Ten months into the moviegoing year, and many of the most lucrative surprises at the box office are cut of the horror cloth: “The Conjuring” ($137 million), “Insidious Chapter 2” ($81 million), “Mama” ($71 million). Conceived with low expectations and lower budgets, all three coasted to weekend wins and have ended up in the box office top 50.
You could imagine, then, how it was easy to think "Carrie" could continue the trend last weekend -- A-list cast, big marketing spend and the added selling point that the film shares name and concept with one of the most popular horror movies of all time. A $25-million opening seemed certain. A $30-million was definitely within reach.
Of course the Julianne Moore-Chloe Moretz redo managed only a measly $17 million and is all but done as it heads into its second weekend, riding a mediocre B- CinemaScore. It’ll be lucky to get to $40 million cumulative. (The 1976 original took in $135 million in today’s dollars.)
There are a number of specific factors that no doubt brought down the Kimberly Peirce movie. But I also wonder if there’s something a little broader, and deeper, going on. "Carrie's" disappointment continues a spate of flop horror title revivals over the last few years -- “The Thing” ($16 million), “Fright Night" ($18 million) and "The Last House on the Left" ($32 million). ("A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Friday the 13th" did somewhat better, but given the amount of marketing behind them, they were hardly blockbusters either.)
What's surprising about all these flops is that it’s indeed a remarkable time for horror as a whole. At a Hollywood moment when franchise-creation has been next-to-impossible, the horror machine has spun them with relative ease, generating not just this year’s hits but the "Saw” and “Paranormal Activity" franchises from seemingly out of thin air. So why can't the reboots do the same?
Part of it may be these movies' element of discovery, or lack thereof. If you're a fan of dramas or gross-out comedies, it's unlikely you've hungrily seen every movie made in the category, watching and re-watching, comparing obsessively. So a new version of an old movie can work, because you may not have seen the original and, even if you did, you may not be that attached to it. That's not true for most horror fans. When you see a new movie like "Carrie" or "The Thing" hit theaters, you already have your deep association with the original, and why mess with that?
And part of it may be the novelty factor. Even though the scares are familiar and the tropes can be well-worn, most of the horror resurgence -- indeed, most of horror period -- is driven by new conceits. These can be formal ("Paranormal Activity") or visual ("Saw") or narrative ("The Conjuring"), but beneath all the trappings we know there's something new. And a reboot doesn't really allow for new.
A little familiarity isn't bad in horror -- the genre is built on it. But it has to come with something new. Or at least with something more than an old name.
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