't much to it, and the ending was terrible), but interest alone should have at least placed it higher. I love that Arnold is taking on these challenging roles (and acquitting himself nicely!) at this stage in his career; I just hope eventually it pays off with a hit film.

Also in limited release was, at long last, Oren Peli's Area 51, which was shot five years ago, retooled endlessly and finally dumped on a few screens (also alongside an accompanying VOD option). I still haven't bothered to see it, but by all accounts it was not worth the wait and should have stayed buried. Having next to no interest in seeing any more found footage movies, I will probably only see it if and when I have to. Yes, I do get forced to watch certain movies for one of my freelance jobs, which is the only reason I suffered through Human Centipede 3 after similar warnings. I was a big fan of the first film and surprisingly enjoyed certain elements of the second, but this was just unbearable bullshit, with Dieter Laser delivering one of the worst performances ever committed in a theatrically released film, and Tom Six padding the runtime to over 100 minutes, presumably to simulate the torture the characters onscreen were suffering. Its $14,500 take was only around 10% of what the second film grossed (on as many screens), and it's still more than it deserved. It was so bad I actually apologized for encouraging more after the first one.

Those who enjoy seeing their horror movies at the mall cinemas finally got a break with Poltergeist, the unnecessary and largely forgettable remake from the increasingly unreliable Sam Raimi production company, Ghost House. While well-cast and technically proficient, the movie inexplicably couldn't decide whether or not to reinvent the story entirely or pull a Van Sant Psycho recreation, so they opted to just swing wildly back and forth between both approaches. Every now and then it would start to come to life (read: demonic squirrel) but then they'd just redo a scene from the 1982 original almost verbatim, even if it didn't quite fit with their new narrative (the "you moved the tombstones but not the bodies" element in particular seemed like they just threw it in because it was expected). And, unsurprisingly, the 3D was unnecessary, save for a brief trip to the "Other Side" that came far too late in the film to save it. Once everyone who saw it out of obligation got it over and done with, it quickly became an afterthought (those clown billboards came down pretty quick around my part of town), and it's a safe assumption that 2019 won't bring us a sequel with a modern update of Kane.

Audiences were far more interested in Insidious Chapter 3, which opened two weeks later to a slightly bigger opening weekend and a better hold overall, ultimately taking $52m. This was enough to be the year's top grossing traditional horror movie, not to mention outgrossing the first film - a nice feat considering that James Wan had left directorial duties to Leigh Whannell, the series' writer/co-star who made the film his directorial debut. As a prequel it wasn't quite as exciting as the others; we know that Lin Shaye will survive the story, and we also know that the new family it is focusing on doesn't matter as we'll never hear about them again, but it delivered some nice scares and a fun little origin story for the scene-stealing Specs and Tucker characters. And it certainly made up for Poltergeist, which was amusing since some critics wrote off the original Insidious as a cheap retread of the original Poltergeist - now they're beating the "real" one at their own game! I've kind of had my fill of haunting movies for the time being, however, so hopefully this is the end of the series and Whannell (who also created Saw with Wan) can come up with a new franchise for his sophomore effort.

But then Jurassic World came out and made all the money that there is, apparently. Also, we've supposedly been "too mean" to this poor little third-highest grossing movie of all time here at Birth.Movies.Death., so I'll spare any further commentary. Just to say it's not really a horror movie (the first one barely qualifies and that has several legitimately scary scenes - this had NOTHING on par with the kitchen scene), but I'm throwing it in to counter some crybaby who'd inevitably argue for its inclusion.

In July, WB got into the Blumhouse game with The Gallows, a film that might have struck a chord in 2011 but for the life of me I can't imagine why anyone would be interested in now, long after the found footage bubble had burst. Stranger still, it was the same old crap. The high school setting was kind of novel but otherwise it followed the found footage template rather rigidly: ten to fifteen minutes of hijinks as we meet our "heroes," lots of wandering around and people recording things for no reason (this one didn't even have the usual "I'm making a documentary" excuse), and then a bunch of jump scares that will look good on a trailer. While technically profitable (all of these things are since they cost next to nothing to make), its $22m gross puts it below all of Blumhouse's other films this year (and one of his lowest takes for a genre film overall), which probably spoils their profit fun.

But it at least fared better than The Vatican Tapes, which was downgraded to a limited release despite a cast led by Michael Peña (in theaters at the same time with Ant-Man) and directed by one of the Crank guys, who occasionally brought his brand of hyperactive nonsense to an otherwise rote possession tale. Curiously marketed as another found footage movie (a few sequences were shot this way, but most of the film was a traditional narrative), and stupidly saving its best/most intriguing plot point for the film's closing minutes (setting up a sequel that will never, ever exist), the movie failed to do well even by limited release standards, not quite grossing $2m after a month. I mean, even (fellow studio also-ran) The Pyramid managed that much, with no stars and coming soon after a similar movie (As Above, So Below), whereas there haven't been any demonic possession movies of note all year. Also in REAL limited release (like, a couple screens) were LA Slasher and Dark Forest, two films I haven't seen (the latter I haven't even heard of) but am happy to see got released at all. There are probably more movies hitting one or two theaters that I never hear about, or forget about due to their distributor not listing their grosses (such as Joe Dante's Burying the Ex, which I bought a ticket for at an AMC multiplex, but you'd never know it was released going by BoxOfficeMojo), so to see movies like this actually on the charts, even though the grosses are depressing, makes me happy. There's still a chance for indie horror films to get that one bit of glory before heading off to VOD!

While not technically horror, one of the best thrillers all year was The Gift, a rare adult offering from Blumhouse (even their R films seem teen-friendly). Joel Edgerton starred in, wrote and directed this unusual revenge tale, and he made terrific use of Jason Bateman's somewhat dickish onscreen persona. The $35m gross isn't exactly box office gold, but considering the dark material and summer release date, it's done quite well (and had solid holds from week to week) and will hopefully encourage Blum to seek out more dramatic, less-kid friendly fare in the future. Especially when, barring an inexplicable surge, it will certainly outpace Sinister 2, the rare sequel from the outfit that failed to outgross its original (Purge: Anarchy and Insidious 2 both surpassed their originals at the box office, both domestic and abroad). The script failed to offer any new surprises or plot twists, something that the original was built on, and it also spent a good chunk of the movie focusing on a returning character (Deputy So-and-So, who still doesn't have a name) who wasn't as up to speed as the audience was re: Mr. Boogie's MO. So a big reveal to him is a shrug to us (I didn't even realize the deputy didn't know Boogie used kids to do his deeds), and the lackluster trailers didn't even seem to encourage the folks looking for cheap scares - my audience jumped more at the trailer for The Visit than they did at the film they were there to see. Not a good sign. So far it's grossed $18m; it will squeak by Gallows to save some face, but will ultimately only end up with around half of what the original made, which will likely put a stop to any plans for a Sinister 3.

And so it goes. Same as with the first quarter, these movies aren't AWFUL (though Vatican Tapes comes close), but just forgettable and lackluster - a year full of nothing but the stuff I would have trouble writing about when I was doing Horror Movie A Day. I can't imagine this trend will continue over the next few months, with Crimson Peak, Tales of Halloween, Krampus and The Visit all heading our way, plus (at long last) the final installment of the Paranormal Activity series, which should at least give us something to talk about (even if it turns out to just be "Hey, they never explained _______!"). And after a few years off, After Dark's "8 Films To Die For" is returning, which will shine a spotlight on a few indie productions and give them a theatrical release during the peak Halloween season (the previous installments were in November or January). So that'll be fun. I hope.