It's October, which means moviegoers are in the mood for a good shock. While watching Woody Harrelson smash banjoes over the heads of the recently undead isn't likely to scare the bejesus out of anyone, Zombieland's huge $25 million weekend opening for Sony (the second best since 1980 for a zombie flick) proves that we'll still shell out for the promise of blood, guts, and potential loss of (our own) bladder control.
Zombieland's box-office success reverses a recent trend of scary movies underachieving (Pandorum, Jennifer's Body, and Sorority Row were all DOA), and credit that to the fact that the movie is decidedly a comedy. The story of the only four survivors of a plague caused by fast food makes for the worthiest send-up of the zombie genre since Shaun of the Dead.
That's not to say that horror films have to cross genres to attract an audience. Another title outperforming others with significantly higher budgets is Paramount's Paranormal Activity, a "found footage" movie (think: The Blair Witch Project) purportedly recorded by a couple inhabiting a haunted house. Paranormal Activity was made for only $11,000 and is relying almost entirely on word of mouth to draw its audience. Released on September 25 for midnight screenings in 13 cities, the film has expanded by vote to 33 markets, has made more than $776,000 to date, and will begin daytime showings next week (you know—so you can bring the kids).
Ultimately, both Zombieland and Paranormal Activity will remind studios that moviegoers still have the taste for fright when the conceit is original enough and certain formulaic conventions are forsaken. And, of course, when the horror itself is intentional . . . and not just a look inside the brain of Tucker Max.