Scott's Spotlight: Horror Movies and Halloween - It's All in the Date
In 2003, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" grossed more than $80 million at the box-office.
by Scott Juba
Published: October 31, 2007
Horror movies tend to scare up big bucks at the box-office, particularly around Halloween. Further evidence of this fact came over the weekend when “Saw IV” mangled its competition with more than $32 million in ticket sales. Although this marks the first time an installment of the “Saw” franchise failed to outperform its predecessors’ opening weekend numbers, it topped its closest competition, “Dan in Real Life,” by about $20 million.
What makes the “Saw” series such a success? “The Saw movies have quite an ingenious villain who pits people against themselves,” Marcus Dunstan, co-writer of “Saw IV,” told me during a recent interview. “I think a lot of folks can identify with that. If you were stuck in a room with your worst vice, could you get out of it? That’s fascinating.”
“Saw IV” hasn’t been the only movie scaring audiences into theatres of late. “30 Days of Night” won the Oct. 19-21 box-office weekend and finished third last weekend.
If anyone can be considered an expert as to what makes audiences flock to horror films, it’s Brad Fuller. The Platinum Dunes production shingle he runs with Michael Bay and Andrew Form produced “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning” and “The Amityville Horror.” All three reaped substantial profits. In terms of what makes a horror film work, Fuller says, “The horror situation has to resonate with audiences on a primal level.”
While compelling situations may make for an entertaining experience, they do not guarantee financial success. “Frailty,” a 2002 horror film starring Matthew McConaughey, received a 76% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite these positive reviews, its box-office numbers failed to impress. According to IMDb, its final domestic box-office gross of approximately $13 million came in only $2 million above its $11-million budget.
While no single answer can fully explain why one horror movie outperforms another, one trend seems to hold true across many successful horror franchises – an October release date. “The Ring,” “The Grudge,” “The Grudge 2,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning” and the “Saw” movies all had October release dates.
Yet, staking claim to the perfect release date may be the scariest challenge of all.
“Although there’s no hard and fast rules, if you want a great date, you’ve got to stake it out two years in advance,” Fuller says. “You just have to do that. If you have a big enough title and a strong enough package, other people will go away from that date.”
According to Fuller, October can be a particularly tricky month to find a release date given all of the franchises that stake claim to the weeks leading up to Halloween. “When the first Chainsaw came out, October wasn’t really that crowded a month,” he says. “Now, there are other franchises that live in October. Certainly, the Saw franchise is always there. The Grudge came out against us with Chainsaw. So, you’ve got to stake out your date so that you can be where you want to be.”
Whether it is October or any other month, the date on which a film is released can make or break its box-office outlook. As Fuller puts it, “When you have three and four movies opening every weekend, someone’s going to get hurt. A lot of times, it may be more than one movie that gets hurt, and that’s not good.”