2015 has not been a good year for the Horror genre, as far as mainstream feature film releases are concerned. Local (Australian) film distributors have been careful with the horror titles they have released, confining themselves to mostly supernatural thrillers that have a relatively low gore factor. This strategy makes sense, as the promotion of a feature film is a costly exercise and the market for the genuinely horrifying is not large enough to book cinema screens around the country for any great length of time.
This leaves Horror fans with very few options when it comes to indulging their desire for the genre on a cinema screen. Enter Jason Blum. In a relatively short period of time, Blum has created a catalogue of low-budget horror films that operate in the M to MA rated space here in Australia and the PG-13 to R rated space in the United States. It's hard to believe that since 2007, when Blum helped produce the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, he has either produced or executive produced 52 films. That's 52 films in 8 years; most of which have been in the Horror genre in some shape or form. Blumhouse Productions have become so synonymous with the genre that the major studios all work closely with Blum to secure the distribution rights for properties built around his production model. The reason for this is simple. Blum makes sure that films either developed in-house or outside productions brought in under his tent can be made cheaply and quickly. With the right marketing, a studio can distribute one of Blum's films and get a cut of the ticket income with very little financial risk.
The problem with the quality of the Horror films released in 2015 has been a result of the diminishing creative returns from a number of key Blumhouse franchises. INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3, SINISTER 2 and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION all looked as though they had nothing left in the tank by the end of them. The latest PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is a special case in point, as it was the sixth film in the series and was trying to tie up a whole heap of loose ends from the previous five entries. The result was a couple of jump scares, some cheap looking visual effects and an ending that had cinema patrons audibly asking "Is that it?" as the credits rolled. INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 tried to pull a swifty on audiences by doing a prequel but trying to set the franchise up to prolong the participation of key carry-over characters. The result was just a confusing hotch-potch that only made sense if you applied the film's own internal, flimsy logic to your own way of thinking. As for SINISTER 2, that didn't even get a cinema release, as it appeared and then disappeared off the local distributors schedule.
Perhaps in recognition that the franchise well was about to run dry, Blumhouse found a couple of "Found Footage" newbies to release on an unsuspecting public. UNFRIENDED and THE GALLOWS. The former remains my pick for worst film of 2015 to get a cinema release. The story pitch must have sounded like high concept horror and, to a certain extent, had the premise been executed with a better level of professionalism, it may have been a good film. The problem is, it's an incoherent shambles that has no logic - internal or otherwise - to make the viewer believe what they are viewing is remotely plausible. Similarly, THE GALLOWS stretches the "Found Footage" technique to absolute breaking point, using a combination of a video camera and smartphones to construct the in-camera point-of-view. This film is also an example of Blumhouse Productions developing somebody else's work and shepherding it through their production system. Despite my negativity toward the movie itself, I do feel that Jason Blum and his team should be credited for taking film makers Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing under their wing and securing the distribution support of New Line Cinema. Unfortuantely, this does not change the concern that THE GALLOWS suffers from the same problem as INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3
If sequels and new releases weren't bad enough, 2015 has also brought viewers one of the most pointless movies to ever see the dark of a cinema - POLTERGEIST. The 1982 version of POLTERGEIST isn't really a horror film; it's a piece of stunt film making to demonstrate that no matter what Steven Spielberg was associated with, it would be commercially successful. It's memorable for a couple of set-pieces, but it's pop culture status has seen the film viewed through rose coloured glasses. Not that much really happens and the opportunity to explore the supernatural dimension is contained to the last part of the story. At some point in time, Sam Raimi thought it was a good idea to co-opt right owner MGM into a remake starring Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt with Gil Kenan. Unfortunately, this turned out to be not such a good idea after all and the finished product came and went from cinema screens pretty quickly.
In October 2015, Guillermo del Toro threw Horror fans a curve ball with the release of CRIMSON PEAK. What many thought was going to be an upmarket horror film turned out to be an off-kilter Gothic romance whose main character just happened to be able to see Ghosts. Director del Toro stated as much after the film's release, but there was no hiding the disappointment among both the Director's fan base and viewers looking for more in the way of genuine scares.
The final stretch of 2015 sees a couple of new Horror entries which may or may not add to the woes the Horror genre has experienced in 2015. SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE and KRAMPUS are both scheduled before Christmas 2015. SCOUTS GUIDE looks like a ridiculous Zombie romp (as the title suggests) and the film is very much geared toward the young adult end of the market whose fascination with series like THE WALKING DEAD has sparked commercial interest in the "Undead". KRAMPUS looks to be a more serious affair and the film's first trailer suggests that it could actually have the most suspense of any Horror genre releases in 2015. The big issue for Horror films in consideration of what has been released in 2015 is the originality of stories and the technical quality of their production. Too much quality is being sacrificed in order to maximise the return-on-investment. The "Found Footage" technique is undermining the genre. Distributors and production companies need to agree to develop properties that display the skill, technique and production values afforded mainstream genres, otherwise, the most frightening thing about Horror films is whether the genre survives as a viable option for the big screen.