LOS ANGELES -- Halloween is traditionally an all-out horror assault at the nation's multiplexes. But spook season 2013 is lacking major scares for horror fans at theaters.
The Oct. 18 release of Carrie is the only national release on the normally crowded docket, which lacks a genuine horror contender in the hallowed pre-Halloween Oct. 25 weekend.
"Normally, it's that time of year you go to haunted houses and then catch a horror flick at the theater," director Micheal Tiddes says during a production break of his horror comedy A Haunted House 2. "But it's just a really quiet year this October for horror movies. It's kind of a bummer."
The month still features a large number of limited releases and video-on-demand horror films, such as Nothing Left to Fear (co-produced by former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash) opening Friday, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (Oct. 11) and Haunter (Oct. 18), with Abigail Breslin. There's even a spider invasion film starring Greg Grunberg as a hero exterminator called Big Ass Spiders (Oct. 18).
"But if you're in a small town, the multiplexes don't show these limited-run movies. So you're stuck at home watching them on VOD," says Ryan Turek, the managing editor of horror film website ShockTillYouDrop.com. "October is normally all about the communal experience of having it on the big screen and getting that energy rush in an audience. It's that time of year where everyone wants to share that."
There are reasons for the October boo malaise. Horror movies have now become a year-round phenomenon, thriving even in the age of piracy and shrinking box office. In July, The Conjuring reigned as the box office champion while Insidious 2 was audacious in September.
The horror hit Mama was supposed to come out in October 2012, but moved out of the crowded month for a January 2013 opening. Producer Guillermo del Toro says distributors are not afraid to put horror movies out anytime now. "A lot of people are moving (horror movies) everywhere," he says.
Tiffany Smith of the House of Screams horror section of Fandango.com, which naturally chose October to launch, points out that movie studios are finding new spooky holidays to spread the horror wealth. Friday the 13th is continuing to see growth as a launch pad.
"This year there was a lot riding on Friday, September 13, with Insidious 2," says Smith. "That weekend actually played as a bigger movie weekend than Halloween is this year."
In years past, October marked the heralded release of new bloody Saw movies, which owned the weekend before Halloween annually from 2004 until 2009. Paranormal Activity grabbed the precious weekend after its blockbuster breakout in 2009 and kept it until 2013.
"Paranormal Activity became the fixture for that weekend," says A Haunted House 2 producer Rick Alvarez. "You would never come up against them because you would be killed."
But, after scaring off the competitors for 2013, Paramount announced that Paranormal Activity 5 would not come out as planned on Oct. 25. Paramount replaced it with Johnny Knoxville's Bad Grandpa - a big win for comedy.
But the only horror fans who were happy were the producers of Carrie, the retelling of the Stephen King 1976 classic featuring Chloë Grace Moretz as the ill-fated prom queen and Julianne Moore as her crazed mother.
With Paranormal gone, there's no real genre competition to fight off. Carrie producer Kevin Misher says that the schedule change has given his film an even clearer path to success.
"Sometimes it's just the luck of the draw. And this October just proved itself to have a dearth of horror movies, as opposed to a surplus," he says. "But everyone can certainly come to us to be scared."
By Bryan Alexander, USA Today; contributing: Bill Keveney