Lexington filmmakers William Brent Bell and Matthew Peterman just wanted to get their bargain-basement horror film The Devil Inside in front of audiences. They had no idea that it would be a shot of adrenaline to a sagging film market.
Last weekend, the movie, which was made for less than $1 million, took in $33.7 million at the box office. That made it the third-highest-grossing January opening ever (behind Cloverfield in 2008 and the Star Wars re-release in 1997), and it brought the overall box office for the first weekend in January up 29 percent over the same weekend last year.
"We felt great about it," producer and co-writer Peterman said in a phone interview Wednesday night. "We're in the business, and we don't want it to be down."
The Devil Inside is a found-footage, documentary-style film that was inspired by a story Bell and Peterman read about an exorcism school at the Vatican. When they were writing the script, Peterman and Bell said, The Blair Witch Project was the precedent for that style of film, but as they were getting ready to shoot in 2007, the original Paranormal Activity came out.
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"That totally paved the way for our film," Bell said.
A bad omen for The Devil Inside was a stream of scathing mainstream-media reviews. The filmmakers say that was a surprise after positive reviews from the niche Web site Besthorrormovies.com, which said, "What The Exorcist started in 1973, The Devil Inside continues brilliantly in 2012."
Peterman said horror fans generally pay more attention to reviews on horror sites, and it's an audience that goes to the movies, all of which contributed to the big opening weekend.
Now that The Devil Inside has had a big debut, the former Lexington residents say, they're talking about a trio of potential projects with interested investors.