These movies - call them horror movies or psychological thrillers, it makes no difference when things go bump in the fright - make a terrifying amount of money these days, no matter how small-time their casts, how lousy their scripts, or how second-rate their effects. It doesn't matter who lurks in the shadows - Robert DeNiro in the second-rate Hide and Seek (oh, yeah, debuted at No.1), Cary Elwes in the gruesomely exploitative Saw, or Milla Jovovich in the video game adaptation Resident Evil - they make money. It doesn't matter how preposterous the setup - the dead speaking through a car radio's static, as in (yes, No. 1) White Noise, starring Michael Keaton, - they make money. It doesn't matter if it's been done before - the sequel-to-the-fifth-power Seed of Chucky or remakes of The Amityville Horror, The Fog, and House of Wax, all due this year - they'll probably make money. Make something go boo from around a corner - and this year, there are loads of such movies rearing their ugly heads, with titles such as The Skeleton Key and Dark Water and Cursed - and it will likely make money.
The whole of horror history doesn't compare with the millions being made each week at the box office as studios churn out creepy-crawly products that inevitably top the list of moneymakers during their first week of release. Look only at the money made by The Grudge, which was based on a popular Japanese series: Made for about $10 million, it took in $40 million when it was released, the week before Halloween 2004. Or The Ring, another redo of a popular Japanese film, which cost $48 million and wound up pocketing some $130 million four months after its October 2002 release. And that's just at the theater. (Home video profits are difficult to get, since studios refuse to release the data.) See these numbers and you understand why The Grudge and The Ring will soon be followed by sequels.
"I have never seen a period this loaded with horror-thriller films, one after the next, where all are doing consistently well," says Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box office receipts. "There are exceptions - there always are - but it's been a renaissance period. In the past 18 months we've seen not only numerous films in the genre, but they're doing well, and this is a genre that's still not taken seriously. People dismiss horror-thrillers as a B-movie situation, but they make A-movie money, and that's the bottom line."
It has been for decades, ever since the glowing light of the movie projector became the campfire around which filmmakers told their terrible tales. Quite simply, we like to be scared in the dark, and it's even better when surrounded by shrieking strangers whose collective screams only serve to amplify our experience. It's the roller coaster ride of terror, Raimi likes to say, and the more the merrier as we share the drop that sends our stomachs flying out of our throats. He insists, though, that these movies work only because they offer new takes on frayed-at-the-edges formulas.That's why Raimi's working with little-known (in the U.S.) filmmakers: Takashi Shimizu, brought to Hollywood to remake his Japanese release Ju-On, or The Grudge; and from Hong Kong brothers Danny and Oxide Pang, makers of The Eye and its sequel, which have been bought by Tom Cruise for U.S. makeovers. The Pangs are codirecting Scarecrow for Raimi; The Eye, about a blind violinist whose new corneal implants allow her to see ghosts collecting their victims, is still in development.
"We're all familiar with the conventions of the genre," Raimi says."A young lady walks down a dark hallway, approaching the door, and just as she's reaching the door with ever increasing close-ups and tension building on the soundtrack, somebody reaches out of the dark to grab her by the throat. But you're so familiar with the cliché … Originality is very important because of what's expected in the dark, in the shadows."