How horror became Hollywood’s safe bet in a scary box office climate
By Christopher Bilton
The horror film is a rare franchise in Hollywood, not to mention one of the longest-lived, surviving by virtue of being a staple of the big-screen cinema. And not only surviving, but thriving—a testament not only to the talents of filmmakers but also to the power of nostalgia and the lure of the ever-expanding “what if” factor: what if an unheralded, untested new filmmaker would take the reins and make an instant success of it?
That’s the challenge that filmmaker Adam Wingard has set himself as he takes aim at a new franchise with what he characterizes as a very different kind of horror film: one that takes its cue from a genre that’s been a long time coming—the family film—and is currently being revived by the likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
Like many of the writers and directors who have contributed to the horror genre over the last half century, Wingard has been around long enough to have come off the sidelines. His first feature was the 1981 horror film The Hills Have Eyes. His second feature is The Final Cut (and the follow-up to the cult classic) and his current project, the upcoming horror feature The Guest (on which he’ll direct), are all the results of one of the most bizarre and unheralded turnarounds in recent history.
It was late in the 1970s that Wingard—who at the time was working as a freelance film writer—noticed that the horror genre was stagnating while the box office was continuing to explode. From a financial perspective, horror was in bad shape: a period that had marked the peak of the “old” horror, the era when filmgoers were used to watching blood and gore, not CGI-produced monsters with names like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers. In the mid-to-late ’70s, audiences were