This article originally appeared in
May 22, 2006
Reanimated horror genre a slash cow
By ERIC J. LYMAN
CANNES -- Like a B-movie monster that just
won't die, the horror genre is more visible
than ever at the Festival de Cannes and its
parallel market, where insiders say there
are more scare pictures being shopped than
there have been for years.
Two films that loosely fit into the horror genre
are screening in various selections:
"Re-Cycle," from Oxide and Danny Pang in
Un Certain Regard, and Bong Joon-Ho's
"The Host" in Directors' Fortnight. Word is
that Cannes selectors were keen to also
include Alexandre Aja's remake of "The Hills
Have Eyes" but shied away because the film
already had been released in too many
territories. A walk about the market reveals
dozens of horror-themed films being sold
or looking for investors. Some of the names
sound like a punch line from a sick joke, but
such films as "Living Hell," "The Quick and
the Undead," "The Demon Child" and even
"The Night of the Living Dorks" and "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead" are part
of the fast-growing and often highly profitable sector.
"We're like the part of the festival nobody knows about," said Matthew McCombs,
president of Spotlight Pictures, which makes as many as 20 films a year, about half of
them in the horror genre. "We're down here in the bowels behind the Palais. People
have got to come down here looking for us."
An increasing number of people are doing just that. Although organizers don't keep
any hard numbers on how many films from what genres are shopped at the market
each year, most insiders agree that the number of horror films in evidence has been
rising the past few years.
But there is no consensus as to why that is taking place. Some point to a natural ebb
and flow in the sector, some point to the success of low-budget horror films that
started seven years ago with "The Blair Witch Project" and has continued through the
successful "Saw" franchise, and some say part of the reason may be social
William Friedkin, one of the fathers of the genre thanks to his 1973 film "The Exorcist,"
said a main reason for the increased number of films these days is technology.
"They're easier to make now," he said. "When we made 'The Exorcist,' we had to do
everything mechanically, but now it would be easy to achieve the same effects using
a computer. That makes it easier for more people to makes these films; it removes a
Lionsgate is one of the genre's old hands, producing a steady stream of up to a dozen
horror films a year, including for the third year in a row an installment of the "Saw"
franchise, which has grossed an estimated $250 million after the first two films cost
less then $10 million combined to make. Lionsgate International president Nicolas
Meyer said the numbers are rising because of new and smaller companies getting
involved in the mix.
"There aren't a lot of genres
where there is a potential
for such a wide profit
margin," he said. "It's natural
that a lot of new companies
try to rush into the market.
But there are also a lot of
production companies doing
the same old film that's been
done dozens of times, and
without something unique, it
won't work. Eventually,
supply will outstrip demand,
and there will be a pull-
back. But for now, it does
seem to be going strong."
David Cronenberg, director of such horror films as "The Brood," "The Dead Zone" and
"The Fly," agreed, saying the genre has a cyclical nature.
"After (1978's) 'Halloween,' there were a whole series of slasher movies that were
very successful, and then, more recently, there were the sort of flip, ironic version
like 'Scream,' and now suddenly it is going back to the sort of torture murder movies."
Cronenberg said. "Obviously, when people sense there is a market for that, they go
for it, saturate the market, then there is no market for it anymore, then you have to go
for something else."
But in addition to the rise in overall numbers, there is a new worldwide spread of the
horror genre, which has an increasingly strong foothold in Asia and in Europe, where
the biggest market for horror films is Germany. The aforementioned "Living Dorks" is a
German production, but other European producers are on the rise, including Ireland,
Sweden, Italy, Spain, France and Russia, which is about to produce the highest-
budget horror film present in Cannes: a $21 million remake of the 1967 Soviet film
"Viy," based on a story from 19th century writer Nikolai Gogol. Shooting will begin in
July, and producers ROSPOFilm Group expect to release the film late next year or in
"It's not a traditional genre in Russia, but the Russian people like to scream and shout
and be scared just as much as anyone," ROSPOFilm Group vp Maximovitch Maxim
According to Sherri Strain, a partner with the Asylum Films — her business card gives
her the title "Movie Goddess" — most of the world probably likes to be scared, though
probably in a different way.
"I think that today there's a certain kind of horror in real life, what with the state of
things around the world, personal tragedies, gas at $3.50 a gallon, whatever," Strain
said. "I think there's a bit of comfort in a kind of story that scares you but that you
know isn't real. Nobody's really going to be attacked by a zombie or a vampire, and the
living dead isn't buried in anyone's backyard. It's a fun kind of frightening."
Spotlight's McCombs agrees.
"These don't have to be great films," he said. "I've brought a set of films to a
distributors and had them pick the one I thought was the weakest. Sometimes it's
enough to appeal to a certain kind of taste. Sometimes people are looking for a certain
kind of effect rather than for a great story."
Friedkin said that from his point of view, that's a shame.
"These days people don't tell stories, they just use images," he said. "Maybe I'm old-
school, but the greatest horror films I've seen are the ones that show less, that leave
the horror to the imagination."
Cronenberg said modern films in the genre often lack the imagination of older horror
"The attraction for me (with horror films) wasn't because it was horror," he said. "It
was because it is a genre within which you can do some very interesting things that
would be very difficult to do outside the genre. Take 'The Fly,' for example. It is a very
depressing story, when you think of it. An attractive eccentric charming couple meet,
they fall in love. He gets a hideous disease and dies slowly, and she helps him die.
End of story. Now that's a hard sell — except when it is a sci-fi horror film, it is not
such a hard sell and could be very successful."
Scott Roxbororough contributed to this report.
Krivoy-Ykovlev from "Viy," Russia's
remake of the 1967 Soviet film
A scene from "Living Hell"