Tales of the Hook take on the New Blood at the Box Office - 12 March 2009

Way back in 1980 Sean Cunningham and friends noted the huge success John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) had achieved at the box office in North America. At the time it was the most successful independent movie ever released, and would remain the most successful horror Indie outing till The Blair Witch Project (1999) apparently convinced part time horror viewers that the Maryland forests are somehow scary. Cunningham, who freely admits they copied great swaths of their movie from Halloween, distilled John Carpenter's movie down to the specific elements that worked for that movie. A final girl facing the protagonist, a group of teens cut off from adult supervision, etc. Cunningham also figured the target audience, teen males, wouldn't be put off by some flesh on display. The result was the original Friday the 13th, a bare bones production that discarded any traditional movie values for "murder set pieces", the more elaborate the death scene the better. Hey it worked for Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and those Italian giallo guys had been doing it for years. At the time Cunningham never expected his new "splatter" flick to achieve everlasting fame and would have been quite surprised at the concept of it generating even a single sequel.

As luck would have it, while Cunningham and cohorts were putting the finishing touches to their opus, Paramount Studio was casting the net wide for a horror movie or movies in order to take advantage of the upsurge in interest in horror at the time. Paramount had noted the success the independent arms of various other Studios were having with horror properties and decided the time was right to test those dark waters. Hence Cunningham's movie was picked up and given major distribution by a leading Studio. This proved to be something of a stroke of genius as the publicity simply exploded and brought what should have been a second half drive in movie to the attention of a fare larger audience. Feminist groups picket cinemas, Ebert and his ilk openly attacked the movie in various journals, and the crowds started to roll in for a media induced event movie. Paramount and Cunningham couldn't have planned a marketing campaign any better. Of interest it seems that everyone was happy if an Independant studio released something like Friday the 13th but got real upset if a major studio released under their banner.

Naturally with the huge success of Friday the 13th Paramount wanted more of the same from Cunningham's team. Strangely this lead to seven sequels under the Studio's banner in the face of increasing public pressure and MPAA interference. What was becoming a cottage industry was finally halted by the movie going public deciding they had seen quite enough of Jason Voorhees thank you very much.

Enter New Line, one of the new turks who were pretty much built on their own original horror property Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street. With Cunningham egging them on, the Director wanted to wrest control back from Paramount, New Line went into negotiation with Paramount over the rights to the Friday the 13th franchise. In one of those strange legal turnups that make you wonder if anyone actually read the fine point, New Line came away with the rights to the "Jason Voorhees" name but not the franchise title "Friday the 13th". Paramount were clearly hanging onto what they saw as a future property when the movie going public would be ready to re-visit Crystal Lake. New Line for their part were happy enough as the perception was that Paramount wasn't going to be ready to re-enter slasher land for a long time to come, thus leaving the coast clear for a re-model Jason Voorhees to be launched on cinema partons.

New Line released three loosely based F13th movies to various results as they struggle to come up with something to match Paramount's reign. Jason Goes to Hell (1993) angered the core Friday fanbase but did enough to show the Studio there was money in them there Crystal Lake hills. Unfortunatly with other projects pending it would be quite sometime before the Studio dusted off Jason Voorhees again. It took till 2001 before a second movie based around Crystal Lake's most infamous denizen was released. Jason X was shockingly Friday the 13th set in outer space, and the film got exactly what it deserved at the box office. The only bright side for long suffering F13th fans was on the DVD extras where Joe Bob Briggs makes a complete goose out of himself. With a faltering franchise on their hands, they had already pretty much killed off poor Freddy, New Line decided to call in famed action Director Ronny Woo to beef things up. The result was Freddy vs Jason (2003) which managed a rampage to strong box office results while further irritating Jason's core constituency. Notably, and probably the reason New Line didn't revisit the FvJ end of the street, the increasingly important DVD market rejected the match up we had all apparently been waiting our entire lifes for. Discs quickly started appearing in sales bins and a whole bunch of returns was going down as Retailers realised they had completely over called a movie with a seriously limited market. Clearly the older horror market, the main target for horror DVD sales, were not interested in what was viewed as teen orientated trash.

New Line put the franchise on the back shelf and went on to reach the very heights of success with Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, before failing completely with a number of ill conceived expensive projects that were never going to recoup their costs. Parent Warner Bros were forced in 2008 to bring their wayward subsidiary into the corporate fold, abandoning a number of new movies New Line were interested in, and riding out the back catalogue of New Line releases scheduled for the next few years. Warners had clearly had enough of a loose cannon in their organisation, especially after a couple of lean years for the parent company. Naturally Jason Voorhees came across with the excess baggage from New Line.

Just when there was hope that Jason had finally meet his match in corporate shenanigans the rumours started to appear on the net. Various interested parties were associated with a new Jason flick without anyone really have the firepower to get the disparent stock holders together and have a contract tabled. As usual the horror press online printed every single rumour as gospel, as they continue to do today with other properties, about a possible return to Crystal Lake without verifying the facts. Which was why when Michael Bay's company Platinum Dunes announced their intention to tackle the franchise about every legit source on the net took it with a grain of salt and waited on Warner Brothers and Paramount to make a statement. Platinum Dunes had of course already made a complete mess of remakes of The Amityville Horror and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but had been solid at the box office with the two previous movie properties. The only bump in the road to totally tarnishing the dark genre's reputation was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning which simply tanked both in North America and Internationally. Unfazed by what was viewed as a minor glitch Michael Bay's company announced that not only were they taking on Jason Voorhees, but they were also doing it under The Friday the 13th banner. Expectations were not high for anything remotely good in terms of revisiting Crystal Lake. Marcus Nispel was helming the usual L.A pretty people casting decisions, what sort of evil could we expect here?

The movie opened in North America on 13th Feb 2009 to an astonishingly good $40,570,365, proving the heavy advertising campaign worked in getting punters into cinemas. However the backlash started against Warner Brothers and Marcus Nispel almost immediately. The RT meter was indicative of other critics with Friday the 13th (2009) barely lifting itself above the radar with a 26% result. To be honest the RT is at best hit and miss with horror critics invariably giving any old hack job a good rating while the vast majority of their colleagues simply jump on whatever bandwagon has started rolling at the time. Do these people simply copy the same lines from other reviews?

Warner Bros rushed to press with a statement that a second Friday the 13th had been approved, this turned out to be a tad premature. Over it's second weekend Nispel's flick simply imploded with a -80.4 free fall from the opening weekend. That's the second highest ever drop for any movie and the steepest ever decline for a horror movie in North America. To reinforce the fact that Friday the 13th wasn't influencing people and earning friends a third weekend drop of -53.6% consigned the slasher to perhaps the worse multiplier any horror movie has suffered from in recent memory. Ouch, I really wouldn't be rushing that sequel there Warners.

So we come to Australia and a local market that has had time to digest the bad news coming out of North America. Friday the 13th opens tonight and we'll be following the results day by day through weekend one to see what impact the Northern results has on the local release. Earlier in the week I put a $1.1 million opening weekend figure on Friday the 13th so guess I'm stuck with that one. To be honest I'm actually expecting a far worse result end of day. The other question is whether or not Jason can capture a new generation of fans?

Thursday 12 March 2009

Start of weekend eleven at the box office and Friday the 13th has opened in fourth sport behind Notorious (aimed at all the gangster rappers in suburbian Australia), Watchmen (the giant blue penis of cinematic ineptitude), and the number one movie on the night Confessions of a Shopaholic (someone actually paid money to see this crap?). Jason commanded 142 locations and slaughtered up $114,846 for Distributor Paramount

Breaking it down that's not a good result on opening night and would indicate there's no built in "event" feeling about the movie. However there are a couple of points in Friday the 13th's favour. Firstly tonight is Friday the 13th, a lot of people may have been waiting on the planets being in alignment and seeing Jason on the big fella's night of nights. And secondly the movie carries a heavy "R" rating, which could mean older horror fans will wait for Friday and Saturday night to group book and make a night of it. Troubling for Paramount is horror's core teen orientated demographics will not give the movie a hand up through the next two nights as most horror flicks can expect.

Outlook Not the best opening but the jury remains out. If Friday night holds up or increases then Friday the 13th could be in for a great opening weekend. Our projection of $1.1 million is currently looking like a total overclock at this stage.

Friday 13 March 2009

As expected Friday the 13th recovered on Friday the 13th with a $230,267 result and third place behind the imploding Watchmen on it's second weekend, and new release Confessions of a Shopaholic, Australia failing an I.Q test there. A Running total of $345,113 is below expectations through Friday. The jury is still out as the "R" horror demographics notably don't attend weekend movie sessions, so where is Saturday's crowd going to come from?

Outlook With a stronger performance on Friday leading into the actual Weekend a result looks possible, though I'm pretty much becoming resigned to another poor horror performer at the Box Office. The $1.1 million projection even after two days looks like pie in the sky stuff, Friday the 13th is becoming an underperformer in the Australian market.

Saturday 14 March 2009

Friday's increase proved short lived with Friday the 13th simply imploding Saturday. The movie staggered to $152,680 as fans didn't buy into the remake, and overall the movie dropped down the chart to fifth spot. Saturday saw Confessions of a Shopaholic extend it's lead over Watchmen with both Notorious and the long running Slumdog Millionaire surging on strong support. If Sunday continues the slide, and I really can't see an audience following up the Sunday roast with an "R" rated slasher, then Friday the 13th is going to suffer the worse opening weekend result of any widely released horror movie thus far in 2009. This doesn't bode well for the other remakes getting distribution via cinemas in the coming months.

Outlook To be kind to the movie we can simply say it's performing badly and leave it at that. A quick look at other predictions for opening weekend would indicate that Friday the 13th has completely underperformed the general expectations for the weekend. Memo to Hollywood, make your money on opening Weekend in North America because it's going to be all down hill from there with a horror remake. Memo to Australian Distributors, don't leave screening of an iffy flick till a month after it's release in North America, the fans aren't as stupid as some of you seem to think they are.

For the record Confessions of a Shopaholic won the weekend followed by Watchmen recovering to post just over a -50% fall on weekend two, with Notorious back in third after receiving strong support from the Baulkham Hills gangster rappers (read suburbian kids who think they are living in the 'hood, *snigger*), and Icon's biggest ever hit Slumdog Millionaire just heading off Friday the 13th. That's right folks a poor kid from the Indian slums kicked the mighty Jason Voorhee's butt badly, there's probably a message in there for us.