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Ain't It Cool News

September 13, 1999
Boy oh Boy, I love it when the Box Office tells it like it is! HORROR RULES!!!

I am not a real big fan of reporting Box Office news. I feel it places the focus of film upon financing instead of art. It lends itself to legitimizing film into a business first and foremost. And... Deep down, I hate that.

So often I hear stories from Filmmakers and Screenwriters about a new script going out... And it's something new, something different. Something not tied directly to the box office of that particular weekend. And then... for whatever reason an exec says something like, "This doesn't look like THE MATRIX to me." or "This doesn't look like THE SIXTH SENSE to me." and they honestly and truthfully can't for the life of them recognize that the reason THE MATRIX and THE SIXTH SENSE performed the way they did was that THE MATRIX wasn't SPEED and THE SIXTH SENSE wasn't DIE HARD. They succeeded because they were films that stood alone and did not apologize for being horror or science-fiction.

So, on this magical Monday, what can we learn from the fact that the top 3 films this weekend, pulling in a combined 42.5 Million Dollars were all Horror Films.

Not only that, but all 3 did not feature teenagers. All three did not contain stalkers with knives, axes, drills or saws. All three were simply good old fashioned scare ya movies.

Now in a perfect world, I would have preferred that STIR OF ECHOES had placed first this weekend, with STIGMATA third (my review is coming soon, I liked it, but not as much as the other two). But hey... I'm just happy to have such a clearcut case to make to Hollywood from this weekend.

There is a trend here that needs to be picked up upon. And the trend that needs to be followed is.... Making Serious Uncompromising Horror films. I'm not talking about movies that have 3 dozen 'false' scares, but the genuine creepy, edge of your seat, ohmygod this is soo weird, and SHIT, WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT? type of films.

Now, I know... I go on this rap every now and again, but just look at this summer real quick.

The summer started off with THE MUMMY, which pulled in a nice ripe $43.3 million opening weekend, but because it wasn't quite a great movie, it had significant drops each week of 30% to 40%, but has wrangled in a damn good $156 million or so, so far. Not counting the additional $131 million it's pulled in overseas thus far, and still counting..

Then we had LAKE PLACID, which FOR ME was more of a spoof or a farce than it was a horror film, but... BECAUSE it was advertised as a HORROR film it did earn a respectable $10 million opening weekend, but... Because the audience was given laughs when they were expecting scares, the word of mouth was confused and the film suffered the same sort of drops that THE MUMMY had, but even with a piss poor ad campaign it has pulled in over $30 million. And hasn't been released overseas thus far.

Then there is DREAMWORKS' THE HAUNTING, which had a snazzy ad campaign, good talent, and a solid opening weekend of $33.4 million dollars. However, the audience response really craved more from the characters, they wanted the scares to be for real, they loved the house, but hated the cheesy jokes and sexual innuendo. And really turned off to the cornball ending. HOWEVER, I still enjoyed the heck out of the movie... as did a lot of people... But... it could have been better. Thus the film suffered 55%-45% drops every single week, until Labor Day when it experienced a 6% increase in activity. The film has not opened overseas yet, but expect pretty dang good box office that at least edges past the domestic pull for this film. As it stands, it has made over $90 million.

Next up is DEEP BLUE SEA. A popcorn horror film that doesn't take itself too seriously. A damn good ending to their trailer with a jump scare got audiences raving about the potential 'coolness' of the film, and the movie opened with a strong $25 million. BUT... once again it was still a traditional film with all of the expected twists and turns. It was fun. A joy for the 2 hours or so you were in the theater. But... other than a pair of cool characters and lots of death... it didn't offer much. So.. once again we had the cursed 40% drops, week after week. But the audience was still tolerent enough to see the movie through a solid $74 million domestic. And... Once again.. the movie hasn't opened up overseas, which if the trailers end with that same sudden shark attack... well... the film could easily gross an additional $50 to $80 million.

Then things got interesting as hell. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT started scarying people with a promise of real scares. Not the pansy-ass forced scares of an increased soundtrack burst or a hand touching a shoulder. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT promised the audience that they would see something that they had never seen before. It began with sold out limited small venue runs which totaled up to $63,812 per screen. Then it opened wide and raked in $29 million that weekend. The demand to add more screens ensured a low drop that next week of a mere 17%. The film is up to $137 million and still going. The film promised honest scary horror. No convenient romances or last minute happy endings. It promised you sleepless nights. For some it did... However, the film can't really be duplicated... so you have to look at what people responded to. And the real key was that they were scared before they even entered the theater. The basic premise got people scared.

In the second week of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT's release a movie that folks were not expecting a whole lot from, scared the shit out of them and made them care. The fantastic ad campaign that came from Disney focused on, "I SEE DEAD PEOPLE." I am of course talking about THE SIXTH SENSE. A film that succeeded because the trailer raised hairs on your neck and told you why they were standing there. Because that kid looked scared. Because Bruce Willis looked concerned... and it wasn't being played hokey. THEN when the audience actually saw the film. And they finally saw a film that absolutely respected them for watching it. A film that leaves you still shaking from what that little kid sees and puts up with. The wonderful thing is that it isn't a happy ending. The kid isn't cured, but he can kind of handle things. Bruce isn't exactly happy either. AND it left the audience with something to talk about. It wasn't a neat little film with the bow tied perfect. It had loose ends and topics to talk about. The acting was superb. And as a result.... that second weekend saw a drop of only 3% and then that next week it was just 7%. Was that BRUCE WILLIS? NO! It was the fact that people have been walking around talking about what a great friggin movie it was. How the characters are real and not speaking in one liners but in PARAGRAPHS. That the dialogue is snappy and intelligent. The film is filled with wit and respect for the subject matter. And it isn't like ANY OF THE OTHER HORROR FILMS THAT CAME OUT BEFORE IT! By Tuesday the film will be over $200 million. It is a great horror film.

Now, this weekend we have two new entries in the Horror Extravaganza... STIR OF ECHOES and STIGMATA.

Of the two, STIR OF ECHOES will have less of a drop in it's second weekend. Because it is the stronger movie. STIGMATA is going to have at least a 40% drop, because the audience for the film was a bit put off by the MTV jerking around and camera swirls and Michael Bay blink editing. Meanwhile, some folks are actually saying that STIR OF ECHOES is better than THE SIXTH SENSE.

So... if that's true, why didn't STIR OF ECHOES have a stronger opening. One... it was on a significantly lessor number of screens. Two, the trailers for the film didn't really SCARE you. They didn't distill the premise to something simple like, "I touched a ghost... she was cold." They didn't saturate the market as heavily as they should have. But... it'll have a drop off of probably somewhere between 20% to 30%, unless they beef it up to an additional 700 theaters, and add to trailer rotation... which could pull it up to a very marginal drop-off. We'll see.

So... Let's see. These summer time horror films... All 8 of them have come in with a grand total of $836,986,392.00 for Hollywood thus far (including foreign for just ONE of the films thus far). For a grand average of $104,623,299 buckeroos.

And that leads me to the next bit of business. The next set of horror films. Ok, before the end of the year you'll be seeing SLEEPY HOLLOW and END OF DAYS perform very well. Do ya really need a shovel upside the head to see the writing in blood upon the wall. We, the audience of the world, want to be scared in the theater... not outside of it. So... Scare us.

How? Well, it's not by making sequels to all of the above films. We don't want that. We want... believe it or not... ORIGINAL scares... Not things that we knew how it went... LAST TIME, but rather... Stories with three dimensional characters, complicated plotlines and that leave us with something to talk about when the film is over. Oh yeah... and it needs to scare us. So... Do you have any scripts like that?

Now... before you start shaking your head let me interupt and say, "YES YOU DO!"

Look around for the following projects and start putting them on the fast track cause... Well.. You can see the audience is thirsty for horror films that involve adult characters and situations. So... Hmmmm... Let's see. Guillermo Del Toro has three such projects right now, HELLBOY, LIST OF SEVEN and MEPHISTO'S BRIDGE... as well as the small film THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE. All of those fit the criteria. Then there is Stuart Gordon and his fantastic project, SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH. There is Darabont and THE MIST. But... ya know... what about some unknown material? Well there are two scripts that have come across my desk that are not attached to any talent whatsoever that I'm aware of... and they are both genuinely scary and wonderfully thought out scripts. The first is a script called DONNIE DARKO by Richard Kelly and the other is called AMUSEMENTS by Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan. Both of these scripts feature smart characters in very scary situations.

DONNIE DARKO is a superb script about a 14 year old boy that lives on any ol average street in America. He has a regular nice ol family. He's on medication. He's been in trouble before, but he really really wants to be a good kid. HOWEVER, he sleep walks... he talks to an imaginary bloody 6ft tall rabbit-costumed guy without one of his eyes... and this rabbit asks that he do things. And if by the end of this script... which is played EXTREMELY SMART, you are not completely stunned... well... you shouldn't be in charge of development.

And AMUSEMENTS is a larger scale film... Actually it is a very large scale film that I just adore. Like DONNIE DARKO it is a superb script, but instead it's about adult characters in a place where they don't have ANY control over anything. It mixes up elements from DISNEYLAND to GHOST IN THE SHELL to... well... I don't know. And it's scares are on the very real and relatable plain. In a perfect world this script would land in Zemeckis or Fincher's hands. In hell, it'd end up in Renny Harlin or Jan De Bont's.

Then there is a talent that Hollywood doesn't know about that has made an EXCELLENT direct-to-video film entitled THE DIVIDING HOUR. After I saw it, I instantly began e-mailing these guys (Mike Prosser & David Walker) and told them how much I liked it. They were surprised but said that actually it's the least of their scripts, and how they wish they had started with something even stronger. WELL... I don't know about that, but if they are sitting on a pile of scripts better than their first little $7000 film that they have made... I'd run after it. I showed THE DIVIDING HOUR to Guillermo Del Toro and he was quite excited by it. These guys are very talented.. and unknown.

And even further in the world of the unknown is a little fella named Mike Williamson. He's directed this really smart and fun and scary short film called THE BOY IN THE GARAGE. He's a talent just waiting to be discovered.

That's four sets of folks, with great material that you guys in Hollywood haven't gotten yet... But well... they sure as hell deserve to be in the game. They haven't learned to write scripts 'THE HOLLYWOOD WAY' yet. They don't make films based on last week's latest hit. Instead.. they are writing tomorrow's. From folks like Guillermo Del Toro and Stuart Gordon... to folks like Richard Kelly, Drew McWeeny, Mike Prosser, Scott Swan and Mike Williamson... There's a shitload of talent you folks are not using.... Look at the numbers from those 8 horror films.... get to work