Inside BlumHouse
Empire Australasia|April 2018

Inside BlumHouse

Alex Godfrey

there is a severed leg  sticking out of a mound of chopped-up logs in Jason Blum’s office. Sat at the other end of the room, on a sofa facing Empire, Blum slowly stirs some tea. In the wake of Catherine Keener’s hypnosis tactics in Get Out, it’s a little ominous. “Oh, I know,” he grins. “Be careful, buddy. I might be getting you ready for the Coagula.”

The Coagula, Get Out’s procedure in which black people are body-snatched, becoming involuntary hosts for the minds of physically ailing white people, is — when you read it like that — not traditional awards-season material. But Blumhouse has been upending expectations and subverting norms from the start, and the last year has been a banner one for the company. Its two biggest successes yet have forged new genre ground, defying traditional categorisation while setting the box office on fire, with Jordan Peele’s Get Out taking in $255 million worldwide from a $4.5 million budget (while scoring a Best Picture Oscar nomination and winning Best Original Screenplay), and M. Night Shyamalan’s multiple personalities thrill-ride Split, made for $9 million, taking $278 million.

In the decade since Blumhouse began in earnest, Blum has surprised and shaken up the industry, churning out astonishingly profitable hits. The total budget for all six Paranormal Activity films, which pushed found footage to its limits while making audiences shiver and scream, was just $28 million; the series has raked in almost $900 million. The four Insidious films, bringing surreal demonic possession to multiplexes, were glossier, but still made with a combined cost of around $26 million, bringing home $536 million. This is not even to mention the success of some Sinisters, a couple of Ouijas, and four Purges. Last year’s riotous Happy Death Day did gangbusters, while April’s Truth Or Dare, about teenagers being supernaturally forced to take the game to violent extremes, looks freakishly frightening.

From the outside, Blumhouse doesn’t look like a horror factory. In an unassuming, nondescript area of Downtown Los Angeles, miles from the Hollywood heartland, Blumhouse’s main nerve centre is a deathly dark brown, brutal cube of a building, betraying nothing. Inside, things are clearer. On a coffee table, heavy-duty horror books sit among the trade magazines, the walls are decked with framed photos of Blumhouse’s directors at work, and the main feature is a spin on 1960s pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s work (Blum’s father, an art dealer, represented him) — a painting of a distressed blonde woman crying whilst bemoaning, “I just saw a Blumhouse film… now I won’t sleep for weeks!”

Blum himself emanates mischief, bouncing about in casual threads as he gives Empire a tour of the company’s two buildings, swinging open doors on meetings, cackling as rooms full of people look up at him, nonplussed. “One of the reasons I like living Downtown is because there are very few people in entertainment here,” the 49-year-old says as we walk. “Our whole model is based on working for nothing upfront. If the movies work, everyone gets paid, and if they don’t, no-one loses too much money. It’s hard to have that model and spend seven gazillion dollars on your Beverly Hills office.”

After taking in the screening room, which often screens movies loudly enough to get the walls shaking, we head up to the roof, decked out with couches, drenched in sunshine, overlooking the hills. “One thing I love about this, you can see the Hollywood sign there, but it’s very far away.” He laughs loudly. “It’s how I like it.”

_three formative experiences in Jason Blum’s life contributed to the birth of Blumhouse.

When he was 11 years old, visiting his aunt and uncle, he saw Friday The 13th. He can’t remember how he got hold of it, but he hadn’t seen a horror film before, was home alone late at night, and shudders at the memory. “It terrified me,” he says. “It damaged me. It was not good. Afterwards, I was frightened of being alone. I was frightened of going to bed by myself. I was frightened of being alone in the dark for years after.” He was not a horror fan as a young man; is this why? “Absolutely. One hundred percent. I don’t think I saw a horror movie after that for a long time. A long time.”

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