I consider it a character defect that I don’t like scary movies. I like to think of myself as a strong person, but the other night while my sister and my wife watched Heredity, screaming from the den with delight and horror, I cowered in the other end of the house like a dork at a sleepover party.
But I know enough about horror to know that Jason Blum, of Blumhouse Productions, has been the greatest architect and innovator of the genre for the past two decades.
You have him to thank (or blame) for: Paranormal Activity, Get Out, Split, The Invisible Man, The Purge franchise, Happy Death Day, and over a hundred more.
Blum’s approach is simple but radical: low budget, high concept. Think of Paranormal Activity, which had a production budget of $15,000 and grossed almost $200 million. Or Get Out, which cost $4.5 million and made $255 million. The first still gives me nightmares. The second I consider the most brilliant movie of the last decade.
So, in honor of Halloween, I reached out to Blum to ask him what his favorite scary movies are.
Below are his top five picks, which include a few from his own stable.
If you feel like being a masochist this weekend, consider watching one. And if the mere description of these films freaks you out, I invite you to join me for a KitKat binge in the kitchen.
This movie—about a rich couple haunted by the man’s first wife, but not in the way you think—is very important to me. When you make a movie with a big twist like “Rebecca” has, you really have to make two films: the one the audience is experiencing in real time and the one they experience in retrospect. My appreciation for the twist in the Hitchcock original only grew while working with M. Night Shyamalan, who of course is known for twist endings, on “The Visit.” But what it means to have a big twist is that both of those movies—the one they see and the one they’re still talking about days later—need to be really good.
I love this movie on its own merits: It’s a perfect psychological thriller that unfurls out from a murder at a motel. But I especially love it because it was the movie that Hitchcock had the most trouble getting made. It was the movie that no one thought would work. And yet it was his most commercially successful movie. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates will have you crawling in bed with your parents.
This movie, about—what else?—a family not so different from yours being haunted, was going to be a direct-to-DVD release before it went on an incredibly circuitous journey to the big screens. It took three years and was rejected by every major studio. We had to pay Paramount to take the movie. It’s a reminder to me to trust my gut instinct. If I really believe in something, I just have to keep trying and trying to get it in front of audiences. This movie also represents the pure and total democratization of filmmaking. All you need is a great idea, a lot of skill, and a lot of willpower.
“Get Out” is one of my favorite horror movies because it's the culmination of Act One of Blumhouse. It was made as inexpensively as possible, the director had creative control, and we could take creative risks. “Get Out” was a script everyone had passed on, really. We went to Jordan Peele and said that if he could make it in our budget—under five million— and we would be in. There are so many things about this movie that would never have made it through traditional studio development: Can you explain the Sunken Place? This family can’t find any better use for this technology than secretly using black bodies?
But pretty much everyone who saw it got it.
What happens when the thing you most want is also the most dangerous thing for you?
“Rosemary’s Baby,” to me, is a great example of the way the ending of a story can release all of the meaning that has been pent up for two hours. That is the great responsibility of horror films. The contract with the audience is that this movie will put you through an unpleasant experience but in exchange you will get a huge amount of meaning out of it. Trust me on this one.