The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Movies

October 18, 2012

Heather Bremer: New horror offerings take inspiration from 'Blair Witch'

October. The domain of the horror film.

And not just on cable channels that capitalize on the Halloween season by filling their schedules with fright features. Or in your own living room, where you cuddle on your couch with your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/dog/large pillow as the DVD player spins the tales of Michael, Freddy and Jason.

October brings a rush of horror films to the theater as well. (But only after weeks of forcing us to turn our eyes from increasingly graphic and grotesque trailers running nonstop on our television and ambushing us on websites.)

“Sinister,” a found-footage feature starring Ethan Hawke, opened last weekend to the tune of $18 million. We can all thank “The Blair Witch Project” for that piece of ... horror and its ill-advised brethern.

For this weekend’s terrifying offering, we have no one to blame but ourselves, or rather the viewers of the first three films in the “Paranormal Activity” franchise.

“Paranormal Activity” gained wide release in the United States in October 2009, a full two years after debuting at Screamfest Film Festival. It was the labor of love of writer/director Oren Peli, an up-and-comer without a feature film in his résumé. The entire movie was filmed at his home and cost just $15,000. The actors, Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloat, reportedly made just $500 each for their performances and were not given a script, just general guidelines on how to behave.

Dreamworks wanted to remake the film with a bigger budget and better-known actors, releasing the original as an extra on DVD. Paramount, which had purchased the domestic rights for the film and any sequels for a reported $300,000, opted to stick with Peli’s vision.

It paid off.

“Paranormal Activity” opened in limited release in just 12 theaters on Sept. 25. It made $77,873 that weekend, a respectable sum for such a small opening. But the other thing it earned was much more valuable — buzz.

Word-of-mouth from that first batch of moviegoers was off the charts. It became the must-see movie of the fall. An online campaign sprang up overnight for fans to lobby for the film to be brought to their town. A spine-chilling commercial campaign was launched that showed moviegoers jumping, flinching and screaming in their seats.

By the time it opened in wide release on Oct. 16, the movie’s tagline — “Don’t See It Alone” — had become obsolete. Though it debuted on just 760 screens, “Paranormal Activity” raked in more than $19 million on opening weekend. Eventually, it expanded to 2,712 theaters and grossed $107.9 million domestically and $193 million worldwide.

That mark falls short of the most successful found-footage film of all-time, “The Blair Witch Project,” which earned $140.5 million. But “Paranormal Activity” spawned three sequels. The first opened to $40 million and earned $84 million. The second had the most spectacular opening to date with $52 million and nearly surpassed the original’s haul with $104 million.

The fourth, “Paranormal Activity 4,” opens today. With the promise that “all the activity has led to this,” no doubt fans of the franchise will flock to theaters, ready to jump out of their seats at every shadow and sound.

Have a good fright.

Heather Bremer, a former Herald Bulletin reporter/designer, writes a weekly column on movies, television and pop culture. Contact her at heatherebremer@yahoo.com.

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