Saturday, 5 June 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #528: The Curse of the Dark Castle

Welcome to the show folks...

Although they were a little late the weekends box office reports and estimates are out, and the phenomenon the folks are calling June Gloom is continuing. Ticket sales are down all around, and many films are under-performing. One of the films being called a failure by box office watchers is the Canadian sci-fi/horror film Splice
, despite opening on 2,450 screens it premiered at #7 with $2.7 million, and is estimated to clear only $7 million this weekend.

Now from a Canadian perspective that's most likely the biggest opening weekend made by a Canadian movie in a long, long time, if ever.

But from a Hollywood perspective, it's a bomb, and a lot of people are putting it down as yet another turkey from US company Dark Castle Entertainment who bought the film and released it through its distributor Warner Bros.

I'll go into some detail in a bit, but first a little history.

Dark Castle is a division of producer Joel Silver's Silver Pictures Company and was formed in partnership with mo-cap maven director Robert Zemeckis, and producer Gilbert Adler. Its original purpose was to remake the films of the company's namesake, legendary cinematic impresario William Castle, but quickly expanded into being a more diverse horror and genre movie label.

Dark Castle quickly became known not so much for horror or genre entertainment, but for the poor performance of their releases. Their biggest hit was the 2003 ghost story/psycho-thriller Gothika with Halle Berry and Robert Downey Jr. which made $141 million international, but only $59 million of that was made domestically on a $40 million budget, not including prints and advertising. Their least successful film was 2009's suspense thriller Whiteout which had a $35+ million budget and a total international box office take of $17 million. The rest either never got close to that $100 million hump into hitsville, or just fell shy of it if they were lucky.

Now here is where I think Dark Castle's gone wrong.

It's their entire business philosophy.

I think the founders looked at the out of nowhere surprise hits of some horror franchises and said "Me too." Well, that's all well and good, but the people behind Dark Castle have backgrounds in big budget blockbusters like Lethal Weapon and Back To The Future. That's not good for horror films.

I think it was Stephen King who said that horror has to be cheap, because big budgets require big explanations. If a company is spending tens of millions of dollars on special effects, a filmmaker is compelled to show the entire monster in loving detail. That kills the mystery, and with it, the horror. It's actually better to cheap out, because then the filmmakers have to use darkness, and mystery to hide the fact that they're made of rubber and string, hence escalating the potential for horror.

Also the use of "stars" in these film also hurt them. If you know who is going to live right from the beginning, you're just going through the motions. So unless you're going to pull a "Janet Leigh in Psycho" it's going to be a better move to hire unknowns, cheaper too.

Another problem, and this is directly related to Splice, is that they treated it like it was a summer blockbuster.

Big mistake.

Splice is a cult film, it's not direct competition to Iron Man Drops A Deuce, Shrek Whatever After, or the horrors found among the grimacing gargoyles of Sex & The City 2 and doesn't have a chance against them and their media hype machines no matter how good the reviews are, how much ad space you get, or how much it trends on Twitter.

The film should have been released in a slower time, possibly as counter-programming when Oscar-baiting season have flooded the screens with overly sincere dramas and pseudo-indie studio films. They should have built up word of mouth with select previews for influential critics and bloggers, who appreciate films of that genre, then released it on a more modest scale and built from that.

Horror can be a blockbuster, but only if you don't force it, that's the key.

Myself, I haven't seen Splice yet, but I've read some good reviews, and I'm pretty sure it's going to be one of those films that will live on in home video. Though I do fear the inevitable low-rent "sequels" that usually come from such cult success.

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