Monday, April 20, 2015

Why the Poltergeist remake will beat Crimson Peak at the box office, and how Alice Robb explained it.

Last year, Alice Robb wrote about what a horror fan is on The New Republic website, and the article wasn’t flattering.  I posted a response, citing how horror fans could defuse any argument used in the article, should family members, coworkers or acquaintances ask why you are such a monster.

However, two big horror movies hitting theaters this year caused me to think about Robb's article.  First, we have the 3D remake of Poltergeist, hitting theaters on May 22.  Guillermo del Toro’s latest, Crimson Peak, opens on October 16, a more appropriate date for a true horror film. 

Yes, I'm calling this a TRUE HORROR FILM.
I hope I'm not wrong.

You can check out trailers for both films on YouTube.  However, after seeing the trailer for Poltergeist in the theater last week, I was reminded of Robb’s article and why I believe the remake will likely be the bigger box office draw of the two. 

The trailer for Poltergeist was even more sense assaulting in the theater than on a TV or computer monitor, thanks to the big screen and a Dolby Surround Sound system.  Yet, it was also a case of déjà vu for me, as I saw the original when it opened in theaters, and multiple times since then.  Sam Raimi and company could have saved some money by just digitizing the original, as the preview shows nothing fans of the Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg version haven’t seen.  Little blonde girl in front of a TV (now a REALLY BIG HD TV) proclaiming, “They’re heeeere,” young boy being menaced by an animated tree, pathways leading to “the other side,” a much taller home exorcist spouting Zelda Rubinstein’s lines almost verbatim, and, of course, a scary clown.

Sorry, but the other clown was scarier.  Even in the trailer.

Seriously, I think the tagline for the film should be a redo of Rubinstein’s line, “It knows what scares you,” only with the new exorcist saying, “It knows what scared audiences in the 80s.  Now it’s ready to do it again, only with CGI effects and LOUDER MUSIC STINGS!!!”

As the trailer closed with the film’s release date, I was reminded of the article on The New Republic site, and Robb’s final assumption about horror fans, that they are males (a point she made earlier in the article) interested in dates that are “distressed women.”  In short, Horror Fans are mostly guys looking for women willing to cling to them in fear.  And, as long as the guys aren’t scared, or at least not as scared as their dates, the women enjoyed the date more (according to the study cited in the article). 

Zits says it better than I could in just four panels.  

Again, I will argue that Horror Fans are not the couples that comprise the study Robb cites in her article, but they will comprise the audience that attends the opening weekend of Poltergeist.  Despite the involvement of Sam Raimi, this film is not targeted at Horror Fans, but an audience eager for cheap jump scares, loud music stings and a reason to huddle/cuddle close in the theater. 

And, I suspect, this is the reason we don’t get many strong, atmospheric and creepy horror films, ones that play on our deeper fears and emotions.  Studios are looking for big openings, horror films that will make back their budget in a couple of days, than pull in home video sales, rather than develop an audience from word of mouth. 

Horror Fans can protest on Facebook, and our blogs (I am counting myself), that horror films can be artistic and scary, but as long as Hollywood sees a bigger box office return from the same cheap, make-the-audience-jump, crap infesting theaters over the past decade, I doubt the strong critical response to films like The Babadook and It Follows will lead to any changes in the films offered up to mainstream audiences. 

Give me a creepy pop-up book and a slow burn over cheap jump scares any day.

Also working against horror films is the tentpole mentality of the major studios.  A Poltergeist sequel is set up in the film’s trailer, as the exorcist proclaims the housing complex was built on a graveyard, but something stronger is present.  Sure, it’s a variation on a line in the original, but given the current cinematic climate, I suggest a CGI tequila vomit-worm will crawl into theaters within a couple years, if the box office returns for Poltergeist are strong enough.

I don't care how good the CGI looks.  It won't match this moment.

Nothing is going to change anytime soon, unless Horror Fans are willing to take a few risks.  We need to support the quirky independent features making it into theaters.  You might like them, or not, but vote with your dollars, Horror Fans.  We need to stop thinking about trying to change the minds of the studio executives and focus on the theater owners, especially local, independent theaters.  If we make a market, such theaters will respond and start booking independently produced horror film for a limited run.  Readers of this blog know independent theaters in Portland are finding box office success with independent horror films, and if other regional independent theaters are successful booking such films, the major studios might start paying attention. 

It’s a long shot, but better than a future of reboots, prequels and classic monsters in a shared, superhero-style universe films coming to a theater near you.


Post Script: I know I've fallen into the trap of judging the Poltergeist remake based on the trailer, but the previews in theaters are suppose to draw us into the film, not repulse us.  Still, I offer my readers this promise.  Barring unforeseen circumstances, I will watch the Poltergeist remake during its opening week and offer an honest review.  As I suspect I will be buying my own ticket (what studio will offer me a preview pass after this article!), but I will likely avoid opening weekend, as I don't want to support what I suspect is a cheap ripoff.  But I will post my honest opinion and really hope I'm wrong concerning my fears about the trailer.  Stay tuned!