Jason Blum has a knack for terrifying people to their core. A producer and founder of Blumhouse Productions, he’s been at the helm of box-office blockbuster horror franchises like Paranormal Activity, The Purge, and Happy Death Day. Critics have called his movies “primal” and “ingenious,” and together, these films have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide.
But horror is more than just jump scares and masked slashers, he says. It’s finding the one thing in moviegoers’ lives that they can connect with…and presenting it to them in the scariest way imaginable. “The more you can connect [a film] to something from your own world, the scarier it becomes,” he tells Men’s Health. “I recently watched The Vow about the real-life NXIVM cult and Keith Raniere…who’s a scarier character than anyone I’ve ever made a movie about.”
We talked to Blum about his own career origin story, his favorite films he’s produced (including the 2017 Oscar-nominated Get Out), and more on the secret to captivating audiences through horror films.
Growing up, were you always interested in horror movies?
I didn’t grow up on horror movies, but one of the things that brings real horror fans together is we all kind of feel like misfits. We don’t necessarily fit in. That, to me, was my kind of line into it, so I came to horror in an unconventional way.
Was there a horror movie you worked on that really changed the game for you?
Paranormal Activity is really what did it. I didn’t know that much about it before [I’d seen] the rough cut. But when I saw it, my spine was tingling. That that had not happened in in a long, long time.
Early on, I used to work for a distributor. I had seen Blair Witch Project, but I didn’t trust myself and didn’t buy it. I had the same experience 10 years later with Paranormal Activity, but at that time, I was smart enough to listen to that spine tingle and get involved.
Wow. Do you have a favorite scene from Paranormal Activity all these years later or a favorite scene from any horror movie?
When she gets dragged out of the bed by her ankle and out the door and the door slams shut. My favorite scene in the movie by far.
Also, that scene where the family is hanging in Sinister is, like, burned on my brain. I just read this study where they tested people heartbeats while watching these horror movies and Sinister was number one, their heartbeats were the highest. It’s an incredibly scary movie.
You say the scariest things in horror movies are based on real things. Why is that?
The scares only work if you’re very, very wrapped up in the storytelling, which is what comes in between. Sometimes, I’ll give our filmmakers a kind of a an exercise, like, hey, if you take out the scary moments, do you have a drama that stands on its own? Does it keep you engaged and keep you on the edge of your seats that’s also a page turner? If you don’t, we need to keep working on the script because you can’t start relying on the scares in your movie. It won’t work.
Is there a line you won’t cross?
Never. It could never get scary enough. Although I have zero interest in doing a movie about a quarantine or a pandemic because we’re living in it.
I wanted to go through some film highlights in your career. What drew you to the original Purge?
When we did The Purge, we really had this very strict, low-budget/high-concept model where we looked for movies that could be done very inexpensively, but could be sold to a really broad audience. And The Purge, more than any other Blumhouse movie, is the ultimate example of that, right? The first one all takes place in a house. It’s about crime being legal from 7pm to 7am once a year, a massive high concept. I fell in love with the politics and the series has gone on to [become] more and more political which I love.
Every year, The Purge becomes less and less of a fantasy and more of a reality. That’s the most terrifying thing of all.
I speak for several Men’s Health staffers when I say we’re big fans of Happy Death Day.
A lot of the horror movies we do have some comedy, but it’s the hardest genre to do. It’s a genre that’s incredibly difficult to market and incredibly difficult to get it right. But I just really believed in [Director Chris Landon] as an artist and as a writer and director. It wasn’t that I thought this is the greatest script in the world, I thought it [was] a fun script.
Get Out, of course, was a game-changer for horror movies and film in general. How did you get involved?
I met with Jordan [Peele] after I read the script and he kind of pitched me his vision for it. He knew what he wanted the movie to be and that script has been around for two or three years. I had to be able to have these conversations about race with Jordan right from the start. He had an incredibly clear point of view.
I think a lot of people who make decisions about making movies and making TV shows [ask] themselves, like, is the market is looking for this? My whole career I’ve always resisted doing that. We’ve always made movies that we love, that we think are scary, or that move us in a certain way. No one wanted to do it so I’m very proud that we did it.
Of all the horror movies you’ve ever seen, what’s at the top of your list?
The Exorcist. The best scary movies are based on true stories, and this was kind of the mother of all of them. It was original, scary, and incredibly grounded. Rosemary’s Baby. I love the pacing because it’s very unconventional and very slow. It’s almost like a drama, yet it’s one of the scariest movies of all time. It’s just perfectly directed. And The Shining. I mean, Jack Nicholson’s performance?
This interview was condensed for content and clarity.
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