After initial loud buzz way back at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival where its screening triggered a bidding war, horror flick "You're Next" is finally about to invade theaters nationwide. The tale of a band of masked intruders who violently disrupt a family get together, it's a kicky treat that we finally got a chance to watch at SXSW this year (you can read our review here). While it seems like it could be a late summer hit, if recent horror hits have proven anything, it's that it's nearly impossible to preemptively diagnose what genre fare is going to make a very respectable amount of money at the box-office.
We decided to use this opportunity to discuss five of the biggest recent horror hits, and along for the ride we've included commentary from producer Jason Blum, who has shepherded the "Paranormal Activity" franchise to unstoppable financial success and has "Insidious: Chapter 2" opening next month. If anybody can talk horror, it's him.
For those of you who need more background, Blum runs Blumhouse Productions, a production company that we had him describe for us. "All our movies are under $5 million and we design them for a wide release," Blum said. "We don't always get a wide release but the idea is that we go in with the director and everyone shooting for a wide release." Some of the bigger movies in the Blumhouse canon include "Sinister," "Insidious," and this summer's "The Purge" (more on that in just a minute), while his smaller stuff includes last year's underrated Barry Levinson found-footage shocker "The Bay" and Rob Zombie's surreal "Lords of Salem." While the formula for making Blumhouse movies is rigid, the variety of movies that the company has produced has been diverse, proving that if you're not risking a whole lot of money, then the projects themselves can be even more adventurous.
Budget: $3 million
Gross: $83 million (worldwide)
What's It About: "The Purge" is set in a vaguely futuristic society where crime has been eradicated and everyone lives in peaceful harmony. How is social order maintained? By allowing for one night, dubbed The Purge, wherein anything (including murder) is legal. An upper crust family (led by art house heartthrob Ethan Hawke and queen regent Lena Headey), are trapped in their homes during The Purge, menaced by a group of masked yuppies who are looking for a man that Hawke's family allowed into their home for protection. The masked psychopaths make a simple request: hand over the man, or they will break into the house and murder everyone inside.
Why Did It Succeed? "The Purge" has that intriguingly hooky what-if conceit that you can actually see yourself being a part of. What would you do if the rules of law were suspended for a single evening? How would you handle things? It clearly resonated, at least for its huge opening weekend. "We were just as surprised as everybody else," Blum admitted. "We were surprised and thrilled at the outcome." Another fun, engaging aspect of watching "The Purge" was trying to figure out where the series could go, should it continue as a franchise, since the universe that is created in the first film is so rich and full of possibility. Well, a sequel is well underway, although Blum says that they haven't locked down a storyline just yet. "We're thinking about a bunch of different ideas," he said. Blum also noted that the studio doesn't talk about sequels until after the movie has opened and they can properly gauge the response. "We don't make that a part of the conversation, at least as part of the original movie," Blum said. "On higher budget things it's irresponsible to not think about a franchise. If you're spending $150 million, you have to make that part of the development. But if you're spending $3 million, you don't have to." It will be interesting to see if success of "The Purge" takes away from or amplifies this weekend's "You're Next," which has a similar home invasion conceit but without all the nifty, pseudo science-fiction stuff.
"V/H/S" and "V/H/S/2"
Budget: Less than a million each
Gross: Studios tend to keep the VOD grosses of certain titles to themselves, but a rep from Magnolia told us that both films were "strong performers" and word is that they were hugely profitable.
What's It About: "V/H/S," released last year, and "V/H/S/2," which premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival before getting a summer release on VOD and in theaters, are horror anthology films along the lines of "Creepshow" that follow the same format: a bunch of mysterious VHS tapes are discovered and then played. We see those tapes, which are always some variation on the found-footage genre. The first film was fun but grew tiresome and misogynistic, punctuated by moments of brilliance, while the second film offered more variety (and the same problems with unevenness).
Why Did It Succeed? These movies, despite their interest in newfangled technology, are classic throwbacks to those horror anthologies that aren't made anymore. The last big-budget studio horror anthology that was attempted was "Trick R Treat," which was co-financed by Legendary and Warner Bros. and produced by Bryan Singer, but everyone was so nervous about its commercial prospects that it ended up being dumped directly to video. The "V/H/S" movie bypassed that hand wringing by having the projects delivered straight to home formats before their brief theatrical releases. "You're talking about an entirely different business model," Blum said, breaking down the differences between the kind of wide theatrical release "The Purge" got and something more along the lines of the "V/H/S" model (his films "The Bay" and "Lords of Salem" were released in a similar fashion). "Neither one is better than the other and on a percentage basis both can be profitable. On an overall basis, one is more profitable than the other. But there are a certain group of movies that are wide release where the marketing budget is multiple times the actual budget, and then there are the 'V/H/S' movies, where it's largely driven by word of mouth, which is even more impressive."