Universal Pictures 'The Exorcist: Believer'
Halloween was a big deal to Blumhouse founder and CEO Jason Blum when he was growing up in the village of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. "My mom and I would start my costumes in August and make those papier-mâché masks with milk cartons and newspaper," says the producer, 54. Also? "I was a big fan of shaving cream," he continues. "I got very good at creating shaving cream art on the streets of Dobbs Ferry."
Halloween has continued to have importance for Blum down the decades. The producer first made his name with the micro-budgeted found-footage supernatural chiller Paranormal Activity, which became the surprise hit of the 2009 spooky season, ultimately earning $107 million in the U.S. alone. More recently, Blum oversaw director David Gordon Green's three hit Halloween movies (2018's Halloween, 2021's Halloween Kills, 2022's Halloween Ends), all of which were released in the run up to Oct. 31. This year, the producer is hoping to terrify audiences with two big-screen terror tales.
Oct. 6 sees the release of the Green-directed The Exorcist: Believer, a continuation of the iconic horror franchise which began with the late William Friedkin's 1973 blockbuster The Exorcist. "The people who have seen it have said it checks all the boxes of the original and that you come out kind of shaken, so be prepared," Blum warns. That film will be followed in theaters by the Oct. 27th premiere of video game adaptation Five Nights at Freddy's, which stars Josh Hutcherson as a security guard named Mike who battles animatronic mascots at an abandoned theme restaurant. "If you liked the video games, you're going to be very happy with the movie," Blum insists. Don't care to leave your house? Blumhouse has you covered in the form of Totally Killer, a Kiernan Shipka-starring time travel/serial killer movie which premieres on Prime Video Oct. 6.
Universal Pictures Leslie Odom, Jr. and Ellen Burstyn in 'The Exorcist: Believer'
It doesn't take a genius to know that releasing horror movies at pumpkin-carving time makes commercial sense. As Blum says, "We're a scary movie company, so we're always heavily programming for October." But bringing The Exorcist: Believer and Five Nights at Freddy's to the screen was not easy. The former is the first Exorcist movie to be released since the franchise's rights holders, Morgan Creek, produced a prequel in the early aughts. That turned into a legendarily tortuous process. Director Paul Schrader's stab at the material, Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, was effectively thrown in the trash and a second attempt, Renny Harlin's Exorcist: The Beginning, was finally released in 2004 to excoriating reviews. Blum explains that Morgan Creek President David Robinson was encouraged to team with Blumhouse for a planned trilogy of new Exorcist movies following the success the company enjoyed rebooting Halloween.
"I'd been talking to Morgan Creek, who owned The Exorcist, for quite a long time," the producer says. "When David Robinson, in particular, saw what we were able to do with Halloween, it gave him the comfort to trust us with this very precious IP." Green had planned on taking a break from horror but agreed to come on board to direct The Exorcist: Believer after becoming friendly with Robinson. "It was at a point where I was like, I'm done with horror for a while," the filmmaker recalls. "Coincidentally, at the same time, David Robinson moved to South Carolina, where I live, and so we became friends. It just felt like friends at the barbecue shooting the s--- about what to do next with this title."
The film stars young actors Lidya Jewett and Olivia O'Neill as a pair of demonically possessed children, Leslie Odom Jr. as the father of Jewett's character, and Ann Dowd as a nurse. Most eye-catching for horror fans, the movie finds Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn reprising her role of Chris MacNeil for the first time since Friedkin's original film. "I really give David Gordon Green credit for that," Blum says. "He was able to get Jamie Lee Curtis comfortable [on 2018's Halloween] and David got Ellen to feel comfortable to join us in this iteration of her iconic movie." Blumhouse executive and diehard horror fan Ryan Turek helped produce Blumhouse's three Halloween movies and The Exorcist: Believer. He reveals that Burstyn is a horror icon of a different stripe to the larger-than-life Curtis. "Where Jamie Lee Curtis will come in, kicking the door down and getting to know everybody, Ellen kind of floated in," Turek says. "We were very respectful and just made sure that everyone was on their A game."
The exec admits he did slightly embarrass himself when he first met Burstyn. "I show up with my Exorcist Vans, because they had just released a pair of sneakers with The Exorcist emblazoned all over them," he recalls. "I introduced myself and she looked at my sneakers and she was like, 'So, you're a horror fan?' I was like, oh my God, I wore the band's shirt to a rock concert!" Burstyn seems to be happy about her decision to return. In EW's exclusive behind-the-scenes sneak peek (seen in the video below), which was recorded prior to the start of the SAG-AFTRA strike, the actress says that she thinks audiences "will get their money's worth with this one."
The development of Five Nights at Freddy's similarly dates back years — back to 2015 when Warner Bros. announced that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter writer Seth Grahame-Smith would produce a movie version of Scott Cawthon's game. Two years later, Warner Bros. put the project in turnaround and Blumhouse picked up the rights, attaching Home Alone filmmaker Chris Columbus to direct. Columbus later departed the project and Blum recruited Emma Tammi, who had impressed with her 2018 supernatural Western The Wind, and both directed the film and co-wrote the script with Cawthon. "I think what we were able to do that the people at Warners weren't able to do was make Scott feel comfortable and make his voice really felt throughout the movie," Blum says. "Scott's never been a writer or a producer on a movie. We were able to march him through the process of moviemaking, which is very strange, while injecting the movie with Scott's DNA."
Director Tammi believes Five Nights at Freddy's could be the beginning of a new career phase for Hutcherson, who is still best known for playing Peeta in the Hunger Games movies. "We went through an intensive process for this role, because he really anchors the whole film. I talked to Josh early on and we just kept coming back to him," says the director, whose movie also stars Matthew Lillard, Elizabeth Lail, and Piper Rubio. "He had such a grasp for the character and gave Mike a real lived-in feeling, which was what the character needed. I'm excited for people to see Josh in a slightly new light."
If Five Nights at Freddy's is successful, Tammi says she "hopes to be able to do more." That would add to the list of successful Blumhouse franchises, which, in addition to the Halloween trilogy and Paranormal Activity, includes The Purge and Insidious. The latter's fifth installment, the Patrick Wilson-directed Insidious: The Red Door, has earned $188 million worldwide since its release in July. Blumhouse and James Wan's Atomic Monster company are also developing a sequel to the companies' killer robot movie M3GAN, which similarly cleaned up the box office when the film was released in January. "M3GAN 2 is down in the Blumhouse laboratory getting worked on," Turek says.
Universal Pictures Josh Hutcherson in 'Five Nights at Freddy's'
Asked about his ability to keep these franchises successfully on track, Blum says, "The most important thing is choosing the right creative partners, the right artists to partner with, and then allowing the artist to take risks, not pull the reins too tightly." Green prizes Blum's ability to provide a space where he can concentrate on creativity, mostly free from outside concerns. "I love not having to go to the front lines of those battles, because that's not what my skill set is," the filmmaker says. "My skill set is to get a bunch of weirdos in a room and go make some s---. It's fun to have someone that keeps some of the bureaucracy off my back and can keep me making movies that I want to make."
Blum has always been happy to admit he was not particularly interested in horror prior to his involvement with Paranormal Activity. Turek explains that can be an asset at times when the more genre-expert principals on a movie find themselves unable to see the bloody woods for the gore-covered trees. "The fact that Jason didn't grow up stashing Fangorias underneath his bed, like I did, [means] he comes at it as a pure audience member," Turek says. "I will go, 'But wait, we can't do this, because [it happens in] Amityville 2: The Possession' — a legitimate conversation we had. Jason will come in and go, 'Guys, you're overthinking it. Cut to the chase, get to the scare.' Or, [he'll say] 'Don't forget to think about emotion, the family drama of it all.' Jason's really great at clearing out the noisy clutter of development and putting us back on the path."
Blum is interested in reviving a couple more well-known horror franchises under the Blumhouse umbrella. That's for him to know and us to find out. Asked how often he speaks to the respective rights holders of the properties, the producer says amid laughter, "The ones I'm going after I talk to every day. There's two or three that I'm interested in, most of them I'm not interested in. Some horror, at least in my opinion, won't resonate to an audience from 2023. But there's some that's timeless and that's what I look for."
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images Jason Blum
The CEO will likely be making future plans in cahoots with Atomic Monster. Last December, Deadline confirmed that Blum and Wan (who directed the first two Insidious movies) were in "advanced talks" to combine their respective companies. Blum says the merger is "something that we deal with literally every day, usually multiple times a day, and my hope is, we're a small handful of weeks away." Blumhouse and Atomic Monster are, for sure, partnering on the upcoming horror film Night Swim, which stars Wyatt Russell and Kerry Condon, and is coming to theaters Jan. 5. "Night Swim is a very spooky haunted pool movie," Turek says of the film, which is directed by Bryce McGwire. "Because it was developed by Atomic Monster, it's got all of the heart and soul that comes with a James Wan film and a lot of underwater nightmare imagery that I'm excited for people to see."
Blum's status as a titan of industry was recently confirmed when ABC announced he would be one of the Guest Sharks on the 15th season of Shark Tank, which premieres Sept. 29. Although, he admits he pursued them. "Someone asked me, 'Did they call you or did you call them?' My answer is, I called them about 100 times," the Blumhouse boss says. "In a funny way, I've always thought of myself more of an entrepreneur than an actual movie or TV producer. It's something I really wanted to do. I pursued it and I really had a lot of fun. You see these people [who] have five minutes to pitch their lifelong dream. It's a very emotional thing."
Not everything has gone Blum's way of late. The Exorcist: Believer was set to be released Oct. 13. Then Taylor Swift surprise announced in August that she would premiere an Eras Tour concert movie on the same date. Blum immediately reacted to the news by writing "#Exorswift" on Twitter in the hopes of creating interest in a Barbenheimer-type phenomenon. Later that same day, Blum blinked and announced the Universal-distributed The Exorcist: Believer would be released one week earlier.
"We had this amazing Friday the 13th in October, which is the single best day to release a scary movie," the producer says. "Obviously, we moved off that and we bowed our head to Taylor Swift. It was too risky to see if 'Exorswift' was going to take or not. The one thing that scares me to death is Taylor Swift!"
— Jason Blum (@jason_blum) October 28, 2022
Maybe Blum should dress as "Exorswift" this Halloween: half Bible-clutching priest, half guitar-strumming pop icon. It would only be slightly more outlandish than some of the costumes the CEO has worn to Blumhouse's annual Halloween party over the past few years. In 2018, Blum attended the event dressed as Donald Trump-tormenting adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Last year, the producer went as the titular robot from M3GAN. The Blumhouse chief explains that he is already thinking seriously of his costume for this year's shindig.
"I am, I am, I am," he says. "I haven't decided yet. But I've narrowed it down to a few."
At least he doesn't have to worry about the cost of shaving cream.
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