The new horror films Insidious and Scream 4 couldn't be more different. The former is an original story basking in PG-13 restraint. The latter offers torrents of blood, the return of an audience-approved serial killer, and the name recognition that's so crucial to movie marketing in 2011.
How the two fare at the box office could determine the kinds of horror films we see in 2012 - and beyond.
Hollywood is scared to death of original horror stories these days. It's all about the reboot, the remake and the sequel. It's why we've seen tepid films like the new versions of The Amityville Horror and A Nightmare on Elm Street. They're safe bets, and by the time audiences have figured out they're not the least bit scary, they've already turned a profit. Case in point - Elm Street made $32 in its opening weekend en route to a $63 million box office haul.
And while the industry will often roll the dice with a no-budget horror entry like Paranormal Activity, it much prefers the tried, the true and the hopelessly predictable. It’s not an accident that we’ve already seen a second Activity, and a third one is on the way.
Horror is supposed to be edgy and dangerous, not focus grouped to within an inch of its life. But too often horror fans must trudge through the no-budget indie bin to find good scares these days.
Along comes Insidious, which has both indie cred - a tiny budget and the Paranormal Activity team as producers - plus an original spin on the beloved haunted house genre. It’s far from perfect. The film apes some of the beats from Poltergeist and the final 20 minutes cannot match the tension built in the film’s opening moments. But it’s precisely the kind of unique vision the genre needs.
So far, Insidious is plugging away at the box office. It made roughly $13 million in its opening weekend but retained most of its audience in week two. But if it loses steam in the wake of the Scream 4 juggernaut, the message to film studios will be crystal clear: Go original and maybe make back your investment, if you're lucky. Go the reboot way and make a mint.
Insidious director James Wan likely figured this out before making his latest film. By keeping the budget low, he was able to have more creative control over the finished product and give himself more wiggle room regarding its profit margin.
None of this means Scream 4 won’t be a rollicking good time and a great way to erase the memory of director Wes Craven’s last flop, My Soul to Take.
But if Scream 4 can’t measure up to the franchise’s best scares and makes a mint all the same, what lesson has Hollywood learned?
Insidious is in theaters now.
Scream 4 will be in theaters this weekend.