The name carries with it some of the most anticipated horror movie titles of the season. Blumhouse, or rather Jason Blum and his team of renegade directors, seem to have the horror movie franchise down to a science. But what actually makes so many Blumhouse films so bloody good? Well, it might be attributed to Blum’s “high-concept, low-budget” mantra when taking on any project. Or perhaps it is the fact that he and his team hand-pick titles from the hundreds of movies making the film festival rounds every year only to make suggestions on the final cut every for fright-filled film. Whether it is his hands-on approach or keen instincts for what can keep us up at night, the filmmakers behind any Blumhouse film have made some of the most memorable horror movie titles in recent memory. Here’s some clues as to why…
There has been several articles published recently that horror movies aren’t just for your B-List actors anymore. Heck, a lot of A-list actors started in the horror industry which, for a long time, was considered just one step above porn. Using A-list actors in horror movies (and them deciding to come to the “dark side”) is a win-win for the filmmakers and the talent equally. Blumhouse shoots their films for about $5 million a piece and where do you think they often put the majority of their budget? Well, into the actors, of course! Unless it’s a creature-feature then the money goes into the monsters and special FX makeup. But having well-known talent helps sell to an international audience and when actors are in a slump (in between gigs), they can always count on auditioning, and most likely, getting the part on the horror film of their choice. Other A-list actors that have made appearances in Blumhouse films are Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids), Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) and Lena Heady (300), to name a few.
James Wan made a horror household name for himself when he was the creator behind the Saw franchise. But he’s moved on and has offered so many more gory goods that will surely make him go down in history as one of the most prolific horror movie directors of our time. More importantly, James can do a movie on a a fairly low budget. It was only shot for a little over $1 million dollars. So the transition over to Blumhouse was an easy one for JAmes as he gets the importance of “high concept, low budget” mentality that Jason Blum has shared with his team and investors. James then went on to direct The Conjuring, Insidious and now the much-anticipated Jesebelle title. His trick in keeping the horror movies fresh? Tell a story that would even creep him out. Seems simple enough, eh? Other directors that have made a name for themselves directing horror films are Scott Derrickson (Sinister), James DeMonaco (The Purge) and, of course, Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) who created the most profitable horror movie franchise of all time. Doesn’t hurt to mention that many Blumhouse directors are now moving on to direct blockbuster films. Why? Because they can make bloody movie magic happen on any budget!
So you think when you watch a horror movie, that it inherently has to be creepy, right? Wrong! I’ve seen many movies miss there mark in the build-up for the spooky or creepy scenes to happen. So the whole film just falls flat on its face or turns out to be down-right laughable. And I don’t mean that it was even intended. Where Blumhouse succeeds is in the devilish details in that, once the supernatural of terror is revealed, there’s always a fast-moving progression of events that slowly turn up the fright factor. Not many horror movies do this. Ever hear of torture porn? Sometimes horror movies just cash-in on the blood and gore for, well, blood and gore’s sake. But in the many Blumhouse films I’ve seen, there is a definetely a formula of “this is what you know” and then “this is what you think you know” and lastly “woah, didn’t see that coming!” The whole time you are given enough fairly intelligent clues that suspends your disbelief and a voice tugs in the back of your mind, “this could happen” or “this could happen to me!” Just watch Paranormal Activity, Insidious or The Purge and tell me you don’t get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about the possibility. Be honest, it does.
To say that the horror movie world is saturated with found-footage films would be an under-statement. Director Scott Derickson with Blumhouse shared his thoughts with SciFiNow explaining how found footage can be seen as a device that motivates the scary factor.
I’m never one to join any kind of bandwagon of hating something across the board. Some people think it’s kind of cool to hate a certain kind of film and it’s just not, it’s unfair because there’s no genre of film that doesn’t have some examples of great filmmaking in it – as straight found footage goes, [Rec] is a great film, the original Paranormal Activity is a great film, Cloverfield is a great film… The problem with people’s perception of found footage is that it’s a subgenre, when perhaps it should be thought of as a tool or format.
While there are some really bad films made in the found footage style, I really appreciate the ways that this tool or device has been used in Blumhouse films such as Paranormal Activity. For me it was like the “Where’s Waldo” of ghost movies because I would look real hard to see what object would move next. I liked the use of the grainy celluloid images of the family hanging from the tree in Sinister. So ultimately, the use of found footage doesn’t have to get old as long as it is used in new and inventive ways.
You’ve seen them in countless horror movies. They’re the same people that you yell “don’t go in there!” as if yelling at the movie screen would help. Or they’re the same people that do some pretty darn stupid things in the movie that make you think “why the heck would they do that?” What I like about these problematic people in a Blumhouse film is that they are not super annoying. Annoying at times? Yes. Super annoying. No. Often times, these characters start out as normal, everyday people living in suburbia when the belief system is suddenly and horrifically shaken. IT is when they choose to not believe in the paranormal or the unthinkable that they get into real trouble. I think of the dad in the first Insidious movie as he goes as far as almost accusing his own wife as crazy before believing his own wife who begs that she’s seen ghosts and that their son is haunted. These people often think that all their actions are based out of good intention. But you know what they say about the road to hell and what its paved with. On the other side of the spectrum are the people that look suspicious and creepy at first, but then become the people that help shed some light on the situation. Leaving us guessing as far as character development and where these people’s actions will go is a sign of a well thought-out film.
If you have ever noticed where a lot of the films takes place in a Blumhouse film, the communities and locales look very much like where you and I live or would like to live. What I enjoy in a lot of these film’s plot twists is that the ghosts can move with people who are haunted or even lay in waiting for the right human to stir up their fragile ghost emotions so they can cause chaos. Sometimes the homes don’t even have to look particularly scary for us to be freaked out for the characters that have to live with the supernatural threats. Look at examples Insidious, Sinister and The Conjuring and you’ll know what I mean. All the houses and surroundings, at first, seems nice and serene. It’s not until you splice in the sound (which makes up half of the film), coloring and characters that one might scratch their head as go “why the hell would they want to live there!?!”
It’s crazy that most horror movies that leave us talking to our friends after the credits roll are made by Jason Blum and his ever-expanding team of directors which he attributes much of his success to picking the right ones. He has about 16 of them and counting now and all of their photos are prominently displayed on a wall in the company’s waiting room of his modest office. I know since I’ve been there thinking “why can’t that be me!?!” And since Blumhouse has signed a 10-picture movie deal with Universal, we can now look forward to varying titles, that span outside the horror genre, and see if Blumhouse’s “high concept, low budget” movie-making recipe can translate in the action and drama movie genres. Sure, the film-making team probably doesn’t have to worry about making movies on a dime anymore, but it does leave the door open for other just starting film-makers to make a splash in the horror movie scene as Jason Blum goes to all the major film festivals and meets many of his directors in-person quite frequently. Even if one day the Blumhouse team decides to re-invent their image to branch off into comedy, for instance, I would hope that they return every once in a while to dark arts and get our adrenaline racing with a fantastic new storyline that will keep us talking into the wee hours of the night. And that’s because you don’t want to go to sleep alone with the lights off.