Zombies are the middle children of the otherworldly family. Vampires are the oldest brother who gets to have a room in the attic, all tripped out with a disco ball and shag carpet. Werewolves are the youngest, the babies, always getting pinched and told they're cute. With all that attention stolen away from the middle child zombie, no wonder she shuffles off grumbling, "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha."

- Kevin James Breaux

Friday, October 2, 2015

"Rants & Ravings About Horror" - Week 31: “The Horror of Jason Blum”

Week 31: “The Horror of Jason Blum”

Anyone who has been following horror in the last few years will know the name Jason Blum as he has been a force-of-one in regards to low-budget horror that gets wide (and even limited) theatrical release while also turning huge profits  against extremely low budgets.  He’s behind some of the most profitable franchises still going now from The Purge to Insidious to Sinister to Paranormal Activity and has just added Ouija to that list.  Whether you like the films he produces (or in some cases acquires for distribution) there is no denying the impact that he is having on the horror genre.  Having already released nine films this year and (at least) two more before the year is out he has one-handedly kept the horror genre alive in 2015.  I decided that it was a good idea to catch up with some of his films from this year.

In January Blum had his first release which was the Jennifer Lopez starring thriller The Boy Next Door.  This is a thriller very much in the tone of Fear (1996) or The Crush (1993) except from the perspective of a teacher and her younger student.  Despite being directed by Rob Cohen – The Fast & the Furious (2001) and XXX (2002), this is a very dry erotic thriller which doesn’t really break any new ground.  The entire cast does a good job and its interesting seeing Cohen do a smaller film after so many big budget event films.  The big did extremely well at the Box Office grossing over $50 million worldwide against a $4 million production budget.  Also, of note is the fact that Lopez is a producer on the film (who is better known for having produced a lot of television rather than films) something she has done since Feel the Noise (2007) and El Cantante (2006), neither of which are thrillers.

In February Blum’s The Lazarus Effect was released.  This is a film more in line with the expectations of his company Blumhouse Productions.  Scientists experimenting with life after death get more than they expected when they resurrect one of them after being recently killed.  Needless to say, the scientist doesn’t return from the dead normal but rather a non-stop killing machine.  This film has an excellent concept and setup but in the third act becomes a senseless slasher film with echoes of Lucy (2014).  This being sad it’s very entertaining and all the cast do an excellent job with the material.  Do to the enormous amount of visual FX on display you’ll be forgiven if you don’t realize that most of the film is in a single location (to keep production costs down I’m sure).  This film was also a modest success grossing over $36 million worldwide against a production of only $3.3 million.

Blum took a break in March with no films released but returned in force in April with the better than expected Unfriended (for which he was an Executive Producer).  This is a concept driven film as it is told completely from the perspective and style of a chat room and found footage.  It has a very relatable and convincing cast of young unknown actors which drives the film and is suspenseful and engaging in the same mood and tone as displayed in the Paranormal Activity films.  This film did phenomenally well at the Box Office pulling in $62 million worldwide against a production budget of only $1 million.  There is talk of a sequel which may or may not have Blum’s involvement.

In May Blum gave his pal Oren Peli’s (director of the original Paranormal Activity) latest film Area 51 a limited theatrical release at the same time as its VOD release.  I have yet to see this film but it grossed $7,556 domestically (as it was not released theatrically in foreign markets).  

June saw the release of the sequel to Blum’s most successful franchise outside the Paranormal Activity films which is Insidious: Chapter 3.  This has been an extremely successful and popular franchise with horror fans around the world and with the general public who have been craving something new from your typical haunted house story.  I’ve enjoyed all of the films in this franchise not only because of the suspenseful stories that keep you on the edge of your seat but also because of the cast of characters and the great acting as well.  These are high value horror films done on very small budgets.  This film follows the secondary characters of the paranormal investigators from the previous films in a prequel story that adds to the mythology crafted by writer Leigh Whannell who has been with the franchise since the beginning and who made this film his directorial debut. Despite grossing less than the previous film in the franchise this film was still a huge success grossing $109 million worldwide against a $10 million production budget.

July saw the release of The Gallows, a found footage film that takes place in the world of a haunted high school theater.  This film had a lot of good will coming off some success screenings at film festivals.  Unfortunately, found footage films have been ignored by mainstream audiences of late and this film only grossed $38.2 million worldwide but because the production budget was only $100,000 this is an enormous success for the film and Blum again.  This is a guilty pleasure film for me as I’ve worked in the theater industry for almost two decades so seeing a horror film that utilizes that allowed me to enjoy the film probably more than most people with no background in theater.  I found it very entertaining and suspenseful which is the hallmark of a successful low budget horror film.

August saw the release of my favorite of the 2015 Blumhouse Productions which is The Gift.  This is a film that gets it right on so many levels.  Despite playing as a thriller there is so much going on in this film that I don’t want to ruin it but needless to say that nothing is as it seems in this thriller about former school friends who confront each other in the present bringing up the past that one of them had thought forgotten and buried.   Written, directed and starring Joel Edgerton this is a tight thriller that’s also atmospheric and suspenseful in a subtle yet eerie way that makes your skin crawl.  Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall (one of the most underrated and phenomenal actresses working today) are fantastic together.  This is not just my favorite of Blum’s films this year but one of my favorite horror films in general this year.  Great word of mouth pushed this film’s success to the tune of $46 million worldwide against a $5 million budget.

August also saw the release of Sinister 2.  Unfortunately, I was not a huge fan of the original film and missed this one at the Box Office.  I’m sure I’m not the only one in that camp as the film only grossed $27.5 million at the domestic Box Office (no foreign release) against a much bigger budget of $10 million, so this is not one of Blum’s more successful films and I doubt there will be an additional sequel anytime soon.

More recent is the release of Blum’s acquired film The Visit which comes from M. Night Shyamalan.  This film has gotten some of the best reviews of Shyamalan’s recent films with many claiming that he has returned to form after the abysmal The Last Air Bender (2010), The Happening (2008), and After Earth (2013).  I have yet to see this film but I am looking forward to it because I’ve heard good things about it.  Generally speaking, I’m still a fan of Shyamalan and enjoy the fact that with each new film he strives to tell stories different from everyone else in the same vein as watching a David Cronenberg or John Carpenter film.  This film is still in active release but has grossed over $67 million worldwide against a $5 million production budget.

Blum has two more films being released this year which are both this month which are Jem & the Holograms and the final film in the Paranormal Activity franchise Paranormal Activity: The ghost Dimension (which will be released in 3D).  Blum usually releases at least one non-horror film a year (last year’s film was the highly praised Whiplash) so there shouldn’t be much surprise in regards to Jem & the Holograms.  What will interest horror fans more is the final entry in the Paranormal Activity franchise which has been one of the biggest horror franchises in history.  This last film will be in 3D and finally explain everything that has come before in the five previous films (excluding Paranormal Activity: Tokyo Night).  Being a huge fan of the franchise I am very much looking forward to this film.

The one thing to remember about Jason Blum is that he may produce low budget films but they are films shepherded by the creative minds behind them instead of being dictated by the studio system.  This is the reason why he can command so many talented artist to work on these films for virtually nothing or backend percentage points.  Keeping the production costs of his films down have allowed him more financial success and less overall stress.  Audiences all over the world have been subjected to all types of new and innovative horror films for which I hope he is able to continue to do so.

As a final note I’d like to list a few of his upcoming films in order to give you an idea of what is next on his list for 2016 – Amityville: The Awakening, Ouija 2, The Purge 3, Delirium, 6 Miranda Drive, The Veil, Stephanie, In the Valley of Violence, Viral, and Hush, just to name a few. 

All box office information was obtained from Box Office Mojo (www.boxofficemojo.com).

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