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Nov. 1 2009 - 10:13 pm | 13,098 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

‘Paranormal Activity’ Stinks

paranormalI’m a horror movie person. I really am. Even the bad ones, the pathetic ones, the ones I know are going to be bad, I see. I saw the sequel to Jeepers Creepers. In the theaters. Which is why I couldn’t wait for Paranormal Activity. In fact, I’d been waiting for it for 10 years.

When The Blair Witch Project was first released in 1999, it debuted in less than five theaters. Because the movie was filmed in near-by Maryland, one of them happened to be in Washington DC, where I went to college. I saw Blair Witch the day after it opened, only because the small theater it screened in was ridiculously sold out on opening night. And when I say ridiculously, I mean I’ve never seen more people waiting in line for something in my entire life. And back then, in the innocence of the late 1990’s, many people still believed The Blair Witch Project was a true story. I knew it wasn’t, because I’m a savvy north-easterner who reads the newspaper, but the energy at the theater was still electric. Everyone knew they were about to be terrified out of their minds, and at least half of us thought it was by an entirely true story. It was like that feeling you get when a rollercoaster starts cracking up the first large hill and you starting wondering, “why did I ever think this was a good idea?” And you know what, The Blair Witch Project lived up to my expectations in every way. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen, and was the only movie to make me lose sleep since I grew pubic hair. (Too much?) The final shot of the movie still gives me chills. In fact, just posting it freaks me out…

bwpAAAaaaaHHHH!!!  Are we all OK? Whew. Let’s take a second…

Alright, I’m back. Now here’s the thing, when I saw Paranormal Activity, the theater had that same energy. The place was mostly full – pretty impressive on a Tuesday night – and people were pumped. There weren’t even any toddlers in the crowd, which in New York is a pretty big statement. Everybody knew this movie meant business. But as it began, all that excitement dissipated.  You knew you were supposed to be tense, ideally on the edge of your seat, as the small ticks of a door creaking or a light flashing appeared out of nowhere. But honestly, it just didn’t work. Fine, we all know psychological scares are the best, and no “classic” horror movie relies on gore or surprise. But scary shit still has to happen, right? For the first hour of Paranormal, almost nothing does. I think we were supposed to be legitimately terrified when a Ouija board inexplicably catches on fire one hour in. Really? A brush fire? That’s what passes for demonic possession nowadays? At this point in Blair Witch, there would already be ghosts slamming on their tent and surrounding them with crazy sticks. Then, after a little while longer, Activity really heats up when a gust of wind blows up a bed sheet. Yawn. The movie theater knew we had been duped, and it seemed like in the last 20 minutes no one was really paying attention.



To be fair, the final minute of Paranormal Activity is fairly solid. It’s not even in the ballpark of that picture, you know, up there (DON’T LOOK! TOO SCARY!), but it’s a decent scare. But you’re not freaked out by “decent” ten years later. So the publicists are doing themselves a disservice in comparing this film to The Blair Witch Project. It couldn’t hold that movie’s bundle of twigs. If you’re looking for a great post-Halloween scare, I suggest you skip Paranormal, and just rent a tried-and-true classic. Or better yet, give Jeepers Creepers 2 a spin. I’m telling you, that Creeper is a real scream.


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    I actually liked the Jeepers Creepers films, even though they seem a little bad now looking back. I’m probably going to pass on Paranormal Activity because the trailer looked boring. Someone kept telling me, “Oh my God, you need to go see it! It’s scary! Watch the trailer!” I looked it up on YouTube and thought, “Boooooring.” No more movie advice from her. I’m glad to see a post from someone who isn’t singing praises about this over-hyped film.

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    Mr. Donovan,

    I hate horror films (horror is just short for horrible) probably for the same reason I hate roller coasters. Most people like being scared and get a cheap little thrill when they have “faced death” and survived. I lack some neuron or neurotransmitter so all I get is scared and nauseous but not giddy survival tingle to compensate.

    Having said that I have seen more than a few horror films and I am always creeped out by all but the lamest of horror films (“Troll 2″ did not do it for me for example). However I always feel cheap and used afterwards because the plot lines rarely make any sense and the “villains” (ghosts, monsters, zombies, vampires &c ad nauseum) have no descerable motivation for what they are doing. It is really not that difficult to assemble really creapy imagry. The graphics in say “Poltergeist” creaped me out pretty good but what the hell was the movie about other than a lame remake of a pretty good Twilight Zone episode. Why were those people in that house even five seconds after the chairs stacked themselves scene but less after they had rescued their daughter where ever it was she was?

    With all of that as an introduction, there are only four horror films I actually liked, “The Innocents” (1961), “The Haunting” (1963, not the hideous remake), “Alien” (1979), “The Sixth Sense” (1999), and “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) [I am on the fence as to count the original Carnival of Souls (1962)]. What was great about these was that they showed you as little as possible, all of the horror was in your head. The ghosts in TSS made sense since they did not know they were dead. The story in Alian and TSS actually made sense. The genius of the BWP was that it is never actually clear that there is a Blair Witch or what actually happened. Everyone fills in the blanks themselves. This is sort of the same with The Innocents as it is not at all clear what is in Deborah Kerr’s characters head and what is real.

    This why “Paranormal Activity” fails for me. It is only like BWP in that it is a pseudo-documentary with all of the hand held camera shakiness. There is still the problem what is motivating the villain / demon, the plot does not make much sense, and there is way too much detail. Thanks but no thanks.

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    Good points all, david. thanks.

    I just saw a French horror movie I’d never heard of, but highly recommend. It’s even got scary woods scenes!


    And it’s streaming free on Netflix!

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    Twitter: @b_donovan

    I am a writer, actor, and North Korean Dictator. Over the years though I've written for everything from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to Fox News to Chapelle's Show, and can be seen frequently on Vh1 making snide remarks at the expense of others. Recently I was the Head Writer of "Fair Game", a news and comedy show from Public Radio International. My interests range from news to sports to entertainment, so this blog should read kinda like the evening news, except funnier and with less Brian Williams. Fuck Brian Williams.

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