It is January; the month that movie studio's outcasts finally find a home. It is the month Oscar Best Picture nominations tend to get a wide release and everything else is usually destined to be forgotten by February 1st. It isn't the month the champagne corks are popped and the fine cheese consumed by film studio executives over getting top spot in the box office. The competition isn't usually stiff, the quality of the new films is low, and the audiences come out because their other plans fell through (or already saw the Oscar nominations the first time around).
I'm not even sure if studio executives paid attention to the fact that two horrors movies gained top spots this year. But I'm also not sure if it really means anything, because as I said before, it's January. I'm sort of shocked that both these films got top spot, because I expected them to hang around third or fourth, and then drift off to DVD by end of February.
But what does two horror films winning the weekend box office races mean? Possibly nothing. Or it could be saying the genre isn't quite dead.
I know what you're saying. But Paranormal Activity often wins its first weekend, and during a much more competitive month. But I've already told you what I think about Paranormal Activity. I've been begging for a sign that money can be made in the horror genre without a bunch of stupid people walking around with their home video camera recording spooky shit in their house rather than running for their lives. It is a tired genre, but one that keeps being redone, because it makes money. Hopefully, little January can alert people to the fact that other forms of horror can attract an audience too, even if it is the lowest of low movie months.
The first weekend of the year was won by Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D. This surprised me and a few actual film experts. This film screamed "cleaning out the storage closet for more important films" and even though all its competition was older fare, it wasn't expected to be raking in its budget opening weekend. Now, the film dropped significantly the next weekend, which shows it failed to gain any kind of traction. But that is due to it being an awful film, but there was a real audience for this. They might have been positive word of mouth if the film offered anything. I'm not saying a poorly mashed together almost remake is any better than found footage, but at least it isn't "spooky" and grainy footage in a house. It shows that if you get a competent writer and director, you could make some money off something other than what has populated the cinemas for the last few years, because the concept of horror still draws people.
The bigger upset happened this weekend when Mama nabbed the top spot. The competition wasn't fierce, but it was stiffer than the first weekend of this year. It did have two new films with proven box office stars headlining. Arnie was making his return to starring in an over-the-top R-rated action extravaganza, and Russell Crowe teamed up with Mark Wahlberg for a political thriller. Before this weekend, I'd have predicted both to annihilate Mama. Last Resort (Arnie) and Broken City (Crowe) were still January cast-offs, but they had more assumed pedigree than a little horror directed by Guillaume del Toro. Toro is beloved by fantasy and horror fans, but he isn't necessarily proven box office, and he has had a few of his films tank. I'd have assumed the same here. Jessica Chastain has momentum right now with the success of Zero Dark Thirty, but I wouldn't have considered her someone a draw all by herself.
Mama easily won the weekend, and now gives horror two victories without "lost footage" being in the tagline of either film. Mama is about crazy stuff happening in a house, but is not following the "this house is haunted" mold but rather trying its own thing. This isn't really a film that excited me in anyway, but I'm glad something sliding closer to the fresh side of things actually found an audience.
I want these two victories to mean that the horror genre isn't completely dead. And that "found footage" spooky house movies aren't the only draw. People will pay to see something else, and maybe if you even bother to have a good script, it'll do better than just one weekend. Though horror traditionally skews younger, and the younger crowd tend to herd out opening weekend and then find something else to entertain them after that. It may be a harder genre to have a long life span but the early part of the year seems to show it can at least be a good opening weekend.
But again, it is January. It isn't the month of champions. It is one step up from "straight to video" on the scale of importance. There is a strong chance that this means absolutely nothing.
I'd say the best test of the viability of horror will come in April when the remake of Evil Dead is released. April is also a much more competitive month, and this year it has a few appealing genre films lined up. If it wins or at least does well, maybe we can start believing in horror films again. In a few years, studios will trot out scary movies that have nothing to do with building a house an old grave site and some dork filming a ghost tossing around his daughter.
Horror may be back as a legit box office draw. Or it was just a sign that Arnie's reign of terror is officially dead, and no one cared enough to find out what Crowe framed Wahlberg with.
For now, I have hope I could one day go to the cinema and actually be scared again by something other than atrocious acting.