Jason Blum must be a zillionaire by now. As the founder of Blumhouse Productions, he has created a multi-media empire based on a very simple concept: produce expensive-looking horror movies on the tiniest budgets possible, then sell the finished products to major studios for a boat-load of cash.
And boy has that business model paid off.
You could make a strong argument that Blum’s fortunes came to fruition mainly because of a lottery winning-type windfall. Until 2009 Blumhouse Productions was “getting by,” producing cheap horror but not getting much attention. Then came Paranormal Activity, and the rest, as they say, was history. Made for a mere $15,000, Paranormal Activity went on to gross over $193 million worldwide. Now, I’m no Matt Affleck from that movie about math and apples, but that seems like a big profit margin to me. It’s safe to say that from that moment on Blumhouse had the cash, the notoriety, and the influence to basically do whatever the hell they wanted. So that’s exactly what they did. Blumhouse Productions has been churning out horror movies on the cheap at an astounding rate, and studios have been lining up to cash in and distribute them to as many theaters as possible.
Here's a partial list of the Blumhouse Productions canon:
- Paranormal Activity franchise (2009 - )
- Insidious (2011)
- Sinister (2012)
- The Purge (2013)
- Dark Skies (2013)
- Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)
- The Purge: Anarchy (2014)
- Oculus (2014)
- Ouija (2014)
- The Lazarus Effect (2015)
They have been prolific, to say the least, and obscenely successful. Just to give you a quick idea of exactly how successful this business model has been since Paranormal Activity: Insidious grossed over $97 million worldwide on a $1.5 million budget, and Sinister has grossed over $90 million on a $3 million budget. These movies pay for themselves over and over and over.
But the big question that us horror fans want to know is this: is this highly successful, highly profitable production company actually bad for our favorite genre?
It depends on your point of view...
It’s easy to dismiss a company like Blumhouse, that does business this way, as a hack organization: only interested in amassing a huge catalog of product while doing whatever it takes to maximize profits, quality be damned. In the real world... that might be true. You could probably call Blumhouse Productions the Walmart of the film industry. Give the people cheap goods in slick packaging and they’ll keep coming back for more.
But it hasn't been quite that cut and dry. Making movies isn't your typical business. Bottom line is important, but unlike Walmart there is a pressing incentive to keep the product fresh and new, or you run the risk of alienating your own audience. While a place like Walmart can get away with selling the same stuff year after year, knowing people will always need more, Blumhouse can’t just sit idle and release the same movie over and over and expect the masses to continually shell out for tickets, without question. Keep churning out stale product and you might make a killing in the short term, but eventually even the most wide-eyed optimist is going to become as loathsome and jaded as the rest of us.
The bottom line is this: while Blumhouse Productions has produced its fair share of Walmart clearance aisle movies, they've also hit the mark on more than a few occasions. Of course, the quality of horror films is entirely subjective, so I’ll play it safe and consult the almighty Tomato-meter. Using that scientific method you could say we endured Ouija (7%) so we could enjoy Oculus (73%); we endured Jessabelle (24%) so we could enjoy Insidious (66%); we endured Dark Skies (40%) so we could enjoy The Town That Dreaded Sundown (73%). You get the idea. Again, this is all subjective. You might say every movie I just listed is total garbage, or you might say they were all amazing. I might say both of you are completely wrong, but I’m not a jerk.
At the end of the day I say that there is absolutely a place in the world for Blumhouse Productions, and ultimately it is GOOD for the horror genre.
And this is coming from a guy who tends to gravitate to the indie side of the aisle. Because without the mainstream, and their private islands full of cash, you can’t have the independent. You can’t have one without the other. Even if you’re the type who rolls your eyes as you watch a throng of teenagers flooding the entrance to the seven o’clock showing of Ouija, at least it shows that horror as a whole is alive and well. People, young and old, still want to be scared. So take heart - because of those silly kids who can’t wait to jump out of their seats over evil board games and devil dolls, it means we will continue to get to sneer at the unwashed masses while we enjoy our steady diet of “quality” horror “films.”
I know, we’re such snobs. Just promise me you won't turn into THIS GUY:
On a side note; Blumhouse Productions has even dipped their toes in non-horror films, so far with impressive results. They produced the Academy Award winning Whiplash (Best Supporting Actor - J.K. Simmons), and the critically acclaimed TV movie about the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, The Normal Heart.
So let me know if you agree or you think I'm completely nuts. I can take it. My personal feeling is I'm fine living in a world with bad horror movies - because I know there will always be people out there who will keep making good ones, too. It's all about choices, my friend. I love free will.