‘Blair,’ ‘Bride’ bewitch B.O.

Micro-budgeted horror pic goosebumps way to $28 mil

It’s even scarier than anyone expected.

Artisan’s low-budget horror pic “The Blair Witch Project” racked up a hair-raising $28.5 million estimated gross in its first weekend in wide release.

In a moderate 1,101 playdates, the film managed a record-setting $25,885 per screen average, far surpassing the previous wide-release record of $21,822 set by “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” in May. (“Menace,” which debuted in 2,970 locations, earned $64.8 million in three days.)

“It’s almost an out-of-body experience looking at these numbers,” said Artisan co-president Amir Malin.

Among most profitable ever

With $35.4 million already under its belt since its July 14 limited release, “Blair” now appears to have a good shot at grossing $100 million — roughly 91 times its reported acquisition cost of $1.1 million, and about a thousand times its estimated budget of $100,000 — making it one of the most profitable films of all time.

While exit survey results were not available, Malin said an informal poll of theater managers reported audiences were predominantly in the 18-35 age group, and split evenly in terms of gender. According to pre-release market research or “tracking,” the film was the first choice among all demographic quadrants except for older females, who preferred “Runaway Bride.”

Boffo despite competish

Pic’s numbers are particularly impressive given that “Blair” faced competition from two big-budget studio pics that also promised to deliver goosebumps: DreamWorks’ “The Haunting” and Warner Bros.’s “Deep Blue Sea.” The three scary films accounted for a projected $62.2 million in ticket sales, or roughly 40% of the box office.

“Blair,” which will add about 1,000 screens Friday, is expected to move into the No. 1 spot next weekend, despite an onslaught of new product.

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