Horror Films: Blood, Gore and a Tasty Profit

Inexpensive, venerable horror franchises remain among the most reliable assets in the business.

The next power list featuring Hollywood’s most bankable stars should include Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers.

The respective homicidal leads behind venerable horror franchises “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween” — and we should probably throw in Cruel Fate itself for the “Final Destination” series — remain among the most reliable assets in the movie business.

And the cheapest to produce and market.

Just look at the numbers from the last weekend in August.

Warner/New Line’s “The Final Destination” opened to a domestic box-office-leading $27.4 million, and it already has made back its $40 million production budget. With half of its 3,121 screens in 3D, it was the best premiere yet for the four-film, nine-year-old franchise.

Weinstein/Dimension’s “Halloween II” took in a respectable $16.3 million, earning back its $15 million budget its first weekend — just two years after Weinstein/Dimension “rebooted” the 31-year-old franchise with Rob Zombie. The director’s first “Halloween” in 2007 scared up $26.4 million.

Of course, horror produces the occasional home run. Lionsgate’s original “Saw” yielded a worldwide gross of $103 million on a production investment of just $1.2 million. And all five sequels have generated around $150 million.

But for the most part, almost always coming in R-rated and targeting a narrow young-male audience, few could be considered blockbusters.

And that seems just fine with the studios and producers. With small budgets by Hollywood standards, profitability hardly ever comes into question. Better yet, there aren’t a lot of duds to be found.

“Our goal is to try to give the studio back its budget on opening weekend,” said Brad Fuller, producer on New Line’s recent remakes of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street.” “That’s why our budgets are pretty much all the same — we try to stay below $20 million.”

Weinstein Co. co-chairman Bob Weinstein agreed: “$15 million is the right budget” for a movie like “Halloween II,” which will “probably top out at around $40 million,” he told TheWrap.

“If the film costs $15 million to make and grosses $40 million, that’s a very profitable exercise for any company. It’s low risk with a good return." 

Likewise, Weinstein said that marketing costs are also typically reasonable for horror remakes — usually around $20 million. “It’s less expensive to market because people already know the franchise,” he said.

Those venturing out of the $20 million-and-below budgetary guidelines for production and marketing do so at their own peril. In 2005, Warner’s Joel Silver-produced remake of “House of Wax” generated $68.8 million worldwide, but its profitability was undermined by a production budget that exceeded $40 million.

With the majority of horror remakes and sequels turning a profit, it’s no surprise that even more such titles are on the way.

This weekend, Summit will release “Sorority Row,” 26 years after the premiere of “The House on Sorority Row.”

In October, Lionsgate will release a sixth “Saw” installment, while Sony will premiere its remake of “The Stepfather,” with “Nip/Tuck’s” Dylan Walsh wielding a knife instead of a scalpel.

And Warner/New Line is prepping a relaunch next year of “Nightmare on Elm Street,” with Jackie Earle Haley taking over the heavily latexed Freddy Kruger role made famous by actor Robert Englund.

So why are young folks flocking to theaters to see movie concepts their parents were into way before they even met?

Well, to many genre purists, the late-1970s and early-’80s represented a prolific golden age for the horror genre, much as the early 1930s did, a period that gestated franchise hits like “Dracula” and “Frankenstein.”

“It’s like romantic dramas and comedies and ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” Weinstein told TheWrap. “Horror movies are part of the human psyche — they’re tales that get told again and again.”

Looking at the original 1978 “Halloween,” “The Final Destination” producer Craig Perry said director John Carpenter was “able to create a mythology so profound” that the franchise’s psychotic slasher, Michael Myers, “became an iconic brand as powerful as Xerox for slasher films.”

Even better if you bring something new to the table.

“At some point, like comedies and dramas, horror films reach a saturation point, so we’re left to find a new twist to what’s already worked before,” Nelson McCormick, who directed the’s upcoming “Stepfather” remake, told TheWrap.

McCormick notes that while there’s no better name for his film than “The Stepfather,” he said the old slasher brands often do need some innovation plied to them in order for them to work for a new generation.

“The Final Destination” was released in 3D, for example, while the current incarnation of “Halloween” is much different under director Rob Zombie.

“For this generation, Rob Zombie is ‘Halloween,’ not John Carpenter,” producer Fuller said. “Rob Zombie is the architect of that franchise as we now know it. What Rob brings to it is unique and different, which moves it forward.”

On his 2008 remake of “Prom Night,” which grossed $57.2 million globally on a production budget of $20 million, McCormick said the finished film actually shared little with the 1980 original that shared its title.

“When you’re doing a remake, you have to respect the original film, but you also have to update it for a new generation,” he told TheWrap. “But it’s a pretty reliable genre if you now the format and deliver the experience.”