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  M.   July 05, 2013

By Don Groves

Neil Jordan’s Byzantium, his return to the blood-sucker genre following Interview with the Vampire, was due to open in Australian cinemas on July 25.

Not so. The distributor Rialto pulled the release this week and the fantasy thriller about mother-and -daughter vampires will go straight to DVD and Video-On-Demand.

The decision to bypass cinemas is a growing trend as distributors calculate their chances of recouping hefty marketing costs from the theatrical release are diminishing, and the waning DVD market is a less effective safety net.

Horror movies are the most problematic given the genre has never been popular in Oz, unlike the US and the UK.

Universal won’t release The Purge, a violent saga set in a future where for one night a year all crime is legal, in Australian cinemas. That’s despite the film, which stars Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey and Rhys Wakefield, raking in a lucrative $US63 million in the US since its June 7 debut.

“We will absolutely see more films go straight to DVD,” Universal Pictures International Australia MD Mike Baard told IF. “It’s a sign of the times. There is more product than there are screens available.”

Baard estimates it costs at least $1 million- $1.5 million to release a mainstream film targeted at the 16-34 demographic. If that film sells less than $4 million worth of tickets, Baard says, “You lose money in the theatrical window. “

Last year Universal decided not to give cinema exposure to the Paul Rudd/Jennifer Aniston comedy Wanderlust or to Big Miracle, the true-life whale rescue adventure that starred John Krasinski and Drew Barrymore.

Among other titles that have taken the DVD/VOD route recently are Welcome to the Punch, an English crime mystery starring James McAvoy, Mark Strong and Peter Mullan; Walter Hill’s Bullet to the Head featuring Sylvester Stallone as a New Orleans hit man; The Cold Light of Day, a Spanish set- thriller starring Man of Steel’s Henry Cavill, Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver; Butter, a comedy with Jennifer Garner as a spiteful woman who enters a butter-sculpting contest in Iowa and does whatever it takes to win; and Premium Rush, a chase picture with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the bicycle messenger protagonist.

Byzantium opened in the US last weekend, taking just $16,643 on six screens, despite an appealing cast led by Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Jonny Lee Miller and Sam Riley, and some admiring reviews. The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis lauded an “enjoyably lively and different vampire tale… that, as it spans centuries and shifts from dark to light, is an ode to storytelling as a means of survival.”

However The Wrap’s Alonso Duralde was unimpressed, declaring, “We’ve seen these star-crossed teens and vampire hookers and secret societies many times before, and Jordan never finds a way to make them feel fresh. Skip Byzantium and track down the director’s previous film, the lovely and under-seen mermaid tale Ondine, and let that tide you over until the next movie he makes which, with any luck, will leave the vamps locked away in their coffins.”

Rialto Distribution general manager Mike Vile said the film has a good cast but he judged it “isn’t strong enough (to go out theatrically) without a massive spend.”

He estimates it would have cost around $300,000 for a cinema release. But he’s confident the title will perform strongly on DVD and VOD and is eying an October launch.