The latest installment in the Saw franchise returned to theaters this past weekend in hopes of "taking back" Halloween, ensuring Jigsaw would take the top spot at the box office the weekend before October 31st. The last franchise to regularly reign supreme in the coveted spot was the lo-fi Paranormal Activity series, which has gone without a new film in two years, with no official news about it on the horizon.
While many audiences might cite The Blair Witch Project with the rise of found footage movies, the horror genre arguably didn't really embrace the low-budget filmmaking format until Paranormal Activity repeated the successful cost vs. profit formula in 1999. Not only did that film spawn an annual trend of producing new films in the saga, but inspired countless imitators, leading to a saturation and dismissal of the format.
To celebrate the scariest time of the year, we look back at the highs and lows of what was formerly a staple of Halloween in hopes of determining whether the series should be revived or stay on horror purgatory for a few more decades.
Scroll down to see how the Paranormal Activity series stacks up!
The last film in the franchise to feature appearances from the original film, Paranormal Activity nearly ended the franchise for good with its poor reviews and underwhelming box office performance.
When a neighbor falls ill, a family agrees to watch over the neighbor's young son, who claims to be seeing an imaginary friend named "Toby." In conjunction with this boy staying the family, a series of bizarre occurrences takes place that mimic what other families who have been haunted by "Toby" have undergone, from objects moving on their own accord to bizarre apparitions appearing. Ultimately, we learn that there's a terrifying connection to a child who was meant to be a sacrifice to Toby, which resulted in the otherworldly presence.
The biggest flaw with this installment is how repetitive and redundant both the plot and scares were. The original film's strengths were its subtleties, which this film completely abandoned. Additionally, the tenuous connections to the original movie felt like a reach, at best, and focused on a family the audience wasn't invested in.
Another standout low point for the series, the film attempted to utilize the growing trend in video game systems of cameras that tracked an individual's movements. Paranormal Activity 4 attempted to use this concept to create a compelling night vision sequence, which was both unexciting and severely dates the movie.
Marking the final film in the saga, the stylistic choices for Ghost Dimension also marked one of the biggest departures from the original film's successes.
When a family discovers an old video camera in the storage space of their house, they begin viewing the tapes and see a variety of bizarre rituals taking place in their old home. Coinciding with the discovery of these tapes, the family's young daughter begins having strange experiences, much like every character had previously experienced in every installment in the series. The video camera includes secrets that reveal the nature of the strange occurrences and the location's connections to the characters from the original film.
Much like Paranormal Activity 4, Ghost Dimension offers little insight into the overall mythology of the franchise, making it feel stale and redundant. Despite how far removed this installment is from the series' successful chapters, what makes this film at least somewhat interesting is its complete abandonment of subtlety and embrace of CGI, repeatedly showing demonic entities and portals to other worlds. This risk wasn't a successful one, but at least it demonstrated the willingness to attempt reinvention.
The huge success of the original Paranormal Activity resulted in a sequel being churned out the following year, considering its low overhead could quickly churn out a film. Unfortunately, it's those reasons that ultimately made the movie a disappointment.
One of the main characters from the original film regularly mentioned experiences she underwent with her sister, with said sister becoming the focus of this installment. Coinciding with the events of the first film, a family begins experiencing strange happenings, with kitchen cupboards opening on their own to an unseen force dragging a family member throughout their home. As the story progresses, we learn that this family's young son has become an integral component in a demonic deal, hinting at these sisters' dark past.
The quick turnaround between the release of the first film and this sequel going into production resulted in a film that did what so many other sequels are guilty of: giving a bigger spectacle without giving much more of a story. The original film featured a natural progression of bizarre happenings, only for this sequel to feature people flying through the air halfway through, which apparently wasn't enough evidence for the family to do anything about their situation.
While not an entirely bad film on its own, this film felt like a cash-in on the concept when compared to the original.
The Marked Ones was the first installment in the franchise to break the trend of releasing during Halloween, and also served as a spinoff from the original narrative, as opposed to a mere continuation of previous events.
Following the death of a woman in their apartment complex, two teens break into her house and discover a series of strange videotapes and books, confirming the rumors that the woman practiced witchcraft. Not believing in the mystical powers, the two begin messing with the incantations, only for one of the teens to develop strange markings on their skin, earning supernatural abilities. An investigation into the tapes results in the discovery of not only the dead woman's rituals, but also offers connections to the horrifying events featured in other films.
The decision to disconnect the main characters in this story from the previous four films was a risky move, but a successful one. Fans of the franchise don't often cite that the most compelling elements of the film are its characters or storyline, which The Marked Ones wasn't beholden to. Instead, this film was allowed to deliver quality scares with characters completely different from any of the other films, while also adding in the bare minimum connections that would remind people why this still deserves to be in the Paranormal Activity franchise.
Having clearly learned from the mistakes of Paranormal Activity 2's repetitive nature, the third installment in the saga offered not only new filmmaking
Set in 1988, two young girls live with their mom and her boyfriend, a videographer who is happy to test out new equipment. After discovering that he captured dust falling on a seemingly invisible figure, the boyfriend begins filming things all around the house. Additionally, the two young girls have begun engaging with an imaginary friend named "Toby," with their strange behavior making the boyfriend feel disconnected from the girls. The disconnect between the boyfriend and the girls is only the beginning of the family's troubles, as a mysterious symbol drawn in the girls' closet leads to the discovery of Toby's true origins and sets these girls down a demonic path.
As proven with Paranormal Activity 2, this film didn't need to feature a complex narrative to become a success, but the filmmakers delivered one to audiences anyway. With the footage appearing to have been captured with antiquated equipment, the scares and gags were far more effective than other films in the series and had to create more interesting in-story explanations for how bizarre footage was captured.
In addition to the fresh and effective scares, the film also gave an interesting explanation for the events that would occur further down the timeline. The found footage format also offered a new interpretation of these story elements, which
For better or worse, the success of the original film could never quite be recaptured, but Paranormal Activity is still a roller coaster ride of entertaining and subtle scares.
Katie (Featherstone) and Micah (Sloat) have purchased a video camera in hopes of documenting events unfolding in their home that seem to have a supernatural origin. These events mostly surround Katie, but never really present themselves as anything more than a creaky door or disembodied voice. In hopes of jumpstarting the activities to capture more exciting footage, Micah obtains an Ouija board which, in a manner of speaking, causes all hell to break loose. This will become the biggest mistake he could have made, as this encourages an entity to appear in their home and haunt the couple like never before.
Much like Blair Witch Project ten years earlier, the success of Paranormal Activity comes from the amateurish look of the production and subtle scares. In both films, when the character believe they are hearing something bizarre, the viewer must also attempt to hear these events, forcing the viewer to actively engage with the film.
Rather than seeing shadow people toss victims into the air, viewers are forced to question if a door really could have moved that way on its own or if a voice really was calling out to someone, or if it was an audio anomaly.
Far from being a high-brow horror movie that succeeds with is compelling cinematography, engrossing performances or rich mythology, the original Paranormal Activity serves as a roller coaster that you know will take you for a ride with ups and downs, giving you exactly what you paid for. While found footage movies focusing on the supernatural have become a dime a dozen, the original film is just as effective today as it was when it debuted nearly ten years ago.