Despite the loud cheers from critics around the world, two of the greatest horror movies of the last decade still managed to slip under the radar for most cinema-goers. Earlier this year, It Follows was released to the Rotten Tomatoes equivalent of a standing ovation, with critics around the world (including yours truly) unable to say enough great things about it. Despite that, It managed to make less than $15 million worldwide. Yes, it’s budget was barely $2 million, so in the grand scheme of things it was a success, but comparatively to other horror movie’s box office returns, this was nothing but loose change. Last year’s even better The Babadook did even worse, scrapping back less than $5 million on it’s $2 million budget.
On the flip-side, critics attempted to warn audiences away from the likes of Ouija (box office: $102 million), Insidious: Chapter 3 (box office: $99 million) and The Gallows (which made double in its opening weekend what The Babadook made in it’s entire run), and despite all being fundamentally terrible horror films, they also have one thing in common. They’re all produced by Blumhouse Productions, run by one Jason Blum.
Blum started out his career working for Hollywood heavyweights Bob and Harvey Weinstein, before going on to become an independent producer for Warner Brothers. After a few years working on relatively small projects – the biggest of which was the Ethan Hawke (who will pop up quite a bit in Blum’s CV) starring modernisation of Hamlet – Blum then founded Blumhouse Production in 2000, but it wasn’t until Paranormal Activity was released in 2009 that the production house’s product finally hit cinemas. On a budget of just $15,000, the first in the found-footage series went on to make almost $195 million at the worldwide box office, and from there the ideals of Blumhouse Productions were born.
Within the realms of genre films, Blumhouse would mass produce incredibly low budgeted movies and ensure they were given a massively wide release. With the low overheads and high awareness campaigns, these movies would go on to make huge opening weekend numbers, before disappearing from cinemas just in time for the next Blumhouse Production to arrive. In the six years since the production house was created, Blumhouse has released four more Paranormal Activity movies, three Insidious movies, two Purge movies, Ouija, Sinister, The Boy Next Door, Oculus, Area 51, Unfriended and loads more besides. Before 2015 is out, there are set to be TEN MORE horror movies released by Blumhouse, including a sixth Paranormal Activity, a second Sinister movie, the much-delayed Eli Roth cannibal flick The Green Inferno, and the latest from M Night Shyamalan, The Visit.
Before we go any further into the process of Blumhouse, it should be said that some of the horror movies made by Jason Blum are genuinely good. This year’s Unfriended arrived with a god-awful trailer but the film itself was surprisingly enjoyable, while the first Sinister, the first Insidious and some of the Paranormal Activity movies have supplied some solid scares. But are these just examples of blind luck, rather than evidence of a man who loves the genre? Is what separates Jason Blum from Uwe Boll nothing more than a slightly better track record?
Hopefully not, because while we movie (and specifically scary movie) fans might hate to admit it, Jason Blum could well be the saviour of modern horror. Sure, too many of his films rely on found-footage because it certainly helps keep the budgets down, and sure, maybe he keeps milking a cash cow even if the quality of a series has dried up long before the revenue has, but he can hardly be accused of resting on his laurels. The idea of The Purge is so far removed from that of his other horror movies it almost ventures into science fiction, while The Purge 2 actively listened to what fans wanted from the original and gave it to them. The plots of the Paranormal Activity series seem basic when taken individually, but the series as a whole has created a deep tapestry of backstory and parallel storylines that betray a much deeper intelligence at work. And even when some of his movies end up as truly terribly trite – The Boy Next Door, we’re looking right at you – they still end up being some of the best so-bad-it’s-good trash you’re likely to see this side of Showgirls.
Then there’s what Blum has going on outside of horror. In the same year he released Paranormal Activity, Blum was a co-producer of the Oscar winning, Kate Winslett starring The Reader. He was producer on some of 2015’s best movies, Whiplash for example. He was executive producer on one of this year’s most talked about TV shows, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths 0f Robert Durst. If the massive financial return of his genre films allows him to invest in such impressive but potentially financially risky projects, is that not a price we should be willing to pay? Does the effort of having to wade through two or three sub-par scary movies outweigh a potential modern classic like Whiplash or The Jinx?
Looking past 2015 and Blumhouse Productions already has The Purge 3, Ouija 2, Unfriended 2 and Amityville: The Awakening, the FOURTEENTH entry into the cinematic Amityville saga, in production. But looking past horror, Blumhouse also has Jem & The Holograms based on the 1980s cartoon, as well as revenge western In the Valley of Violence, starring Ethan Hawke (there he is again!), John Travolta and Karen Gillan, to be directed by Ti West, one of the best horror directors working today, but making his first non-horror with Blum’s backing.
Despite what appears to be nothing more than a conveyor belt-esque approach to film-production, Jason Blum has had the biggest influence on horror since Wes Craven made it self-aware in the mid-90s. The Blair Witch Project may have brought back found-footage, but Blum expanded on its popularity (for better or worse) with the Paranormal Activity series. When everyone else was getting into gornography, Blum decided to bring back the ‘haunted house’ sub-genre with Insidious, which then exploded out into the likes of The Conjuring and the remake of Poltergeist. When he isn’t trying to discover the next star from his cast of unknowns, he’s filling out the ranks of his scary movies with the respected likes of Ethan Hawke (again!), Rose Byrne, Jason Bateman, Olivia Wilde, Joel Edgarton, Keri Russell, Frank Grillo, Rebecca Hall, Lena Headey or, uhm, Jennifer Lopez.
For better or worse, Jason Blum may very well have the future of the horror genre solely in his hands. Combined, his movies have made billions of dollars, garnered Oscar acclaim, and feature some of the biggest names in acting and directing. What Blum doesn’t have yet is that one classic horror film. There’s nothing he’s been involved in that would rank alongside The Shining or The Exorcist or Alien (not to mention It Follows or The Babadook). But with what he’s got at his disposal, it can only be a matter of time.