Article from The Los Angeles Times:
Movies put the R back in horror
Eschewing PG-13 ratings, a spate of "grisly, stomach-turning adrenaline" thrillers is coming up, ready to give adults a good scare.
There are a lot of great date movies this year. But if you're thinking of such romantic comedies as "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" or "Alex & Emma" or any other "chick flicks," you're stuck in the wrong genre.
The truth is, the best date movies are the current critically acclaimed, virus-infected zombie jamboree "28 Days Later"; the upcoming cannibal chiller "Jeepers Creepers 2"; and the cheeky, flesh-eating-disease shocker "Cabin Fever."
"People forget that horror movies are the best date movies," says Eli Roth, director of "Cabin Fever." "You don't take a girl to 'How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.' You take her to a horror movie because you have a great excuse to hold each other's hands. You are grabbing onto each other. She has her head buried in your chest. That is a fun experience. It's like going to an amusement park or riding a roller coaster. People like to be scared, but they don't like to be scared in real life."
"There has always been and always will be an audience for the horror movie because we want to be scared," says noted special effects artist Stan Winston ("The Terminator," "Aliens," "Jurassic Park"), who produced the early-summer horror flick "Wrong Turn" and created the film's insatiable, inbred mountain men-cannibals. "We all want to be scared."
Horror films as date movies are nothing new, especially when you think of the old drive-in movie experience. In the 1950s, couples snuggled to "Creature From the Black Lagoon"; in the 1960s it was "Night of the Living Dead"; and in the 1970s it was "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Last House on the Left."
But because studios have become obsessed with securing PG-13 ratings to broaden the age range of the youth audience, older moviegoers, Roth laments, haven't had the opportunity to experience "hard R, kind of grisly, stomach-turning adrenaline" horror films.
Not to worry. Low-budget, R-rated horror flicks are making a comeback. One can look to the R-rated 1999 phenomenon "The Blair Witch Project" for helping turn things around, although some observers would note that the film didn't get its R for visceral thrills. The Motion Picture Assn. Web site cites only "language" (it had an abundance of four-letter words). Shot on video with a no-name cast for a threadbare $60,000, the indie flick went on to gross $140.5 million in the U.S. It performed spectacularly on home video, making $53.4 million in video rentals and $15.7 million in DVD sales.
Two years ago, the $10-million cannibal horror movie "Jeepers Creepers" hit screens, bringing in $37.5 million, another $45.3 million in video rentals and $10.7 million in DVD sales. "It did great on video," says Peter Adee, head of marketing for MGM. "The fact that we did so well on video bodes well for the upcoming release."
In general, these horror films have a long shelf life. In the case of Tsui Hark's "Vampire Hunters," the film opened in May to good reviews as a midnight movie and came out on Columbia TriStar Home Video less than a month later. Michael Stadford, vice president of DVD content and programming for Columbia, says the window between theatrical and video release is decided on a film-by-film basis. "The strategy is designed given what we see as the real opportunity in terms of longevity in home video. We try to figure out a good theatrical window. The theatrical window is used to generate awareness and helps set up the DVD release."
This year alone has seen the release of rocker Rob Zombie's long-delayed gore fest, "House of 1000 Corpses," the vampire-kung fu thriller "Vampire Hunters," "Wrong Turn" and now the apocalyptic virus thriller "28 Days Later." On Aug. 15, New Line Cinema pits two indestructible '80s slashers against each other in "Freddie Vs. Jason"; two weeks later marks the arrival of "Jeepers Creepers 2." Lions Gate unveils "Cabin Fever," which has been a favorite on the festival circuit, on Sept. 12, and the following week, Screen Gems unleashes its vampires-versus-werewolves thriller "Underworld," with Kate Beckinsale, in which ferocious vampires are the good guys. Another remake of Tobe Hooper's 1974 blood-and-guts classic, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," hits theaters Oct. 17, and come Halloween, Ridley Scott's landmark 1979 horror thriller, "Alien," will be rereleased.
"When I was a kid, within a span of five years I saw 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers,' 'The Shining,' 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' and 'Evil Dead,' " Roth says. "It was kind of the golden era of horror. You had really good A-list directors like Philip Kaufman, Richard Donner and Stanley Kubrick stepping in and making horror movies. There was no stigma attached, and then you had this youth crop like Sam Raimi and John Carpenter who wanted to kick down the door of Hollywood. So there was this infusion of top-level directors and a young emerging wave."
But the era ended, Roth believes, after the release of Wes Craven's 1984 "Nightmare on Elm Street," which was extremely scary and gory but also occasionally wickedly funny.
"I think what happened was a lot of horror filmmakers didn't want to be pegged as a horror person or they just got tired or lazy," Roth said.
"There was also a backlash in censorship," adds Roth. "It wasn't until 'Reservoir Dogs'  and 'Pulp Fiction'  that Quentin Tarantino brought back violence into movies. Now the ratings board is really strict about sex People got much more conservative. As a result, you had horror movies that had nothing."
"We go in waves of different kinds of horror movies from camp to hard core to A-list to B movies," Winston says. "Around the '50s, the horror movie was the B movie, but the horror movie started out literally as the A movie of feature — classic Hollywood movies from Universal. Boris Karloff's 'Frankenstein' and Lon Chaney Jr. as 'The Wolf Man' were the A movies."
It's all about the terror
Winston says he has nothing against campy and funny horror films, but, like Roth, he prefers the "down and dirty, gritty hard-core" thrillers.
"When I was a younger 12-year-old than I am today," Winston quips, "I couldn't wait to go to a movie and be scared. If I wasn't scared when I went to a horror movie, then it failed. You have to have a focus to a movie, and the true focus of a horror movie is not necessarily poetry. It's not necessarily about leaving a message behind. It's about scaring you. It's about going in and having that thrill of being terrified and then being able to walk out of the theater and go, 'You're OK.' "
"You try to give the audience who likes this kind of movie a fairly steady diet," offers Peter Adee, director of marketing at MGM. "You don't want to give them all of these movies at the same time, because they can burn out, and you also don't want to have that time where there is just a drought of these type of movies."
When director Len Wiseman began developing his werewolf-vampire flick "Underworld " a few years go, he continually checked the Internet to see if there were any other fangs-and-fur flicks being developed. Initially there weren't, "but then all of a sudden there are 15 werewolf movies that are in the works. Luckily, ours is the first. Obviously things go in waves."
Originally he had developed the idea for another studio, but then executives wanted him to gear it more for a teen audience. Wiseman took the project to Screen Gems.
Zombie's "House of 1000 Corpses" was originally made for Universal, which delayed, then dropped it like a hot potato because of its extreme violence. MGM picked it up for a Halloween release, then backed out. Eventually, Lions Gate aquired rights to the $7-million production for a bargain-basement price. It has taken in more than $13 million at the box office and is set for home-video release Aug. 12.
The movie is apparently successful enough that Zombie and Lions Gate are teaming up for a second "Corpses," set for production in October. "The movie stands on its own merits," says Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate. " 'House of 1000 Corpses' is a good, old-fashioned movie. We recognized the film for what it was, and we were able to successfully exploit and market the picture, and it's turning into a big win situation for the company and it's now going to be a franchise for us."
Although he won't go into specifics, he says Lions Gate's acquisition and marketing costs "were exceptionally low, and a $13-million gross on 'Corpses' is going to turn into a big win for us. We are in profit just coming out of the theatrical, and it's going to be a great ancillary [home video and cable] title."
"Corpses" initially appealed to guys, Ortenberg says, "but as the film played in its successive weeks, the audience began to shift from overwhelmingly male to more of a 50-50 split between men and women. I think 'Cabin Fever' will still lean male, but my guess right out of the gate is that we will have close to a 50-50 split because it's been getting great buzz on the Internet and stars a lot of pretty young faces. It's sexy without being sexist. One of the unique things about 'Cabin Fever' is the film has played many film festivals; it's going to be the best-reviewed horror film in a long time."
Not that long.
"28 Days Later" has also received generally strong reviews.
'Rough around the edges'
Alex Garland, the English scriptwriter of "28 Days Later," has been a fan of post-apocalyptic horror stories since he was a youngster. Those stories and movies inspired him to write the film, which cost less than $9 million to produce and which grossed $20 million within days of its release in the U.S. It grossed $10 million in its British run late last year.
"The first time I ever came across that stuff is through reading books like 'The Day of the Triffids,' rather than watching films. They had a big impact. I always had a real appetite for these films or stories. It can be a badly done B movie, and I still really get sucked into it."
The film was shot in England on digital video, which gives it a raw, disturbing quality.
"There are times when slickness in a horror film can work, but they tend to be ironic, self-referential, sort of playing on a kind of knowing game with the audience," Garland says. "But there is this other tradition of the genre which is much more visceral and much more rough around the edges. I think we have a lot of that clumsiness in our film. Some of it is just because we were struggling to get [the shots] and we couldn't. It sounds like I am covering our tracks for mistakes, but in a way, I generally do believe that that kind of clumsiness can be an asset."
With so many horror films coming out, Ortenberg believes "there will be something of a shakeout. Where everybody kind of jumped on the bandwagon, there will be a few high-profile failures in addition to some successes, and that will probably make studios, both independent and major, analyze the genre a little bit more carefully. There is no such thing as a no-brainer. You will have to start with a good movie, a good concept. Something you can sell."