Halloween may be the favorite time of the year for many horror fans, but that doesn’t mean independent filmmakers should release their horror movies in late October. Though Halloween used to be an ideal time for scarier films opening in limited release, many distributors today are avoiding the last week of October like the plague.
What’s changed? Competition from home entertainment options around Halloween has ramped up significantly, making it even harder to get people into theaters. “You’ll get all of the cable satellite VOD platforms not only offering discounts on movies on transactional on-demand, but they’ll make available their free on-demand offerings,” IFC Films/Sundance Selects President Jonathan Sehring told IndieWire. “It has gone from being what seems to be a really obvious time to come out with a new horror film to one of the most difficult times actually to even get people to pay attention.”
IFC released “The Babadook” shortly after Thanksgiving in 2014 and earned a robust $7.5 million at the worldwide box office. “It had a great deal of success and we purposely stayed away from the Halloween date,” Sehring said. The company used a similar release strategy for “The Devil’s Dolls” and “The Autopsy of Jane Doe,” both of which hit theaters this December.
The weeks leading up to Halloween have also become dominated by studio films with eight-figure print and advertising budgets that can drown out smaller movies. “All you can hope to do as one of the true indie distributors is avoid the obvious land mines,” said Andrew Carlin, the director of theatrical distribution at Oscilloscope Laboratories, adding that theatrical audiences have an insatiable appetite for horror films. “They don’t wait for Halloween to get their fix.” Oscilloscope is releasing the comedy-horror film “The Love Witch” on November 11.
At Dark Sky Films, an independent producer and distributor that specializes in genre titles, executive vice president Greg Newman considers the early part of the year to be the best for indie horror releases. “For us, the release of contemporary films like ‘Willow Creek’ or ‘We Are Still Here’ really benefited from going in the later part of the first quarter and into the second quarter, which has been a sweet spot,” Newman said. “If a film really resonates during that time frame, it is very likely to benefit from a second sales cycle during the Halloween season.”
Some of the other recent horror movies that have avoided October releases include “It Follows,” which grossed nearly $15 million domestically and more than $20 million worldwide, and “The Witch,” which took in $25 million in the U.S. and $40 million worldwide.
Still, many young filmmakers continue to push for a Halloween release for their horror movies. In these situations, Oscilloscope’s Carlin says it’s the distributors job to educate up-and-coming directors about the new normal as it pertains to Halloween. “The last thing you want to do is tell one of your filmmakers that the value of their film disappears when Halloween comes and goes,” he said. “Look at the films that have been the most successful over the past two to three years, and you’ll see they stay away from Halloween.”