Hollywood, movie fans shy away from "torture porn"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Torture, it seems, doesn’t pay at movie theatre box offices like it used to.

Canadian actress Elisha Cuthbert is interviewed at the MuchMusic television station to promote her film "Captivity" in Toronto June 22, 2007. In recent years, films dubbed "torture porn" have been the darlings of many a Hollywood producer looking to make a quick buck. The latest such release, "Captivity," opens in theatres on Friday. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

In recent years, films dubbed “torture porn” have been the darlings of many a Hollywood producer looking to make a quick buck. The latest such release, “Captivity,” opens in theatres on Friday.

But the popularity of movies like blood-and-guts thriller “Hostel: Part II” and zombie flick “28 Weeks Later,” appears to have waned, prompting some to wonder if the trend is on its way out.

The answer is yes, depending on the type of movie and whether that genre includes the latest box office hit or miss.

“The horror genre has had more ups and downs over the years -- maybe only musicals have more,” said Paul Dergarabedian of box office tracker Media By Numbers. “I think what happens is subgenres like (torture) become popular, then play out.”

Dergarabedian noted the old Universal Pictures’ monster movies such as “Frankenstein” were hugely popular in the 1930s, but eventually died off. In the 1950s, horror was represented by alien invasion flicks such as “The Thing from Another World,” but these went the way of the graveyard, too.

This current wave of horror films seems to have begun in 2004, when Dergarabedian tracked 19 of the movies that raked in more than $1 billion (500 million pounds) at U.S. and Canadian box offices. The figure was roughly double the $525 million from 13 movies in 2003.

Hits in 2004 included “Freddy vs. Jason,” at $82 million, and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” at $80 million, both from New Line Cinema. In 2005, Lionsgate Entertainment’s “Saw” hauled in $55 million and spawned two sequels.


In each of 2005 and 2006, Media by Numbers tracked 26 horror movies with gross box office receipts of $841 million and $811 million, respectively. Midway through 2007, some 20 scary flicks have reached silver screens and more than 20 others are expected in coming months.

Youth-oriented, supernatural thrillers and fright flicks like “1408” ($56 million) and “Disturbia” ($79 million) are working. But adult-themed torture fantasies have mostly failed.

“Hostel: Part II” was expected to at least match the $47 million of 2006’s “Hostel,” but has only generated $17 million in the United States and Canada. “28 Weeks Later” hoped to reach the $45 million of 2005’s “28 Days Later” but made only $28 million.

Those numbers do not bode well for “Captivity” and upcoming flicks such as “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” and “Saw IV.” Hollywood producers know it and blame the downturn on a glut of horror in theatres.

“It’s overkill,” said Courtney Solomon, president of After Dark Films, which is behind “Captivity,” the story of a man and woman trapped and tormented in a basement. “I think audiences have said, ‘I’ve had enough.’ It’s as simple as that.”

Anticipating the end of the torture flick trend, After Dark has adjusted its development plans to steer away from a large number of torture movies, Solomon said.