Film and TV

The Mixmaster's Horror Movie Countdown, October 19: Paranormal Activity

In honor of Paranormal Activity 3's release this Friday, I'd like to take a look back to 2007 for the film that started it all: Oren Peli's Paranormal Activity. It may be hard to separate the film from the phenomenon only four years later, but I actually believe the series has been a savior of sorts for the horror genre.

Think about it. Every October, we know for a fact that we can expect another found footage foray that causes us to ruin yet another pair of perfectly good underwear. So, how is this a good thing? Because I would much rather expect a new PA film every October than another Saw film -- the previous horror franchise that had a monopoly on the month (for the record I love the first Saw ... but only the first).

The appeal of a Paranormal Activity over a mindless, thoughtless torture porn buffet is that it harkens to a time in film, specifically haunted house films, where effects were magic tricks of sorts (from the same place as the famous chair scene I discussed with Poltergeist, our October 4th entry). After being scared out of your mind and your seat, your next thought is "How'd they do that?!" It's good old-fashioned thrills and chills -- horror at its best. And even when CGI is used, it's used sparingly and cleverly. It feels real, organic. Like you're watching something that is real on the reel.

So, with that old-school sensibility, series creator and original PA director Peli combined this idea of immersing the audience through found footage as an effective and altogether more terrifying method of making you feel like what you were watching wasn't just a movie -- and it could happen to you (show me someone who says they don't have trouble sleeping after watching PA for the first time and I'll show you a fibber).

He played by the rules and broke them at the same time. A new, modern house that resembles most people's, as opposed to an old creepy, creaky house that we're used to seeing as the backdrop for a ghost story. A young couple that wasn't safe at night OR during the day. And a ghost that wasn't a ghost at all but a demon (ghosts play, demons punish when it comes to the rules of horror) that we soon found out, and find out much more in PA2 and much, much more in 3, has a history with the afflicted in turn creating a great mythology that is unraveled more and more as the series goes on -- which, in my personal opinion, I hope it will.

Most Memorable Moment:

The great thing about Paranormal Activity is it's a slow burn. It builds up slowly and slowly like a roller coaster chugging up to the highest drop. It gets you really good and scared so that in the third act, when things get really scary, you're literally and figuratively on the edge of your seat pulling your hair out. This was the moment that I still remember causing me to totally lose it ... and, for a long time after, be afraid to sleep in a bed.

James Wallace is the Jedi Master of
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The Mixmaster's Horror Movie Countdown October 1: Halloween October 2: Antichrist October 3: Student Bodies October 4: Poltergeist October 5: Jaws October 6: Suspiria October 7: Scream October 8: The Fly October 9: Dead Alive October 10: Drag Me to Hell October 11: Se7en October 12: Rosemary's Baby October 13: Friday the 13th October 14: The Thing October 15: Audition October 16 and 17: The Exorcist and The Exorcist III October 18: The Omen