Spooky spine-tinglers on the money for box office

A fter almost a decade in which torture films domin ated the box office, horror movies are returning to ghostly thrills, with a new slew of low-budget productions making big money for studios.

The success of 2009's Paranormal Activity, which cost US$15,000 to make and grossed more than US$107 million at United States box offices, has fuelled a thirst in audiences and movie studios for things that go bump in the night.

Halloween audiences previously gripped by the gory Saw franchise about a sadistic serial killer are flocking this season to see supernatural horrors, with Sinister and Paranormal Activity 4 providing scares for the spooky festivities.

The supernatural trend, with very little blood, started this year with The Woman in Black and The Apparition, and will spill into 2013 with upcoming horror films such as Mama, Evil Dead, Carrie and ghostly spoof Scary Movie 5, which will parody Paranormal Activity.

"It's a return to a more classic style of suspense," said Henry Joost, who co-directed the third and fourth Paranormal Activity films with Ariel Schulman.

"When you've just been obliterated with gore, having it slammed in your face for a decade, you respond by seeking the opposite."

Sinister, playing in US movie theatres for Halloween-loving audiences, features an author (Ethan Hawke) who discovers home videos of mysterious murders and soon finds himself pursued by an otherworldly presence.

Director Scott Derrickson said audiences were drawn to bloodless supernatural horrors as a means to escape from news about wars and violent killings.

Saw, made for US$1.2m, grossed more than US$55m at the US box office in 2004 and spawned a franchise, leading a slew of films dubbed "torture porn" for the excessive use of gratuitous violence.

While the Saw franchise initially brought in big money for movie studios, the profits fell by 2009, when the franchise's seventh film, Saw 3D: The Final Chapter, which cost US$20m to make, took only US$45m.

In comparison, the Paranormal Activity franchise, which relies on suspense and strange phenomena, has revamped the genre with a more cost-effective model, since most of the scares are off screen and on grainy footage, minimising the need for special effects and action shots.

The second Paranormal film cost about US$3m to make and earned US$84m. The third film, which cost US$5m to make, has grossed more than US$104m in North America.

Sinister, which cost US$3m, has grossed US$39m after three weeks in the US. Paranormal Activity 4, which cost US$5m, has made US$42m in three weeks. Reuters

Manawatu Standard