Is horror vital at the box office?

No, not really. At least not this week. But that's not stopping Staci Wilson at About.Com from searching for a silver lining in a dark cloud in her post "Horror is vital at the box office."

The rather meager evidence she presents to support this claim is that "AN AMERICAN HAUNTING, the only horror picture to come out this weekend, debuted nicely in third place." She goes on to add that the film earned $6.38-million on 1,668 screens for a "respectable $3,824 per theatre average, actually better RV (but RV is in more theatres.)"

Frankly, this sounds like desperate spin, not all that different from Katie Couric telling us how relieved the White House must feel when the president's approval rating drops only one percentage point (never mind that the drop takes his rating to an all-time low).

$6-million is chump change by Hollywood standards, and per screen average under $4,000 is nothing to scream about. With tickets prices hoovering near the $10 mark in many urban areas, a film that can't make $10-million during its debut is not drawing a significant audience - that works out mathematically to less than a million viewers. Clearly, not even the horror fans are rushing out to see AN AMERICAN HAUNTING.

Wilson goes on to point that that AMERICAN HAUNTING "is one of three horror movies in the box office Top Ten," the other two being SILENT HILL at #7 and SCARY MOVIE 4 at #8. Which kind of sounds impressive until you do a little more math and realize that, even allowing for the inclusion of SCARY MOVE 4 as a horror film (when it's actually a comedy), the combined gross of all three "horror" titles came to under $14-million - or approximately one-third of the "disappointing" debut of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III.

Clearly, the only kind of vitality in the horror genre is that artificially pumped into it by Wilson, rather like Dr. Frankenstein trying to resurrect a dead body with jolts of electricity.

As if to underline the point, it turns out that the $6.38-million figure was an optimistic estimate; the film's actual take was $5.78-million.

Finally, Wilson tries to bolster her argument by reminding us that HOSTEL is the "#1-selling DVD" - a fact that that actually serves better to undercut her argument. HOSTEL barely did $50-million during its entire theatrical run (barely more than MI3 made in one weekend), but it's doing great on home video. What does that tell you about horror's vitality at the box office?

Personally, I'm all for boosterism of the genre, and I'd love it if we could get a mass audience to go out and support these films so that Hollywood would keep making them and distributing them to theatres, instead of consigning them to home video. But sometimes the data points just aren't on your side.