Horror sequels take a stab at the boxoffice

'Halloween II,' 'The Final Destination' open Friday

Get within screaming distance of Labor Day and moviegoers know what they can expect: The horror!

A pair of scary pics unspooling Friday will try to open strongly and then enjoy a holiday-bolstered second session during the subsequent four-day weekend. The Weinstein Co.'s Dimension Films bows Rob Zombie's "Halloween II," and Warner Bros. debuts 3D gorefest "The Final Destination," the fourth installment in New Line's 9-year-old fright franchise.

Also Friday, Focus will expand Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock" into wide release after two days of exclusive engagements. The fact-based yarn, whose ensemble cast includes Emile Hirsch and British actor Henry Goodman, should fetch $10 million or so through Monday.

Hollywood's enthusiasm for slotting horror films in late August and early September seems less tied to any specific opportunity than a simple reflection of distributors' bent for going on genre jags.

Once releases like 2001's overachieving creep-out "Jeepers Creepers" -- a $13 million opener and $38 million domestic grosser -- showed an ability to mount solid runs during an oft-sleepy play period, it was inevitable other studios would similarly slot more fright films. Last year, Fox unspooled the R-rated "Mirrors" with $11 million and registered almost $31 million overall domestically.

Were either of this year's R-rated horror releases to open free from competition, each might be expected to flirt with the $20 million mark through Sunday. But with the obvious audience overlap, it's likely both will be limited to bows in the teen millions, with one or the other finishing No. 1 during the frame.

"There's definitely enough business for everybody," Weinstein distribution head Laurent Ouaknine said.

Warners distribution boss Dan Fellman noted that moviegoers' enthusiasm for 3D releases could offer an advantage to "Destination." "That could help us play more broadly," he said.

With exhibitors adding 3D screens for the pic up to the last minute, Fellman was assured of having at least 1,678 extra-dimensional auditoriums playing "Destination" in the biggest 3D screen count to date.

Meanwhile, Weinstein's World War II holdover "Inglourious Basterds" will be closely watched for the sturdiness of its theatrical legs.

Last weekend, the Brad Pitt starrer drew more females than might be expected for a Quentin Tarantino-helmed film. Combined with the R-rated pic's older-skewing support, that should mean a decent sophomore session for the 2 1/2-hour action drama.

"Basterds" bowed with $38.1 million, so an unusually strong second-frame hold of 50% or more would represent a serious challenge to the new pics for weekend bragging rights.

On an industrywide basis, the weekend will be compared with last year's four-day Labor Day frame; summer 2008 boasted one fewer frame than the current season. A year ago, the four-day, $124 million session was topped by a leggy "Tropic Thunder," with the DreamWorks comedy fetching $14.6 million during its third weekend.

It's unlikely the industry can best a four-day session, though the boxoffice has marked year-over-year upticks the past three weekends. But a week from Friday, that extra summer session features three wide openers for the four-day frame: Lionsgate's sci-fi actioner "Gamer," Fox's romantic comedy "All About Steve" and Miramax's comedy "Extract."

With seasonal boxoffice sitting at $4.03 billion and counting, the industry will attempt to outpace last summer's $4.13 billion tally. It's also possible the latest summer boxoffice will top summer 2007's record $4.16 billion haul, but a new admissions high is out of the question after accounting for ticket-price inflation.

Headed into the weekend, the current season at $3.98 million is up less than 1% when compared with last summer. Year to date, boxoffice is up almost 4% at $6.77 billion.
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