It was a tough weekend for Lions Gate Entertainment (NYSE:LGF) and After Dark Films to open their latest exercise in torture-centric horror films, Captivity. The multiplexes were crowded with some pretty stiff competition.

There was no way that any film would beat Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. According to, Potter is estimated to have taken in more than $140 million from muggles since last Wednesday, including more than $77 million from this past weekend. It was, of course, the No. 1 film. Viacom's (NYSE:VIA) Transformers is still going strong, grossing roughly $36 million, good for second place. Finally, Disney's (NYSE:DIS) rodent-chef cartoon Ratatouille -- which had a disappointing debut for a Pixar property, in my opinion -- came in third with about $18 million. Even General Electric's (NYSE:GE) Evan Almighty did better business.  

Captivity was estimated to have grossed an unacceptable $1.6 million, occupying the 12th spot. The film has been plagued by bad publicity for months, after graphic, gruesome billboards advertising the film in Los Angeles prompted a heated backlash. Lions Gate shareholders are having a painful flashback to the opening of Hostel: Part II. With the failure of that film and the paltry opening of Captivity, some critics are declaring the death of the torture subgenre.

That might be a mistake. Done correctly, edgy horror films can be both low-risk and profitable. Lions Gate needs to consider two things: Should future movies of this class be toned down? And should they be released in less competitive time frames?

I think the answer to both questions might be yes. The Saw films have done well with a late-October release strategy, and the first Hostel flick scared up a better revenue picture when it bowed in January 2006. In addition, while the Saw films are certainly gory, they're arguably based on very compelling storylines -- it's not just the infliction of pain driving the plot. I haven't seen Captivity, but I can tell you that the perception out there, from what I've gathered, is that it's nothing more than a series of gratuitous scenes of sexed-up violence. That doesn't mean it's an artistically bad movie (although it's currently scoring a whopping 94% rotten on It simply might not be mainstream enough for a publicly-traded studio looking to maximize its return on invested capital.

Lions Gate might want to consider toning things way down, then releasing the uncut versions on DVD. For an even more radical step, consider the "day-and-date" theory. What if Captivity were available in theaters in a drastically edited version, and on the way out of the auditorium, audience members had the option of buying an uncut DVD of the film in all its gory glory?

There's one silver lining to the Captivity story: It grossed about $3.9 million in international markets over the weekend. Maybe the business overseas will save this one. Nevertheless, Friday the 13th did indeed turn out to be unlucky for Lions Gate in these parts.   

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Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns shares of Disney and General Electric. As of this writing, he was ranked 17,183 out of more than 60,000 investors in the CAPS system. Don't know what CAPS is? Check it out. The Fool has a disclosure policy.