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‘Paranormal Activity,’ ‘Amityville,’ and Our Decade of Cheap New Year’s Horror

Perhaps it’s time for a fresh New Year’s tradition. There are always the old standbys: champagne, kisses, millions of people staring into a brightly colored orb while it travels a very short distance. But if you’re a little sick of being hypnotized by what I’m assuming is a long-dormant alien invasion, there’s always a horror movie to see. This weekend, the newest of new releases is Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. It’s the same Paranormal Activity formula (long sequences of dull, flavorless dialogue punctuated by loud noises), only with a tiny splash of body horror and a cast not composed entirely of white people. It might not be much, but at the bare minimum, The Marked Ones dropped a couple of (mildly) entertaining new ads recently- both of which can be viewed below.

One tries to milk a scare out of a knockoff “The Elf on the Shelf,” while the other masquerades as real footage on WorldStarHipHop.com (hiding amidst footage of people punching and/or having sex with each other). Neither is a terrible idea, and both seem worlds apart from the usual “night-vision footage of people gasping at a movie screen” ad that accompanies every found footage movie in existence.

So New Year’s 2014 is locked down. And apparently, so is New Year’s 2015- the found footage reworking of The Amityville Horror has just staked a claim on a January 2, 2015 release date. Amityville (having been streamlined from the previous title, The Amityville Horror: The Lost Tapes) is about half Amityville Horror and half [REC], with an intrepid female reporter investigating the famous haunted house and presumably finding all kinds of spooky scary skeletons within.

Strange as it may seem, the low-budget, low-expectation horror movie is a  kind of New Year’s tradition. Yes, January and February are commonly considered a dumping ground for Hollywood’s yearly misfires, and naturally within such a period one would find several attempts at horror. But New Year’s- specifically, the first weekend of the new year- is always reserved for a horror flick; normally one made for relatively little that grosses several times its budget. And it’s been this way for a decade, starting in 2005 and continuing through 2015 (although 2007 skipped the trend, for reasons unknown). This year we had Texas Chainsaw 3D.  Last year was The Devil Inside. 2009 was a banner year, with The Unborn, My Bloody Valentine 3D, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans and The Uninvited all opening on consecutive weekends.

It might be that after so much time spent on awards films, with their introspection and artistry and believable actors, people want to turn their brains off for a little while. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes you just want to see a family stalked by something that’s probably a ghost and spends 99% of a movie breathing heavily and slamming doors in an ominous fashion (apparently found footage films are populated by the moody teenagers of the ghost world). It would certainly explain why something like The Devil Inside crossed the hundred-million mark at the box office. These movies don’t necessarily open in the #1 slot (although Devil Inside did), yet each one goes on to make a handy sum, ensuring that the pattern will continue for years to come.

And the January horror movie also acts a neat little microcosm of what people like in their horror movies these days. 2009 and 2010 had vampire flicks (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans and Daybreakers, respectively), while 2011 and 2012 had demonic posessions in Season of the Witch and The Devil Inside. Now, the coming years will both be christened with a found footage film. Each genre got two Januarys before being replaced with something newer and more popular (and The Devil Inside is also technically found footage, so that counts as three), so with a little rampant speculation, one might predict 2016 as the end of the found footage trend. Hopefully we get at least one full-length “Elf on the Shelf” horror movie before then.

Adam Bellotto is a freelancer writer from Virginia who moved to California because movies are super neat. His work can also be read at Perihelion Science Fiction and Starpulse, among other places.

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