There are ten theatrical releases discussed in the following article, and out of that collection, there is only one sequel and one adaptation. The other eight are original (and the sequel barely counts as one, for the record), which is an impressive number when we're talking about horror. Sequels and remakes are kind of the bread and butter of this genre, and except for October this is the time of the year when we get the most number of options - it's almost kind of shocking to see so much originality. Ironically, there WAS supposed to be a big sequel in the mix - Dimension's newest Amityville entry - but they opted to delay it until January of next year, claiming that that's a better time than April (the original slot) to put out a horror movie. Of course, to horror fans, the first horror movie of the year (which this will be, in 2017) is usually disappointing, so that move is hardly a promising one.
Needless to say, 2016's first big horror movie was disappointing. The Forest had some good pedigree (Nick Antosca was one of its screenwriters, and no one could possibly deny the appeal of a movie that allowed Natalie Dormer to play two characters), but it was, at best, an "OK" movie that I struggled to remember much about a few days later. Between its reliance on cheap jump scares (several of which involved old people just walking around) and the laughably rushed opening sequence, the deck was stacked against it long before Dormer even entered the title location. Some of that later stuff worked fine, and she had good chemistry with co-star Taylor Kinney (who acts suspicious at times for no real reason), but it fell far short of reaching "must-see" (or even "must-rent") status. Audiences seemed to agree; it had a decent opening (though smaller than most previous January horror "starters") but short legs, ending up with $26m and change domestically. With a mere $10m budget, I'm sure that's enough to put it in the black once video and foreign numbers get added in, but likely not enough for a return trip to the woods.
Especially when you compare it to the box office run of The Boy, which also had a $10m budget (and a PG-13 rating, and even the same composer - Bear McCreary) and opened two weeks later. Despite opening slightly smaller ($10m vs. Forest's $12m) it ended up outgrossing the other film by quite a bit, ending up with just under $36m domestically (its foreign grosses are "N/A" on Box Office Mojo for whatever reason), which is a damn good number for a movie that barely opened to double digits. Horror films fall off quicker than any other genre, so a movie that only opens to $10m might even struggle to get to $25m. In fact, of all the supernatural horror films (the ones on BOM's chart for such films, anyway) that opened between $9-12m in the past 35 years, only two have outgrossed The Boy - Poltergeist II and Final Destination. Two things aided this surprising reaction: one is that the movie was actually pretty damn good, milking the "is the doll alive or not?" premise for as much as it could without giving its secrets away too soon, and the other is that it had a bit of a twist to its 3rd act that was sprung on the audience with enough time to pay it off, instead of ending it a few seconds later. So the audience not only left satisfied for the most part (some thought it was a bad reveal - I obviously do not agree), but had a reason to recommend it to others and/or go back and watch it again to see if the filmmakers ever cheated (they didn't). As of this writing it remains the 2nd highest grossing horror film of the year (topped by a movie that's really more sci-fi, but I don't feel like arguing), and deservedly so - the Blu is coming soon, so if you missed out I would correct that soon.
The next wide release was a dud by any measure. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has been in development for ages, with directors like Neil Marshall and stars like Natalie Portman attached at one point or another (Marshall's involvement dates back to 2010, in fact), and seems to have been made out of stubbornness more than anyone's strong desire to see Jane Austen's novel told once again on the big screen but with the added "allure" of PG-13 zombies. Like the recent Huntsman, it's the sort of movie where I can't help but wonder why the studio doesn't just ask ticket buyers if they'd actually want to see the damn thing before spending lots of time and money on something that seemingly has no audience. Admittedly, it wasn't even that bad of a movie, but I can't say my life would be much different if it never existed. Its $5m opening was embarrassing (the lowest ever for a zombie movie on more than 2,000 screens) and it now has the record for the 4th biggest theater drop in history (in fact it was 3rd until Hardcore Henry edged it down a bit). But hey, they finally got it made! Good on you, Screen Gems!
Making PPZ's performance look even more embarrassing a couple weeks later was the release of The Witch, a movie with no stars (PPZ had Cinderella, Doctor Who, and TWO Lannisters: Cersei and Tywin), an R rating, and a tough premise to sell given that the movie had very little on-screen violence or traditional scare moments. Oh, and it was in an Old English dialect that was occasionally hard to decipher. Sure, curiosity probably fueled the opening weekend, but like The Boy it didn't sink as fast as other horror films, ultimately topping $25m (after an $8m opening), just a few hundred grand shy of becoming A24's top grossing movie ever (the Oscar-winning Ex Machina currently holds that slot). It's definitely a polarizing horror film (Ryan Turek asked an audience at this past weekend's Monsterpalooza about it and many whined that it wasn't even a horror movie at all!), but luckily enough folks enjoyed it for what it was and convinced others to check it out. This was a movie that I was almost certain would be a VOD release (with, perhaps, a tiny theatrical release on the same day), so to see it perform so well made me very happy as a champion of the theatrical experience. Those little slivers of hope are fewer and further between these days, but that just makes them all the more impressive when they occur; the audience IS there - they just need a good reason to show up.
Alas, Fox didn't have much faith in them doing that for The Other Side of the Door, a Pet Sematary-esque supernatural thriller that they opted to give the same release platform that they did for The Pyramid in 2014. And by that I mean they didn't really advertise it and opened it on several hundred screens - enough to qualify as a wide release, but not big enough that you could count on your favorite theater having it (if you knew to look for it in the first place). For what it's worth, it proved to be a slightly more successful gambit than Pyramid; despite playing on few screens it actually made a little bit more than that one did, so that's nice. And it's actually a pretty decent movie in that "back from the dead" sub-genre, aided by some terrific production value (it was shot in India, not a common location for horror productions) and solid performances from Sarah Wayne Callies and Jeremy Sisto. I couldn't tell you one thing about The Pyramid (which was also produced by Alex Aja) a few weeks after seeing it, but there are a few moments in Other Side that I recall vividly, and I wouldn't be opposed to watching it again someday (there's a quote for the DVD!). It's a shame Fox didn't have more faith in it, though I doubt it would have become a big hit had they put it on the usual 2,000 screens - it was pretty good, but in the wake of The Witch and The Boy, it lacked that je ne sais quoi that would get people really curious and still filling theaters a week or two after it opened.
Curiosity, of course, was the big factor driving 10 Cloverfield Lane's huge opening weekend - the fact that it was good kept it from sinking like a stone after. In fact it actually came in a lot under the first Cloverfield's opening take, but ended up coming within spitting distance of the same total gross - not bad for a movie about three people trapped in a bunker, compared to a giant monster destroying New York City. As I mentioned I don't think it really qualifies as horror (certainly when stacked against things like The Witch and even The Forest), but I'm not opposed to it being counted as one. I'm far more concerned with the idea that they felt an original (and inexpensive) idea needed to be rehaped to be part of a franchise in order for people to see it - the retitling essentially gave away the film's ending, as they wouldn't dare end it on the idea that John Goodman was just crazy and there were no giant aliens outside after going through the trouble of more or less calling it "Cloverfield 2". I liked the movie a lot, but it was an odd way to watch the film, waiting for the inevitable moment where a monster would show up, instead of focusing on the intended point of whether or not there were any out there in the first place. But I'm smart enough to know that if it was called "The Bunker" or something it certainly wouldn't have grossed almost as much as most of these other movies combined, so good for them, I guess. To me, the success of The Witch or The Boy is far more impressive - they didn't have name-brands to increase their appeal.
Naturally, there were a handful of limited releases that were sprinkled throughout the past four months, and as is increasingly often the case, their box office takes were neither impressive nor really indicative of their appeal, as they all were released alongside VOD avenues that were probably far more enticing to audiences. I like to think of myself as a champion of the theatrical experience, but even I never found the time to see any of these theatrically, as they all played in less appealing theaters. Plus part of why I prefer theaters is the experience of seeing the film with a big crowd, something none of these films were likely to have anyway. Indeed, the one limited release I DID manage to see during this period was Summer Camp, and I had the theater to myself (one other audience member joined in during the last trailer, but left after about ten minutes). Its grosses weren't reported, but I can't imagine they were very high, nor did the film deserve any such success - it was a rather bland and repetitive "infected" flick that saved its best moments for the last few minutes. I was scared off of Jeruzalem by Devin's review, though its $11,000 take on a single screen is actually pretty good - 3x as much as The Channel, another one-screen release that I never even heard of until I found it while researching for this very article. Were you one of the 300 or so people who saw it?
The others fared better; the well-received anthology Southbound scared up $23k, more than the V/H/S sequels or the ABCs of Death films earned during their theatrical runs, and Drafthouse's own The Invitation has earned $180k and counting - ranking 7th on the list of DH's 35 releases so far. And the cult thriller Regression earned $55k, though that's a pretty pitiful take when you consider it played on 100 screens (compared to Invitation's 29) and had Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson (not to mention some "From the director of The Others" cachet from Alejandro Amenabar). There was a time when I would have certainly seen all of these theatrically, but once I had my baby all of these smaller releases became harder and harder to find the time for (I was actually planning on seeing Regression one night, but I literally forgot to go thanks to my "baby brain"). Travel time plays a big part of my moviegoing decisions now - if I have to drive into Hollywood (as I would have for nearly all of these limited releases) that's adding at least an hour, possibly closer to two hours, to the total time I am away from home/my baby on the weekend, and that is the only time I really get to spend with him due to my day job (which is often really a "night" job). So do I spend two hours going to the multiplex next door to enjoy Deadpool or something, or three or four hours to fight traffic and sit with five other people in an overpriced Hollywood theater to see something I could watch at home? I fought the good fight for years - in 2013 I even drove 60 miles away to see Haunting in Connecticut 2 in theaters (seriously), but with the baby I can't do that sort of thing anymore. In fact the only reason I am able to see the bigger releases is because the theaters often show them early enough on opening day that I can see them before I go to work.
All of that is just my long-winded way of saying that I will eventually have to embrace the VOD model (I'm still pretty opposed to it; I've used it exactly twice in my life), because the more interesting horror films are probably going to end up there anyway. Sure, there will always be things like The Boy and even the oddball like The Witch that I get to see on my preferred big screen, but even though I haven't seen The Invitation yet I can still guarantee I'll enjoy it - or at least THINK about it - more than The Forest. Luckily, the multiplexes will have a (rather surprising) number of promising genre films during the summer months, from a pair of James Wan entries (Conjuring 2 and Lights Out) to Jaume Collet-Serra's long-awaited return to non-Liam Neeson films with The Shallows (plus the new Purge film, which looks to be the most interesting one yet). I mean, last summer had things like the Poltergeist remake and the stupid found footage movie The Gallows, movies that had zero appeal from the start (and lived up to expectations!), so the fact that I'm genuinely hopeful for just about every genre flick that Hollywood is offering from May-August is somewhat unusual. Sure, I'm sure something will disappoint (Lights Out is only PRODUCED by James Wan, after all), but at least I'll be able to take comfort in knowing that I can be back home five minutes after the credits roll - it'll give me time to poke around in those labyrinthine VOD menus and see what I've been missing.