Special Report: TeenScreen: Teen horror movies slash their way to a comeback

From Halloween in 1978 to Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984 to Scream in 1996, horror movies have always been popular with teens. TeenScreen takes a look at the thrills and chills of scaring teens...
April 1, 1998

From Halloween in 1978 to Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984 to Scream in 1996, horror movies have always been popular with teens. TeenScreen takes a look at the thrills and chills of scaring teens

Thanks to top-grossing films like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, the teen horror genre is undergoing a renaissance. Miramax’s Scream, the 1996 hit film starring Party of Five’s Neve Campbell and Friends’ Courteney Cox, grossed more than US$100 million. The sequel, Scream 2, hit theaters in December and pulled in approximately US$41 million in its first week at the North American box office. Mandalay Entertainment’s I Know What You Did Last Summer, also starring a Party of Five teen favorite, Jennifer Love Hewitt, garnered over US$71 million.

According to the fall 1997 Teenage Marketing & Lifestyle Study, released by Teenage Research Unlimited, Scream was the second favorite move among teens in 1997. Seventeen percent of females questioned in the study ranked it as one of their top two choices, while seven percent of males ranked it as one of their favorites.

‘I think [horror movies are] a good ride. It’s escapism fare,’ says Charles Band, CEO of Full Moon Pictures, on why teens are attracted to horror films.

Full Moon Pictures produces direct-to-video horror, fantasy and science fiction movies.

According to Band, pushing the limits of horror is a matter of taste. ‘And hopefully you have good taste and you make films that have the right spirit,’ he says.

Good taste aside, makers of teen horror fare have to be careful when marketing their films.

‘I Know What You Did Last Summer was an R-rated movie so you can’t market a movie to teens with an R rating, in all fairness,’ says John Jacobs, president of worldwide marketing at Mandalay Entertainment. Nevertheless, he says, ‘teens circumvent a lot of the R ratings. There’s a fine line of how you market something there [in that demographic].’

Jacobs credits the success of I Know What You Did Last Summer to its premise and its cast. Starring two of television’s hottest young stars, Party of Five’s Hewitt and Sarah Michelle Gellar of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the film has an obvious appeal to teens.

‘It’s a movie about four kids who’ve graduated from high school, so it’s set in a teenage environment. It had two stars who were clearly popular on really hot teenage shows and it’s a genre of movie that’s been a staple for teenagers for generations,’ says Jacobs.

Mandalay hopes to repeat the success of I Know What You Did Last Summer. The company is in the process of finalizing casting for the sequel and is aiming to have it in theaters in mid-November.

‘The big thing is that [horror] is a genre that kids have liked over the years,’ says Jacobs. ‘It had laid a little dormant I think because people hadn’t done a good job executing [these kinds of films].’

Scream is largely credited with revitalizing the horror genre for teens. With its biting humor and tongue-in-cheek references to slasher movies of the `70s and `80s, Scream scored its way to the top of the box office and was a hit with teens.

The need for humor in horror films and books is key to Joan Waricha, chairman and CEO of Parachute Properties, which has finalized a deal with Disney and Hollywood Pictures to create a feature film franchise based on Parachute’s Fear Street book series.

‘It’s important to us that there be humor, and that there be some funny things that happen,’ says Waricha. ‘And that even though there’s violence and scares, [the kids] are kind of safe and they turn out okay in the end.’

Parachute hopes to release the first Fear Street movie some time this year, with the expectation it will spawn a series of Fear Street movies.

Waricha believes the horror genre has a role to play by allowing teens a natural, fun way to relieve their aggressions through screaming at the movies.

‘It’s so over the top, it’s not like these are day-to-day problems. In teen movies, the kids foil the monsters and get out of trouble themselves,’ she says. ‘In a way, [teen horror movies] are empowering.’

On the merchandising front, Parachute doesn’t know what to expect from the Fear Street movies. ‘I’m not sure it’s the same kind of merchandising program you’d get out of a younger property,’ she says. ‘I think the movies will give [the books] a whole new audience and a whole new dimension and will keep the books going.’

Full Moon Pictures, meanwhile, launched Full Moon Toys in 1996, a toy company that manufactures and distributes action figures from Full Moon Pictures movies, as well as a wide array of T-shirts, mugs and baseball hats.

Jacobs says no merchandising programs came out of I Know What You Did Last Summer, largely in part because the film was unknown.

‘We’re now going back to advertisers and promotional partners and saying, `look, this [first] one was successful and there are ways to get involved in it.’ We’ve talked to a lot of people, but we don’t have anyone involved yet,’ he says.

In this report:
- SmartGirl Web site in the know about teenage girls
- NBA Inside Stuff gets the inside edge on teen boys
- AOL creates area for teens
- How AOL’s Teen Channel stacks up
- Teen horror movies slash their way to a comeback

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