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  • A New Wave of Horror

    November 11th, 2015

    By Danny Manus

    Halloween is over, but that doesn’t mean horror films aren’t still selling. But there has been a substantial shift in the types of horror films that are driving the market in the last two decades. There are a number of reasons for this, including oversaturation of the market in the 80s and 90s, and the new low budget mindset of horror producers. But also what scares us in our core has changed.

    When the serial killers of the 60s, 70s and 80s were at the height of their popularity, the film business exploited that and that’s why slashers did so well. But today, people aren’t scared of the crazy masked serial killer who breaks out of the mental ward – they’re scared of the mentally ill neighbor who one day forgets her meds and just snaps without warning. We like our horror to have an element of escapism and fantasy, but also be grounded enough to scare us in our souls. The reason horror films do well overseas is because fear is universal, and the things that shake us to our core or give us the shivers or nightmares is something everyone can connect with.

    While producers are looking for the next great franchise, now that Saw and Paranormal Activity are done and Insidious has completed a trilogy, launching a new slasher franchise has proved all but impossible the last decade and torture porn is a trend that met its maker. In fact there have been a number of trends that have come and gone in the last 15 years…

    Asian horror remakes certainly had its heyday (The Ring, The Grudge, Cure, Audition), Zombie films like 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead launched a horror movement still enjoyed today though usually with a more humorous slant (Pride & Prejudice with Zombies and Scout’s Guide to Zombie Apocalypse are about to be released), then it was haunted houses that made a comeback (The Haunting, House on Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts), then demons and exorcism knock-offs were all the rage (Devil Inside, The Rite, Deliver Us From Evil, The Last Exorcism, Annabelle), evil children movies tried to remind us why having kids is not always the right choice (Orphan, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Cooties, Insidious), socially conscious horror movies tried to make a splash (The Crazies), and of course there’s the found footage film trend, which is still bankable depending on the story and what you do with this style of storytelling (like in Unfriended).

    But in the last few years, it has been the more cerebral, paranormal, comedic, and even true stories that have been driving the domestic horror film market. And personally, I think we will see more horror anthology films like V/H/S in the near future as more “scary story” books from the 80s get optioned and developed.

    There have been a number of great horror films that are redefining the genre. So, I wanted to compile a quick list of 25 great horror flicks from just the last decade that you need to see if you want to compete in this market. They aren’t all blockbusters, but a few of them have ended up on my personal list of best films from their year (The Babadook, The Conjuring, Cabin in the Woods), and they all deliver upon a horrific premise, have great scares and suspense, set a great tone, and have a specific hook that makes them original. They are ELEVATING the genre, and that’s exactly what you should be trying to do if you want your horror films to stand out.

    In no particular order….

    It Follows
    Cabin in the Woods
    The Babadook
    The Descent
    Let the Right One In
    The Conjuring
    Drag Me to Hell
    Under the Skin
    Insidious (the first one)
    Evil Dead (Remake)
    Kill List
    Green Inferno
    Warm Bodies
    The Woman in Black (the first one)
    I Spit On Your Grave
    The Crazies
    The Strangers
    Human Centipede (the first one)
    The Final Girls
    Paranormal Activity (1 and 3)
    The Mist

  • Horror Film Trends & Tips

    November 1st, 2011

    It’s that time of the year again – where girls of all ages dress as whores, men of all ages dress as women, and offering candy to children on the street while asking them what they are wearing, is considered acceptable. That’s right – it’s Halloweeeeeeen! (insert spooky music here)

    And it’s around this time of year that studios anxiously wait to see how horror movies are do at the box office to see if the trend is still holding up. And this weekend’s HUGE success for Paranormal Activity 3, ensured that horror (and this franchise) is around to stay. And it’s a much needed boost for the genre, as with only a few exceptions, horror movies have not been incredibly successful this year.

    Fright Night, Scream 4*, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, The Rite, Priest, and The Thing all underperformed domestically. And there were some, like Apollo 18, Red State, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Attack the Block, Quarantine 2, and The Ward – that barely even graced the theaters despite having buzz around town.   (*To be fair, it should be pointed out that The Rite and Scream 4 made double their domestic grosses overseas, so they came out very much in the black)

    However, I think the trends for horror films this year have been pretty clear;

    “Found footage” projects – which all started with Blair Witch over 10 years ago – have made a nice resurgence lately and are a trend that will continue because they work well with micro-budget projects. The handheld camera direction style seems to connect with today’s younger demos, which makes sense because they are constantly making movies themselves and that’s how they look, so it feels more real to them.

    Supernatural is definitely one of the biggest current trends, especially Demon Possession projects! The two biggest horror hits of the year, Insidious and Paranormal 3 (not to mention The Rite and The Thing), are both possession films, and another cool looking “found footage possession project” – The Devil Inside – opens in January.

    In 2007, “evil children” projects came back in fashion. They still work, but now they have to be possessed. They can’t just be devilish little shits for the hell of it.

    Franchises are still kicking – hard – and have been for the last 10 years.  Foreign language remakes are still popular, though attention has turned from the Asian Horror remakes (The Grudge, The Ring) to Swedish Horror remakes (Let Me In).  Torture porn is pretty much out, except in already successful franchises (Centipede, Saw).

    Horror-Comedy can still work, but usually only in already established horror genre models where the straight scares have already been played out in 100 other movies – like with zombies, vampires, etc. And just in case you’re wondering, vampires and werewolves – are still out.

    There are 6 Frankenstein movies in development, so I wouldn’t waste my time writing another one, and Zombies are still pretty fuckin’ cool – but there are SO many zombie projects still in development and production that writing another one right now – unless it’s REALLY original – would probably be a waste of time.  But, did I mention that zombies are still pretty fuckin’ cool?

    Personally, I think slasher films are out at the moment. It’s hard to launch a truly new breed of slasher film as it feels like they’ve all been done before.

    And 3D isn’t cool in horror because it makes everything feel cheesy, less gritty and less scary. I know having an arm fly at you is a good jump-in-your-seat moment, but it makes the story feel less REAL. And scaring people is all about connecting with what they are truly afraid of and them seeing someone ELSE go through that on screen in a visceral, emotional way. If you have a slightly cheesy, beaten-to-death concept, like the Final Destination or Saw franchises, then perhaps going 3D is the one thing left you haven’t tried, but I wouldn’t suggest it for new original horror material.

    But the biggest overarching trend in the horror genre is that low budgets (and micro-budgets) continue to be the way to go. If you can make a good, scary, visceral, original horror movie for $1M or less, you will probably make good money back. And there are way more companies (including Paramount’s micro-budget division) that are looking for low, low budget genre movies! There is NO company that will make a $30M original horror movie – it’s not going to happen.

    If you’re making a $30M horror movie – and it’s NOT something that already has huge brand recognition (like Nightmare on Elm Street or Final Destination, etc), you’re going to lose money. Period. And there was no reason to make Final Destination 5 for $40M, except they wanted to make it in 3D and bigger than the first four.

    Paranormal Activity 3 made $55M domestic gross in its first week – and had a $5M budget (up from the original’s $15K budget). Insidious made $54M domestic gross on a $1.5M budget. This is how you make money in horror films if you’re not Wes Craven. 

    Horror films can get made at micro-budget levels because, for the most part, you don’t need big stars to make them work. You don’t even need big effects. In fact, sometimes having big stars and big effects HURTS your horror movie – because we KNOW it’s not real. Hello – we KNOW Katie Holmes isn’t really dying. Not using big stars also means that ANYONE can die. You don’t NEED Neve Campbell to live anymore for the sequel just because she’s the sellable name. Names don’t matter. So it leaves writers open to kill their main characters at the end and really shock the audience.

    And in films like Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity, The Poughkeepsie Tapes, etc – there’s that teeny, tiny bit of doubt (created by great marketing), that tells us – just maybe this IS real. I’ve never seen these people in movies before, so maybe they are just real people like me and this is real footage. THAT is why these movies do well. If Blair Witch had starred James Van Der Beek – it would have died a horrible movie death opening weekend. 

    And the horror genre continues to be a great way to break in. Attack the Block was technically a bomb, but the industry loved it so much that writer/director Joe Cornish has become a hot item around town.  Tucker & Dale vs. Evil didn’t make any money, but it will have cult classic status – as will Human Centipede, Red State, and Hobo with a Shotgun. And for new or auteur filmmakers, this is the way to build your following and get noticed!

    I saw Paranormal Activity 3 this weekend. And while it was certainly better than the cheesy second installment, the biggest problem with PA3 was that all of the really scary moments in the trailers and commercials – WERE NOT IN THE MOVIE! The Bloody Mary in the bathroom mirror scene – not there. The little girl jumping off the ledge scene – not there. It’s like they shot all this cool, scary footage just for the commercials (or the blu-ray). I HATE when movies do that, and this may be the worst example of this practice I’ve seen in a long time. That being said, there were definitely a few really good scares and “grab your date” moments.  I won’t give anything away, but the ending for me left something to be desired. But go judge for yourself.

    And as for what the next trend will be? Remains to be seen. But the best predictor of future (evil) behavior, is past (evil) behavior. Have a happy and scary Halloween! And stay away from that guy in the screenwriter costume – he’s probably just some unemployed psycho looking for ideas.

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