Emmy-winning True Detective director Cary Fukunaga, Stephen King’s fan favorite novel It, and a two-part feature film horror event from the studio who brought you The Conjuring; it sounded like a match made in horror heaven. Alas, it was a sad day for fans this past Monday when it was announced that the long in development endeavor had been called off. Fukunaga walked away and the project has been postponed indefinitely (or not postponed at all, depending on what rumors you decide to believe). Regardless, after revealing that a young Will Poulter would be taking on the role of the terrifying clown Pennywise, a decision that we at Nerdist thought was a really smart move, and setting shoot dates for this summer in New York City, the news that it all fell apart seemed shocking to say the least. And without getting into too many of the rumors about what caused the demise of the ambitious project, it got me thinking: what is up with studio-produced horror movies?
In 2013, we were arguably in the midst of the feature film horror boom. Texas Chainsaw 3D, Mama, and The Purge killed (no pun intended) at the box office. 2013 also saw the release of The Conjuring, which I would say was the crown jewel of a golden year for horror. James Wan’s R-rated period piece was not only met with solid reviews but also major money in ticket sales. While it cost just $20M to make, The Conjuring brought in over $137M at the domestic box office alone. Given this information it would appear that people – the coveted young ones and the boring old ones – were ready for slightly more mature, non-found footage, not ultra-low budget horror at the movies. The Conjuring was rated R for, well, I don’t know why (there was no sex, profanity or gore), but the restricted rating didn’t stop audiences from flocking to the movies or critics applauding Wan’s efforts.
It could and would make sense that a tentpole movie based around a piece of very popular contemporary horror literature like Stephen King’s It would be a sure bet. Considering that New Line has been known in recent years for their literary adaptations (*cough* The Lord of the Rings *cough*), doesn’t this make sense from all sides?
As a fan of genre film, I think the biggest travesty in all of this is that a well-respected, very talented filmmaker actually wanted to make back-to-back horror epics! This is not backdoor genre where a director is making a horror movie but not ever calling it a horror movie even though we all know it’s a horror movie, or “sneaky genre” as I like to call it. This was a director saying loud and proud, “I’m making a horror movie about a scary monster clown and child murder!” Hells yeah! Can we please trust Fukunaga to know what he’s doing and just give the guy what he wants? Listen, there’s nothing wrong with small movies – goodness knows I love Blumhouse to a fault and The Babadook and Starry Eyes were the best genre movies I saw last year – but it’s nice to see a slightly weird project with a little money and confidence behind it every now and again. And if studios were smart they’d think about the potential reward instead of a perceived risk because, like almost no other genre, when horror hits, boy, it hits hard.
I already mentioned The Conjuring’s success and let’s not forget about examples like The Exorcist, one of the highest grossing movies of all time and the first horror movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, The Silence of the Lambs and, probably the best contemporary example, Gore Verbinski’s The Ring which was made for $48M and saw over $200M in ticket sales at the box office. While the argument could be made that The Ring was PG-13 and therefore “safer,” I can easily point right back to the financial success of R-rated features like Texas Chainsaw 3D, The Purge and The Conjuring in 2013 alone and say that the rating system isn’t stopping audiences from buying tickets when it comes to horror. End of story.
Genre fans ultimately seem to find themselves with a bit of a conundrum on their hands. Until someone takes the risk and invests in horror, we’re probably going to be stuck with ultra-low budget offerings on the big screen. While those movies aren’t inherently bad, the lack of options is. Fortunately for fans, quality grade and cinematic level horror on television is booming, and it would seem like the more depraved the better. The Walking Dead is still seeing its numbers increase and American Horror Story is growing its audience, too. Critical darlings Penny Dreadful and Hannibal both return this summer and South of Hell, The X-Files, Damien based on The Omen and The Frankenstein Code are all on their way.
So, while ambitious and quality studio produced genre may be in short supply, at least we have TV. And, here’s hoping someone, somewhere decides to take a risk and give fans the material that they deserve. Beep, beep!
Clarke Wolfe writes “Horror Happenings” for Nerdist every Sunday. You can follow her on Twitter @clarkewolfe.