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2016 Low Budget Horror Movies More Successful Than Big Budget Films

A wedded couple tries to determine odd goings-on in a house. It’s worse than they assumed.

Three people rob a blind war vet’s house – things go from bad to worst from there.

A mother has an imaginary buddy, yet – her little girl – believes she is mad. This while she couldn’t be more wrong.

Three horror flicks released this year – each a blockbuster in its own right – have so far earned well over $100 million each. It normally costs in excess of seven figures to produce a single film, but all three of these movies have each done it on a six figure budget.

“The Conjuring 2,” produced for $40 million, has earned $320 million at the box office. “Don’t Breathe” in turn earned nearly $120 million – on a budget of $9.9 million. Last but not least, “Lights Out” – which cost a modest $4.9 million to produce – raked in more than a $146 million at the box office.

These successes stand in comparison to some big-boomer films that set you back a heap of dough, yet lost in ticket sales and fell off a cliff in some cases.

The remake of “Ben-Hur” raked in $86 million at the box office, but failed to cover the $100 million it cost to produce. In fact, Hollywood Reporter is of the opinion, that if advertising and distribution costs are factored in, “Ben-Hur” could lose a whopping $120 million. It should be renamed “Been-Hurt.”

This while “BFG,” a Spielberg film, which cost a $140 million to produce, only brought in a $173 million at the box office. Again, bring post-production costs into the equation and it lost an estimated $90-$100 million in total.

Another example, the all-female remake of “Ghostbusters” might appear to be a hit, but fell off a cliff. It earned $224 million at the box office, but combined production, advertising, marketing and circulation costs of almost $300 million, left it an estimated $74 million in the red.

So the arterial-red writing is splashed around the wall: You do not need to invest a great deal of money to produce a scary movie that brings in the dollars.

“You can make 100 ‘Conjurings’ for the cost of one ‘Captain America,'” says Chris Dortch – a self-confessed fan of scary films. Dortch – the founder of Cine-Rama and Chattanooga Film Festival – is of the opinion that such under-the-radar movies attract a target market that wants “thoughtful, well-put-together horror films.”

Eric Niemi – a horror fan with a doctorate of education who instructs English at Chattanooga State Community College – is of the opinion that smaller sized, cheaper-to-make horror movies can be “character-driven and sometimes plot-driven films and the opposite of these big-budget special-effects films.”

According to Niemi, horror doesn’t need bone-shattering surges to capture the attention, he says, nor does it need heart-racing action scenes to get the heart pumping. Actually, when it concerns horror, subtlety could be a better tool than being loud and in your face. “Arachnophobia” and the original “Night of the Living Dead” count among his favorites.

New directors such as James Wan (“Conjuring,” “Conjuring 2,” “Insidious”) as well as Mike Flanagan (“Oculus,” “Before I Wake,” the upcoming “Ouija: Origin of Evil”) understand that slow-burn horror increases the fear, making the Boo! moments a lot more effective.

“Every 10 to 15 years a new generation of filmmakers is coming through and horror films are fairly easy to put together,” Niemi says. “It’s a way to test their skills.”

On the other hand, Shellina Blevins, seems to offer a less complex explanation for the success of horror this year. She claims “because they aren’t full of zombies.” She explains: “Now, granted, we all love a zombie, but if you get pizza all the time, at some point you are going to want a burrito or two. Hollywood has a tendency to harp on one idea until it’s nothing more than a dried-up husk of its former self.”

She has a point, especially considering that Hollywood is overdoing it. It is no secret that Hollywood unleashed a zombie love feast, including the super successful – “The Walking Dead.” However, in typical Hollywood fashion, they have overhyped it with numerous cheap, lousy spun offs. All of this have dampened the public’s interest for horror movies that feature zombies.

The reality is that moneymaking horror movies can be both a resurrection as well as short-term risk to the genre. Imitation might be a genuine form of flattery, but 1931’s “Frankenstein,” 1935’s “Bride of Frankenstein” and 1943’s “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” share one common pattern: All generated more cash than compliments. And the pattern has actually never stopped.

According to Dortch, “studios see a bunch of horror films making money and they take all the properties they have in the vault and dump them out.” For them, “it’s kind of a Groundhog Day test.” He adds: “If this movie comes out and the sun is shining and an audience comes, it determines what comes out the rest of the year.”

And yeah, a few of these films are genuinely wretched. However, according to Kellen Potts – the unavoidable glut of seen-that-before films is “not indicative of horror movies, that’s indicative of Hollywood.” Potts, a Red Bank high school graduate – whose fandom runs deep – did a thesis on the genre while he was a senior at Binghamton University.

According to Blevins, it seems that “horror thinks outside the box a lot.” While not always the case, it is not unheard of to “get some very creative story lines sometimes.”

The bad rap that the horror genre gets in films, books and other entertainment forms is another aspect Dortch highlights. Yet, a lot of the bad rap is driven by a stereotypical view that all horror films are “drenched in gore,” while nothing could be further away from the truth.

The reality is that there are various types of horror that cater to a bouquet of tastes. Types of horror, include but are not limited to: Japanese, slasher, supernatural and psychological horrors. If you search hard enough, chances are that you will find a horror film that you will like. For example, according to Dortch, “People who might be fans of classic, great ghost stories aren’t the ones who are going to like the new ‘Saw movie.”

He lists – Freddie Krueger with his razor-gloved hands in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” – as among his scariest moments as a kid. It got so bad, that “after seeing it, I padded the crack between my bed and the wall so Freddie couldn’t reach up to get me.”

Communal Event

But even in badness, horror films can touch a nerve, especially in a movie theater, where a horror movie comes to be a public event, a mixing of souls, so to speak. According to Dortch, “people love to see them with an audience.” It is either a “mixing of souls” or people are just seeking safety in numbers.

According to Niemi, followers of these movies, “really want to go see these and get the traditional movie experience. They don’t translate real well to the home audience.”

Followers of these movies “truly intend to go see these as well as get the conventional motion picture experience. They do not translate real well to the residence target market,” says Niemi.

For Blevins, who has a tattoo of a chainsaw to reveal love for the “Evil Dead” trilogy of movies, the destination of scary flicks is “the high you get from a good scare, especially shared with friends.”

As anybody who’s seen a terrifying film in a theater can attest, right after a scene that makes visitors tremble or shout, there’s normally a burst of laughter from the audience. According to Potts, this is “a letting go of stress.”

If Blevins’ one tattoo is an indicator of affection, Potts is a walking skin poster for horror. He has a tattoo standing for Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series, one of starlet Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes in the movie for King’s “Misery” and, like Blevins, another one commemorating the film “Evil Dead.” And also those aren’t the only tattoos he has; his degree of body ink stands in disparity to his job as a criminal defense attorney.

And, as you may presume, 30-year-old Potts protected horror films in his senior thesis.

He claims: “Usually they’re kind of put down upon; they’re not seen as well-made or high art.” However, he believes that “they are art and also they have a helpful influence on society” as such movies appeal to a raw, primitive side of humans – it helps us to launch reactions that are normally suffocated.

He notes that “human beings are animals with a will to hunt, yet we are controlled by society so we stuff that down.” He feels “horror movies give a way to exercise those animal instincts vicariously” and allow us to confront our worries. It is a way of discussing society’s policies without being heavy-handed when it comes to delivering the message.

For example, according to Potts: “Too often movies try to have a message and people feel like they’re being preached to, so they shut down.” He concludes that while horror movies address serious issues, they don’t come off as preachy – this helps to get the message across to a larger audience.

Both he and Niemi agrees that “It Follows” – a horror film of 2014 – is “a clearcut allegory on rampant causal sex and STDs and the consequences of such.” This while horror films such as “Night of the Living Dead” are metaphors for the devastating and challenging aftermath of nuclear war. To add to the list, films such as the 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead” present commentary on consumerism – zombies shuffling along like eager shoppers in shopping malls.

To name another one, a movie such as “Frankenstein” was a reaction to the horrors experienced during WWII. A time of history when biological weapons such as mustard gas were deployed, turning soldiers exposed to it into “monsters.” Mary Shelley’s original novel – “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus,” published in 1818 – underlined the concern that the development of science was happening in a too quick manner and took away from God’s creation.

According to Dortch, horror connoisseurs – those who have a profound interest in horror – will see “those subtextual moments coming” and eagerly anticipate them. He is of the opinion that “horror is a great topic for intelligent filmmakers to smuggle in great ideas.”