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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Misses’ Macabre

Everyone knows that little boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails.

But who knew young female moviegoers enjoy slashers and demons and alien entrails?

Today, women comprise more than half of the audience at the most successful scary films, once seen as the sole domain of awkward male teens. As a result, Hollywood studios are adjusting their strategies to capitalize on this shift.

“It takes people by surprise because they often assume females will be repulsed by the gore of the horror genre. But it’s quite the opposite they love it,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking firm Media by Numbers LLC. “It’s a good vicarious thrill that scares you at the time, but there’s not much potential for physical harm.”

The genre is increasing. Horror films brought in a record $553 million last year, up from 2005’s then-record-setting $512 million. That’s about 6 percent of the $9.5 billion overall domestic box office. There will be about 39 horror and thriller films released this year, up from 27 last year and 29 in 2005.

Making scary movies is especially appealing to smaller or independent studios because, while they may not have the blockbuster potential of a “Spider-Man,” the films can be produced relatively cheaply and there is an almost endless flow of prequels, sequels and remakes.

Horror’s increasingly femme fans can be counted on to turn out, even if the films are remakes or rip-offs, lack name stars and get lousy reviews.

And every now and then, a studio strikes gold, as Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. has with its “Saw” franchise. More women than men saw each of the three films, which together have brought in more than $415 million worldwide ($223 million domestically) at the box office. Not surprisingly, a fourth is in production.

“The biggest roller coasters have the longest lines at the amusement park and the scariest movies have the longest lines at the box offices and often make the most money,” Dergarabedian said.

The movie often cited as starting the female fright fest is the 2002 DreamWorks hit “The Ring,” which pulled in $129 million. It lacked much gore and relied instead on suspense.

But the last few years have demonstrated that the “hard R” films have just as much female appeal.

Some examples:

> This year’s supernatural thriller “The Messengers” took in $14.7 million, and exit polling information from Sony showed that 53 percent of the audience was under 21 years old and 53 percent was female.

> Opening on Super Bowl weekend this year, the Screen Gems film “When a Stranger Calls” earned an estimated $22 million a record for a Super Bowl weekend opening with a 55 percent female audience, according to studio exit polls.

> Fox’s religious chiller remake “The Omen” grossed a stellar $12.6 million on its opening day 6/6/06 the largest Tuesday gross ever for any film. Studio research showed that 52 percent of the audience was female (and 63 percent of that group was younger than 25).

> The audience for Universal’s “White Noise,” which brought in $24 million on its opening weekend in 2005, was 58 percent female.

Shaping content

The increasingly female audiences are starting to shape content, too.

“There are actually a lot of things that women respond to, not just gore,” said “Saw” director Darren Lynn Bousman. “It’s some emotional and psychological content as well as just more intelligent content. To capitalize on that, we added a type of love story and relationship content. But it’s firmly entrenched in the disturbing, bloody Jigsaw world, so it’s not soft.”

Mark Burg, whose Twisted Pictures produces the “Saw” films, said that he has made a conscious effort to cast good-looking men in his films.

“We just filmed two days of (actor) Lyriq Bent shirtless, OK?” said Bousman of the fourth “Saw” installment currently being shot in Canada.

A number of horrors and thrillers in recent years have had female protagonists, including “The Others,” “Resident Evil,” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Last year, Lions Gate scored big with “The Descent,” a critics’ favorite that was made for less than $10 million. The tale of a spelunking trip gone wrong featured an all-female cast and has brought in more than $44 million at the global box office.

No one can say for certain why today’s young women are more likely to attend horror films than their mothers. Some attribute the shift to a generation of young women who have grown up on video games and “girl power” and are a more thrill-seeking set than their earlier counterparts may have been.

“Female empowerment plays well with women, clearly, and the younger generation seems much more comfortable with the subject,” said Dergarabedian. “They’re not afraid of the intensity.”

Even cable channels dedicated to the genre are skewing more female than male. Lions Gate, Sony Pictures Television and Comcast Corp. launched Fearnet on Halloween, available over the Internet, wireless platforms and cable systems’ video on demand. That followed the launch of the Horror Channel, owned by New Jersey-based Terrorvision Television.

“We want to be smart and know just who we are appealing to,” said Burg of Twisted Pictures in Los Angeles. “Whatever the reason, all I know is that women are into our movies, big time, and I’ve got no complaints about that.”

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