Why There Are So Many Low Budget Horror Films | Planet Money | NPR

Hey, this is Bronson Arcuri from “Planet Money.” Today we’re going to be talking about the
movie business. It’s a tough racket. Most movies do not make money, with one notable
exception — horror movies. That’s weird. Well actually I’ve heard of this before. Like, seven of the top 10 most profitable
films of all time are horror movies. You know that movie “Paranormal Activity”? It only cost $15,000 to make, but it made
like 193 million in the box office. That’s insane — that’s a return on investment
of almost 1.3 million percent. “The Hunger Games” only made like 420 percent. Ha! 420. So, what’s the deal with these crazy return-on-investment numbers? Hey, the radio’s back on! Says it’s still off though. It’s probably nothing. Horror movies are good business because they
illustrate a golden rule of profit. They’re cheap to make and insanely popular. First of all, a lot of things that tend to
make movies expensive are kind of easy to avoid in horror films. For instance, the location. Wow, this is a really nice spot! Yeah. In filmmaking, locations can cost a lot of
money. There are scouting costs, location fees and all the money it takes to move your crew and equipment. But in horror films, being in a single location
the whole time naturally gives the movie a kind of spooky, claustrophobic feel. Think of “The Shining” or “Psycho” or any
movie where a group of young people go to a cabin in the woods for the weekend. Guys, why is the door already open? Hello? I call the big room! In those movies, it feels like the terror
is right there beside you. It works well for the genre, and it’s cheap. “Jurassic Park”? Yeah! Hey, y’all, I’m going to go take a whiz. We’ll always remember, this was the last we
ever saw of you. Second of all, actors talking costs money. The bigger the speaking part, the more money
the actor can ask for. There’s just not a ton of banter in a horror
movie. But there is lots of sneaking around in quiet
hallways or the woods. You know, a situation where talking or the
snap of a twig will get you killed. In “Halloween,” Michael Myers never says anything. Same for “Blair Witch.” It’s honestly scarier if the monster doesn’t
say anything. Third thing: Fear is all about the unknown. You fear what you can’t see, so horror films
can afford to show less. Going back to “Halloween” again, you never
see the bad guy’s face — he’s just wearing a mask. And it wasn’t an expensive mask either. It was a spray-painted Captain Kirk mask that
the director bought at a magic shop. And the way he kills people — a knife. No big explosions or CGI effects. Sorry, OK. Number 5 is that sometimes a low-budget look
can work in your favor. Within the horror movie genre, the most profitable
of these movies are the so-called found-footage movies. Like “The Blair Witch Project” and the “Paranormal
Activity” movies. They’re the camera equivalent of a spray-painted
Captain Kirk mask. Hey, did you guys hear something? What are you afraid of, a murderler? Power’s out. Where’s Ashley? The sixth trick of horror film productions
is actually an all-business-side one. Instead of paying a large fee upfront, producers
will offer cast and crew a share of the profits. That way, if the film does well, everyone
makes money. If not, well, that’s the scary side of making
horror films. Ashley? Wes, I think something’s wrong. I’m sure she’s just joking around. I’m going to go look for her. I’m going to go get some aspirin. Hey, everyone, the power is back on! Because these movies are so cheap to make, studios can use a different tactic than they normally do. It’s what the company Blumhouse Productions does. Ash, are you in there? They make lots and lots of very cheap movies
and then let the market decide what works. Ashley! Ashley! And that brings us to our final point — sequels. Horror is more conducive than almost any other
genre to sequels. Often there’s just not a plot that you have
to move forward very much or a character arc you have to reckon with. You just have to bring the monster back, sub
in some new people and kill them off again, same as the first crew. So when you finally get your horror hit, you can cash in on that intellectual property for years. There are nine “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies
so far. Six “Paranormal Activitys” and 11 “Halloweens.” Along with four movies and a TV show in the
“Purge” series, with a fifth movie on the way. I guess you could say horror films are scary
good business. If you were, for example, developing a video
channel for a nonprofit media company, you could argue that the best thing for you to
do is make a budget horror film under the guise of real journalism, sit back and watch the money come flooding in like a river of blood or something.

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