Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is limping along in movie theaters, made cheaply enough that $11 million domestically is enough to turn a profit on its production budget, but even the Halloween weekend couldn’t boost its coffers into the Top Five. Paranormalhad been a staple of Halloween, usually doing gangbusters at the box office, and over the past two weeks the finale of one of recent history’s biggest genre game changers limped to the finish line.
It’s not the first horror film to bomb at the box office this year, and most likely the last, but with the success of the genre on television I started thinking. Plus with all the hoopla starting to brew about Daniel Craig’s continuation of James Bond still more speculation than reality leaving nothing but people making listicles about a replacement Bond, I had nothing to write about when I started this column Sunday morning before the Bears game.
And one thing kept popping into my mind. I have chicken in the slow cooker, as meal prep is always Sunday evenings, but The Walking Dead is easily the show to watch. And as I surveyed the landscape of shows one thing popped into mind. The horror genre is thriving on television in the exact opposite way horror is thriving on the silver screen. Why is this happening?
I found five reasons why horror on TV is far outpacing their cinematic counterparts right now.
1. Television is where the riskiest and best story-telling is taking place, by far
The one thing the small screen has going for it right now is that massive risks are being taken across the board. There’s safe comedies, et al, but a show like The Walking Dead never would’ve happened 20 years ago. With the proliferation of channels, and HBO & Showtime green lighting more mature material, the pressure is on channels like FX and AMC to step their game up. Thus an anthology show like American Horror Story is given an opportunity when a decade earlier it wouldn’t have. People are willing to watch horror if it’s good and on TV a show like The Strain has found an audience because it’s good first and a genre piece second.
TV studios are much more willing to take a chance on a well written show about vampires or zombies because the risk/reward ratio is strong enough in their favor nowadays. The success of off beat choices, like an unknown Jon Hamm headlining a show about a Manhattan ad agency in the 1950s, has given the ability for horror to be a genre available across the spectrum.
2. Good stories are being told using long form that also happen to be good horror pieces
The one thing about The Walking Dead is that it isn’t just a “zombie” TV show. It’s about the downfall of humankind during the apocalypse and the ways in which we deal with it. This is the Hobbesian state of nature at its essence as life is now nasty, brutal and short. That’ll be something I write about much longer in the near future, I think, but the essence of the show isn’t the zombies themselves. It’s their use as metaphor that is amazing and the human stories are much more intriguing than the zombie kills each week.
You could replace this with anything else, from a disease to another horror trope, and the show would still be good because it’s about the people first. When you have 13 hour long episodes to tell a story it gets easier to tell a good one because you have the time.
3. Movie studios are risk averse with horror on the big screen
The one downside with studios releasing less into theatres these days is that everything is a calculated risk. Horror has suffered the most in recent years because the genre has been neutered to PG-13 for most of the major releases during the summer. R-rated films have a much smaller ceiling, box office wise, and thus the desire to whittle it down to the magic of a PG-13 rating has taken a lot of the bite out of the genre. Everything is more jump scare oriented these days, working on a smaller budget to maximize profitability.
A film like Halloween couldn’t be made today nor could most of the horror classics that the genre has focused around.
4. Indie cinema is where the best horror is happening
The best horror films of the past couple years outside of Cabin in the Woods are happening on the independent scene. Indie cinema on the whole has been thriving lately because the risk taking that Hollywood took once upon a time has ceased.
5. The next big wave of horror hasn’t happened yet
Horror works on the big screen in waves. Someone finds a brilliant idea, it makes a ton of money and then everyone releases a ton of movies over five years to exploit it. We’re just seeing the found footage conceit die a mercy death with the Paranormal Activity franchise ending and there isn’t a game changer in sight. The one thing that horror does really well is take one original idea and diversify it throughout the genre.
Found footage changed the game … and all the good ideas were rung out of it. The next tidal wave that launches a thousand films hasn’t quite been launched yet.
What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound
Spectre – James Bond is back and he’s battling Quentin Tarantino’s favorite Nazi.
SEE IT – It’s Bond, yo.
The Peanuts Movie – The gang is back, apparently.
Skip it – Charlie Brown specials are good during the holiday season but was their ever a demand for more Charlie Brown and the gang?
Spotlight – The story behind the breaking of the child-rape scandals in Massachusetts.
See it – I’m still a sucker for films about the power of journalism and this has been getting some strong Oscar buzz.
Trumbo – Dalton Trumbo was a bit of a nutty Communist who got hosed by Hollywood based on his political beliefs.
See it – There’s a great book about the truth of the Blacklist that I found fascinating, right here, but nostalgia for Old Hollywood is never dull. Plus Bryan Cranston in a great starring role screams Oscar potential.
Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .
Tags: Monday Morning Critic, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, The Walking Dead