Scare fare chills pricey fall pix

“K-PAX” put the kibosh on the competish with a respectable estimated $17.5 million during the pre-Halloween Friday-Sunday frame.

The weekend also saw fresh scare fare showing solid results with Warner’s opening of “Thirteen Ghosts” finishing a close second with $15.7 million, followed by the soph sesh of “From Hell” following in third with $6.1 million. “Hell,” which led the previous frame, edged “Riding in Cars With Boys” at $6 million and “Training Day” with $5.1 million.

The perfs by the top two pics prevented the frame from being truly scary since the rest of the slate delivered mostly lukewarm returns.

Holdovers generated just so-so numbers amid mostly hefty weekend-to-weekend declines. Although “Training Day” continues to head toward $80 million, other pricey fall pix such as “The Last Castle,” “Bandits” and “Riding in Cars With Boys” continued to underperform.

A pair of rollouts in mid-size release showed little pop with Snoop Dogg’s ghost-driven “Bones,” which opened Wednesday, scared up $3 million at 847 grave sites and Miramax’s teen romancer “On the Line” with ‘N Sync stars Lance Bass and Joey Fatone kicking in only $2.3 million at 900 locations. And BV’s caper-laffer “High Heels and Low Lifes,” with Minnie Driver and Mary McCormack, showed little kick with $149,000 at 175 locations.

Distractions ignored

Tom Borys, prexy of BO tracker ACNielsenEDI, noted that a respectable chunk of moviegoers overlooked the dual distractions of pre-Halloween parties and the first two games of baseball’s World Series. Overall business totaled slightly better than expectations at $85 million, up 4.5% from the same weekend a year ago and 2% ahead of last weekend.

Year-to-date cume has now hit $6.4 billion, remaining 9% over the Y2K take to the same point.

The debut for the Kevin Spacey sci-fi/drama represented the best ever Pumpkin weekend opening and third best October rollout after “Meet the Parents” and “Training Day.” It was also Universal’s sixth No. 1 pic this year following “The Mummy Returns,” “The Fast and the Furious,” “Jurassic Park 3,” “American Pie 2″ and “The Musketeer.”

U, which split rights on “K-PAX” with Intermedia, reported that the audience for the tale of a purported space alien leaned heavily on older patrons with 62% over 30.

“I think there was pent-up demand among adult audiences for something original,” Borys said.

Distrib topper Nikki Rocco singled out marketing exec Peter Adee and ad exec Adam Fogelson for designing an effective campaign for the hard-to-classify pic. And Intermedia film prexy Jere Hausfater said, “We always had a lot of confidence in the film; we were very impressed with the studio’s time and effort on marketing.”

‘Ghosts’ fans real

Warner reported scaring up strong support for “Thirteen Ghosts” among the target audience with 55% of its audience coming from the 18-to-25-year-old demo. Distrib topper Dan Fellman noted results were in the same range as 1999’s “House on Haunted Hill,” also brought in by Dark Castle, the Joel Silver/Robert Zemeckis horror shingle for remakes of William Castle titles.

“They’ve really figured out how to deliver strong scary movies at a reasonable price,” Fellman enthused. He expects the next Dark Castle entry, “Ghost Ship,” will dock in time for Halloween 2002.

Still, the solid coin generated by “K-PAX” and “Thirteen Ghosts” may have established a strong springboard for upbeat results in November and December, Borys noted.

B.O. could be due for a major kick during the upcoming frame, particularly with Disney/Pixar opening animated comedy “Monsters Inc.” Borys pointed out that returns surged nearly 30% on the same weekend last year when “Charlie’s Angels” rolled out with $40.1 million.

On the art-house circuit, New Line’s “Life As a House” constructed impressive returns with $294,000 at 29 sites and will be widened over the next two frames. Fox Searchlight’s second round of “Waking Life” continued to draw well with $210,000 at 26 screens.

Miramax’s Oscar-qualifiying run of Martin Scorsese’s “My Voyage to Italy” scored $6,300 at one Los Angeles house. IDP/Samuel Goldwyn’s comedy “Better Than Sex” grabbed $19,250 at seven sites and Paramount Classics’ “Focus” grossed $21,000 at a pair of screens in its second weekend.

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