Paranormal Activity

The Blair Witch Project

On July 30, 1999, The Blair Witch Project expanded to a wide theatrical release and raked in over $25,000 per screen on over a thousand screens, thus becoming the first sleeper horror hit of that late summer, one week before The Sixth Sense opened. The weekend of July 30th solidified Blair Witch’s status as a phenomenon, but to recognize it as a defining date of the film would be to misrecognize what Blair Witch did. Rather than come about as an instantaneous cinematic event (in the way that the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain or the 25th anniversary of Batman have been nostalgically reflected upon this summer), Blair Witch’s reputation manifested as a slow unraveling over many months of speculation and word-of-mouth, from its chilling first-screening at Sundance to an Internet-based fury of speculation to a teaser attached to The Phantom Menace of all things. The film represented a first in many respects – transmedia marketing via the web, a jumpstart of the modern found footage subgenre – but it also bears its young age in surprising ways, whether in its analog aesthetic or the particularly 20th century character of its word-of-mouth circulation. Despite that the film set the supposed standard for viral buzz-creation and found footage horror, The Blair Witch Project remains an important anomaly for a shaky tent-full of reasons.

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The Sacrament

While some horror fads like Asian remakes and torture porn burned out their popularity relatively quickly, one fad continues to dominate the genre: found footage. Part of the reason that it’s so widely used is because the movies are extremely cheap to make and can result in pretty large profits. However, with this sub-genre’s continued popularity, there are many people (like myself, for example) who don’t like it on the whole. Our biggest complaint is that, for using presumed realism to increase fear and anxiety, found footage movies are simply not realistic. But the concern got me thinking: how realistic are found footage movies?

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Paranormal Activity

I’ve always found the Paranormal Activity movies more frightening than they probably should be because they’re (at least the ones I could stomach) set in my hometown of Carlsbad, California. The teenage girl’s bedroom in Paranormal Activity 2 even looked exactly like mine did as a teen, making me paranoid that either someone from Blumhouse or a spooky ghost is watching me. It’s particularly unnerving to drive home from the movie theater and see rows of houses that all look like the haunted one that was just on screen. But now, the fifth film in the PA franchise, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, is taking the curse of Katie and moving it to a different town – although it appears that they’re sticking pretty steadfastly to their tried-and-true formula. If you recall, The Marked Ones is the puzzling “Latino-themed” spinoff that for some reason they couldn’t just call Paranormal Activity 5. Taking its cues from Catholic spiritual cleansing practices, the film follows some kids who dance with the devil and seek major religious help when their friend becomes possessed. But like we all know from the previous four films (and Katie’s niece, so nice of her to show up and explain things for these confused and scared teens), once Katie has her clutches on you, there’s not much God can do to help. Really, there’s nothing new here besides taking the action outside of the haunted house and moving it into the streets. So urban, so edgy. The action is all […]

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IntroHorrorJudgment

Let’s not pretend for a second that most horror movie characters function past the same depth and motivation as your average porn movie repair man. Everything is a set up to get to the main course, which in this case is terrible bodily harm. All of that said, some characters do tend to be much stupider than others – or at least dip into an insane moment of stupidity from time to time. After all, how are they going to get killed in that abandoned house without at some point thinking it’s a good idea to enter it? Let’s all run up the stairs together:

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PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4

This year will mark the first October without a Paranormal Activity film since 2008. Those looking for their annual Halloween jump-scare fix will be forced elsewhere (probably with the Carrie remake, which releases on October 18). But never fear – Paramount  has announced that 2014 will host two separate Paranormal Activity sequels, ensuring that cheaply made found-footage films continue to pull in profits for years to come. Paranormal Activity 5 will hit theaters on October 24, 2014, and will presumably haunt a few more relatives of the couple from the original film. What’s far more interesting, however, is the other installment: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. Releasing January 3, 2014 (a January release often means the film is no good, but this is a Paranormal Activity sequel so you probably knew that already), this one is that long-teased “cousin” to the original series, and will be aimed at Latino audiences, with Latino characters and jump scares rooted in Catholicism.

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blum

Blumhouse productions has been making quite a go at the box-office over the past few years. “Quite a go” may actually be an understatement, considering they’re pulling in big numbers for very non-tentpole releases. After the success of Paranormal Activity, producer Jason Blum has been making a lot of bang for his buck. With Insidious and the Activity franchise, Blum has cornered the market on low budget horror movies aimed at a broad audience. His newest project, The Purge, is hoping to follow in those films’s footsteps. The high-concept siege movie was made for a mere three million dollars, which isn’t even close to the budget of the fellow wide releases we’re seeing this summer. Even if the movie doesn’t strike gold, expect a profit and more movies like it from Blumhouse. Not a bad model by any standard. Here’s what The Purge producer Jason Blum had to say about that business plan and finding creativity within it.

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IntroRedemption

Sometimes a person just doesn’t get along. In films, it can be the other characters that don’t mesh, or sometimes it’s the audience themselves who just can’t stand a single idiot character that won’t go away. I believe the term is “Jar-Jaring” or, if you’re referring to television, “pulling a Lori.” Last year I gave you a pretty okay list of characters that achieved excellent redemptions for their wrongdoings. Today I want to explore those who did not. These are the asshole characters that tried and failed, or simply didn’t try at all. Hey spoilers!

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Boiling Point

Halloween is nearly upon us and for once I’m not railing against the studio system for a lack of horror in theaters. It seems five years of complaining has finally gotten through to them. Just kidding, they don’t listen to me. But October has been a pretty good year for horror in terms of movies actually being in theaters. In wide release this month we’ll have Sinister, Paranormal Activity 4, and Silent Hill: Revelation. Throw in a couple of limited release titles and this feels like at least quadruple the amount of horror films we normally get. And even if you longed for more horror, you’d only have to turn on the TV. Switch the set on, and it’s more horrific than ever! The Walking Dead! American Horror Story: Asylum! AMC’s programming of monster movies! Well heck, what possibly could I be mad at with this quantity? Why, quality, of course.

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We are now four installments into the Paranormal Activity series — five if you include the first spin-off, Tokyo Night — and the movies are starting to feel like episodes in a long-running TV show rather than a succession of film sequels with independently existing story arcs. As Adam noted in his review of Paranormal Activity 4, it’s like watching Lost, particularly in the later years when answers to mysteries were not only kept from fans but those mysteries were joined by new questions. With the latest film appearing to have the lowest reviews, CinemaScore and box office gross since the series began, will fans keep following the Paranormal Activity films until they get all the explanations they seek? Just as with a show that decreases in quality and increases in frustration (that’s not to necessarily mean Lost), I will likely keep with it out of curiosity. I can be obsessive and exhaustive in my curiosity at times, and if anything, Paranormal Activity 4 has actually piqued my interest more than the other films have, even if it’s just by introducing new characters and taking a leap forward in time, the latter leaving a large gap in our understanding of what’s going on. And I’m not alone. You can find people discussing and offering theories all over the web, including from people who admit the new movie is the worst of the bunch. To them, this is just a weak episode, something all TV shows have now and again and […]

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Editor’s note: With Paranormal Activity 4 now officially released in theaters, here is a re-run of our Fantastic Fest review, originally published on September 27, 2012. Although the FF version was a work-in-progress, as far as we can tell the final cut is mostly the same save for a slight reordering of some scenes near the end. Another set of cameras and another hopeless family that can’t help themselves. They can’t rid themselves of a demonic presence that is purposefully in their home for a reason, nor can they keep from being compelled to record everything that happens. For a franchise that utilizes the “found footage” form of filmmaking, it still isn’t quite clear yet who has found all of this footage to show us, or why they’ve chosen to sift through two decades’ worth of recordings and cleanly edit it all together and make movies out of them. I gather I’m reading too much into this, but by this point I think I’m due an explanation. Paranormal Activity 4 takes place chronologically following the disappearance of Katie (Katie Featherston) and her nephew Hunter (Brady Allen) at the end of  Paranormal Activity 2, which actually took place before Paranormal Activity, except for the final five minutes, which take place after the events of Paranormal Activity, which started this whole train until we saw Paranormal Activity 3, which explained the origins of the hauntings and the commentary on home video paranormal voyeurism. Part 4 takes place five years after the events of […]

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Drinking Games

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Paranormal Activity movies have been massive successes and helped propel the found footage genre into the mainstream. Whether or not you agree this is a good thing, you’re gonna have to brace yourself for a brand new movie of long home video camera shots when Paranormal Activity 4 comes out this week. In preparation for the new film, why not revisit the previous three movies on your choice of platform. To make things go a little more smoothly so you don’t feel the effects of repetition and bad horror movie characters, enjoy this drinking game with any of the films from the series..

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Junkfood Cinema - Large

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; the only thing we haunt is casino breakfast buffets. You’ve arrived at the most unsettling of bad movie columns on the perfidious den of wickedness known as the interwebs. Every week we present for your viewing displeasure a particularly ghastly piece of cinematic schlock unearthed from the vaults of unspeakable horror (alias the Rubbermaid trash can full of VHS in the garage). As we force your unsuspecting eyes to behold the nightmarish horrors of the movie’s shortcomings, we cackle with sinister delight. We go so far as to then reveal our morbid appreciation for said filmic abomination. To top off the torture, we will force a fiendishly tasty snack food, themed to the film, down your cowering gullets. This boys and ghouls, is Junkfood Horror. October is the month that everyone watches horror movies. From the hardcore weirdos to the sissiest of sissy babies, for at least a few weeks, we all enjoy a good scare. As we sit on the front porch of Junkfood Labs, devouring bag after bag of “fun”-sized Snickers because the trick-or-treaters apparently won’t be showing up for several hours, and several days, it occurred to us that there is really no getting away from the horror genre. When November 1st arrives, you can lock away all your copies of The Exoricist and Amityville and Maid in Manhattan, but the irrepressible evil there contained will not relent. “Oh wait,” you say interrupting my column with your smelly internal monologue, “I can […]

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Paranormal Activity 4

Paranormal Activity 4 hits theaters October 19th, and if you’re already planning on going, then you are really, really dedicated to this franchise. Seriously. You’re sticking it out, and there’s something probably commendable about that. At any rate, you’ll be rewarded with even more Paranormal Activity for going to see the fourth Paranormal Activity. According to Bloody Disgusting, Paramount is planning to toss a post-credits tease for the forthcoming “Latino-themed” spin-off onto the prints. From writer/director Christopher Landon, the new movie will feature a Latino cast and involve Catholicism, but it will be in English (meaning that the “latino-themed” Actividad Paranormal (my title) will later have to be clumsily dubbed into Spanish. Irony abounds) and isn’t the first foreign-focused spin-off for the franchise. In 2010, they released Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night. There may be sequels forever and ever, but this move is especially laudable for how transparently cash-grabby it is. Hopefully, Actividad Paranormal 2: La Llorona’s Revenge will be ready by the time Paranormal Activity 5 and Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night 2: Tokyo Afternoon both hit screens.  

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While last year’s Paranormal Activity 3 injected the hit franchise with some much-needed style and skill, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman‘s first big-time feature was chided for releasing some trailer that, how do we say, featured almost nothing but footage that wasn’t in the film film? No matter really, as the final result was the best in the series and still pulled off more than a few inventive scares (come on, you know that kitchen gag was aces), but such a track record certainly gives us pause when it comes to any new video footage from Joost and Schulman’s upcoming Paranormal Activity 4. This new teaser is packed with some very standard scares – faces in the dark, banging doors, flashing lights – and while that may be a bit boring and expected, it does mean that we most likely aren’t getting teased with very specific footage we won’t see in the final product. After all, jump scares are a dime a dozen. Check out the latest teaser trailer for Paranormal Activity 4 after the break.

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It’s one thing when a series is based around several generations who are actively seeking adventure – treasure hunting and Nazi-punching and all that. That’s not what we’re here to discuss. Don’t expect to see any Corleones on this list, either. This is about those hapless, generally well-functioning families in films who for one reason or another keep falling into bad times. These are the families that trouble follows. These are the truly unlucky ones.

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Aural Fixation - Large

Who wouldn’t love to have their own personal soundtrack playing wherever they went? An epic theme song that announced your arrival when you walked into a room or a electric guitar riff whenever you might need an extra rush of adrenaline – these touches would make every move you made seem movie worthy. And sure, you can throw in your iPod ear buds as you walk around town or crank up your car stereo as you hit the gas to get a similar effect, but without having someone follow you around with a boom box, having a personal soundtrack is not very likely because (unfortunately) that is not how things work in real life. In normal, everyday life music isn’t always playing, underscoring our more emotional moments and highlighting the intense ones. With the emergence of found footage films bringing a new style of filmmaking to the industry (with mixed results and reactions), the idea that these films are made up of footage anyone could capture if they were to pick up a camera and hit record leaves these films (as is the case in life) without much music. Real life is full of ambient noises, awkward pauses and people accidentally talking over one another so a film capturing these moments would break that unedited feeling if it had perfectly scored music fleshing out scenes because that is simply not true to reality.

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Channel Guide - Large

Since no new ABC supernatural or sci-fi drama can stand on its own merits, The River has been touted as the latest attempt to replicate the sort of success and intrigue that the network had with Lost—as you may remember, 2009’s Flash Forward and V were both met with the same comparison upon their debuts. The Steven Spielberg-produced series is an adventure-paranormal-horror-thriller hybrid and because one of its creators is Paranormal Activity writer-director Oren Peli, it’s no surprise that the story, set in the spooky, uncharted regions of the Amazon, is presented to us as found footage. “Found footage,” you exclaim, possibly scrunching your face up in disgust. “Does this Peli character realize that there are other ways to frame a story?” Apparently he doesn’t. But that’s okay, because the concept works here, at least in the short term.

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Just days after Paramount announced that they’re (shockingly!) going ahead with a fourth installment in their runaway scare-em-up success Paranormal Activity franchise comes word that Paranormal Activity 3 co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman are back on board to direct. The pair took on PA3 after the success of their “documentary” Catfish, and while that film has certainly had its own share of speculation as to its veracity, the pair’s ability to present fiction as fact (or vice versa) helped make the third Paranormal Activity the best (and most inventive) yet. The fourth film is already slated to hit theaters on October 19, 2012, continuing the franchise’s established tradition of a pre-Halloween opening (the first film was the only one to not occupy a similar release date), effectively stealing the thunder of the Saw franchise now and forever. Our pals over at /Film took this opportunity to speculate about what the next Paranormal Activity would entail, positing that “the story of Paranormal Activity 4 will likely go one of two ways. Either it can go back in the past and show why Katie and Kristi’s grandmother got all wacky or it can jump ahead (something I felt the third film was lacking) and explain what is going on with the now possessed Katie and her nephew, who she’s kidnapped from her dead sister.” Those ideas just got my gears turning for what I want to see in the next installment.

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Recently, Paramount sent around one of those pat-yourself-on-the-back sorts of press releases announcing that they made more money worldwide than any other studio last year. Of course, not one to dwell too long in the past, they also managed to slip in a little paragraph bragging about how good their upcoming 2012 looks as well: “In 2012, Paramount’s release slate highlights include World War Z, a zombie thriller starring Brad Pitt and directed by Marc Forster, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the next installment in the global franchise starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Channing Tatum, a new chapter in the Paranormal Activity franchise, and The Dictator, starring Sacha Baron Cohen and directed by Larry Charles, the team behind Borat.” The interesting part of this paragraph is that, in addition to mentioning a bunch of high profile projects that we already knew about, the studio is also claiming that they have another Paranormal Activity movie in the works, which is news. All of these other movies are in various stages of post-production, but Paranormal Activity 4 is naught but a glimmer in some profit-minded executive’s eye.

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Since we all have a million dollars, our minds are almost always tuned to the day dream of what kind of movie we’d make with all that loose cash just lying around (since banks do nothing but lose things). Would it be a romantic horror film? Would it be a silent action film? Would we blow of all of it on lighting and forget the other elements of production design? Probably. Fortunately, we’ve all had a few filmmakers tread before us in using their million bucks with efficiency and artistry. In a world where Michael Bay needs 200 suitcases full of $1m, these directors made it happen with only one of those suitcases (or no suitcases at all), and they created a lasting legacy despite their lack of foldin’ money. If they can do it, why not us? Here are 8 great films made for under a million dollars that we can all learn from. (And if you enter our contest sponsored by Doritos, you might actually win that $1m you need for all those lights.)

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