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Jason Blum ‘The King Of Horror’ And His Nightmare Factory

by : Tom Percival on : 29 Jun 2021 13:27
Jason Blum 'The King Of Horror' And His Nightmare FactoryBlumhouse

Stephen King was the man first given the epithet ‘the King of Horror’, but in recent years a new dark prince has risen to challenge the lauded author for dominion over the terrifying ghosts and ghouls who go bump in the night. 

That man is Jason Blum, who, through his production company Blumhhouse, has dominated the cinematic horror landscape ever since producing the delightfully sinister 2009 megahit, Paranormal Activity.

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Over the last 11 years, Jason and Blumhouse have revitalised the horror genre with franchises like The Purge and Insidious, while also making some of the most lauded genre films of the decade, most notably Get Out, which went on to be nominated for the Academy’s highest honour, the Oscar for Best Picture.

Jason Blum (PA Images)PA Images

In fact, Blumhouse has been so successful that it’s cut through the public consciousness, and become embedded in the minds of general audiences (and some film critics) as a by-word for quality. Some have even gone so far as to label the production company the ‘Pixar of Horror’.

Being compared to the widely admired animation studio clearly flattered Jason Blum who, when he spoke to UNILAD earlier this year ahead of the release of Freaky, joked that the comparison had ‘increased his company’s valuation by 10%’.

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He said: 

I’m glad to hear that. You know, Pixar I don’t think there’s any better. I don’t think there’s a company in the movie business that has a better track record that Pixar, including [Blumhouse] by the way, they beat us by a mile or so.

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While Jason might have been too humble to claim Blumhouse is actually the Pixar of Horror, he clearly relishes the sobriquet, admitting that every year or so he has to fight off a pretender to his horror throne, joking ‘there are a few people nipping at [his] heels’, so he’s ‘glad’ to still wear the crown.

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Jason’s modesty aside though, he is very conscious of exactly why people make the comparison, and knows exactly what the secret to his company’s success is; in his words, it’s ‘the exact opposite of what Pixar do’.

He explained:

Our secret is low budgets. I think if you keep the budget low, you stop second-guessing the audience. You’re not trying to fill a need. You’re not trying to chase success. You’re not comparing a movie to another movie that made a lot of money 18 months ago.

And by keeping a low budget it allows you to make difficult, non-obvious, creative choices and cast people you wouldn’t ordinarily cast. It frees you up creatively and in a terrific way. If there was one secret to our success, I would say it’s we weren’t tempted because we had a hit movie or two to then do expensive movies. We’re staying, and continuing to do low budget movies is interesting.

Paranormal Activity (Paramount Pictures)Paramount Pictures
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These were the lessons that Jason learned while making the film’s first major success, the wonderfully frightening Paranormal Activity – a superbly minimalist ghost story made for a paltry $15,000 that went on to gross $193.4 million worldwide.

In Jason’s words, ‘[Paranormal Activity] is, was very important [to Blumhouse]. I mean, the whole company was born out of the production and the model of an independent movie which is then released by a studio came from that film.’

Interestingly, though, Jason told us that despite it essentially making his name and establishing his entire business model, Paranormal Activity isn’t his favourite franchise, and while he ‘loves’ all the films he produces there’s one franchise that stands out from the pack – The Purge.

The Purge (Universal)Universal
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He said:

My favourite franchise is sort of The Purge. The Purge was the fourth movie we did in our system, we’d done Paranormal [Activity], Insidious, Sinister, and then we did The Purge.

That was when people were like, ‘oh, wow, this guy is really on to something’. Note The Purge almost didn’t get released. No one thought the movie would work. It was a big hit and that was a magical time.

Of course, to the outside viewer, it might seem as though Blumhouse’s ‘magical time’ never really came to an end, in the last few years the studio has produced its fair share of awards contenders, outside and inside of the horror genre, including Whiplash, BlacKkKlansman and Get Out.

Whiplash (Sony Classics)Sony Classics

But Jason’s pretty clear that he’s more interested in making movies than he is in winning awards, telling me the nominations are nice and that he’d ‘love to win an Academy Award’, but adding he ‘doesn’t wake up every day with that goal in mind’.

No, it’s clear from talking to him that Jason enjoys being an outsider in Hollywood, or in being as much of an outsider as you can be after you’ve founded the most successful horror production company of the last decade.

He said: 

We are an outsider. I mean, we work in the system. We don’t work outside the system. We have deep partnerships in the system and our movies are distributed by the system. But I don’t see [Blumhouse] as part of the system of making movies, we’re very much an outsider in the way we make our films.

Get Out (Universal)Universal

This ‘outsider attitude’ is perhaps best exemplified when we spoke about Get Out, a film Jason tells me should have netted Jordan Peele the Best Picture gong, and one that was famously rejected by the rest of Hollywood before Blumhouse snapped it up.

Jason explained: 

When movies break out that big [like Get Out], it’s because they’re anomalies and more often than not, the gatekeepers reject them. The gatekeepers are looking for movies that are similar to other successful movies.

But as soon as you do something totally original, the gatekeepers say, ‘Well, there’s nothing to compare this to. So how is this going to work?’ So, yeah, I mean, Get Out, that script, no one wanted to make it. You know, Jordan had a deal, a new line at Warner Brothers. They said you’re out of your mind making this movie.

Jason and Blumhouse, of course, were vindicated in their decision to make Get Out; the film was a critical darling and in many ways it paved a potentially more respectable path for the studio, with critics finally paying attention to their output.

Jason Blum and Jordan Peele (PA Images)PA Images

Not that Jason was particularly happy with critics finally admitting that horror (or at least elevated horror) could be good. ‘It makes me want to vomit,’ Jason says when I ask him his thoughts on critics’ sudden appreciation for that rotten adjective, used exclusively by those too afraid to admit that genre cinema is just as powerful as any ‘awards-worthy’ drama.

He continued:

I liked it better when they all hated horror. It was more fun. But after Jordan, you know, they’re coming around, you know, after Get Out, the critics, snobby critics like horror more, which I think is bad. By the way, I don’t think that’s a good thing. I find it annoying.

With all his incredible success, I had to ask Jason if there were any worlds left for our eponymous King of Horror left to conquer, and he admitted there was a franchise he’d love to revive if he could.

Friday the 13th (Warner Bros.)Warner Bros.

That franchise is Friday the 13th, which he almost got, but to his frustration things fell through. Not that he’s given up on his ambition to secure the rights, or as Jason more elegantly put it, ‘If those guys knew what they were doing, they’d let me make them a lot of money with it.’

As for the immediate future, the King has no thoughts of hanging up his crown anytime soon, despite the ease with which he could slip back into a cushy executive producer role. Why? Because making movies is too damn fun.

He explained: 

I do it because it’s fun to, like, take these stories and turn them into movies or shows, take books, take ideas, I love that process. I love the process, especially when it’s the harder to do or the more people don’t believe in it, the more satisfying it is.

Long live the King.

Freaky is in UK cinemas on July 2. 

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]

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Tom Percival

More of a concept than a journalist, Tom Percival was forged in the bowels of Salford University from which he emerged grasping a Masters in journalism. Since then his rise has been described by himself as ‘meteoric’ rising to the esteemed rank of Social Editor at UNILAD as well as working at the BBC, Manchester Evening News, and ITV. He credits his success to three core techniques, name repetition, personality mirroring, and never breaking off a handshake.

Topics: Featured, Film, horror, jordan peele, movies, Now