Los Angeles: This year’s crop of gorefilled horror films may send a shiver down the spines of Hollywood executives. And not because of the on-screen terror. The studios are taking in less on each film as they release a record 39 horror and thriller movies in the US this year, according to industry tracker Media By Numbers LLC. Sequels such as Hostel: Part II aren’t matching the appeal of the originals.
Hollywood has saturated the market since the success of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.’s original Saw in 2004, putting at risk one of its best money makers. With the glut of torture and mutilation films, executives say they need to find new ways to appeal to teens and young adults who crave thrills.
“We may have to kind of go to a different type of horror movie,” Peter Block, head of acquisitions at Lions Gate, said from his office in Santa Monica, California. “Maybe you don’t call them horror. Maybe you go to more thrillers.”
Horror films and thrillers are averaging $24.6 million (Rs99.38 crore) in ticket sales this year, down 25% from 2006, according to Encino, California-based Media By Numbers. Sales peaked in 2004, when 19 films took in $1.01 billion, or an average of $53 million. In 2000, just seven were made.
For all films, US box-office sales have increased 3.1% to $4.96 billion so far this year, while attendance has fallen less than 1%, according to Media By Numbers.
Lions Gate, based in North Vancouver, British Columbia, has profited as much as any studio from the public’s appetite for carnage and has much to lose amid the glut. The first Saw, in which a twisted killer forces his victims to murder themselves or others, cost $1.2 million and took in $103 million, according to Box Office Mojo LLC.
In all, three Saw movies have brought in $415.7 million worldwide in ticket sales and cost $15.2 million to make, Burbank, California-based Box Office Mojo said. Saw IV splashes into theatres in October. The success of Saw has triggered sequels and imitators, including Lions Gate’s Hostel movies, as well as Turistas and remakes of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, all from News Corp.’s Fox Studios.
The bodies will keep piling up. Captivity, from Lions Gate and After Dark Films, opened on Saturday. Halloween, a remake of the 1978 slasher classic, will be released by Los Angeles-based Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. and Weinstein Co. on 31 August.
This summer’s best bets in horror so far include two that run against the trend, relying more on suspense than dismemberment. Disturbia, from Viacom Inc.’s DreamWorks SKG, features a teen voyeur who becomes convinced his neighbour is a killer, similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller Rear Window starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly.
The film cost $20 million and has had worldwide sales of $88.4 million. MGM and New York-based Weinstein Co.’s 1408, based on a Stephen King short story, is another that relies on tension and surprise for scares. The film, made for about $25 million, has taken in $54.8 million worldwide. “It’s suspense, along the lines of Poltergeist and The Shining,” studio co-founder Bob Weinstein said in an interview. “That has an audience as well, a bigger audience.”
Many of this year’s films may make money or at least break-even because production costs are low and horror does well in the home-video market, said David Bank, an entertainment analyst at RBC Capital Markets in New York.
Hostel: Part II, he said, will likely break-even. The film was made for $10.2 million and has had sales of $28.2 million. The 2006 original, by contrast, cost $4.8 million and took in $80.6 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Bug, also from Lions Gate, probably won’t, he said. The film, made for an undisclosed sum by The Exorcist director William Friedkin, has taken in $7.5 million in worldwide sales.
Lions Gate’s shares have fallen 2.2% since Hostel: Part II opened on 8 June. That extended a decline that began on 1 June after the company said fourth quarter profit fell 35%. The stock had gained 24% in the preceding 12 months.
Brad Miska, North Hollywood, California-based editor of the Bloody-Disgusting.com horror-movie website, says ticket sales will improve when the movies get better. “To say horror is dead really isn’t true,” Miska said. “It’s just right now we’re waiting on some better product.”
Lions Gate hasn’t decided whether there will be a third Hostel film, vice-chairman Michael Burns said. The company expects Saw IV to do well, in part because each of the sequels has earned more in worldwide sales than the predecessor, he said. Burns said he expects other studios to make fewer horror films in response to poorer sales.
“Are we very conscious of the number of horror films that have been produced recently? Absolutely,” Burns said. “Do we have too many of them in our stable? Absolutely not.”
Weinstein isn’t choosing one brand of horror over another. Two other King adaptations under development, The Mist and Cell, have the potential for on-screen bloodletting.
The Mist, scheduled for November, is about a fog-bound village besieged by violent, otherworldly creatures. In Cell, planned for 2008, people are turned into zombies by a pulse transmitted over mobile-phone networks.