Foreign outings redeem some fright titles

Taking horror movies overseas hasn’t proved too frightening for Hollywood.

While the genre tends to generate reliable coin rather than blockbuster returns, some horror titles manage to scare up even more revenues internationally than in the United States.

In fact, “The Reaping,” “The Omen,” “Saw 3,” “The Ring 2″ and “House of Wax” all outweighed their domestic grosses. And the four “Scary Movie” pics have been juggernauts at home and abroad, with $430 million domestically and another $400 million internationally.

The foreign runs for a pair of high-profile horror pics — “The Village” ($146 million) and “Van Helsing” ($180 million) — pretty much salvaged what had been disappointing domestic performances.

Abroad, “You can usually do 80% to 90% of (the) domestic (take) with horror films, but ‘Van Helsing’ was one of those films with a real international feel to it,” notes Paramount Intl. topper Andrew Cripps.

And though foreign horror B.O. doesn’t fall into the blockbuster category, it tends to be a solid choice for counterprogramming in many major markets.

“Horror is never going to go the way of the Western,” notes David Kornblum, senior VP at Walt Disney Motion Picture Group Intl. “It’s a genre that’s really stood the test of time. And exhibitors have not shown any reticence over the past decade.”

There are a few distinctions from the domestic market:

  • Horror works best when big stars are involved as in “The Others,” “Sleepy Hollow” and “Signs.” Anticipation is high for the Par Vantage/Lionsgate remake of “The Eye,” starring Jessica Alba and due out in February.

  • Remakes of classics such as “The Omen” or Japanese successes like “The Ring” and “The Grudge” have shown decent foreign traction.

  • The best horror markets are the U.K., Spain, Italy and Latin America — particularly Mexico and Brazil.

  • France is iffy; so are Japan and South Korea, which often rely on homegrown scarefare; Australia, Germany and Scandinavia tend to be the most problematic, partly due to censorship problems.

  • Day-and-dating still hasn’t taken hold. “What you usually do is leverage off the success domestically,” notes Stephanie Denton, Lionsgate’s president of international film sales.

The overseas market is even more sensitive to the gorier titles. Neither “Hostel” nor “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” has shown much traction internationally; the latter took in less than a third of its $39 million domestic total.

“There’s an oversaturation right now in horror,” Denton notes. “It’s such a competitive market that you have to get something out there that feels fresh and edgy.”

In the case of the “Saw” franchise, overseas moviegoers have shown increasing levels of love for Jigsaw. Foreign cume for the original “Saw” hit $45 million, followed by $66 million for “Saw 2″ and $82 million for “Saw 3″; Denton believes a $100 million foreign cume for “Saw 4″ is easily within reach when it opens day and date in its traditional October slot.

“What’s worked with the franchise is that it’s not really straight-out horror — it’s much more a question of how the victims got to where they are,” Denton observes. “You’ve got to have those kind of twists so it doesn’t feel like just another programmer.”

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