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Even Atonement, the year's big English-accented costume drama awards-bait epic from the director of Pride and Prejudice, features a scene in which an injured soldier's head is unbandaged to reveal a massive gaping wound, off of which a big chunk of broken skull promptly falls. A similar scene in Saw III had audience members fainting just last year. So if moviegoers are still hungry for gore, why haven't they been flocking to the films that traffic in it?
Roth, whose Hostel Part II was, in comparison to the first Hostel, a disappointment (though it made $35 million internationally on a $10 million budget), thinks the scheduling of this year's genre titles didn't help. "My whole argument was, why are we coming out in the summer?" he says. "It was June, and people were in the mood for Oceans 13 and Pirates of the Caribbean; they were just in the mood for summer blockbusters."
Courtney Solomon, president of After Dark films, got stuck with a July release date for Captivity, which was delayed and fared dismally after the MPAA forcibly recalled its controversial billboards and posters. "The movie was originally scheduled for May 18, which would have been the first horror movie out that summer, going head to head with Shrek 3, so we'd have been counter-programming. There were a lot of screens available, and it was perfect timing, [but] because it got suspended by the MPAA, it wasn't possible to go out on that date."
Tim Palen, co-president of theatrical marketing for Lionsgate, which released Hostel Part II and the more successful Saw IV, thinks the wait for a Hostel sequel might have been too long for the general public. "One of the reasons the Saw movies do so well is because they come in rapid succession," he says, adding that Hostel Part II "could have been better-served if it was released earlier."
Hostel Part II and Captivity were also not exactly critical faves, but even horror movies that were well-liked by critics failed to gain traction. What happened to Grindhouse and The Mist? Easter and Thanksgiving opening dates, Roth says, noting that "everyone's with their families... Why did 1408 do so well, and why did The Mist not do so well? They're both supernatural horror movies [and both based on Stephen King stories]. I honestly think it's the weekend." Notably among the movies that did hit were Rob Zombie's Halloween, released at the end of the summer blockbuster season, in August; 30 Days of Night, in October; and Saw IV, on Halloween weekend.
So there's life in the genre yet, as Belofsky is quick to point out: "What happens when a romantic comedy bombs? Are there front-page articles in Variety going 'comedies are dead'? It just seems funny to me that a genre that makes millions of dollars for this industry is the quickest one to get panned."
Solomon, however, doesn't explain away the box-office downturn as just bad timing or the media's genre bias. He thinks it's time to move away from the current trend of "torture porn" — more realistic horror about bad people who torture and kill — since we're seeing enough of that on the news already. Hinting at his company's future, Solomon suggests that "creature horror movies are probably something that people would be more interested in, because we haven't seen a lot of those, à la Alien, in recent times, so a fresh one like that would probably be accepted very, very well." Stay tuned: Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem opens Christmas Day at a theater near you.