Moviegoers, beware. A host of masked, murderous slashers, demented fiends and demonic forces are about to converge on the multiplex, but it's not your immortal soul they're after. It's your hard-earned dollars.
Horror films are dominating the release schedule in 2009 -- almost certainly, event movies like "Watchmen" and "Terminator Salvation" will outgross their spookier kin, but not a month will go by without at least one film designed to terrify audiences making its way into theaters. January already has seen the release of "The Unborn" and "My Bloody Valentine 3-D," and this week the psychological thriller "The Uninvited" will attempt to scare up box-office receipts.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, January 27, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Horror films: An article in Sunday Calendar on the popularity of horror films said that Patrick Lussier made his directorial debut with "My Bloody Valentine 3-D." He directed several features before that.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, February 01, 2009 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Horror films: An article last Sunday on the popularity of horror films said that Patrick Lussier made his directorial debut with "My Bloody Valentine 3-D." He previously had directed several features.
Next month, the hockey-mask-sporting Jason Voorhees will return to menace teens in the remake of "Friday the 13th"; in March, newcomer Dennis Iliadis will unveil his version of the horror classic "The Last House on the Left"; in May, "Spider-Man" director Sam Raimi returns to the genre that launched his career with "Drag Me to Hell."
And there's more: "Juno" scribe Diablo Cody has penned the horror comedy "Jennifer's Body," Rob Zombie resurrects villain Michael Myers for "H2: Halloween 2," the "Final Destination" franchise is employing 3-D for its latest installment and, in October, Lionsgate's "Saw" series is set to return for a sixth go-round. Before the end of the year, Benicio Del Toro will confront his inner monster in "The Wolf Man."
If horror films reflect the anxieties of a culture, then it makes perfect sense that so many nefarious characters are emerging from the darkness: The collapse of the housing market, the menacing approach of a potential economic depression, an ongoing war and international unrest -- they're the stuff of nightmares.
And yet, sitting in dark theaters watching unspeakable acts on screen, we find release -- or at least distraction from the real threats we face.
"Horror is the genre that makes you feel something, like comedy makes you laugh," said Andrew Form, a partner in Michael Bay's company Platinum Dunes, which produced the new "Friday the 13th." "It elicits an immediate response. You sit down in the seat and you just know that your hand's probably going to be over your eyes and you're going to be waiting for those jumps. For 90 minutes, you're guaranteed to feel something."
Which explains why the genre has managed such an enduring presence, even though it rarely earns much in the way of critical acclaim. Since the glory days of the Universal monster movies starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, horror cinema always has operated on a cyclical rhythm with various types of films falling in and out of favor. In the last dozen years, there have been nearly as many trends.
In 1996, director Wes Craven's "Scream" adopted a postmodern "ironic" approach to the genre, dispatching the crop of wheezing serial killers that had been in vogue before. Then came the supernatural thrillers inspired by Asian ghost stories, the so-called torture porn period and a batch of "reimaginings" of and sequels to various horror classics and cult gems, with the occasional original project (usually from a country other than the U.S.) generating rapturous chatter (recent examples: Spain's "The Orphanage" and Sweden's "Let the Right One In").
Every one of these mini-trends is represented among the crop of upcoming releases, indicating not just a willingness on the part of Hollywood to invest in the genre -- which needs neither A-list actors nor expensive special effects nor marketing budgets to do well, a plus in these dour economic times -- but also a furious hodgepodge of creative energy. That fervor is likely to grow only more frenzied now that improved 3-D technology has been thrown into the mix.
"I think all the studios know that horror sells," Zombie, 44, said by phone last week, as he was preparing to head to Georgia to shoot "H2." "It's a genre that never gets any respect or any love, but it's always a safe bet."
'Inheritance of violence'
Director Craven, 69, has spent most of his decades-long career terrifying audiences with films that tend to be about ideas much larger and more profound than simply who in a group of characters in peril will live to see the sequel -- not surprising, really, given his former life as a humanities professor. Sitting at the head of the dining room table in his midcentury modern Hollywood Hills home on a recent Thursday morning, sunlight streaming through a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows, the genial, soft-spoken writer-director said his next film, "25/8," about a young man who discovers that he is the son of a serial killer who had unconsciously committed his crimes, is a very personal project.