Ever since he helped bring micro-budget horror Paranormal Activity to massive success, producer Jason Blum has built a career producing low-budget horror/thrillers. The enviable business model allows for a lot of creative freedom as the low budgets are designed to ensure breakeven point even with a modest theatrical run. While the occasional dud like The Lazarus Effect, Dark Skies, and The Darkness missed the mark, the low budgets minimised the loses.
The recent announcement that Blumhouse Productions is adapting Mattel’s Magic 8 Ball toy into a movie has got us thinking about all Blumhouse films so far, and we’ve compiled a list of (in our opinion) the best ten.
10. Paranormal Activity (2009) This movie launched Blumhouse Productions and was rightly a considerable success instantly. Made for £10,000 and grossing nearly £130m at the box office, it has led to a series of sequels and copycats. The simplicity of the original idea – cameras in a bedroom capturing ghostly goings-on – remains one of its great strengths and reflects Blumhouse’s formula for success; smart high concept ideas delivered in a slick and effective way. The film would become the most profitable movie of all time, and both horror fans and Hollywood took note.
9. Whiplash (2014) Taking dramatic elements traditionally found in horrors and thrillers, the multiple Award-winning and critically acclaimed Whiplash has become one of Blumhouse’s greatest cinematic achievements. Academy Award (TM) winning J.K. Simmons plays the legitimately terrifying music teacher and antagonist Terence Fletcher in a film that remains tense from the first scene to the last. With emotional notes hitting their mark and complex themes of obsession, perfection and abusive relationships, Whiplash is a great triumph, and it was a huge hit with viewers. If you can take the intensity, it truly demands repeat viewing.
8. The Purge (2013) Like many Blumhouse films before, by the time the first The Purge was released, anticipation was tangible thanks to the fantastic concept; if on one night every year, you could commit any crime without facing consequences, what would you do? And what would you do if you fell victim to a home invasion? It was another hit with audiences with both a sequel and prequel to follow. Unlike earlier Blumhouse films, the story wasn’t solely a horror, but blended horror elements with a thrilling and grounded story. The innovative concept and entertaining delivery of it helped The Purge stand apart in the increasingly competitive cinema environment. The sequels and TV series have expanded the world of The Purge, but the low-key claustrophobic original remains the best.
7. Split (2017) Ignoring the last minute reveal at the end (I say that as a fan of Glass), Split works on its own as a bold and unsettling thriller with a standout performance(s) from James McAvoy. After their successful collaboration with The Visit, M. Night Shyamalan pulled off his most ambitious feat, reminding audiences that he could make a great movie. Keeping things small and character driven, Split was a return to form for M. Night Shyamalan, and the closing moments revealed a jaw-dropping twist that nobody saw coming. Glass might have divided fans, but Split remains a fantastically efficient movie.
6. The Gift (2015) Joel Edgerton making a brilliant and acclaimed directorial debut. The Gift blends the best elements of horror with a well written and wonderfully nerve-wracking thriller. In the story, a young married couple, Simon and Robyn, bump into an acquaintance from Simon’s school. It’s not long before a series of uninvited encounters and creepy gifts prove troubling, and a horrifying secret from the past is soon uncovered. Original, inventive and brilliantly written and acted, The Gift was a sleeper hit in the US and the latest in the production house’s long series of quality ‘scarers’.
5. Insidious (2011) Following the success of the Paranormal Activity films, Blumhouse moved on to an exciting new concept by partnering with genre figurehead and Saw creator James Wan. Along with Wan and Leigh Whannell, the team created a slick new vision for the modern horror film with good old fashioned scares. Insidious stars Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne in a horrifying haunting tale set within their new family home. Insidious was another hit at the box office and struck the right chord with both genre addicts and mainstream audiences, proving once again the Blumhouse knack for quality scares.
4. Ouija Origins of Evil – The first Ouija films was a mostly forgettable shocker that was a roll call of horror movie cliches. Based on the Hasbro game, Ouija made enough cash at the box office to merit a follow-up, and to everybody’s surprise, it was actually rather good. Before he became a household (with Netflix) name with The Haunting of Hill House, Mike Flannagan’s prequel (using many of the cast members who went on to be in Hill House) delivered a hauntingly nerve-shredding film. Made with the same attention to details as James Wan’s Conjuring films, Origins of Evil might be one of the best movies based on a game. If you wanted to know what the best movie based on a game is, it’s Clue.
3. Us (2019) Following his Academy-award winning box office blockbuster Get Out (more on that in a moment), Jordan Peele serves up a deliriously entertaining socially conscious chiller. On the surface, Us seems like a routine home invasion horror with a twist; a young family get away from their day to day at a beautiful beach house only to find themselves hunted by murderous doppelgangers. However, that’s just the tip of the nightmarish iceberg as Peele takes us on a wild ride.
2. Happy Death Day (2017) A cheeky horror comedy that takes the Groundhog Day time loop scenario an adds a slasher movie on top. While easily the least scary film on this list, Happy Death Day ranks so highly as it is such an unexpectedly fun movie, it doesn’t reinvent the slasher genre, but it’s more than happy to goof around in it. The underrated sequel Happy Death Day 2U set up a tantalising third chapter, but due to the lacklustre box office office we are unlikely to ever see what happens next.
1. Get Out (2017) Jordan Peele’s fearless feature directorial debut is so much more than a horror movie. While there might be no ghosts, masked killers, or an Ouija board in sight, Get Out’s horror is from an altogether more human source. Peele tackles a challenging subject matter with razor-sharp satire to hold up an uncomfortable mirror to the times we live in, Get Out was a game changer for a plethora of reasons. An expertly crafted film that made more than $250 million worldwide against a tiny $4.5 million production budget. If that wasn’t success enough, Peele won an Academy Award for best original screenplay.
Special mention: Upgrade (2018) Saw writer, and Insidious 3 director/writer/actor Leigh Whannell helms this cyberpunk action thriller with a helping of body horror thrown in for good measure. Largely ignored upon release, Upgrade is best described as a dark comedy fantasy for the tech-loving times. Perhaps a bit too close to a B-movie for its own good, Upgrade is still well worth a watch on a Friday night.