Smile, Halloween is over, Black Phone… Can horror movies save?

In the United States as in France, where the cinema industry suffers from competition from streaming platforms, horror, blood, and gore fill cinemas.

Post-Covid, as the 2023 Oscar season opens, Hollywood seems to be smiling again. Or more precisely, two smiles. Those that have brought audiences back to theaters, which have been deserted since the pandemic began. On the one hand, that of Tom Cruise, carnivorous and destructive, in the controls of Top Gun: Maverick , a new all-time US box office record with over $662 million in revenue. On the other hand, a mysterious and menacing smile, from an unknown artist, on the poster of Smilea mini-budget horror film – $17 million – that grossed six times that in less than two months of release.

This story of a young psychiatrist (played by Sosie Bacon) who sees in the smiles of the people around him the story of his announced death, has just entered the top 15 of the most watched feature films of the year. It preceded star films such as Julia Roberts and George Clooney (Ticket to Heaven)… The weaponry is all the more impressive given last year’s near-impossible mission to pry viewers 45 and over from their sofas and the sheer volume of offerings from streaming and VOD platforms. Faced with an alarming decline in cinema admissions in the United States (- 34%) and in France (- 30%) in 2022, the muscular (super) heroes and the heroes of slashers bloodthirsty (violent films) became the designated saviors of an industry worried about its own end.

Horror movies are part of the backbone of Hollywood, especially in times of crisis

Didier Allouch, Canal+ cinema correspondent in Los Angeles

2022 for cinema? A annus horribilis in the literal sense of the term. Because the success of recently released horror films like Smile and Halloween is overthe revival of that of scream, with Neve Campbell, o no, by Jordan Peele, no surprise to the experts. The genre is booming. “In 2017 alone, horror films generated for the first time in history 900 million euros at the global box office,” recalls Michael Grabowski, professor of communication at Manhattan College in New York. “They are part of the backbone of Hollywood, especially in times of crisis,” said Didier Allouch, Canal + cinema correspondent in Los Angeles. “During the Great Depression, after the crash of 1929, what worked indoors? The Dracula and the Frankenstein Universal studios”, recalls the journalist, enthusiastic about the genre.

Fear in times of crisis

Now, in another anxiety-provoking context, is the public once again fond of cinema horror? “We are programmed to play at scaring ourselves, and the collective experience of a movie seen in theaters, as a group, reinforces social cohesion as much as it assures us individually”, confirms Michael Grabowski, specialist in neuroscience applied to cinema. . The strong visual and sound stimuli, our sense of the anguish of the characters form in us a reaction, instinctive, “fight or flight”. A survival instinct. And a chain reaction accompanied by a surge of adrenaline, endorphins and dopamine. Faced with this intoxicating chemical cocktail, it is not surprising that the first fans of horror films are teenagers, who are particularly sensitive to jump scared, thrilling sequences designed to make you jump or scream, like a roller coaster at an amusement park. “They rush there in bands or pairs, in a tradition that continues from generation to generation”, says Didier Allouch.

With this clear increase in box office receipts, we therefore find young people, but also former young people who go to see the first Halloween, The Night of the Masks, by John Carpenter, in 1978, and returned to see the final part, Halloween is over, always with Jamie Lee Curtis, star of the genre. Horror legends are becoming multigenerational. Not to mention that platforms have also begun to contribute nostalgia for the masters of angst: Apple TV+ and Netflix are adapting Stephen King (Lisey’s story, In the tall grass), the Duffer brothers blew up Netflix audience records with their Stranger Thingsfed with references to horror hits from the 1980s and 1990s.

Horror at first gave pride of place to women as strong heroines

Damien Golla, Distribution Director at Wild Bunch

Hollywood knows that this insatiable thirst for hemoglobin pays off. With dozens of horror films made each year, two or three small productions will blow up all the prediction counters. released this year, Black Phone and Smile was among these surprise successes. “A mini budget of $2.3 million like Barbaric (Disney+), made for one platform and released theatrically in America, brought in more than 45!” Didier Allouch is enthusiastic. A root not to be missed. Especially since the horror genre, which is at the cutting edge, adapts very well to the new societal trends that the directors want to cover. Sometimes as pioneers.

The survivor, a cult role

“Horror gave women pride of place early on as strong heroes, not just in supporting roles or victims,” ​​says Damien Golla, director of distribution at Wild Bunch, a distribution company. that launched Severe, Julia Ducournau’s first feature film, in 2016, about a cannibalistic veterinary student. Sigourney Weaver in AliensJamie Lee Curtis in HalloweenNeve Campbell entered Scream : all have a code name like “The last woman”, the survivor who fights evil and triumphs over it, and whom the public recognizes. Therefore, it is perhaps no coincidence that some horror films attract female viewers in greater numbers: “They make up 60% of the audience ofannabelle(2014)”, notes Damien Golla.

In the video, Severethe teaser

An award-winning genre

The genre has already won critical acclaim, as evidenced by the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and the Golden Globe for Best Picture for The Exorcistin 1974, or The silence of the sheep the only one in cinema history to receive the ultimate distinction of best film, in 1992. More recently, out,by Jordan Peele, won the statuette for best original screenplay, giving the director the status of leading a new kind of horror. “At the crossroads of horror and thriller, these films show the true vision of the authors,” reviews Damien Golla, who is preparing the release in France, in 2023, of the survival film Tower , by Guillaume Nicloux. Whatever form these films take – slasher (violent), bloody(blood), psychological horror, evil creatures to fight (killers, zombies, paranormal demons, vampires) – let’s rest assured: our thirst for horror on the big screen is not about to be quenched. Nor the directors’ desire to reinvent the codes to better act out our worst nightmares. “The world is changing, different fears are taking hold of our cultures, and from there new ideas are always springing up,” assured Eli Roth, who is considered the pope of the torture film (hostel ) in Guardian,in 2013. Therefore, we can rejoice, like Julia Ducournau, Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2021 for her horror and feminist Titaniumthat cinema will finally “let the monsters in”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *