Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Someone Has to Say It: The Horror of Bad Release Dates

Posted by CinemaPsycho on August 31, 2011

This is going to be a relatively short entry, at least for me. I’ve just been wondering why the Hollywood studios seem dead set on releasing horror movies in August rather than October the past few years. It seems like such an obvious no-brainer to release scary movies at a time when people want to be scared, right? So why are the studios dead set on releasing anything but horror films on Halloween weekend this year, while letting them die off in the summer season? It doesn’t seem logical to me.

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The boxoffice returns for this past month’s horror films in wide release – Final Destination 5, Fright Night and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – have all performed well below expectations. I myself only saw one of them, Don’t Be Afraid (which I think should technically be called “BE Afraid of the Dark”, think about it) which I liked but didn’t love as much as I had hoped I would. People are either seeing other movies this month, or not going to the movies at all.

Meanwhile, this year’s pre-Halloween weekend (Oct. 28-30) contains no horror films whatsoever in wide release. Zip. Zero. Nada. Instead we get a Jason Statham action vehicle, a sci-fi flick starring Justin Timberlake, Roland Emmerich’s Shakespeare movie (seriously) and a sequel to the mostly forgotten spy comedy Johnny English. Seriously? This is what Hollywood thinks we want to see before or after going Trick or Treating? Am I missing something here?

I know the conventional wisdom is not to open a horror film on the last weekend of October because generally they’ll get one good weekend and that’s all. But given the weak openings of the horror films this month, one would think that even one good weekend would be an improvement. Sure, there are a few horror films opening in the month of October – well, we’re getting the prequel to The Thing on the 14th and Paranormal Activity 3 on the 21st, and that’s about it. There are a few scattered indie movies opening in limited release, as well as Pedro Almodovar’s apparently creepy The Skin I Live In, but I guarantee you most moviegoers won’t get to see those in theaters.

It’s not that I don’t think horror films should open at any time of year – of course they should. But generally, audiences aren’t really looking to be scared in the summertime. I actually think it was the surprise success of The Sixth Sense in early August 1999 that convinced the studios that summer was a good time to bring out the fright fests. But that was a total fluke, carried mainly by word of mouth and the “twist ending”. Nine times out of ten, opening a horror film during the summer months leads to boxoffice disaster – look at Land of the Dead, The Devil’s Rejects, Piranha 3D, etc. It just doesn’t work. So why keep doing it when October is a barren wasteland? I can’t speak for everybody, but I know when I go to the movies in October, I don’t really want to see anything but a good scary flick. Especially the weekend before or during Halloween.

You would think some enterprising distributor would have realized this and snatched up that weekend months ago. When Lionsgate bought the Joss Whedon production Cabin in the Woods from the floundering MGM, the big rumor was that the long-delayed film would take the slot that they gave to the Saw sequels the last few years. Nope, instead they decided to push it all the way back to next April! It’s not like the movie wasn’t finished long ago. Meanwhile, they’re the ones giving us Jason Statham punching guys really hard (I assume) just in time for All Hallow’s Eve! Any other time, sure, I’d consider buying a ticket for that. But does anyone really want to see an action flick on Halloween?

I don’t really understand what the studios are thinking here. It’s probably too late for this year, but I think it’s time to switch October and August back the way they used to be. It seems pretty clear that audiences are rejecting horror in the summer but are starved for it in October. So let’s reverse this sucker and give people what they want to see when they want to see it. Meanwhile, if some smart distributor wants to pick up, say, the very long-delayed All the Boys Love Mandy Lane or Joe Dante’s The Hole and give it a wide release on Oct. 28, I think audiences would be very grateful. I know I would be.

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One Response to “Someone Has to Say It: The Horror of Bad Release Dates”

  1. CinemaPsycho said

    Just wanted to add something here. Apparently the Jason Statham movie, Safe has been moved to next March. But that still leaves us with 3 non-horror films and no horror films that weekend. There’s a chance that Lionsgate might stick something in that slot though… fingers crossed.

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