‘1408’ is indie sleeper hit of summer

Psychological spin helps horror film stand out

What do you do when you have an old-fashioned horror movie and you’re an indie distrib?

Borrow a page from studio history and market it like a traditional suspense thriller. In 1973, Warner Bros. didn’t dare call “The Exorcist” a horror film. Instead, it was billed as a thriller.

Heading into the summer, horror titles including Lionsgate’s “Hostel: Part Two” and Dimension Film’s “1408” faced perilous waters. After an exceptional run as a genre, horror had suddenly taken a steep downturn.

From the get-go, Bob Weinstein’s Dimension marketed “1408” as a psychological thriller, rather than as a horror movie. “We just felt it had broad appeal,” Weinstein says.

The result: “1408” was one of the indie sleeper hits of the summer, grossing more than $71 million domestically. (Pic cost less than $25 million to make.) MGM distributed the movie under its pact with Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s the Weinstein Co., while Dimension, TWC’s genre label, was in charge of marketing.

At the same time, Dimension didn’t have the luxury of being able to shell out upwards of $20 million or $30 million in marketing coin. The company won’t say how much the campaign cost, but, generally speaking, indies spend no more than $10 million on a wide release.

That meant Dimension had to find a way to effectively sell the film to all four quadrants — women over and under 25 and men over and under 25 — on an indie marketing budget.

Starring John Cusack and based on a short story by Stephen King, “1408” had a couple of brand elements.

In promoting the film, Dimension utilized King’s pedigree whenever and wherever possible. Close to the release of the movie, King even endorsed the film on his official website.

Dimension also capitalized heavily on Cusack’s popularity. The thesp did the press rounds well in front of the movie, making more television appearances for “1408” than for any other movie he’s made, according to Dimension.

In its media strategy, Dimension also targeted women, heavily featuring the strong emotional core of the storyline. Cusack also helped lure female auds.

To reach younger males, Dimension rejiggered its media strategy to emphasize the suspense, versus emotions. To grab the attention of older males, Dimension used King’s name.

Trailer started playing in January to build early word of mouth and interest in “1408.” There also was a broad Internet campaign.

Another key move: Late in the game, Weinstein decided to move up “1408’s” release from July 13 to June 22 in order to get out ahead of the July crush.

It is hardly the first time that the Weinsteins have surprised the competish.

“The fun thing about ‘1408’ is that the competition looked at it on the release schedule and said, ‘What’s that?’ Just like they said, ‘What the hell is “sex, lies, and videotape” or “Scary Movie” or “Scream?” ‘ ” Weinstein says. “Then they see the numbers these films do.”

Dimension certainly didn’t have a branding issue with Rob Zombie’s “Halloween,” with which the company and MGM scored a record-breaking Labor Day opening.

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