The 3rd act of any year is a boon for horror fans, since there are always more genre movies coming out than the first eight months offered. Halloween is of course a big incentive for the studios to cash in with some fright fare, but counter programming during the awards-bait season (November/December) usually means another couple of flicks to enjoy, or not, if they're Victor Frankenstein. With ten wide releases in the past four months, horror finally made a dent in the year's overall box office, which saw plenty of middling $20-30 million grossers (or less) but few big hits - as of September 1st the year's biggest horror hit was Insidious 3, at $52m. Did anything beat it? Read on to find out.
Well you don't have to read very far, as M. Night Shyamalan's The Visit proved to be a surprise sleeper smash, grossing five times its production budget on opening weekend, on its way to a whopping $65m final gross (domestic; its overseas numbers put it just shy of that magic $100m number). For this Shyamalan fan (dammit people, will you watch After Earth now?) it was a great thing to see; not only was the movie actually pretty great in its low-key way, but also proved that there IS still some life in the "found footage" genre as long as there's a director who actually knows what he's doing behind the camera. The fact that it was a huge hit was just icing on the cake, and hopefully is a sign that he's found his way again and will spare us any Lady in the Water-level nonsense in the future.
But its reign at the top of the horror chart was short-lived, technically, as the vampire-heavy Hotel Transylvania 2 managed to outperform the original (even with a lower reported budget, nearly unheard of for a sequel) and gross $168m. That's right, an Adam Sandler sequel outgrossed the newest Pixar movie (well, one of them; Inside Out still smoked it, of course), which seems like an Idiocracy joke. To be fair, it was a better movie than the first Hotel, as Sandler and his cronies took more time to actually utilize their classic monster cast, whereas the original never bothered to dig beneath the surface of the one-joke premise. A third film has been dated for 2018; hopefully it continues this upward trend of quality (and brings back the creepy sponge thing from the first movie - it was that film's best gag by far but he/she/it was MIA in this one).
September also saw a pair of smaller releases generate decent numbers. Eli Roth's The Green Inferno finally got its theatrical bow after a lengthy delay (due to distributor issues), and while its $7m gross isn't exactly a Hostel-level success, the release was also something of an experiment, as the film was the first to try a targeted (read: cheaper) ad campaign that focused on the people likely to show up for an Eli Roth movie - i.e. not spending good money to buy a TV spot on The Voice. And Green Inferno in particular had a very niche appeal, as it was paying tribute to a type of film that hasn't been in vogue for over thirty years: the jungle cannibal film, immortalized by the likes of Cannibal Holocaust. So the movie actually performed within expectations for the folks who released it, and they will probably try the experiment again, making Inferno a success in its own unique way even if going by average numbers it looks like a total disaster. And in (very) limited release, Goodnight Mommy rode good reviews and minor "don't spoil the ending" buzz to a solid $1.1m gross on a mere 90 screens, good enough to be Radius-TWC's highest grossing foreign language film and third highest non-documentary release ever, after the far less niche Snowpiercer and this year's earlier horror success story, It Follows.
Not everything was good news though. For reasons I'll never understand, Lionsgate opted to dump the very crowd-pleasing, relatively star-studded Cooties on a handful of screens, despite the fact that we haven't exactly been drowning in zom-coms (last one in wide release was, I think, Warm Bodies in early 2013). Maybe the fact that all of the zombies were schoolchildren was thought to be too risque, but whatever - the movie was a blast to see (I lucked out and saw it with SORT OF a crowd - fellow press folk in a screening room that held about forty) and deserved better than LG offered it. I can't vouch for Hell and Back, however - while I love stop motion and the concept sounded fun, I would rather do pretty much anything than see a Nick Swardson movie, and thus didn't contribute to its $157k gross (with a pathetic $254 screen average on its opening weekend), though maybe I can check it out on Netflix someday where I can turn on the subtitles and spare myself of Swardson's voice.
Interestingly, the above success stories were all released in September, whereas October's releases all disappointed. Usually this is when pretty much anything can generate big numbers just because people want to go see a horror movie (see: Ouija) (please don't actually see Ouija), but just about everything tanked, starting with Crimson Peak, a major box office disappointment that ranks as Guillermo Del Toro's least attended wide release ever (yep, more people bought a ticket for Mimic). Its $55m budget was pretty economical and Universal pulled out all the stops with marketing (including an Imax release and a themed maze at their Universal Horror Nights), but after a soft opening it never managed to catch on, creaking its way to a mere $31m gross ($74m worldwide, still nothing to write home about). And it's a shame, because it's probably GdT's best studio movie, perfectly recapturing the look and spirit of old AIP films, particularly the Corman/Poe/Price cycle (House of Usher came to mind more than once) and offering delightful turns by Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston (as always, the less said about Charlie Hunnam, the better). Twenty to thirty years from now new fans will be amazed to discover it was such a dud, the same way we are now when reminded that nobody saw Carpenter's The Thing or Tremors (also both Universal movies - god bless them for continuing to take chances on offbeat horror movies even if it rarely pans out - though more on that later).
Still, that take is a goldmine compared to the laughable $18m gross of Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, touted as the series' finale and almost certainly going to stay that way (huge grosses always trump a "final chapter" - ask Jason Voorhees). To put its gross in perspective, that $18m is less than the last entry (The Marked Ones) made just on its opening weekend, and THAT one was considered a disappointment. Adding 3D and promising to answer some of the series' questions (which it barely did) did nothing to entice people back to this once powerhouse series, and as a Saw fan I can't help but gloat a little bit that they killed that series but ultimately paled in comparison to it, ending with one less entry and a lower total box office for the series as a whole. People still bug Lionsgate/James Wan/Leigh Whannell/anyone else who might care (even me, on occasion) about when a new Saw film will happen, but I doubt we'll see that much interest in another go-around with this increasingly forgettable series (I thought this last one was the weakest of the lot, for the record - and that's pretty damning considering how bad PA4 was).
But at least Paranormal Activity movies don't cost a lot - Lionsgate spent 90 million dollars (at least) on The Last Witch Hunter, under the assumption that enough people would want to watch Vin Diesel fight witches and other monsters time and time again, but no! It made a total of $108m worldwide, a quarter of that coming from North America, ultimately ranking as Vin's 2nd lowest grossing action movie ever ("topped" only by Babylon AD - and Vin pleaded his fans NOT to see that one after the studio recut it), which has to sting since it came only a few months after Furious 7 broke all kinds of records. The Riddick movies do OK, but it increasingly seems like the masses don't want to see Diesel in any role except that of Dom Toretto - let's see if his XXX sequel can fare any better. To be fair, Witch Hunter wasn't an awful movie, but it wasn't a very engaging one either, and the world building was too generic to warrant any further interest even if it WAS a hit. However, once it hits Blu-ray please check it out, if only for the scenes where a master like Michael Caine has to drop gobbledygook exposition in a scene with a guy who we only refer to as an actor for lack of a more appropriate term. It's like watching Michael Jordan play Nerf basketball with a toddler.
In fact, the only hit throughout October was Goosebumps, a family friendly horror comedy that earned a respectable $79m, good enough to be Jack Black's first live-action hit since Tropic Thunder. With a budget nearing $60m I'm sure Sony was hoping for better numbers, but given that the Goosebumps brand had its heyday almost 20 years ago, I think it's safe to call it a win, especially once home formats are added to their coffers - it'll be a staple for younger kids on Halloween, I'm sure. Alas, I never got a chance to see it myself, as October was always tough for me to juggle even before I had a kid - when I finally had a free day to go to a movie near the end of the month I had to choose between this or Witch Hunter, and I went with Vin (OK, technically I went with Rose Leslie). Once it's out on Blu-ray I'll know if I made the right call or not, but either way it's definitely more likely that Goosebumps 2 will see the light of day before The Chronicles of Whatever Vin's Witch Hunter's Character Name Was.
November was even more dire, with Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse pulling in a miserable $3.7m on a $15m budget, horrible numbers even when you factor in the much publicized decision by Paramount to send the film to VOD a few weeks after its theatrical release. They did the same thing with Ghost Dimension, but with that film being part of a big series and also in 3D, I don't think it made much of a difference - people either wanted to see it, or they didn't. With this, an original boasting almost no stars and a confused approach that tried to blend American Pie-esque raunchiness with 15 year old characters (ew), it makes sense that anyone who wanted to check it out probably opted to wait for VOD, though those numbers are not available to me. It's a shame the filmmakers opted to ruin the film with Porky's level gags, though - if you remove all that crap from it, you end up with a fairly charming little zom-com about sticking by your friends (and, of course, the importance of being prepared). It's a mess, but as long as you don't mind your 12 year old seeing nudity, it will make for a solid Halloween-time option if they're too old for Goosebumps but still too young for The Exorcist.
The biggest dud of all was Victor Frankenstein, a movie Fox must not have had any faith in whatsoever as they dumped it on Thanksgiving weekend against Hunger Games, Creed, and Good Dinosaur. That, along with the fact that it looked fucking awful, resulted in the film setting a record for the lowest grossing opening weekend by a film playing on 2500+ screens, and by its 6th day in theaters it was only selling about 9 tickets per theater - and that's ALL DAY, not per showing. As always, overseas audiences were a bit more forgiving, but not enough to even match its production budget, let alone exceed it enough to be considered a hit. The film's writer sent out a few cryptic tweets suggesting he wasn't happy with the film's final outcome (something like "A movie isn't always representative of the screenplay, and by the way here's my original draft"), which along with the summer's notorious Josh Trank tweet about Fantastic Four makes you wonder what the hell is going on at Fox. But honestly I don't know if anything could have gotten me interested in a Sherlock Holmes (Ritchie/Downey-style) type take on the Frankenstein story, or less confused as to why it was called Victor Frankenstein when the hook (such as it is) was that it was told from Igor's point of view. When insomnia strikes and I happen to catch it at 2 am on FX, maybe I'll find out.
November also had something called The Hallow, but I have no idea what it is. It made 9,000 dollars, though, so at least 900 or so people do (I looked it up after, and it actually sounds good - Irish horror!). On that note, it's possible there are other miniscule releases like this that I missed - I unfortunately moved up to an area where there are no real indie theaters, so if it's not playing at the multiplex or if I haven't heard about it through other means (i.e. good reviews/festival buzz, like Goodnight Mommy), I likely won't know about it. And even if I do catch wind, the odds aren't good I'll be able to see it, though at least in The Hallow's case I'll keep an eye out on Netflix. This wasn't the case pre-move/pre-baby as I'd always make it a point to check what was playing at the Laemmle, Landmark, and other independent theaters that were a 10-15 minute drive for me on a day where I had little else to do, but now? The AMC is 5 minutes away and I couldn't even make time for Goosebumps!
Usually anything released in December is accompanied by bad news, but thankfully, Universal's dedication to offbeat genre fare paid off for once. Dumped in early December (the slowest weekend of the year, traditionally) without any advertising, Mike Dougherty's Krampus managed to score a solid opening weekend and hang on throughout the month, ultimately earning $42m (and counting!), with another $20m from overseas - good enough to be the 12th highest horror comedy of all time, and that top ten is pretty much all franchise stuff like Ghostbusters, Gremlins, and Scary Movies (and Goosebumps, heh). I really liked this one, as it applied the mean-spirited but fun tone of Gremlins to the Christmas Vacation family dynamic, and offering a variety of (mostly practical!) creatures that scratched just about every itch I have for a holiday horror movie (of which I'm a huge fan, if you recall last month's Crypt selections). I even went to see it a second time (on Christmas Eve!) because the first time around was a press screening and I wanted to show my support, but by then it had already beaten the odds - and hopefully gave Dougherty enough clout to ensure that Trick 'r Treat 2 actually gets a real release, unlike the first one.
Overall, 2015 was a solid, if not particularly exciting, year for horror. Most of the movies were released by Blumhouse, so while there were only a few sequels (also all Blumhouse except for Woman in Black 2) and only one remake (Poltergeist, unless you count Victor Frankenstein) they still all felt kind of samey: lots of PG-13 supernatural jump scare fests. We had the It Follows breakout and some solid stuff from proven filmmakers (Crimson Peak, The Visit, Krampus), but in a few years when I think about the year as a whole, I'll probably keep thinking about the likes of Unfriended and Last Witch Hunter - timekiller movies. I'd almost rather hate a movie (closest to that all year was probably The Gallows) than see one that I might as well be watching on an airplane for all of the engagement I got out of it, and I thank the heavens (or, I guess, Universal) for the likes of Crimson Peak and Krampus to assure me that I'm not just getting too old for this shit. Sure, I probably shouldn't expect anything substantial from Paranormal Activity 6, but when you see a bunch of movies that leave you indifferent, it's impossible not to wonder if perhaps I should accept that I'm no longer the target audience for big-screen horror fare, and stick to older stuff. Those occasional exceptions keep me hopeful, and with 2016 promising a glut of genre fare that I'm excited to see (The Witch, Before I Wake, The Conjuring 2) and twice as many options that I'm totally in the dark about (like a Kate Beckinsale (yay!) movie called The Disappointments Room, and what I'm sure are a half dozen Blumhouse movies), I will, if nothing else, have plenty to write about in the months ahead. Then again, The Forest hasn't exactly started the year off on the right foot...