The recent box office success of The Conjuring has left me pondering the fate of horror. It would be hard to ignore the already surpassed nine-figure profit The Conjuring has reeled in amidst the summer blockbuster season. Their success is worth celebrating for horror fans everywhere; however, their high box office success has also left me a bit concerned for the future of horror films. Why? Well…we have to consider the nature and history of horror compared to the normalcy of Hollywood. Horror, in my eyes, has never been Hollywood…well, at least serious horror has never been Hollywood. The Conjuring’s success was surprising, typically horror, with its narrow target audience, has never really done well at the box office, but somehow this haunted “true life” tale made it through a season traditionally dominated by CGI and big name actors and actresses. The sheer awesomeness in the fact that this low-budget, high-quality horror story knocked the socks off the higher-budget movies is worth toasting, but as we drink in their success, the impact The Conjuring has had on the minds and pocketbooks in Hollywood Land has made me very very weary.
The Conjuring was produced on a mere $20 million budget and has, so far, raked in over $100 million. With a success story like this, its only a matter of time before other studios begin to take a swing at low-budget horror. This begs the question: will indie horror’s new found attention be good or bad for the future of horror? When these Hollywood studios begin to look at horror as a new cash cow, how will their motives effect the way horror is told? Will there be wave after wave of horrible horror flops in hopes of catching one money-making juggernaut? Or will it go the other avenue that so many other promising horror movies have gone? Consider World War Z, a mainstream high budget Hollywood “horror” movie if there ever was one. Though, I’d consider WWZ to be more action-horror than serious horror because of its use of CGI to create fantastic scenes instead of developing deeper character stories, WWZ was only moderately tolerable than first expected. However, lets be frank here, WWZ was more Schwarzenegger than Romero, more Micheal Bay than the original Max Brooks novel by the same name. This is what happens when horror goes mainstream: developers, producers, directors ditch original material for something with a little more glitter.
Perhaps my weariness boils down to a firm belief that the words lucrative and horror should never coexist. To be honest, the only reason I even look at box office ratings is to somehow gauge how receptory audiences are towards certain films that interest me. The Conjuring could have been a box office disaster and I would still tell you that it is without a doubt the best movie of the summer. Historically, horror movies have never done that well with mainstream audiences. It is only when the film are released on home video that these movies gain cult followings. Consider the Texas Chain Saw Massacre as proof of the importance of indie films remaining indie. This 1974 masterpiece was one of the best low-budget slasher films in the history of savage cinema. Today, critics and fans alike hail TCSM as one of the greatest films ever made, capturing the true essence of the shattered dreams of American life in the thralls of Vietnam. However, when Texas Chain Saw Massacre first released in theaters, Hollywood critics tore the movie to pieces (forgive the pun). The success of TCSM has much to owe to its cult following than its box office rating. Should I even mention the 2003 reboot? Lets just not go there, okay?
To say the least, I’m extremely satisfied with the success The Conjuring has been enjoying. Its nice getting to see a genre I’ve loved since my sister let me watch Night of the Living Dead when I was a kid do so well in theaters. But when I stop and think about what their success might end of doing to my beloved genre…well, I get a little nervous. However, I cannot argue with the historical success of mainstream movies such as Jaws or Poltergeist. Both of these movies were produced by popular Hollywood studios, coming out the other side with both a high box office rating and cult following. But these are few and far between. It seems, for the most part, originality and Hollywood are exclusive from each other. For now, we should all toast The Conjuring for pulling off the near impossible, whilst maintaining a cautionary eye on the west coast.