reprint from April '08
My good pal Eric Dee Snider and I were recently enjoying some Instant Messenger banter, and our main topic of conversation was this: Why are studios and distributors so damn scared of their own horror movies? Sure, I know the obvious answer: Of all the rotten movies released in one calendar year, a good portion of 'em will be horror movies -- because horror movies often represent the best low-overhead investment for a production company that's looking to earn a quick buck. Yes, a lot more potentially profitable than a comedy, a drama or (dear god) a low-budget action flick.
So if you KNOW you just finished post-production on a real stinkeroo, of course you'll want to "hide" it from the press for as long as possible. But here's what annoys me: Nowadays the distributors don't seem to have even the slightest clue as to what they're looking at. Case in point: This weekend's The Ruins, which (if measured on its own merits and its specific intentions) is a pretty damn effective horror movie -- so why did DreamWorks / Paramount refuse to screen it for the professional movie nerds? OK, to be fair, there was a press/promo screening at 9pm on April 3 -- but that means they're screening the flick THREE HOURS before it opens?
Obviously it's impossible for any print critic to have a Ruins review ready for opening day -- and I think that will really hurt the film in the long run. Even a colorfully negative review would bring in more viewers than no review at all, plus there IS the idea that, y'know, some film critics actually can appreciate a horror film! Mr. Snider's theory goes another route: That the studios are shooting themselves in the foot by not screening these movies, because "unscreened" flicks appear to be tainted in some way. Eric further asserts that some critics allow the "unscreened" status to seep into their reactions to the film ... which sort of means that Paramount is creating its own bad press. In a weird, roundabout way.
When asked for his opinion, film critic / horror fan Eugene Novikov had this to say: "The studios' thinking goes like this: a horror movie has to be the second coming to get any sort of positive reception from critics. And the market for horror films by and large doesn't care what critics think. So why spend money on press screenings to get press that will most likely be bad and will, in any event, have no effect on your core audience?" I agree with that logic, but I can't help but think a little confidence and some early reviews for The Ruins would have helped its chances at the box office. (A $2.8 million opening day.)
Over the last 15 months, the following horror movies have "dumped" into release without any sort of legitimate press screening: Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, Awake, Captivity, Dead Silence, The Eye, Halloween, The Hitcher, Hostel Part 2, The Invisible, The Messengers, One Missed Call, Primeval, and Vacancy. So in some cases, sure, there's no reason to have a press screening because the film in question is an undeniable piece of crap. But just about all of these movies could have used a little help at the box office, so maybe if the studios showed a little more foresight, they'd treat the horror movies like all their other movies. (Or, in a perfect world, there'd just be a whole lot more quality control down at the studios.) But I refuse to toss Dead Silence, Hostel 2, The Ruins and Vacancy into the same bonfire as Captivity and One Missed Call.
On the other hand, Dimension pre-screened (and showed a lot of confidence in) Frank Darabont's The Mist, and that flick didn't do much box office business either. But boy is it awesome.