Horror Movies Still Put Butts in Seats
Plus: A Carpenter classic assigned!
There’s nothing quite like a room full of people tittering as a creepily grinning clown hands out Halloween candy stored in a cavity scooped from a recently decapitated woman’s head to a handful of neighborhood kids. Is the snickering a defense mechanism? A way to combat the waves of disgust? Or just an absurdity, a live-action cartoon, an adult Tom and Jerry moment brought to life?
This is but one of many gory and ghoulish sights to litter Terrifier 2, Damien Leone’s unadulterated, unfettered, and unrated vision of terror. Terrifier 2 surprised box office watchers last weekend with a four-day gross of $1.2 million on around 800 screens, not bad for an indie film that raised part of its budget on Indiegogo. (There’s one scene in particular that, while watching, I wondered, “Man, what was their squib budget on this?” Looks like the answer was “some not-insubstantial percentage of $215,000.”)
I can’t in good conscience recommend Terrifier 2 to most of the readers of this email: It is not for the faint of heart, and while I would not presume to insult you by suggesting you are prone to cardiac distress, I also imagine few of you will cackle as I did when a victim thought to be dead gasped for air in front of her screaming mother while Art joyously clapped his hands at their shared trauma. But if you want to watch an unrepentantly nasty movie with a crowd of degenerates like yours truly, I’ve got good news for you: you can! It’s still in theaters, a solid per-screen average leading to additional showings.
Terrifier 2 is a low-key manifestation of an eternal Hollywood truth: cheap horror movies either make you decent money or lose you so little it doesn’t matter. One of the few bright spots in the post-Top Gun: Maverick doldrums at the box office has been the performance of horror flicks. The Black Phone (budget: $16 million) earned $23 million in its opening weekend and legged out to nearly $90 million domestic. Barbarian (budget: $4 million) earned a surprisingly robust $10.5 million in its opening frame and will roughly quadruple that by the time its run ends. Meanwhile, Smile (budget: $17 million) not only opened with $22.6 million, it declined a microscopic-for-horror (or, really, anything) 18.3 percent in its second weekend; there’s a decent chance it gets to $100 million domestic.
And, of course, Halloween Ends hits theaters this weekend; in his newsletter, Matthew Belloni says it’s tracking around $55 million, which would easily be the biggest opening since Thor: Love and Thunder dropped three months ago.
As anyone with any awareness of box office history will tell you, cheap horror has always been a low cost, high reward affair: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween, The Blair Witch Project, and Paranormal Activity are all in any conversation about most profitable films of all time, at least in terms of percent return on investment. (There’s a reason all four spawned multiple sequels.) And while none of the scary pictures in theaters now are likely to reach those lofty heights, a paucity of new releases combined with the eternal desire to share a cheap thrill with a group of strangers in the dark means that horror flicks will keep chugging along, delivering a decent ROI to any studio smart enough to cut a modest check.
This week I reviewed Halloween Ends. It’s a very strange movie!
Just want to highlight again Geoff Edgers’s reported feature in the Washington Post this week about finding the perfect sound—if such a thing can even exist in recorded form. My podcast episode with him will make more sense if you read that interview first. So read, then listen!
And since I had Geoff on the show again, I will once again ask you to read his tour de force profile of Norm Macdonald.
On Across the Movie Aisle this week, Peter, Alyssa, and I bid a (not that) fond farewell to Nikki Finke and dragged Amsterdam. And the bonus episode was focused on a slightly different entertainment avenue: gambling, and Disney’s (via ESPN) relationship with DraftKings.
Andy Ferguson on Jann Wenner and his new memoir is well worth your time.
As is Bill Ryan on H.P. Lovecraft! He (Lovecraft) is one of those writers I have tried multiple times to get into and just never quite managed it. He has this weird tic where he’ll be describing something and write “the horror was indescribable, the very sight of it enough to drive a man mad with the desire to pluck out his own eyes to stop seeing the scary thing I cannot devise words to mention,” and every time it vexes me. The whole point of writing is to describe those things. Stop taking the easy way out here, chief.
Alex Jones is being ordered to pay $1 billion, roughly, for lying about Sandy Hook victims. Specifically, saying that they didn’t exist, that the whole thing was an operation by the government to try and seize people’s weapons.
Gawker wrote a weird little item about Richard Brody, the New Yorker’s famously contrarian film critic. It’s really not that interesting, but it does remind me of my longstanding theory that a Siskel-and-Ebert style show pairing Brody and Armond White, two contrarians who are always interesting and come at things from very different points of view, would be entertaining as hell.
Assigned Viewing: Halloween (Shudder, AMC+)
Potentially hot take here, but I believe that Halloween is the best movie in the Halloween series and that the opening POV shot is one of the best and most influential shots of all time. If you don’t feel like checking out the new one, watch where it all began.
I watched Halloween Kills a couple nights ago. The ending was ridiculous but this reboot, reimagining, have been two of my favorites of the series.
I remember watching Ebert give the original movie a thumbs up with a ton of praise. I was around 11 when that happened. I was able to see it not too long after, maybe after vhs came out?, and the scene with Laurie in the closet grabbing for a coathanger while Michael is grabbing for her was one of the scariest scenes i remember.
Looking forward to seeing Halloween Ends.
Re: Lovecraft, I can but recommend At the Mountains of Madness. It has haunted me for years. One of those rarified (for me) texts that actually feels like the writing, itself, was haunted. Such an uncanny and wonderful feeling.
I find it interesting that you find Lovecraft's descriptions lacking. The description of Cthulu's tomb - the non-Euclidian geometry of it, etc.- was for me some of the most evocative in all of horror literature. Different strokes, I guess!