Five years ago, when I first spoke with movie producer Jason Blum, I opened things off on a slightly mean note, writing that the horror peddler was in the business of making well ... not-so-great movies. At the time, seemed like a fair assessment: Through his Blumhouse Productions, which focused on movies budgeted under the $5-million mark, Blum churned out such already-forgotten thrillers as The Gallows, Ouija, Dark Skies, Jessabelle and too many Paranormal Activity sequels to count. But as disposable as those works were, they made money. And today, Blum is not only continuing to rake it in, but also making genuinely memorable films, too.
Since 2015, the producer has been responsible for a mainstream horror resurgence, which has delivered genuine blockbusters that double as critical hits: Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us stand apart from the pack, but there’s also David Gordon Green’s Halloween reboot, Leigh Whannell’s double dose of Upgrade and The Invisible Man, Tate Taylor’s Ma, Christopher Landon’s witty Happy Death Day 2U series and James Wan’s ever-expanding Insidious franchise. Sure, Blum is still pumping out does-this-movie-really-exist-or-am-I-dreaming-it fare (Fantasy Island, Delirium), but by this point it is clear that the man is more than the mere second coming of Roger Corman – he is a genuine Hollywood Golden Boy.
So when the industry winds start to blow this way or that, it’s best to check in with Blum to see which weather he’s forecasting. On the occasion of the producer’s latest venture, the anthology film series Welcome to the Blumhouse on Amazon Prime Video – which kicks off just ahead of Halloween with the streaming releases of The Lie and Black Box – I talked with Blum about horror, Hollywood and the horror of a COVID-hobbled Hollywood.
What inspired the grouping of these seemingly disparate movies into Welcome to the Blumhouse? They’re not typical horror fare. The Lie, by Canadian director Veena Sud, is more a family drama that turns dark.
I think the disparity is what hangs them together. They’re unusual in that they’re from voices we’re less used to hearing from. They’re not told from an old white guy’s point of view.
There will be four movies going to Amazon this fall as part of this series, then four more next year. Were some of these titles destined for theatrical release, and COVID forced some ingenuity? The Lie has been available for a while, premiering at TIFF in 2018.
Only one movie, The Lie, was pre-existing, and we were thinking of doing a different kind of release with that. But then I talked with [Amazon Studios chief] Jennifer Salke about how that film would work best in this package. And one of the things we’re lucky about at Blumhouse is we’re a producer and not a distributor. We don’t have a pipeline where we have to release 15 movies or shows a year. I tend not to think about the distribution until late in the process, sometimes not till it’s finished. We make movies and then find the best avenues for them. And I think I’m going to be right in this case.
Why are these films a good fit for Amazon as opposed to other streamers?
I’ve had a good experience with Amazon on the marketing side, almost better than anywhere else. The downside of making films for streamers is you can feel you’re one of a million Model Ts – it’s a conveyor belt. But to answer a larger question, there’s a specific horror movie for streamers versus horror movies for theatrical. Streaming, you can take more risks and do things that are more unusual. And there are certain horror tropes you have to hit for a theatrical movie to work.
On the question of where movies end up going today, your upcoming Vince Vaughn serial-killer comedy Freaky is heading to theatres next month. But today, you announced your sequel to The Craft would be heading to premium video-on-demand (PVOD).
That’s a product of what studios those films are at. Sony is still saying that movies have to have a three-month window [between opening theatrically and appearing on home entertainment], or they’re not doing theatrical at all. I don’t know who else besides Universal Pictures has signed an agreement with exhibition for a reduced window. Both those movies were going to be traditional theatrical movies. I encouraged Sony to say we should move The Craft Legacy sooner rather than later, and the only way they can release is through PVOD. They could go theatrical, but a lot of theatres aren’t open. Freaky is going theatrical and then quickly to PVOD because it’s going through this new agreement that Universal has with exhibition.
Do you feel the industry uses horror movies as the sort of canary in the coal mines when it comes to business decisions like that?
Totally. I always think horror movies are Trojan horses. We use the skin of a horror movie to smuggle in movies about gun control, like The Purge, or movies about race, like Get Out. On a more broad level, the Welcome to the Blumhouse movies are like Sundance dramas poured into unsettling genre moments. It makes them more commercial and marketable. It’s like Sinister, which is about a guy choosing career over family, but with [the demon] Bughuul added, so people would see it.
Do you see more filmmakers turning to the horror genre due to COVID filming restrictions? A lot of these movies generally take place in locked-down environments, where you don’t need a bunch of extras or expensive on-location shoots.
Horror movies are very COVID-proof in terms of production. We’re seeing more expensive movies ramping down, and I don’t think those will come back until there’s a vaccine. It’s too expensive to shut down a $200-million movie multiple weeks if someone gets sick. But I think that being in lockdown will affect storytelling generally. There are a bunch of movie and show scripts that I’ve read that now feel dated and don’t make sense. I’m also not interested in making movies about people in lockdown. I’m here – I don’t need to see it.
So people will want more escapism?
I think when bad things happen in the world, there’s more demand for horror. People gravitate toward something that’s even worse than what’s going on outside their window. It’s the idea of control, too. You can turn it off, and that provides a certain amount of solace. I also read a study recently that horror fans are better suited to life during COVID than non-horror fans. People who watch horror movies are always imagining worst-case scenarios, so they’re better prepared. I think it’s true! It gave me a laugh, at least.
This interview has been condensed and edited
Welcome to the Blumhouse’s The Lie and Black Box are available to stream on Amazon Prime Video starting Oct. 6; Evil Eye and Nocturne will be available starting Oct. 13
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