April 5, 2006

“Slither” leaves gloomy trail at box office

By Borys Kit

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "Slither" threw a scare
into the box office this weekend, but it was not exactly the
shock that its creators were hoping to achieve. This year, such
horror movies as "Hostel," "When a Stranger Calls" and "Final
Destination 3" have enjoyed a bloody good run -- bowing in
first or second place with sales in the $20 million range.

So it came as bit of a shock to horrorphiles that Universal
Pictures' "Slither" opened at No. 8 last weekend, grossing just
$3.7 million. Adding insult to injury, "Slither," one of the
best-reviewed horror movies in years, was one place behind
Disney's killer-videogame saga "Stay Alive," which took in $4.4
million in its second weekend.

"We were crushingly disappointed," said Paul Brooks,
president of the film's producer, Gold Circle Films.

So what happened?

In retrospect, Brooks said that the movie's split focus was
the key factor in its box office downfall. Written and directed
by James Gunn, the movie was an R-rated horror movie and a
comedy, following Elizabeth Banks and Nathan Fillion in the
roles of small-town residents fighting off alien slugs, zombies
and other creatures. "Slither" also was an homage to
old-fashioned B-movies.

"I think that because it was comedy-horror instead of pure
horror is where the problem lay," Brooks said. "It's the first
comedy-horror in a long time, and maybe the marketplace just
isn't ready for comedy-horror yet. It's difficult to think of
other explanations."

The blending of the two tones has never been a slam-dunk,
though when done right, they do strike a chord with critics and
pop culture. John Landis combined the two in 1981's "An
American Werewolf in London," grossing $30.6 million -- a solid
number at the time, with the movie ranking as that year's 23rd
top domestic grosser.

But more recently, hybrid horror movies have faced
resistance as theatrical releases. In 1990, "Tremors," about
giant worms in the Southwest, bowed to just $3.7 million and
grossed $15.5 million. That movie eventually was embraced by
fans and critics, however, and became a minifranchise, spawning
a series of direct-to-video sequels.

In 2002, "Eight Legged Freaks" tried to capture audiences
with its web of chills and laughs, but had an opening weekend
of only $6.5 million and a $17.3 million domestic gross.

Those examples suggested that "Slither" faced an uphill

"It was always a risky film," a Universal insider said.
"The whole issue was, who is the audience for this movie? When
it's a straight genre movie, you know the audience. Nobody knew
if there was an audience for a horror-comedy. What this
essentially proved is that there is no audience for

In fact, "Slither," which according to sources had a
sticker price of $29.5 million, might have killed off the
horror-comedy genre for the near future.

"Horror-comedies are a tough sell," said Eli Roth, who
directed the hardcore horror entries "Cabin Fever" and
"Hostel." "There are core groups of fans that love them, but it
seems like that the majority of people, when they want to go
see a scary movie, they don't want to laugh, they just want to
be straight up scared and horrified." Roth added that the
negative responses he has received for his movies have mostly
been directed at their humorous elements. One reason he made
"Hostel" as hardcore as he did, he said, was that modern
audiences seem to want to push themselves to see how much
horror they can stand.

The demise of "Slither" already has attracted a noisy
debate among horror fans on the Internet.

"The horror Web sites are chiding the fans for bitching and
complaining that they never get original horror and then not
coming out to support it opening weekend," Roth said. "The
horror fans are an interesting bunch: They complain about
remakes, then flock to them."

Still, if history is any indication, "Slither" could rise
from the dead to find an afterlife in home video and ancillary

"In 15 years, nobody is going to be watching (current box
office champ) 'Ice Age: The Meltdown.' Everybody is going to be
watching DVDs of 'Slither,"' Roth said.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter