By Joshua Rich
Updated June 11, 2007 at 12:00 PM EDT
Rico Torres

Here’s something scary for you, PopWatchers: The horror genre is dead! So say both The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, at least. Specifically at issue is Hostel Part II‘s frighteningly poor $8.7 million opening this past weekend — way below the $19.6 mil debut of Hostel a year and a half ago.

How big a problem is this? Good question; glad you asked. The Timeses would have you believe that it’s a giant one. After all, fright flicks have been a dependable profit stream for Hollywood since Scream scored $103 mil 10 years ago. They’re cheap to make and market, and they steadily draw a young crowd eager for an excuse to cuddle and cringe in a dark room. But the genre has been bleeding lately: Even while the Saw series has banked a bundle, the last blockbuster horror hit was The Grudge, which earned $110.4 mil (on a reported budget of $10 mil) back in 2004. And check out this year’s death toll: Thr3e, Primeval, The Hitcher, Dead Silence, Vacancy, The Invisible, The Hills Have Eyes 2, The Reaping, et slashera.

addCredit(“Hostel Part II: Rico Torres”)

Then again, as my colleague Gary Susman wonders: Isn’t this wholething cyclical? Wasn’t there a big horror boom in the 1980s, followedby a fallow period in the early 1990s, followed by a boom again?Perhaps we’re just on the down side now, and things will pick up againshortly. What’s more, maybe the problem is oversaturation (this year, The L.A. Timessays, there will be 42 horror releases) — and, for that matter,oversaturation of substandard movies. As EW’s Jeff Jensen (yes, he’salso a Doctor of Box Office Letters) argued in an impassioned e-mail tome this weekend, a piece of crapola like The Reaping was never going to be a hit, no matter how many double Academy Award winners they threw in there. And Hostel Part II — well, audiences gave it a poisonous CinemaScore grade of C. Maybe it just wasn’t good.

Then again, maybe it was too violent: The so-called “torture porn” sub-genre that the Hostelflicks belong to has become de rigueur for filmmakers catering to acrowd apparently seeking more and more extreme thrills. But perhapsaudiences have grown tired of the excess. Perhaps, if this downwardtrend continues, we’ll start seeing more watered-down horror flicks. Ordo you think the slasher slump will subside only after filmmakers ampup the blood-and-guts quotient even more? I shudder to think aboutwhat’s on your mind.