I wrote a piece a while back (available here) about whether 2016 would be the return of the slasher with both the Halloween and Friday the 13th franchises set to return to theaters. That is not the case anymore as any Halloween plans have been scrapped, as it’s being shopped to various studios after Dimension lost the rights to the franchise, and the upcoming Friday the 13th movie has been pushed into 2017. That leaves a few big questions that need to be asked. Why can’t these two huge franchises get a movie in theaters? Are slashers no longer a financially viable sub-genre of horror for the major studios?
With the massive success of micro budget films like Paranormal Activity, and virtually everything that Blumhouse has produced, it appears that slasher franchises now cost too much to make when compared to movies like Insidious or The Purge. Insidous had an estimated budget of $1.5 million and grossed $97 million worldwide. The last Friday the 13th film (released in 2009) had an estimated budget of $19 million and grossed $91 million worldwide. When you compare those two sets of grosses, it’s not hard to guess which one would be more pleasing to those financing the projects. Those budgets also don’t include the marketing costs for the films, which would tilt the profit margin comparison all the more in favor of Insidious. Even the relatively poorly received movie Ouija was able to gross $103 million worldwide on an estimated budget of $5 million. When Rob Zombie’s Halloween II hit theaters in 2009 it made $39 million worldwide on an estimated budget of $15 million. Those numbers relay the message that micro budget horror is much less risky than making a bigger franchise film, as a movie failing at the box office that cost $1.5 million to make won’t sink a studio, and the grosses can actually be larger for new franchises.
The financial discussion is partially rooted in the fact that when you’re dealing with large franchises, there is a certain amount of cost built into making a new installment that just can’t be avoided. The methods that are used to achieve low budgets simply can’t be used when Warner Brothers is making a new movie with an all union staff, and they have to launch an ad campaign for a property they have invested a lot of money into. That means that the slasher franchises need to be seen as profitable and able to bring in the necessary box office gross before they get the green light. New or low budget franchises can be launched without those issues however, but we’re just not seeing many slashers getting produced. Part of it is a generational preference, as modern audiences seem to prefer stories that are based on ghosts, spirits, possessed dolls, and decidedly supernatural stories. Slashers are now seen as old hat and predictable by younger audiences, and movies like those in the Hatchet series seem to appeal mostly to fans of the 80’s movies that a lot of us grew up on, but not so much to the current audiences that fill seats in theaters. Throwback films can reach a niche audience, but they’re not likely to achieve cross-over success with a general audience.
What does that mean for slashers? I’m of the firm belief that slashers can still make money at the box office, they just need some new life injected into the stories making them more palatable for the current audience. Scream was able to do that in 1996 by making the movies more self aware of genre tropes while at the same time deconstructing them, and by introducing dialogue that was more contemporary (at the time) and still delivering most of what was expected from a slasher film. A number of bad imitators were launched after the success of that movie, but it was the largest resurgence of the sub-genre since 1978-1984. Someone needs to crack a way to make slashers more relevant to the younger audiences today for the sub-genre to make a big comeback. Simply following the structure that was laid out by movies of years past won’t cut it, and making self aware quips won’t either. The relatively middling response to MTV’s Scream television series and Fox’s Scream Queens shows that even making some changes and bringing in pop stars can’t guarantee big viewership numbers in today’s over-saturated market. I’m not sure exactly what is needed to make a slasher have success on the same level as the original 1978 Halloween in today’s market, but we’ll get to see if anyone figures it out in the next few years or if the big franchises can figure it out for themselves.