This weekend, Universal Pictures opened the horror flick “Mama,” starring actress-of-the-moment Jessica Chastain, to a startling $28.1 million domestic gross over its first three days of release. And while it was produced by a studio, the film has all the earmarks of the low-budget genre work that launched the career of Mexican-born executive producer Guillermo del Toro, who pushed Argentinean writer-director Andres Muschietti to expand his 2008 short to feature-length.
It’s a shrewd move for all involved. Just in 2012 alone, Paramount (with “Paranormal Activity 4” and “The Devil Inside”), Summit (“Sinister”) and Lionsgate (“The Possession”) turned out low- and micro-budget horror films to reliably exponential returns. The scare-loving audience seems ever ready to show up for the newest disturbing storytelling from indie and low-budget genre filmmakers.
But there’s more to it than that. As Foxnews Latino reports, Latino audiences are going to the movies twice as often as any other demographic, and they’re 80% more likely to rush out to a film’s opening weekend. The site also reports that the Latino market in the States is now the world’s ninth-largest economy, with a cultural predilection for the scary stuff.
That’s why the producers of “Paranormal Activity” announced last Halloween that they planned to make a Latino spin-off of the franchise, because the Hispanic community has been very supportive of it. “It’s a very straightforward conclusion to arrive at,” says Steven Schneider, an executive producer of “The Devil Inside” and the “Paranormal” series. “There’s a tremendous amount of number crunching, and a luxury that a studio has that a smaller distributor doesn’t is it can devote resources to analyzing who wants to go see these movies. The data seems to support a larger percentage of the audience being Latin, and horror is arguably as cross-cultural or as global a genre as there is.”
Dave Alexander, editor of Rue Morgue magazine, sees this as a long-running trend. “Targeting demographics in horror has been around for a very long time,” he says. “Universal simultaneously shot a Spanish version of Dracula while the Lugosi original was being made — and it’s a better film than the English-language one! Every culture has its own unique horror tales waiting to be told.”
One of the keys to the popularity of these films with Latino moviegoers is that they often feature a supernatural angle, which plays into the culture’s urban legends and deeply religious leanings. As Schneider notes, “Supernatural horror especially resonates with Catholic viewers.”
The Latino “Paranormal Activity” spin-off also comes as digital distribution widens its global reach and foreign countries develop their own VOD channels. The increasingly cheap equipment and micro-budget found-footage conventions add to the ease of production. And with the latest evidence of “Mama”’s strong opening, it’s a good bet that a lot more indie filmmakers with a spooky artistic bent will embrace the Latino-horror blueprint.
“Most of the innovation in horror comes from the independent side of things, and digital technology is making it so much easier to make a film,” says Eduardo Sanchez, who with collaborator Daniel Myrick (“The Blair Witch Project”) is developing several horror projects targeted at the Latin American market. “I was born in Cuba, and it seems like the perfect match. There’s a lot of interest in us developing horror movies for the Latino audience right now, and I think it’s a really smart thing to do.”