Studios, Be Very Afraid: It's a Horror-Movie Traffic Jam

After a quiet year for gore, studios are putting all their horror eggs in an October basket — will that hurt “Let Me In” and “Paranormal 2”?

‘Tis the season to be frightened.

Hoping to cash in on the Halloween zeitgeist, Hollywood studios are flooding the market with horror films. This weekend alone will bring four movies from the genre — “Let Me In,” “Case 39,” “Chain Letter,” and “Hatchet II.” And 7 more are on the way in the next month.

(See slideshow: "Fright-Full: Horror Movies On Tap for October")

Over the next few weeks, in fact, nearly every third film released will fit squarely into the horror category.

“We haven’t seen anything like this for some time. They have a stranglehold on this season,” Jeff Bock, a box-office analyst with Exhibitor Relations, told TheWrap. “All this crowding is going to be a bad thing. There’s a real chopping block for these movies, and they usually fall off the charts within two to three weeks of their release.”

Produced for $20 million, “Let Me In” and “Case 39” will open wide on more than 2,000 screens apiece. “Hatchet II” and “Chain Letter” are ultra low-budget films and will roll out in a limited way on 100 and 400 theaters, respectively.

The horror pile-up is poised to continue throughout the month. In short order, studios will serve horror fans a steady diet of torture porn and chillers, with “My Soul to Take,”  “Paranormal Activity 2” and “Saw 3D” vying for space on marquees in the coming weeks — and those are only the wide releases.

All this competition in one genre is something of an anomaly. Traditionally, studios tend to put more distance between similarly themed films.

As if things couldn’t get any more heated, box office analysts speculate that “The Social Network” with its tech heavy premise and gross-out comedy “Jack-Ass 3D” may further fragment the teen audience horror films need to succeed.

Historically, when horror movies have gone head-to-head, the result hasn’t been pretty.

In August 2009, “The Final Destination” squared off against “Halloween II.” “Destination” claimed the top spot with $27.4 million, while “Halloween II” did a respectable $16.4 million (not bad, but a far cry from the $26 million opening its predecessor enjoyed in 2007).

But the mother of all standoffs may have been the one that took place in October 2009 between “Saw VI” and “Paranormal Activity.” In its first week of wide release, “Paranormal” racked up $21 million. That took a huge chunk out of “Saw”s’ gross.

The latest installment in the horror franchise made $14 million, a staggering drop from the $30 million debut part five enjoyed the year before.

“Saw”s’ relative failure may have emboldened other studios to move into October, a month that previously used to be Jigsaw’s fiefdom, box-office analysts say.

“Last year the king was dethroned, and now it’s open season,” Phil Contrino, an analyst with BoxOffice.com, told TheWrap.

Overall, fewer horror movies were released this year than in 2009 — some 15 compared to the 18 wide releases in last year. However, the number of those in October doubled, with six wide releases this year as compared to three in 2009.

Working in the studios' favor, however, is that here’s a lot of room under the horror umbrella, and that could enable the coming deluge of films to attract to different segments of genre’s fan base.

The critically acclaimed “Let Me In” is more adult and deliberately paced than the star-driven (Renee Zellweger) “Case 39.” Likewise, “Paranormal 2” relies more on shocks than do splatterfests like “Saw 3D” and “My Soul to Take.”

“The market will be tested now that the first leaf of fall has dropped,” Ryan Turek, managing editor of horror fansite ShockTillYouDrop.com, told TheWrap. “I think that there’s a big enough fan base for many of these movies to get people into these theaters, and they are all different enough.”

In one sense, it almost doesn't matter. Horror films tend to be relatively economical to produce and market, with budgets usually kept under $20 million. So when they hit, they hit big.

A movie like “The Last Exorcism,” produced at a cost of less than $2 million, can open to $20 million., for instance. It’s no mistake that the most profitable film in movie history is “Paranormal Activity,” which cost $15,000 to make and racked up $193 million globally.

Number two on that list is another selection from the genre: “The Blair Witch Project” and its $248.6 million worldwide take, on a $60,000 budget, or a 414,233 percent return on investment.

“The great thing about horror films," Contrino told TheWrap," is there’s no better way to make money than cheap thrills."