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PCR #277  (Vol. 6, No. 28)  This edition is for the week of June 11--17, 2005.
The Sanford Summit---Part 2
 by William Moriaty
"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"
 by Mike Smith
"Fantastic Four"  by Nolan B. Canova
The Business of Horror
 by Drew Reiber
Rock Star: INXS - Yet Another Major New Wave Disappointment...."Fantastic Four" Review...."Land of the Dead" Review
 by Andy Lalino
Latest Reviews and Shohei Imamura
 by Peter Card
"War of the Worlds"...."Fantastic Four"
 by John Lewis
King Kong 2005....MOH Meltdown
 by Matt Drinnenberg
Empty Nest .... Hypocrites .... Coming Soon....He Can Keep "O Bla Dee, O Bla Da"....Jaws: The Story, Part 25
 by Mike Smith
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Chiller Cinema by Drew Reiber

The Business of Horror

Land of the Dead looks to have dropped a remarkable 75% or so on its second weekend of release. This, on top of a $10.3 million opening that scared the hell out of horror fans everywhere. Many longtime fans pointed fingers at each other, while others just sighed in disbelief that they didn’t have a blockbuster on their hands. Is this the sign of the end times for traditional horror? I hardly think so. This is more of a wakeup call to the children of the blockbuster era who also count themselves as horror fans that their values and expectations are somewhat skewed.

In the last several years, I’ve noticed that the most remarkable and distinctive horror projects go nearly unnoticed when compared to the box office attention of the competition. Films deemed by some as modern cult “classics”, such as Donnie Darko, have pretty much opened without a return on their financial investments. Their fortune and fame would follow upon home video release and word of mouth among film fans. Direct-to-video features such as Ginger Snaps have gained considerable notoriety and followings via similar grassroots movements, using theatrical release (uber-limited AKA 1 screen) as nothing more than an excuse to say it WAS released that way.

More successful domestic releases, by both theatrical and direct-to-video means (Dog Soldiers, Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later), benefited from marketing blitzkriegs that could be afforded as the films were previously produced and released successfully in foreign markets. Similarly, far smaller productions such as Stuart Gordon’s Dagon and Bryan Yuzna’s Beyond Re-Animator (both from Spain’s Fantastic Factory), were given wide direct-to-video distribution in the US after foreign theatrical release. In most of these cases, they were financially successful ventures.

The projects I discussed above kept their budgets in the range of $2-$15 million each. Though different in specifics, the basic approach is much in the same vein as how innovative genre directors such as Larry Cohen or producers like Samuel Z. Arkoff maintained consistently low-budget and profitable productions throughout the 70’s. Today, the mass-marketed and mass-distributed blockbusters and/or star vehicles keep a stranglehold on theatrical screens. This pretty much negates the staying power or “legs” traditionally associated with quality films throughout history. As pathetic as this might be, smarter filmmakers have learned to work around this handicap while the rest of us wait for the current box office monopoly to burn itself out.

With the progression of digital technology and ascension of DVD home video, the previously 40% theatrical/60% video profit ratios for feature films has gone completely out the window. As DVD is more affordable and easier to store, that market has grown tremendously when compared to just 10 years ago. The average cost of a owning a new film on the format is around $15-$20 and catalog titles (dating as far back as the turn of the 19th century!) can run as cheap as $7. You can see why some people prefer to stick to their home theater setups rather than rush to the theaters to blow as much or more on an experience they may regret. Why take a risk on the latest Batman film when you can wait to just buy or rent it on your own time for the cost of taking your friends or family?

Theatrical marketing costs have soared so high that when combined with production costs, breaking even immediately frequently proves impossible. Even big budget films like Minority Report, reportedly a “successful” blockbuster in the US, had to rely on those foreign dollars to pull themselves into the black. So of course, home video is seen as a primary area for expecting actual profit. If the big screen competition proved too strong during release, studios can rely upon those who didn’t get a chance to see it first run or flat out stayed home to pick up a copy of Minority Report at their local Target while shopping for groceries. If Steven Spielberg’s people are so concerned about the DVD market, think about the proportional concern for smaller films that were simply annihilated by the Tom Cruise and Will Smith films that season.

When walking into a video store, new releases frequently find themselves on equal footing. Shouting louder than your competitors through theatrical, television and radio advertisements is no longer a necessity, because every film is sitting on a wall or shelf where it’s easy for the consumer to find what they want. Minority Report might find itself sitting right next to a new season of The Simpsons and a re-release of a classic Sam Peckinpah film. With far fewer factors to dissuade customers, DVD has quickly become a strong representation of true consumer interest in their movie

As the home video market becomes increasingly determinate of the majority profit for a feature film, emphasis for success has shifted accordingly. The box office disappointment of action-horror movies like Blade: Trinity can prove worthy of a sequel just by DVD sales. This can end up becoming a better representation of consumer interest than the domestic box office take. Forr example, when once it took years for a film like Army of Darkness to eclipse the home video cassette earnings of its competitors, this can now happen over a week’s time. The independent Bruce Campbell starring Bubba Ho-Tep sold out at every store in my area in just half a day, with Best Buys and Circuit City stocking nearly a shelf worth of copies on their new release rack. That’s right, a Don “Phantasm” Coscarelli film did serious business.

So, reflecting on what we’ve covered, it’s far more expensive to produce, market and distribute a major feature film in today’s industry. Smaller genre films are finding their niche or second lives on the home video arena and some filmmakers and their production companies are stronger for it. Taking the conversation back to George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, one thing is for certain. For a feature film that cost only $15 million to produce, and around the same to market, domestic and foreign sales will more than recoup the investment. When that sucker hits DVD with it’s longer, gorier director’s cut (i.e. the *real* film), who wants to bet it’s shelf life will be far more noticeable?

In closing, I hope you guys and gals take this business information to heart. The next time you enjoy a Seed of Chucky or Shaun of the Dead and the DVD is due for release, just make sure you put your money where your mouth is and pick up a disc. I can guarantee you that your show of loyalty will be seen, heard and rewarded. These are niche films for a niche audience, and no one is expecting a Blair Witch every time they make one. All that matters is that make their dime so that can give us more, and who doesn’t want that?

"Chiller Cinema" is ©2005 by Drew Reiber.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2005 by Nolan B. Canova.