The calendar may say it’s springtime, with Passover and Easter around the corner, but at movie theaters, it’s more like Halloween.
As many as seven horror films are opening this month, including “Afflicted,” “Oculus,” horror spoof “A Haunted House 2,” and “The Quiet Ones.” There are also the horror-themed sci-fi thrillers “Under the Skin” and “Transcendence.” Even at the art house, there’s a vampire movie, Jim Jarmusch‘s “Only Lovers Left Alive.”
Has April become the new October?
There are a number of possible reasons for the current pile-up of horror films, but it may not be a deliberate strategy on the part of the studios, according to box office experts.
“April is often a dumping ground for studios, which is probably why we’re seeing a surplus of horror titles this year,” says Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “Truth be told, it’s also the calm before the summer storm, so it’s often an ideal time for companies to drop titles that are more genre-based, like horror films.”
“I don’t think it’s a pattern,” says IMDb managing editor Keith Simanton. “It certainly doesn’t hurt to open in April. I think the audience for horror films is year-round.”
Simanton notes that many of this month’s horror films are pick-ups, movies that distributors bought after they were finished, rather than projects that originated with the distributing studios. In other words, the studios don’t have as much invested in these films, financially or emotionally, as they would with movies they had developed themselves. So it’s no wonder they’d drop them unceremoniously in April, before releasing the summer movies that are important to them.
Still, studios do tend to release horror movies at proven times of the year. The pre-Halloween weeks of October have always been a no-brainer, but in recent years, the studios have found receptive audiences in late August and throughout January.
“Honestly, January is the new October as far as I’m concerned, and has been for a couple years,” says Bock, noting that four of the top five films in January 2013 were horror hits “Mama,” “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” the first “A Haunted House,” and “Texas Chainsaw 3D.” This year, there was also a wave of fearsome flicks in January, including “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” “I, Frankenstein,” and “Devil’s Due,” although these were much less successful than the previous January’s horror harvest.
Even as January struggles to prove itself a fertile season for fright films, April has been sneaking into the pumpkin patch for a few years now, starting in 2011, with the surprise smash of “Insidious” and the more modest success of “Scream 4.” In 2012, the scary April offerings included “The Cabin in the Woods” (a hit) and “The Raven” (not). Last April, fright fans turned out in large numbers for the “Evil Dead” reboot, not so much for “Scary Movie 5” and “The Lords of Salem.”
Still, none of those Aprils saw more than three prominent horror releases, while April 2014 contains arguably twice as many. “It is fascinating,” says Simanton, whose only other explanation is something he noticed this spring at CinemaCon, the annual convention for theater owners. Naturally, the folks who run multiplexes would like to be selling tickets year-round, not just in summer and the year-end holidays, the two times of year where the studios focus most of their marketing efforts. Citing horror movies as an example, the theater owners pushed the studios to think less seasonally, Simanton says.
After all, he says, “the studios have found that they can make money with the right property at any time.”