The tagline for the 1958 Vincent Price chiller “House on Haunted Hill” promised auds “the 13 greatest shocks of all time!”
Over the weekend, showbiz got the 14th: Warner Bros.’ remake of the William Castle-helmed pic grossed an estimated $15.1 million. It’s the biggest debut ever within two days of Halloween.
The most eye-popping totals, though, came in the limited-release arena. The loftiest per-screen average belonged to “Being John Malkovich,” USA’s Moebius strip-like comedy starring John Cusack and Cameron Diaz. It rolled up $25,495 on each of 25 screens, for a weekend total of $637,371.
“Malkovich” is the first project generating buzz for USA. Since launch earlier this year, Barry Diller’s film unit has offered high-profile pics such as Robert Altman’s “Cookie’s Fortune,” which ended with $10.9 million, and Albert Brooks’ “The Muse,” $11.6 million and counting. Pic is in 10 U.S. markets, all big cities. On Friday, it’ll add 50 markets and at least 150 screens.
And Miramax’s Japanimation entry “Princess Mononoke” captured $140,000 on just eight screens for a dazzling debut of $17,500 per screen.
Fine Line had a fine time with the debut of “The Legend of 1900,” helmed by “Cinema Paradiso” director Giuseppe Tornatore. In just five venues, it racked up $41,000.
Only 1994’s “Stargate” fared better near Halloween than “House.” But Halloween fell on a Monday that year, so the comparison is tricky.
Lensed by horror vet William Malone, newest “House” cost about $16 million to produce. Stars include Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs and Elizabeth Hurley.
“House” cleaned up on Universal’s “The Best Man,” whose $6.5 million dowry dropped just 28% from last week’s debut.
The weekend’s top two films share something else besides strong numbers: Diggs. After working in the legit and TV realms, the hunky thesp broke out on the big screen last year in “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” He also starred in 1999 pics “The Wood” and “Go.”
Bucking the usual Halloween trend, B.O. receipts for the top 10 films gained 28% over last year’s. Sony topped the 1998 weekend list, with “John Carpenter’s Vampires” drinking in $9.1 million. But that paled next to the R-rated “The House on Haunted Hill.”
Gilbert Adler, Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis are credited as producers on “House.” It’s the first release under the new Silver and Zemeckis company Dark Castle Entertainment, which aims to turn out genre pics with budgets of less than $20 million.
Zemeckis first proposed the remake out of affection for the work of Castle, known for his zany promos of such 1950s and ’60s fare as “The Tingler” and “Zotz!”
The weekend “is taking us by surprise,” Silver said. “We didn’t spend a fortune to open it. We just took a position in the marketplace and brought it home.”
As the owner of the original thanks to its takeover of Lorimar’s library, Warner Bros. bought only domestic rights for “House.” That portends a pretty profit.
Dan Fellman, the studio’s distrib chief, said he wasn’t scared of the historically eerie B.O. effects of Halloween. Indeed, no other film has opened on as many screens around the holiday.
“It turned out to be a great date for us,” he said. “If you look at the marketplace, what else is out there for young men and young women?”
Well, Paramount might suggest “Double Jeopardy.” The actioner has even better legs than star Ashley Judd’s. It ended its seventh weekend at No. 3 and will hit magic $100 million plateau this week.
Equally resilient is DreamWorks’ “American Beauty,” which inched up two spots to finish fourth with an estimated $3.9 million. Cume is a fetching $54.2 million.
With “Music of the Heart,” Miramax tugged at heart strings but not purse strings. Execs put the weekend take for the Meryl Streep-Angela Bassett starrer at $3.7 million, or about $2,742 per screen.
The Disney-owned minimajor hasn’t exactly had a blazing autumn, with “Happy, Texas,” “Guinevere” and “Outside Providence” among the underwhelming B.O. performers.
Still, execs pointed to a 51% swell in “Music’s” Saturday business over Friday. Plus, more than 80% of auds polled Saturday said they would “definitely” recommend pic to a pal.
Though overshadowed by limited releases and “The House on Haunted Hill,” a few major releases also made news.
Disney’s “The Sixth Sense” may have enjoyed a Halloween spike, moving to No. 8 from No. 9 last week. Biz fell just 19%, still the lowest drop of ongoing wide pics. Cume after 13 weeks is about $260 million.
Fox’s “Fight Club” fell 42% more in its third week.
Another three-week pic, “The Story of Us,” has been a counterweight to “Best Man” for Universal. Drop of 44% was steepest in the top 10. Cume of $22.3 hardly befits topliners Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer.
“The Omega Code,” which Providence Entertainment has pushed through churches and Christian broadcast outlets, dropped 20% despite adding 60 screens. It took in $1.4 million on 366 screens over the weekend.