Horror films hit dead zone at summer box office

LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - This summer has been a dead zone for horror movies.
"Fright Night," DreamWorks' remake of a 1985 comedy/horror cult hit, has done a shabby $14 million since it was released August 19.
"Final Destination 5," New Line's most recent installment to its decade-old franchise, has not come close to matching the huge performance of 2009's fourth movie, grossing just $66.4 million worldwide after three weekends of release.
"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," FilmDistrict's remake of a 1973 TV movie, written by Guillermo del Toro, was a dud, opening to just $8.52 million over the weekend.
What's behind the rotten box office? Analysts say a lack of originality, bad timing and poor budgeting are the source of horror-ific numbers.
"It was a rough summer," Jeffrey Reddick, who wrote the original "Final Destination," told TheWrap. "People are wanting something new and original, and I think if you look at the films that have come out -- strong as they were -- they were remakes and sequels."
"Final Destination 5" was the latest in a seemingly endless series of stories about young people stalked by death. "Fright Night" and "Don't Be Afraid" were reboots of films first made 26 and 38 years ago, respectively.
"For the younger horror audience, there's been a lot of studio comic book movies and action movies," said Bob Berney, FilmDistrict's president of theatrical distribution. "It could be just be ... that these films didn't grab people."
Meanwhile, well-known stars -- like Colin Farrell in "Fright Night" -- might actually have hurt the cause rather than helped.
Beau Flynn, who produced the Anthony Hopkins exorcism-themed film, "The Rite," said movie stars can be distractions in horror movies.
"If a movie star is going to take the audience out of the movie, let's not spend the money," he said.
"What could be scarier than what's happening to your house, and to people you know and to your neighbors?" Flynn asked.
Summer is not traditionally the time when Hollywood unlocks its horror chest, with Halloween making October a better release time for the genre.
But the genre's forays into August in recent years -- which included not only the $186.2 million global performance of "The Final Destination" in 2009, but also the breakout $67.7 million haul by Lionsgate's micro-budgeted "The Last Exorcism" in 2010 -- have moved up the timeline.
Perhaps not surprisingly audiences were looking for light-hearted fun this summer, embracing comedies like "Bridesmaids" and "Horrible Bosses," which became unexpected hits.
This is not to say the year has been bereft of horror success.
FilmDistrict's "Insidious," produced by micro-budget horror pioneer Oren Peli himself ('Paranormal Activity'), grossed $92 million on a $1.5 million production budget.
"Every time something original comes out and does really well, we kind of hope and pray the industry will say, 'There is a huge audience for something original. Let's make more originals,'" said Reddick.
He added that a sequel with a creative twist could get a better reception, such as Peli's "Paranormal Activity 3," which opens October 21.
"They've done something clever with that franchise, where each sequel is a prequel to the one before," Roddick said. "So you get the sense that the third one is the last one -- a trilogy rather than a never-ending franchise."
Flynn told TheWrap that super low-budget horror films could be where genre's future lies.
Due out Friday, for example, Weinstein/Dimension's "Apollo 18" comes with a modest negative spend of only around $5 million.
So "Fright Night," which had a budget of $30 million, "Final Destination 5," which cost $40 million and "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," which cost an estimated $28 million and starred Katie Holmes, may have been tough bets from the start.
"That doesn't mean there aren't exceptions to the rule," Flynn said. "Studios will spend the money -- they'll spend $35 million if they think it's a good piece of business."
But we're not quite done with summer horror yet. In addition to "Apollo 18," this Labor Day weekend, Relativity Media will release "Shark Night 3D," with hopes that its movie is different enough from the others to attract audiences.
Further down the release calendar come more sequels and remakes -- not only the third "Paranormal," but also Universal's remake of John Carpenter's 1981 remake of "The Thing" (October 14), as well as Weinstein/Dimension's sequel to 2010's 3D re-do of "Piranha" (November 23).
Reddick said he's looking forward to them -- even "The Thing."
"They've almost run out of things to remake," he said. "I said that two years ago, and apparently they hadn't."

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