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The curse of the shrinking attendance

Formerly a popular genre, horror movies can't seem to scare up audiences in 2014

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Here's a tale that chills every studio executive to the bone.

A genre goes gangbusters at the box office, ringing up millions in profits with little investment -- only to disappear without warning or explanation from the cinema landscape.

Such is the storyline for Hollywood's Horror Hex 2014, a puzzling ticket sales plague that comes just a year after movies like The Conjuring, The Purge and Insidious Chapter 2 delivered solid No. 1 hits.

This year, no horror film has chilled moviegoers, despite formidable entries such as a Paranormal Activity instalment and Eric Bana's Deliver Us From Evil. Analysts expect the sequel The Purge: Anarchy, opening July 18, to breathe some life into the faltering genre.

But little has come from this year's crop of fright flicks except terrifying ticket sales (in U.S. dollars):

Paranormal Activity, the found-footage franchise that had never had an instalment collect less than $54 million, saw January's Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, scare up just $33 million.

Deliver Us From Evil, Bana's $30-million exorcism flick, opened in third place July 2 and has stalled at $25 million.

Devil's Due, another found-footage film, managed just seventh place in January and only $16 million.

This "has been one if the scariest years on record for horror," says Paul Dergarabedian, analyst for box office firm Rentrak. "Simply calling something a horror movie doesn't automatically get people running to the multiplex."

Last July, the haunted-house film The Conjuring became the year's fifth No. 1 horror film and one of the few to collect more than $100 million, rattling theatres to the tune of $137 million. The $3-million The Purge rounded up $65 million, Insidious Chapter 2 $84 million, and the $15-million Mama was a surprise No. 1 in January 2013, collecting $72 million.

No horror film this year has hit No. 1.

Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations says audiences may be suffering fright fatigue. "Horror is the most cyclical genre in Hollywood. Once something hits big, it doesn't take studios long to jump on the trend and really start churning them out."

The deluge has overwhelmed audiences and may already have made passé horror's "found-footage" subgenre, says Ray Subers of Box Office Mojo. "Five years after (the first) Paranormal Activity, this particular technique has finally worn out its welcome," he says.

"The biggest challenge in horror movies is coming up with ideas that isolate the protagonist, and still giving audiences something new," says Eduardo Sanchez, co-director of the original found-footage movie, 1999's The Blair Witch Project, which made $141 million. "That second part is the trickiest, because audiences want something new."

But he has little doubt that horror will haunt again.

"Because everyone has cellphones, it's tougher to put people in that sense of being alone and danger," says Sanchez, who's directing the upcoming horror film Exists, about a group of friends being stalked by Bigfoot during a party weekend in the woods.

"It's cyclical. Horror movies are like roller-coasters: after the first ride, it's not as thrilling. You have to build your coaster bigger and faster. That's what movies are facing: finding that new surprise."

-- USA Today

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 17, 2014 C3

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