Collins’ Crypt: 2018 Drawn & Quartered Part 1

The keys to horror success: Lin Shaye and shutting the f*ck up

Thanks to the unbelievable success of IT (I'm still sort of bewildered when I see it perched so high on all those box office charts) and Get Out's best picture nomination (where it lost to the horror-adjacent Shape of Water), horror movies aren't exactly having a rough time of it lately, and that increased appeal has continued into 2018, with two huge horror hits and a couple of solidly performing ones more than making up for the occasional misfire. I don't think we'll see another hit like IT again (at least, besides IT: Chapter 2), but if we can keep having these low budget originals from the likes of Blumhouse and Platinum Dunes scaring up big grosses, I doubt anyone will be writing another of those ridiculous "Is Horror Dead?" articles for a long time.

As always, Hollywood's year began with a horror film. The newest entry in the Insidious series, The Last Key, opened to a huge $29m on its way to a $67m domestic gross, with overseas ticket sales adding another $100m, making it the highest grossing of the series worldwide. But it didn't need the foreign dollars to look good - its domestic performance was an improvement over the last entry, which was released in the summer (curiously, while most horror franchises tend to stick to familiar months, each Insidious has come out at a different time of the year), though the reviews were not as kind; it's the lowest rated of the four on Rotten Tomatoes. I personally thought it was a bit better than the 3rd one, but I think we can all agree how awesome it is that the series has gone the prequel route for no other reason than to put Lin Shaye front and center for these last two installments (since her character died in the first film, limiting her role for the 2nd entry). The ending of this one seems to lead directly into the first film's events, so there's not much room for any further prequel-ing, but since it's a series about ghosts I'm guessing Shaye will still be given a sizable role should they move the timeline for Insidious 5 into the present day. With nearly $170m of tickets sold on a $10m budget, I'm sure there are people trying to figure that out as we speak, and I would expect to see another trip to The Further in 2019.

We likely won't return to the Winchester Mystery House any time soon, however. While its sub-$5m budget likely put it into profit, $25m is below par for this sort of thing (and doesn't even appear to have gotten an overseas release), and there's not exactly a lot of love for it either - its RT score is lower than that of most Saw sequels, suggesting critics would rather see Helen Mirren chop off her foot than go through the motions of another haunted house film. Even if it didn't come out a few weeks after Insidious 4, it would be hard to ignore the obvious attempts to piggyback on those films' success (they even got Angus "Tucker" Sampson in a bit part), but where the Insidious movies tend to pack in a few surprises, this was as by the numbers as you can imagine. Worse, it had a confused message: the ghosts are people who were killed by Winchester guns, setting up an anti-gun agenda - but the only way to stop them in the end was to shoot them. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, "Guns: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems!"

But at least Lionsgate gave Winchester a shot. Paramount couldn't be bothered to even try to turn Annihilation into a hit, dumping it with minimal advertising and seemingly spending more time promoting its unusual deal with Netflix, where the film would bypass theaters in other countries and debut on the service about two weeks later. This not only confused some people who thought it would be coming to US Netflix in that same timeframe (and thus skipped its theatrical run figuring they wouldn't have to wait long - it's actually still not on there), but also unfairly had people thinking it wasn't good enough to play theatrically. You know, like their recent, largely crappy Cloverfield Paradox. If anything it's amazing the film managed to scrape together $32m (against a $40m budget, a bargain for sci-fi), doing so primarily on word of mouth (because, you know, it was great) after an anemic $11m opening weekend. Granted, it was never going to be a giant hit due to its cold characters and trippy storyline (shades of 2001, which similarly didn't exactly break box office records when it was released, earning most of its money via revivals), but Paramount presenting it as damaged goods was wholly unfair to Alex Garland and his terrific cast.

On the opposite end of that spectrum, new distributor Aviron pulled out all the stops for The Strangers: Prey At Night's promotion, which kicked in during the holiday season. They sent masks, tree ornaments, dreidels, and other swag to journalists, erected a free haunt attraction in the middle of Hollywood, and had billboards/posters up everywhere, determined to make the film (their second release ever after Halle Berry's enjoyable B-movie Kidnap) the same kind of hit the original was. Well, it didn't quite hit that film's level of box office, but $24m is a decent amount for a sequel that was probably about eight years too late (and, for what it's worth, $24m is slightly above the average box office take for a slasher film), and it was a pretty good time at the movies, thanks to some well-crafted jump scares and an '80s heavy soundtrack that more than made up for the Carpenter-y score (filmmakers - please stop doing this, especially when the real Carpenter is still out there making original music). That marketing budget was seemingly fairly high though, so perhaps it still lost money - guess we will find out if they make a Strangers 3, hopefully sooner than 2028.

Whenever someone doesn't want to admit their horror movie is a horror movie, they say "it's more of a psychological thriller", so it's kind of funny that Steven Soderbergh's actual psychological thriller, Unsane, faltered by dipping into dumb horror movie stuff far too often for my tastes. There was a lot to like in the film - Claire Foy's performance, the takedown of beardos who try to force women to love them, etc. - but the central twist was ludicrous even by horror movie standards, undercutting a lot of the film's more interesting elements. I also have little love for the "filmed on an iPhone" approach; to me it never looked like anything but someone's Youtube video, except I'm not paying 15 bucks to see those nor are they directed by Oscar-winning filmmakers. Guess I just expected more, is all. As for the rest of the world, I guess they didn't care to find out - it opened in 11th place in the US, ultimately grossing less than $8m, with international box office not making much of a difference (another $4m). To be fair, it cost less than $2m to make, so as with Strangers and Winchester, I guess it depends on how much they spent on marketing to determine its profitability. 

There's no way in hell Paramount lost money on A Quiet Place, however. At a budget of only $17m, the film opened to a gigantic $50m and just kept on selling tickets, unlike most horror films which tend to open big and then fall fast. Hell, it even went BACK to #1 at the box office on its third weekend (interrupted by Rampage on week #2), which is unheard of for most films, let alone a genre one. Even with Avengers stomping everything in sight, the film has held on, and is now up to $148m in the US with another $87m internationally. When it finishes its run it'll rank in the top ten all time supernatural horror grossers at the box office (yes, that's factored for inflation), joining the likes of Exorcist, The Ring, and Blair Witch Project in the record books. I don't know what we did to deserve three record breaking horror films in the past year or so (It and Get Out being the others), but I'll happily take it.

A week later, Truth or Dare took the genre-coveted Friday the 13th release date and chalked up another win for Blumhouse, grossing five times its $3.5m production budget on its first weekend and is currently up to around $35m. While not as big a hit (or as good) as last fall's Happy Death Day (which also benefited from a prized Friday the 13th date - and in October to boot), it proved their formula is still a dependable one. And it's a decent movie as long as you remember its target audience is teenagers (specifically: girls having sleepovers and presumably playing the titular game beforehand), with some Final Destination-y plotting and an admirably gonzo final scene. It's up to nearly $50m worldwide; I doubt it'll go much higher now that the summer season is kicking off and Quiet Place is still vying for the same audience.

As always, there were twice as many genre films on the limited release circuit, though with most of them hitting theaters alongside a VOD counterpart it's barely worth noting them at all. But there were a couple of highlights, such as The Endless grossing $131k and counting on only 20 screens, which is already more than double the take of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's previous film, Spring, suggesting that audiences are warming to their off-kilter approach to genre fare (I've been a fan since Resolution, so nyeah!). The "Expendables of Horror" flick Death House, featuring tons of modern genre icons like Tony Todd and Barbara Crampton, scared up $13k from a single screen, and while I have no idea what Deliver Us From Evil is, I do know that it has the highest gross of all the limited films, with $273k. There's a chance that might be topped, however, by IFC Midnight's Ghost Stories, which is already up to around $45k on 12 screens and is set to expand throughout May, even though it's already on VOD. On the other end of that race, we have poor Marrowbone, which despite having Anya Taylor-Joy as its star only managed $1,200 on 7 screens - the lowest grossing feature film of the year so far, alas. 

Of course, now that the summer blockbuster season has started that means horror films will be fewer and further between, but there are still a few to look forward to over the next four months until the fall season kicks things back into high gear. Hereditary will be here on June 8th to scare the shit out of all of us, and the new Purge film will be arriving on the 4th of July weekend that served the last one so well and will likely break some records (each film has outgrossed the last, and this being the first to be released since the 2016 election... well, you do the math). And at the end of August, I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer's Sylvain White returns to the horror genre with the long awaited Slender Man movie. Oh, and The Meg will be taking this summer's killer shark movie slot, and with a reported $150m budget better be as entertaining as its "Jason Statham vs. Giant Shark" pitch suggests if it wants to have a shot at turning a profit - unlike most of the above, I suspect this one will need overseas money to save face. But who knows? I never would have guessed Insidious 4 would outgross the original or that Platinum Dunes would be resurrected by Jim from The Office, either. This wacky genre!