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Paranormal Activity

Holy shit, the door opened (SPOILER)

Well, no surprise here. I’m on record as being done with this “scary home video” fakumentary subgenre, and I think it’s not worth doing unless you can come up with a new gimmick to add on top of that gimmick, like CLOVERFIELD did by doing a found video Godzilla movie. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY doesn’t have much to distinguish it from BLAIR WITCH PROJECT or [REC] other than it’s even lower rent, taking place entirely in one normal house with only 2 cast members for 98% of the running time. I didn’t check the credits but if more than 4 people worked on this then somebody wasn’t pulling their weight.

mp_paranormalactivityIt’s pretty much what you expect in a movie like this, same old shit but cheaper than ever. They do forgo with one part of the formula I laid out in my [REC] review: they don’t start out pretending it’s a birthday video or a school project about agriculture. They say the girlfriend has been seeing this demonic something or other since she was a little kid, now some weird things have been happening in their new house so the boyfriend bought a camera and started filming everything, including them sleeping. (But not having sex. That type of fakumentary is too easy.) Anyway that’s nice, it cuts to the chase.

For a while of course they goof around and don’t take it seriously, but then SPOOOOOOOOOOOOKY shit happens, for example a door opens on its own (SPOILER), there is a noise, etc. Mostly the second one. Then obviously the girl gets mad that he’s taping and there’s about seven or eight scenes about them bickering about it. You know, for drama, tension, etc. Very compelling stuff. Why are you filming this? And then But I want to film this. Like that. I mean obviously you can imagine all the drama they could wring out of a conflict like that. Cinematic dynamite.

But I gotta admit the movie works at times, and it’s for a simple reason: nobody likes them things that go bump in the night. You’re asleep, you hear some loud noise from your living room, that shit gets your heart beating no matter who you are, no matter what it is. Don’t matter if it’s a demon or a crackhead, you gotta go get a baseball bat or something, and therefore it’s a gotta-go-get-a-baseball-bat-or-something adrenaline rush.

There’s no inventiveness here at all, just an understanding of that basic fear, a knowledge that it’s scary to be woken up by a loud growl or thud from your living room. Although the actors weren’t left out in the woods like in BLAIR WITCH this is basically the same approach to scaring the audience: hold on quiet nothingness long enough to create tension, then show normal people freaking out at an unexplained spooky noise. In fact, they also keep doing a thing where the girl stands still as if in a trance, I think it’s a lift from the famous standing-in-the-corner final image of BLAIR WITCH.

It’s short and paced well enough that I was able to stick with it, but unfortunately it’s all leading to nothing, no pay off, just another variation on the ol’ oh no it’s coming toward the camera/tape ends nobody knows what happened ending.

[REC] was much more impressive filmmaking, way more complex scenes, more atmosphere I guess. But to be frankly honest PARANORMAL ACTIVITY worked better on me, it got me once or twice in a primal place. Still, it bugs me that because this made alot of money out of nothing some of my movie web writing colleagues treat it like more than a quickly forgotten one-off novelty. Man, do you really think this thing has a shelf life? Or that anybody is gonna care about the sequel by the time it comes out? Is there some reason to believe this director will be making movies of note in the future? The BLAIR WITCH guys were the kings of Variety Headlineland for a while too, but it took them seven, eight years to direct again, now they just do a line of DTV horror that most people never heard of. Did you guys even know they made other movies? I bet most of you didn’t. And those guys knew how to use film, they used that found footage idea when it seemed pretty new, they had a unique idea about how to get the performances out of their non-actors. So there was at least a little evidence there. Here, this guy could be a genius, but then so could any one of you who haven’t made a movie, there’s really nothing to go on here.

THE EVIL DEAD scared teenagers too, but there was no question Sam Raimi would be making more great movies after that. It’s all there on screen. It has, like, cinematography and shit. Sets. Props. Movie stuff. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is an idea, THE EVIL DEAD is a bullet packed with movie technique and shot right through your face. You know there’s gotta be more of that in the clip. In fact, as PARANORMAL ACTIVITY talked about a demon following the girl I pictured the demon following Alison Lohman in DRAG ME TO HELL. And I thought damn, I should be watching DRAG ME TO HELL. That’s a movie where a demon follows a girl around.

I guess I was buying groceries or something when everybody decided the found footage thing isn’t just a tired gimmick, but actually a whole new form of storytelling with endless possibilities for self expression. Well fine then, that’s not what I would’ve voted for, but if that’s the decision I gotta ask where does it go from here? Sorry The Little Guy, but I think it’s worn out its welcome as a tool for making movies on a shoe-string, I think the way to make it more interesting is to have it seem like a real video but all kinds of crazy FX shit is happening (like CLOVERFIELD). I mean we can keep trying for more minimalism, but the only way we can go smaller than PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is if it’s one guy making it by himself in his bedroom. After that it’s just a competition to see which guy has the smallest bedroom and then they’ll start having lower resolution cameras until somebody makes a movie that’s just 80 minutes of one black pixel.

I don’t know man, it’s not the worst ever, I can see why it would be a hit at the slumber party. I’ll give it credit for being semi-entertaining, but I prefer movies. This is a video.

See also:


This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 29th, 2009 at 3:11 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

117 Responses to “Paranormal Activity”

  1. yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah I wasn’t too impressed by this either to be honest, I didn’t hate it, I had a good time at the theaters and I was amazed that I actually got to see it at my local theater, when I first read about this flick over two years ago never would I have thought that I would actually be seeing this in my local theater

    but despite that this is NOT a movie for the ages like say Poltergeist, I was creeped out yes, but it was not as scary as it was hyped up to be

  2. vern, your last sentence makes me think you saw this at home on dvd. I think you would have liked it more if you saw it in the theater. I think it works better on the big screen because of the insanely small personal scale. Blair witch and REC are documentary films in progress and Cloverfield has big explosions to remind you you’re watching a movie, but Paranormal Activity feels like watching someones real home videos on the big screen which is creepy, and sets you up nicely to be further creeped out. I consider it great mainly because its fun. I see almost every horror movie that comes out in the theater and i can tell you i have never experienced a scare film work an audience over like that. People were freaking out on a level that went way beyond what ive experienced in the theater and it added quite a bit to my enjoyment. I also think the film deserves major props for tapping into the primal fear of “shit that goes on while you’re asleep,” one of the most universal fears there is. the way the film manipulates this fear is quite impressive. i think youre right about the limited shelf life and probability of the director never doing anything worth a shit again.

  3. This film sucks! I cannot understand in any way shape or form what it is that people get out of watching a fake movie that looks like somebody’s high school film project. I saw this in the theater and I should have known better. After watching absolutley nothing for most of the movie the few so-called scares weren’t scary at all. I’m surprised that this got to you at all Vern. I wanted my money back.

  4. Dear Vern, I love you bud. Thanks Vern.

  5. great article, vern.

    “I think you would have liked it more if you saw it in the theater. I think it works better on the big screen because of the insanely small personal scale.”

    I actually read the complete opposite somewhere, that the movie is far too small-sclaed for a theater and should be watched alone at home in the dark, to emulate the setting the of the movie itself.

    In either case, I have no desire to watch someone’s cheap-o home movies.

  6. I think that EVERY scary movie should be watched at home. I do that because it’s pretty difficult for me to get scared when I’m surrounded by 100 other people who annoy the shit out of me. (Okay, I watched DRAG ME TO HELL in a theatre, but only because pretty much every reviewer talked about the brillant sound FX. And they were right! Also it was supposed to be more a crazy fun experience, than something that seriously tried to scare you, so this one doesn’t exactly count.)

  7. I feel your pain CJ, but I was fortunate enough to see this at a preview screening, so no teenage girls getting up to walk out when it got scary, or other idiots doing what idiots doing during a movie. And it was free, so bonus.
    But I liked it, I thought it was pretty effective, but can also see how how others wouldn’t. In fact, I was little let down by Drag Me To Hell, so call me a heretic. Evil Dead is the goods. All films should be a s scary as Evil Dead.
    Thanks for your thoughts Vern, I think you made some fair points.

  8. You know, I gotta admit, I absolutely loved this film. I caught it at a preview about six months ago (before anyone down here in Australia had even heard of it, let alone had to endure all the hype and press it eventually garnered) and it exceeded my expectations by about 1000%.
    It genuinely scared me, A LOT. And I’m a huge horror fan who lost the ability to be scared by movies long ago. I don’t know what, but this movie does something a lot of other movies don’t, and I don’t think it’s just the ‘found footage’ gimmick. It’s based on a bunch of haunted house cliches, but it manages to make them seem original, like you haven’t seen them before – the scream in the night was horrifying, the 3-toed footprints, the daytime attack. I’m looking forward to watching this alone at home on DVD one day, just to see if I can get that creeped-out feeling back again.
    I’d have to take points off for the crappy ending though (I hear we have the studio to thank for that shit). The original ending actually sounds disturbingly cool, but I reckon it would have been freakier just to end the movie one minute earlier than they did (without giving too much away, just cut after all the screaming ;)

  9. Bruno Moreal,

    While I agree that I would have found this movie more disturbing in a crowded theater, personally it seems short-sighted to make movies based on exploiting the theater experience.

    Unless you only watch this movie on a big-screen TV with 20 other people in the room, you’ll never again be able to duplicate what you experienced in the theater.

    And if that’s the case, what’s the point of buying the DVD?

  10. Vern, I hope you’re right that this is just a flash in the pan, but I’m a little concerned that this is going to start a fresh wave of microbudget, camcorder horror movies where nothing happens. Now, I don’t mind a slow paced horror movie that tries to build suspense, but I thought PARANORMAL ACTIVITY was repetitive and lazy, and never built to anything interesting. There’s only so many times I can watch somebody investigate a strange noise before it loses interest. And the non-ending ending was the worst.

    I guess my taste in horror movies have lost touched with the mainstream. I thought PARANORMAL ACTIVITY was almost entirely uninvolving, and of course it became the most popular horror movie of the year. I thought ANTICHRIST was genuinely scary and well-crafted, but I was wrong there too, apparently I was suppose to dismiss it as being pretentious.

    To me, PA was little more than a poorly-produced haunted house ride; all the set pieces were based around doors opening on their own or people hearing spooky noises. It never managed to build a moment through atmosphere or drama. By design, it was uninteresting in terms of framing and editing, and I thought the over-produced sound design (the closest thing the film had to atmosphere) did not mesh well with the pseudo-documentary approach.

    The horror films I most admired this year (ANTICHRIST, ORPHAN, DRAG ME TO HELL) were I think all failures either commercially or critically (or both) as opposed to PA’s weird universal acclaim and success. Yet the films I liked struck me as well-crafted works by talented filmmakers, whereas PA seemed, at best, like a clever construct by someone with little talent for the medium. I don’t see much cinematic merit in the thing.

    Then again, maybe I’m just so biased in favor of artifice, style and old-fashioned non-fakeumentary narratives that I’m not giving PA a fair chance. Perhaps the film makes brilliant use of physical space, or use of off-screen elements, or whatever. Is there a fan somewhere on this forum that would like to make a defense of PA’s filmmaking?

  11. Not long after seeing PARANORMAL ACTIVITY I watched THE EXORCIST again and noticed several similarities, the scene in the attic being the most obvious. In every instance THE EXORCIST was superior. And that film is older than Moses.

    But having said that, I think there is a future for this kind of film. As mentioned in the [REC] thread, I think that this film would have been much better if it was an online movie. They could have released short episodes in an almost “real time” manner and better exploited the premise.

    When we go to a movie theater, we bring certain expectations about the structure of what we’re seeing, expectations which the “found footage” canard will always be working against unless it is placed into a film in a much more clever manner than what PARANORMAL ACTIVITY offers. If it was an online experience, our expectations would be totally different, and the ambiguities of the internet itself could be so much better exploited.

    Bruno Moreal: I think I liked [REC] better because I saw it at home, as opposed to PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, which I saw in the theater. At home, I could almost forget that I was watching a movie. For me, these films work better if I can pretend it’s just some disc of uncertain origin that came into my possession (no pun intended).

    Also, the big screen shaky cam gave me a headache.

  12. This movie reminded me of an old Halloween special type thing the BBC did in like 1992 called Ghostwatch. Except that rather than being a found footage type deal the BBC actually staged a fake live event based around a family living on a pretty normal housing estate being terrorized by the ghost of a transvestite child molester. It was really well put together, and despite some extremely dodgy acting was extremely effective. I was in school at the time and to this day anyone I talk to that remembers it is still kinda freaked out by the whole thing, it actually freaked the general population out so much the BBC had to apologize for the whole thing and they never showed it again.

    So, anyway, it’s a shame the guys that made PA didn’t see Ghostwatch because maybe they would have picked up a few ideas. One device I remember that was cool was the camera being panned across a room really quickly and there was a freaky dude just kinda standing there in the shadows almost invisible. But the camera panned straight past him and when it panned back he was gone, so you couldn’t even be totally sure you’d seen anything. And what was cool was that the cameraman himself and the other people on camera showed no sign that they’d seen it, so it created a really weird atmosphere in which you the viewer were more aware of the danger than anyone actually in the house.

  13. Dan Prestwich: I felt old and out of touch when A BEAUTIFUL MIND won for best picture; MULHOLLAND DRIVE, released the same year, wasn’t even nominated. Lynch was nominated for best Director, but Ron Howard won.

    Lo and behold, time has passed and the decade-in-review articles are much more favorable to Lynch than to Opie.

    Maybe ten years from now the BLACK DYNAMITE soundtrack will be an undisputed classic and Lady Gaga will be a punchline on FAMILY GUY.

  14. I did see this on DVD. I like seeing most movies in a theater with an audience, but in this specific case doesn’t seem like it should work better to watch at home because you’re basically in the place where the movie takes place? Then again, my apartment is too small to seem haunted. If there was a ghost or demon I’d be stepping on the motherfucker all day, he’d get sick of it and leave.

  15. A while ago I had a plan to put the “lost tape” gimmick to a next level, by staging a “ghost hunt” video with a few friends and then just releasing it via torrent, without telling anybody. Even labelled as something completely different, maybe as a porn or a screener of a new movie. And then just wait if anybody starts to talk about it over the years.
    Unfortunately I have to wait now 5-10 more years to do this. There will always be people who will think that this is real, but now that PA is still very fresh in the publics mind, it would be less fun.

  16. Dammit Vern “SPOILER” goes BEFORE what you are spoiling. Now I know that the door opens by itself. Actually I saw the movie, and I think the door opens or closes by itself at least 4 times. I agree with everybody here who like Vern says it’s a surprisingly affecting video tape gimmick with little art, imagination, or shelf life. I can’t imagine watching this again without my thumb getting tired on the fast forward button.

    I saw this at the Alamo in Austin which has food / beer and some pretty well-informed and adult movie-fan clientele compared to your crappy annoying loud shopping mall type cinema, and unless I misread the audience they weren’t horribly impressed or escared. None of that jumping around and yelling “DON’T GO IN THERE!” at the screen like you saw on the commercials.

    Awesome review though — “After that it’s just a competition to see which guy has the smallest bedroom” – brilliant. With HD camcorders cheaper than a regular SD camcorder was 10 years ago, what’s the point of going “retro” any more? It would be more expensive to film with, you know, film than it would be to just buy a new HD camera. You used to get some reliable indie cred by pulling out the 8mm (kinda like getting street cred with a 9mm?) but nowadays, bleh. Unless you’re shooting a movie on your teddy bear nanny cam to make it seem authentic, what can you do? This movie dodged that issue a little bit by making them kind of well off and the boyfriend loved tech gadgets, so an HD camera makes sense.

    Hey I got an idea, how about making a movie where a bunch of college kids are trying to make a low budget horror movie with cheap cameras, and then real horror movie type stuff actually starts happening? Just kidding I know it’s been done to death too.

  17. Re: Dan Prestwich:
    Paranormal Activity indeed has given rise to a new wave of microbudget movies:

    I think that is the best thing about its success. If Paramount figures out from this
    movie it can make twenty 100,000 dollar movies a year and still get a good
    financial return, there’s more room for aspiring filmatists to get a shot at
    making a movie with more than their credit card/inheritance. Will some of these
    movies be terrible? Yes. But we won’t have to be constantly bombarded with add
    campaigns for them, and they won’t be widely released. Who knows,
    somewhere along the way it could give somebody a shot who has good ideas,
    good writing, and can film stuff well who doesn’t happen to have the dough to
    attend film school in LA or NY and doesn’t have Hollywood connections. And
    maybe we’ll hear about their film one day because of this cheapo movie.

  18. Makes more sense to watch this one at home in my opinion. None of the visuals really warrant a big screen, and the scares are more effective when you’re in the same setting as the movie.

    I basically agree with Vern here. I liked them scenes where the girl stands around in that trance, though.

  19. Jareth,

    Oh, I mean, there will always be movies that critics and audiences alike love that I don’t care for. It happens every year, it’s no big deal. I guess my thing with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is I can’t figure out why this one caught on big and not, say, some of the other horror movies I mentioned.

    I mean, I hope I don’t make myself a target for saying thing, but for example I did not think that DISTRICT 9 was a good movie. At all. Yet I understand why it was popular, I understand when I read reviews for it why critics enjoyed it, I understand why the online nerd community embraced it. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY I just don’t get.

    Well, logically I understand that apparently it scared a lot of people, but I don’t feel the movie earned those scares. The suspense scenes/set pieces aren’t painstakingly crafted, like say in a Hitchcock or DePalma movie, or to make a less unfair comparison, a FINAL DESTINATION movie. They are little more than delayed “boo!” scares, i.e. someone follows a weird noise until something starling does or does not happen. That kind of sequence has its place in the genre, no doubt there are classic examples, but it’s not enough to hang an entire movie on.

    I also thought it was lacking in atmosphere. Many of the big scenes in the film involve the static camera shots of the couple in bed, and then there is a spooky noise or a door shuts or something. From my perspective, there is nothing creating any sense of mood or tone in these scenes except for the low bass rumblings on the soundtrack, which I guess are supposed to be noises made by the demon but sound a lot more like non-diegetic score placed in by the sound designers. And frankly, you can put low bass rumblings under any scene in a movie and it will seem creepy, horror directors figured that out years ago. Without it, PA would be tedious. Nothing about the actual staging of the scenes builds atmosphere.

    Okay, so there isn’t any real suspense and there’s no atmosphere, fine. I can even accept that in a fun horror movie if you go all pay-off crazy like in a bad slasher movie, or whatever. Have a clever “boo!” scare. Have a moment of shocking violence. Have something. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY lacked any good payoffs. I mean, when your big payoffs are things like grainy footage of weird footprints, a ouija board catching fire, and a girl making a face into the camera, I just feel like you’re wasting my time.

    But seriously, I want to understand better. I want someone out there to read this and tell me I’m wrong, explain what they feel the film does brilliantly that makes it so scary other than a bunch of cliche haunted house tricks. Help me understand.

  20. Jek,

    You make a good point that trends like this might give some talented amateurs a chance to shine. My concern is that the studios are going to want to produce a lot of ripoffs that they cram down our throat. Like after SCREAM came out and every mainstream horror movies was an ironic whodunit slasher movie. Or after THE RING every mainstream horror movie was a J-horror remake or ripoff. I swear to god if every mainstream horror movie for the next year or two is low budget fakeumentary found footage bullshit, I’m going to lock myself in my apartment and watch Val Lewton movies until the next trend comes along.

  21. Well don’t look now Dan Prestwich, but Paramount approved like 2 million dollars for micro-budget features, basically looking for about 40 film projects from industry nobodies to develop into the next Paranormal Activity. And the director of Paranormal Activity, Oren Peli, apparently already has his next movie in the cans, which is a found footage movie set in Area 51.

  22. Dan Prestwich: I’m not the guy to provide the defence of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY that you’re looking for. I pretty much felt the same way as you (ditto for DISTRICT 9, which I dislike).

    In the EXORCIST, when the demon/child tells the priest: “Your mother is sucking cocks in hell,” it is horrible not just because the little girl is saying shocking words, but because we have seen the priest care for his mother, mourn her, and have his confidence in both himself and his god shaken by his perceived failings. And that priest was just so perfectly cast, the face on that guy, shit. This is the kind of work no one seems willing to put into a film of any genre these days, let alone horror.

    I will say one thing in PA’s defence: it was nice to not be overloaded with CGI. I’m a fan of practical effects and minimalism, so I can appreciate the footprint on the floor or the pulling-off-the-bedsheet tricks, the latter of which I found well done, if not a tiny bit creepy.

    Obviously none of this was as good as something like THE CHANGELING (1980).

  23. You know another good one along the same lines as THE CHANGELING? THE ENTITY. That ones scary because the woman apparently still gets raped by that ghost to this day.

  24. Haha yes, Jareth, sorry. I did not mean to make it sound like I was soliciting you for a PA defense. That post started off addressed to you, but by the end I’m just hoping out loud that someone out here in Vernland will make an eloquent defense of the film’s artistry and scare tactics. So far it sounds like we’ve come to a consensus that the film is mainly artless but some viewers find it scary due to the empathy factor. But I have to imagine that there is a big time PA fan who can argue that it has more merit than just being disposable fun.

  25. Just curious: has there ever really been a “golden age” for modern horror, like one or two years where all sorts of great shit was coming out, like the Spielberg era in the 1980s? The way I see it, you can go back every year to the late 1960s and pretty much find maybe one good horror film every year, maybe one every two years, surrounded by an ungodly amount of sequels, ripoffs and fads.

    So the way I see it, last year’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN seems to bode well for the genre.

    But I’d understand if horror fans wanted more than one classic every few years.

  26. Moriarty wrote a pretty laudatory critical review of PA in 2007:


    That said, I think there would be more of an inclination to be kind to this movie when it was a smart zero-budget flick that made it into a film festival and delivered the scares, as opposed to two years later when it’s making hundreds of millions of dollars and being hyped as the scariest thing since Joss Whedon fandom.

  27. Ah, McWeeny: You spend five paragraphs telling the industry how they should be doing their jobs and how valuable your input is, then dash off some cliches about the movie, cliches like:

    “It’s a film that really does play to the most basic and primal fears we have. Loss of control over our lives. Fear of the dark. Fear of the unknown. What happens when your home, the one place you should feel safest, suddenly becomes unsafe for you?”

    Is there a horror movie you couldn’t use the above quote to describe?

  28. It would be pretty off-base description of BLOOD BEACH in my opinion.

  29. “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, you can’t get to it.”

  30. I have always LOVED that tagline. Someone should remake BLOOD BEACH, I think the idea of a beach monster swallowing sunbathers is fuckin great.

  31. I don’t know, Vern, I think you’re too hard on this film, and on the found-footage subgenre itself. You’ve said in other contexts that for some film subgenres like the slasher, the point lies in the execution, not the concept. Originality isn’t the virtue in films like this; craftsmanship is.

    I thought PA delivered on craftsmanship. The two leads were totally plausible, and the ghostly goings-on were done with the appropriate subtlety. (If you want to see the opposite of this, check out the remakes of THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL or THE HAUNTING.)

    Sure, it doesn’t aim high, but it hits its target, which you yourself admit. This makes it a modest success… and I prefer films of this sort to noble failures.

    Of course, I thought [REC] achieved the same milestone, and you didn’t like that one either. Maybe we should just agree to disagree on these found-footage pieces.

  32. I gotta go with Andrew on the sub-genre stuff, sorry Vern. I don’t think this could be called anything to a “genre” but as a technique, it’s been done well and it’s been done badly. But I struggle to think of a time when I thought it spoilt a film.

    “Blair Witch Project” I loved, and still do love. I think it was a fantastic idea but I also think it was executed by pretty much everyone involved to perfection. The actors played it flawlessly, the “mythology” aspect was seamlessly integrated into the film, it never got boring for a second, and the “famous” end shot still gets me every single time. I can see why people would hate the camera style – I still find the second Bourne film unwatchable due to the whole shakycam thing – but I can’t see how it could be justifiably criticised for lacking substance, character or tension.

    “Cloverfield” I thought looked more professional, even if it was an inferior film. That said, I still enjoyed the heck out of it. I don’t have the same problems that a lot of people seem to have: I don’t find the characters unlikeable and, like “Blair Witch”, I think their actions are portrayed in a plausible enough way that they don’t bother me. What does bother me is the small monsters – I don’t think they “fit”, their portrayal is uneven (they can massacre a large group of soldiers but can’t take out a few unarmed partygoers?) and it kinda hurts the film that they’re there. But that’s a small criticism. It’s not as good as “Blair Witch” but I’d not hesitate to recommend it to anybody who’s into this kind of thing.

    (Also, colour me baffled by the 9-11 criticisms. Maybe it’s because I’m not an American but is it impossible to make a disaster movie in New York without drawing parallels with that event now?)

    “Rec” I’ve never seen, but I’ll make up my own mind on that one. And “Paranormal Activity” I also haven’t seen, but will make up my own mind there too.

    Also I might be the only person on this earth who liked the “Blair Witch” sequel, although it wasn’t a patch on the original in terms of characters or story. (Yeah, even if the story is “teens get lost in wood, are stalked by supernatural force that eventually kills them.”)

  33. This conversation makes me wonder how far away we are from the inevitable CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST remake.

  34. This movie is boring. I kept hoping that Blade or Constantine or someone would bust into the house and show this lame demon whats what. Why was it making all those sounds, switching lights on and off??? Leaving photos in the attic??


    Good review Vern. I was hoping you would help me make sense of the story in this film but maybe its better to leave it alone and go watch something good.

  35. There is no way in hell any one will ever remake Cannibal Holocaust. It’s like with Holy Mountain, who would ever even try? That movie is safe.

  36. I would have said that before they remade Last House on the Left. Now everything is fair game.

  37. Have any of you guys seen Changeling? THAT’S an amazing haunted house movie, one where spectacular sound design and cinematography is what drives the scares and story (that and strong character work. A horror movie where the characters are all reasonable and intelligent adults who make smart decisions, chracters who the audience cares about and empathises with? Good heavens what a crazy idea!) Check it out.

  38. I dunno Brendan, they announced a VIDEODROME remake recently. They’re dead set on remaking everything, apparently. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST seems like it fits the “found footage shaky cam” trend pretty well, and with the zombie revival of recent years a cannibal revival can’t be too far off. Plus, a remake could do away with the icky animal mutilation scenes.

  39. More good ghost movies

    THE (I’m starting to notice a trend here) FOG
    SOLARIS (1976)

  40. When I started reading this , I was thinking that the trailer for this one was like the worst example of “jumping out of the closet and…BOOH!” school of horror filmaking . I’m so fucking sick of that old trick . Then I remembered Drag me to Hell , too , and the fact that there’s still someone with the guts to show a talking , plastic goat in an horror movie .And Raimi is the master of that shit , like the deer in Evil Dead 2 . That movie was scary and gory , but also fun and playful , this looks like another “me too” product using the latest spin on horror . Is the Fourth Kind like Paranormal Activity ?

  41. But since it is fairly obvious that people do enjoy Blair Witch, [rec], and Paranormal Activity the solution is that people should stop making and enjoying found footage films it is that you should stop watching them. Enjoy what you enjoy. Let others enjoy what they enjoy. It’ll all work out in the end.

  42. Obviously that should have read, “should not stop making and enjoying found footage films” and now what I actually typed.

  43. Sadly, I have to agree with Majestyk on this one. Not only will they remake CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, but they’ll do it as a musical. Fuckers.

  44. Man, Vern, I usually totally agree with most stuff, but I really gotta disagree with you on this one.
    I thought this was one of the most fun scary movies I saw in a theater. There was a degree of
    creepiness and comedy because of the way it was set up, etc. and if nothing else, the director/writer
    of this movie is a genius at least in the financial sense: this is the most profitable movie of all time
    when budget is put against revenue and the number of people it took to make it, which is 7. 7
    people worked on this movie. It’s funny, though, as there are four actors. Although there is apparently
    more in the ending where the girl gets shot, since the cops have to be there. So the other 3 might be in that

  45. You can put me in the camp that thought PA was really effective. I’m reiterating the whole “primal fear” idea, but, for me, PA simply functioned as a helluva ghost story. What I mean is that, when you’re listening to a good storyteller weave a scary tale, they aren’t necessarily wordsmiths, just as the director of PA wasn’t much of an artist who used grace notes.

    One thing that I did think PA did well was to emphasize that you must respect forces of darkness. I felt the same during THE EXORCIST, which others have mentioned. So often in movies, demons and vampires, etc., are treated as if they’re easy to get rid of or that humans are actually a match for them.

    Speaking of primal fear, I have a refrigerator that makes way too much noise, and for a few nights after I saw PA, I couldn’t get to sleep because I just knew evil was dogging me. I also don’t love the thought of waking up to see someone standing by my bed in a trance, giving me the demon stink eye. Hence, I believe you have a good idea of why I was doing the hide-the-eyes thing during the movie when I don’t often indulge in that behavior during most horror films….


    December 29th, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE is practically a remake of Cannibal Holocaust. And it was actually pretty enjoyable. Netflix it.

  47. Well, now I’m all piqued to know why JC and Prestwich didn’t groove on DISTRICT 9.

    No desire to nitpick or anything. Just curious. I gots a theory about that movie and I can only test it if people critique it without my input.

    Not a lot of analysis in the D9 thread. Talk of a reggae badass epic throws a wrench into almost any discussion.

  48. I don’t honestly want to demand the end of this subgenre. I just think it’s lame that people are gonna keep making them without coming up with a new idea for them. I like good formula movies, but the idea of formula is that you use the formula as the basis and put your own thing on top of it. It’s not just a formula and nothing added. These are movies with very little story, no script, intentionally no visual style, and they don’t even come up with a new twist or anything – there’s no meat on that skeleton. You’re right, people who like them can have them. But my guess is that nobody’s appetite for them is gonna last more than a couple more movies, while there will be hundreds of them clogging the bargain bins.

    I’m not entirely against these movies. I liked Cloverfield, I liked Blair Witch, I don’t even consider this to be an entirely negative review. I’m just saying we’ve scraped the bottom with this one, the next ones gotta add imagination or cleverness of some kind. Anything more simplistic than this is just gonna be embarrassing for everybody involved.

    I was surprised to read that this cost $15,000. Not because that’s a low budget, but because none of it is on screen. That’s not meant as an insult, but the way this is impressive is if it’s a movie made for free on the weekends using what they already had (house, camera, iMovie, girlfriend). I honestly believe that a bunch of the readers here could make something as good or better for less money. In fact I should ask Drew B. the budget of his movie MURDER LOVES KILLERS TOO.

    Shit, maybe I’ll write one if somebody wants to make one. I got some ideas. It won’t be as scary but it’ll be funnier and have more breakdancing.

  49. I wasn’t gonna say anything about the whole DISTRICT 9 thing. I know people who don’t like stuff like bacon, and puppies, and boobs, so…

  50. In regards to the budget, it would be pretty easy to throw down 15,000 on a camera, sound equipment, and a humble editing suite. Plus you have to at least make sammiches for your actors if you want them to act for free in your movie. If Oren Peli had access to in-kind services for his production costs then I don’t know where he spent 15,000 but if he just bought himself a camera, an iMac and sammich fixings then I think he was pretty resourceful.

  51. And who knows if this guy is including stuff like film festival entry fees in his budget.

  52. It’s nice to know you think so highly of us Vern. Inability to sit through ET notwithstanding.

  53. Alfonse G.: My biggest problems with DISTRICT 9 are with the tone and the politics of the film. Truth is, I found it way too goofy to be effective, and too simplistic to be resonant. But I can admire some of the craft that went into it, and can appreciate the films’ ambitions. That’s the nutshell version.

  54. Gwai Lo – who the heck doesn’t like boobs?

  55. Gwai Lo, on second thoughts, don’t even bother to answer that question. What little is left of my faith in humanity will be completely gone if you can.

  56. Vern, if you want to write that script, I have the equipment and I could scrape together a few actors and probably $10,000 worth of movie budget.


  57. I call dibs on Vern’s funny breakdancing script! I want to buy a good camera soon anyway and maybe I can even get some money from the German film subsidy (a.k.a. the German movie mafia).

  58. Shameless Dutch Promotion

    December 30th, 2009 at 6:12 am

    Next to the horror POV genre there’s also the drama POV genre, which isn’t done that often. Film students seem to love it because it’s cheap and they think it’s very Dogme. You know, some guy takes a camera to a camping trip/family reunion and stuff gets out of hand with a lot of screaming. An early example I can think of that’s pretty decent is Little Sister (1995) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115067/.

    Also, go and review some of Verhoeven’s early works! Soldier of Orange holds up well as does Turkish Delight but I’d especially recommend The Fourth Man, which Verhoeven made after Dutch critics kept calling him lowbrow, so he just decided to throw in a shit-ton of symbolism and it works great.

  59. Paul: gay men? (WHERE IS YOUR HUMANITY NOW!!??)

    I was just wondering if Vern did a review for Fourth Kind–I guess I could be less lazy and go actually look… {g} But actually, if he hasn’t done so yet, and is looking for spec-fic tape films like this (not just two people in a room with one camera that goes nowhere, i.e. an even more minimal PA; which I’m 100% certain has already been done and released in theaters in recent years, and about 98% sure there are at least two movies of that sort… just can’t remember the titles…)

    … …. …….

    Okay, I lost my train of thought on that sentence. Starting over.

    Have you checked out _The Last Broadcast_ yet Vern? It predated Blair Witch by a few years, if I understand correctly, and deals with a couple of losers on a Z-grade cable-access show trying to make a name for themselves by looking for the Jersey Devil. Things go badly. Or, to be more precise, the film is about someone else making a documentary about those guys and trying to figure out how things went so badly wrong, finding holes in the police investigation of their murders, discovering that the crazy loner who murdered them may have been telling the truth about not being the one to murder them, and perusing on the nature of film and documentaries and stuff. I wouldn’t call it remotely scary–not compared to BWP–but it’s at least a curiosity piece.

  60. To be fair, I on the other hand don’t much like puppies. (Kittens, yes. Puppies, not so much.)

  61. The Last Broadcast came in Germany as Bonus DVD with Blair Witch Project. It’s a pretty cool movie, mostly because it’s not a “found tape” thing, but looks like a real documentary, with interviews, a narrator, archive footage and stuff. Until the last five minutes, when the filmmakers decided to tell the punchline by changing genres (from mockumentary to narrative feature). But it works very well IMO, although I might be wrong. (The last time I saw it was around 10 years or so ago.)

  62. Alfonse,

    Well, I don’t want to get into a big thing, because I know a lot of people loved DISTRICT 9 and that’s cool, I don’t want to step on any toes and people seem really defensive about that movie.

    I guess my main criticism would be with the actually filmmaking, which I thought was sloppy and sometimes ugly. Now, without a copy of the movie and software to take screencaps, I will admit that this is a hard claim to back up. But the faux-documentary scenes I found often visually incoherent or at least muddled. I’m sure a lot of people love it’s handheld, low-quality look, but mostly I recall scenes of Wickus rooting around in the prawn’s shacks, pointing at things at the wall and I couldn’t even tell what any of it was supposed to be.

    Okay, so fine, it’s supposed to look like a documentary, it’s not supposed to be perfectly framed, I get it. But the non-documentary sequences were just as bad to me… I often found myself confused during the action scenes. I did not feel that the director did a good job of establishing geography, it keep looking to me like the characters were just firing their alien guns in random directions and not at each other.

    (Again, hard to back all this up without visual evidence, so I apologize if that seems like a glib argument.)

    Also, I felt that the fake-documentary aspect lead to a lot of lazy storytelling, i.e. the old cliche of telling instead of showing. Obviously, there’s the fact that the movie opens with a bunch of talking heads explaining the premise. But even worse is stuff later, for example when Wickus is on the run, trying to survive on the streets. A good movie could have crafted this into an interesting sequence that shows him struggling to survive, trying to use his ingenuity, etc. Instead it cuts to a bunch of talking heads explaining about how Wickus had to go on the run and live on the streets, cut with a very brief montage of him doing that. I guess one could make the argument that this is economical storytelling. I just felt like I was watching people talk about a movie rather actually seeing a real movie.

    Beyond that, I felt that whatever socio-political message the film was trying to make was muddled. If the prawns are supposed to be a metaphor for the treatment of blacks in South Africa, it’s a little confusing to then make all the black characters grotesque, exaggerated villains.

    Again, I know everyone else on the planet loved this movie, and that I’m the one grouchy, contrarian holdout. Sorry guys.

  63. Dan Prestwich: Count me among the grouches. In addition to your keen observations about geography and storytelling, I felt that the tone of the film really didn’t work for me. The lead actor was just way too goofy for me to buy into, and I felt that his eventual
    transformation was unearned. Like you said, the perfunctory nature of the the way the plot was unfolded really deflated any sense of drama I might have otherwise had.

    There’s lots in the film to appreciate – I really like the big ship just hanging there in the sky – and I can appreciate its ambitions, but I actually didn’t enjoy the film at all.

  64. Okay, so I’m one of two grouchy, contrarian holdouts. It’s nice not to be the only one.

    I guess we could turn this into a DISTRICT 9 bashing party, but I’m a little worried we’ll incur the wrath of the internet nerds.

  65. I dig the hell out of Paranormal Activity. Saw it at the Music Box in Chicago during one of those free screenings and that audience ate it up. You know that video of the people seeing it and being jumpy and scared? That happened at my theater. Unfortunately hype messed up because I think all those that hated the movie went into it not with the buzz, they would probably like it a lot better.

    Also, I would say that this film has some amazing FX. You tell me how they pulled off Katie getting dragged or the footprints in the flour or any of this stuff.

    Also, not related, how did these talk backs get mostly attended by people around the world? It’s amazing how global Vern’s writings are.

  66. Dan:
    I agree, I would be bummed if Paranormal Activity was a trendsetter in big studio’s minds. But remember Blair Witch 2? Can studios turn this into a trend without douches like us filming our friends in our backyards? Speaking of which, we really should make Vern’s script into a feature.

  67. I’ll chip in. I don’t have much money, but I do have a rusty machete and a Mexican wrestling mask that I can donate to the cause. Not sure if they’ll help, but how could they hurt?

  68. CJ,

    good point about TLB not being “found footage” in narrative structure; although the story turns out to be largely _about_ found (or rather sent) footage. (Avoiding spoilers for those who haven’t seen it.)

    On the commentary track, the filmatists point out that they couldn’t (or didn’t have time to) think of any way to show the restorationist attempting to reconstruct the wadded footage fragments; so they just cheated and showed her ‘scanning’ it with a VCR head (which doesn’t work that way), knowing that most people would never know this was completely impossible by such a method. (Even I was fooled, and I _have_ a broadcast comm degree! But then, I left the industry before digital video tape; and I was never much involved in the mechanics of how even normal VHS, Beta or any other analog format operated.)

  69. Dan Prestwich: If you remember the comments section in Vern’s TRANSFORMERS 2 review, several members of the site had a meaningful, respectful discussion about the STAR WARS prequels. That was a high water mark for this web site and the internet in general.

    On the practical side of things, I didn’t much like DISTRICT 9, STAR TREK, IRON MAN, DARK KNIGHT or DRAG ME TO HELL, so I have a vested interest in not stirring up the nerd wrath.

  70. Jareth,

    Indeed you are correct that Vern’s site is an uncommonly civil forum for nerd debate. Hell, sometimes I feel like Contrary McContrarianson here, with how often I end up disagreeing with folks (i.e. defending ANTICHRIST, disliking DISTRICT 9, not being a big fan of THE MATRIX, etc.) Yet the vast majority of the posters here are thoughtful sweethearts. So my fear of being attacked by a mob of angry nerds here is probably unfounded and unfair.

    Which isn’t to say I have a problem with people disagreeing with me and posting a counterargument. In fact, I love those discussion. I just hate it on the internet when someone responds to your post with utter vitriol just because you didn’t like something they like.

  71. Dan, I’m sure you’ve seen the occasional thread where a new poster comes in with his rhetorical guns blazing, calling names and striking macho postures, only to be patiently talked down and responded to in a reasonable manner. It’s so awesome when that happens.

    I’m hoping that if we all behave ourselves, there will be lucrative jobs waiting when SEAGOLOGY is turned into a religion and Vern becomes the L. Ron Hubbard of badass. Hollywood A-listers will be lining up to have their badass e-meter readings. Most will be judged as lacking.

  72. As long as Vern doesn’t slap us around like the head of Scientology does to his inner circle. That’s not cool.

  73. I imagine we’ll have to work out some sort of WIZARD OF OZ-esque giant face veneer so that he can retain his mysteriousness.

  74. Only if it vomits guns like in Zardoz.

  75. I wonder whose decision it was to put Sean Connery in that red boots/speedo/suspenders combo in ZARDOZ? Genius truly lives only one floor up from madness.

    I’m hoping that the religion of SEAGOLOGY has at least a few rituals from HOLY MOUNTAIN.

  76. Saw this thing in the theater opening weekend. Sometimes it’s fun to succumb to the hype and join the crowd and catch something before the spoilers and the backlash.

    It was undeniably effective as it unspooled, aside from a cell phone going off in the theater at the worst possible time. (I thought we were relatively exempt from this problem up here in “civilized” SF, but it’s happened to me more than one recently. Shit. Maybe somebody else needs to get shot in a theater.) I found the Spielberg-approved ending to be hokey and tonally out-of-sync with what preceded it.

    The girlfriend was so freaked that she made me keep the lights on all night. (She’s very susceptible to this stuff — she refuses to watch The Exorcist.)

    In short, I think it worked — but at the same time, I can’t imagine ever revisiting it. It would be like re-watching one of those Youtube ghost videos where something pops up and makes a loud noise. Once you know when the “boo!” happens, there’s nothing more to see. I’d get more out of watching The Thing or NOTLD or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for the hundredth time.

  77. I just find it a bit on the strange side that all these people here that don’t really come across as fans of action, sci-Fi and horror are the biggest posters on this site. It’s really cool.

  78. “I wonder whose decision it was to put Sean Connery in that red boots/speedo/suspenders combo in ZARDOZ?” I believe that that particular executives name is Cocaine. You’ll see his mark on numerous movies.

  79. Ha! If there was truth in advertising, movie posters would read something like:

    Cocaine and Hubris presents: ZARDOZ
    Unbridled Greed presents: FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY
    A Failure of Imagination brings you: SON OF THE MASK

  80. Utter Desperation presents: BASIC INSTINCT 2

    A Well-Founded Lack Of Faith In Basic Human Intelligence presents: ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS 2: THE SQUEAKQEL

  81. Martin Scorsese would really like to get an oscar Presents: GANGS OF NEW YORK, THE AVIATOR and THE DEPARTED

  82. Mysterious alien forces beyond human comprehension in collaboration with the Dark One, father of all lies, angel of the bottomless pit, and son of perdition, proudly present: Carrot Top, in CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD.

  83. I love ZARDOZ.

    I love the underpants. I love the gun-good/penis-bad thing. I love the ‘big reveal.’ I love the whole shebang. Got it on VHS. Right here. Yeah. On the shelf behind this chair. Yup, right there. Underneath the Muppet Babies Invisible Ink Picture Book, on top of RUMBLE IN THE BRONX. Yeah. Next to the paintbrushes and robotic Triceratops. Wannawatchitwithmerightnow?

    YOU HEAR ME WORLD??!?!?!?


    You got a problem with that?

    Then fuck you, jack.

    And then this from JC:

    “On the practical side of things, I didn’t much like DISTRICT 9, STAR TREK, IRON MAN, DARK KNIGHT or DRAG ME TO HELL, so I have a vested interest in not stirring up the nerd wrath.”

    Should fate ever bless us to meet, do NOT bring this shit up around my wife.

    Oh, and as long as cocaine is presenting things: Saw WOLFEN two nights ago. Hole. E. Shit. This fine film (wife hated it) features the totally bare asses of both Gregory Hines and an unbelievably young Mr. Edward James Olmos.

    That’s some seriously talented totally bare ass for your average not-really-a-werewolf-on-Wall-Street movie.

    (Life is funny. Never really thought I’d see Gregory Hines’ ass. In green night-vision no less.)

    This tangentially leads me to this–what do y’alls significant others (I was going to say wives and girlfriends, but surely there are some straight women and gay men about the place–are there any straight women or gay men in the house? lemme hear ya say yeah-ya!) have to say about your particular film fixations and peccadilloes?

    In particular, what’s the outer limit of tolerance?

    FUNNY GAMES and ERASERHEAD, are, I regretfully learned, where the line gets drawn. I was sitting there, drinking my beer, eating my giant cookie, having a ball. Turned out she was NOT having a good time. (In my defense, when she asked what FUNNY GAMES was about, I said it was about two young men torturing a nice middle class family and would most likely be a deeply unpleasant and overtly intellectual piece of filmmaking. She said later she didn’t believe me. Plus she sat through the original LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. Which, granted, in the light of the twenty-first century, is possibly too stupid and wrongheaded to get too worked about.)

    (Thanks for the DISTRICT 9 comments, guys.)

  84. Alfonse,

    Okay, so we spilled about why we didn’t like DISTRICT 9. So now you have to tell us what your theory is.

  85. Hey Alfonse, I didn’t intend to mock ZARDOZ, just Connery’s costume. No offence intended.

    From what I can tell, ZARDOZ actually enjoys a fairly good critical reputation, even if it never achieved the pop culture familiarity of PLANET OF THE APES or 2001. Someone told me that it holds up better than BARBARELLA, but I haven’t seen either in 20 years.

  86. There is a beautiful moment on Boorman’s too-quiet Zardoz commentary when he tell the viewer to just fast-forward through a sequence that didn’t work out, that he now finds pointless, or somesuch.

    The TLB discussion reminds me of Man Bites Dog, everyone’s favorite belgian student film about a documentary crew following a serial killer. It’s not horror, but it does go to some deeply uncomfortable places toward the end, and given that end it would have to fit into the found-footage mold despite the “mockumentary” trappings.

    I think.

    I don’t know. It’s New Years and I’m drunk on the internet.

  87. After reading this review I was in “haunted house” mode , so I re-watched Poltergeist for the first time in more than , I don’t know , 10-15 years ? And , man , it was fantastic . It’s a movie that reminded me why I love cinema . The light , the direction , the pacing , it was all top of the line . I know that Spielberg was really involved in the project , but I bet that most of the authentic feel of the final cut was Tobe Hooper’s work . Then there’s Craig T. Nelson performance , you can really see him slowly losing it .Plus , that fucking DOG’s performance was Oscar material! And I think it an inspiration for Ghostbusters , you know , with the ghost-students

  88. ( continued , sorry….spumante!!) And I think that Poltergeist was an inspiration for Ghostbusters , you know , with the ghost-students and all the cameras and equipment . That is a fucking horror movie !

    Anyway , as you can see I had a few drinks already , and later I will eat like a pig and drink a little more , so Happy New Year’s Eve , people!!!

  89. No, jesus, mock ZARDOZ. It’s just sitting there asking for it. The VHS cover features a woman with a leather codpiece.

    I’m just saying I love it. (And I definitely find it more consistently entertaining than LOGAN’S RUN or BARBARELLA.)

  90. You know, Alfonse, I looked up ZARDOZ on imdb in order to find material for a joke, but, after reading some dialogue from the film I really don’t know what to say. It’s like T.S. Elliot wrote a sci fi porn script in verse. It just boggles my mind that someone put that stuff down on paper.

    “You have penetrated me. There is no escape. You are within me. Come into my center. Come into the center of the crystal!”

    You start throwing lines like that around on the internet and you end up on some kiddie porn watch list.

    Shrug: The most maddening audio commentary I ever heard was for THE EXORCIST. Friedkin basically describes what you are seeing as if you’re an idiot: “In this scene Father Karras is very upset. Now he’s going to visit his mom.” Nothing else, no insights, no gossip. Drove me up the wall. I had to turn it off.

  91. My favorite moment in Zardoz itself is when Connery goes to rape a woman and throws her down in disgust when she doesn’t fight back.

    Jareth: I don’t recall Boorman’s commentary being all that fantastic; a lot of silence, and some fixation on the minutia of production, but I think he spends some time trying to explain his intentions with the picture, and is honest about how and why it fell short. Ultimately, he admits it was a mess, and I can appreciate and respect the man saying “yeah, I screwed this one up” to the point of advising the viewer to feel free to skip the next ten minutes, thanks.

  92. I wanted to like this movie and wanted to be scared. I saw the internet hype early Summer and thought it appeared to have some merit and told people to look for it. Actually I heard about it a long time ago on AICN and was looking for it and talking about it probably last Winter or even further back.

    I didn’t care much for it. As a viewer I found the couple a little annoying and couldn’t understand why the guy did some things or even why they stayed together. So I guess as a viewer I was involved enough due to the low budget realism to consider what I would do and would I seperate from that girl (some scenes she looked hot and busty and other scenes she looked a wreck) if that were me so on one hand it did it’s job I guess. However, I did not find it scary or even disturbing. It was overly hyped and sadly I contributed some of the hype passing what I heard about it a year ago in that it was supposedly “the scariest movie ever made.” Then I saw it myself recently and felt a little guilty that I bought into the hype machine.

    I did like the theatrical ending better than the alternative ending though. If it ended the way it did in the alternate way I would have disliked the movie because outside of 1 or 2 moments it was lacking in punch.

  93. So tell me, what is up with people’s reverence for Edward James Olmos? I mean, he said his 5 or 6 lines in BLADE RUNNER really well but that’s all I’ve seen him in.

  94. He’s great in this move they show in every high school math class called Stand and Deliver, where he heroically teaches kids in a Latin ghetto math skills, has a heart attack and prepares them for the SAT’s so well that the kids get accused of cheating. Good stuff. Apparently Battlestar Galactica is really good, and he’s the star, so there’s that.

  95. He seriously is the best thing about Battlestar Galactica. (And not just because he is surrounded by less, less, less talented actors [and the show is overall one of the worst things I’ve ever seen on Television!])

  96. How did Edward James Olmos come up? I still think of him as the lieutenant from Miami Vice (TV show, not movie).

  97. It was awesome on Miami Vice how he was just the surly captain guy for like six episodes and then out of nowhere he busts out the kung fu and Special Ops background.

  98. I dunno, somebody up there said EJA got naked in some movie and it was awesome seeing such a great actor naked. Every time anybody says anything about him it’s always accompanied by some really high praise and I had to ask. So he was on Miami Vice, got it. He has a distinctive look and all but does that make him a better actor than say Danny Trejo or that guy from CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER (the sniper) and TRAINING DAY (the gangsta who liked getting his fudge packed)? If you’re going to idolize a quirky Hispanic actor, I actually think Cheech has turned into a legitimate actor in his own right (DESPERADO, etc), despite the Nash Bridges BS. Less quirky but much better would be Alfred Molina.

  99. Not that I am trying to bash Olmos or anything, I just don’t know where the hero worship is coming from. He’s got a distinctive look so I think he gets some credit for that, but people don’t lavish praise on Udo Kier or Cillian Murphy (or Danny Trejo, for that matter) for their acting abilities, they are more known for their appearances.

  100. EJO == probably reverenced for being Adama on BSG. (Which I’m now about to start watching the 4th season of. Unlike many people, I actually liked the 3rd season as much as the previous two. Can’t say I much liked Olmos as Adama at first, but he grew on me.)

    Vern, out of curiosity, have you seen Wolfen yet? You should do a review; there are a lot of themes to it that you’d find worth commenting on. (Quint over at AICN recently watched it for the first time during his Halloween movie splurge, and was as impressed with it as I figured he would be.)

  101. i can’t defend this movie, because every point made against it is perfectly sound and just.
    i enjoyed it the first time around, somehow it really got under my skin. but maybe that’s because i wanted it to. i was really hoping this thing would fuck with my head, so i guess the stars were aligned er something and it freaked me out just like i was hoping it would.

    then i tried to put my girlfriend through the same thing. though she left the lights on and talked through the whole thing, ruining any chance of this thing actually having any effect on her. and obviously, for myself, the shock was over and the scares had little to no effect on me the second time.

    anyways, yes, this will have practically zero lasting value, and the original ending is much better.

  102. dan – “then i tried to put my girlfriend through the same thing. though she left the lights on and talked through the whole thing, ruining any chance of this thing actually having any effect on her.”

    I think this sums up the movie, and its effect. As a piece of ephemera it is very effective, but only under certain circumstances, and only on the first viewing. If you had never heard of this movie and someone gave it to you and told it was real it would be quite unsettling. If you were trying to watch it during the day while your girlfriend is vacuuming six months after its box office run it’s maybe not so much the scariest thing OMFG. And I think in either situation, a lot of people just don’t get that fleeting ephemeral creepiness out of it. If Blair Witch Project didn’t work for them over ten years ago then they’ll be immune to it.

    The story of its production and success is one of 2009’s big “why I love movies” moments for me though, I support any filmmaker who can make something of value on the cheap and ride the zeitgeist with it.

  103. Gwai,

    I know I’m responding to this kind of late, but do you really think you’d fall for it if you knew nothing about PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and someone told you it was real? I think we’re all smarter than that. We’re all movie savvy enough to recognize that the people in the film are clearly acting, and that the supernatural events are staged. To me, the film rarely looks spontaneous, I can’t see someone falling for it, unless they actively WANTED to fall for it.

    Plus, you know, evil demons don’t exist. That’s another reason I would be disinclined to believe it.

    Do you disagree, though? Do you find the film’s attempt at verisimilitude to be convincing, enough so that it could trick a reasonable person into believing its events? And does its supposed realism make the movie scarier even when you already know it’s fake?

    Just curious to hear your thoughts.

  104. Would I fall for it? No, probably not. Neither would anyone in a post BLAIR WITCH PROJECT world, I have to imagine. But I think verisimilitude is a big part of how these movies work, so even when you know its fake I think a lot of the unsettling atmosphere comes from how close it ends up feeling to real. And PARANORMAL ACTIVITY does this better than some other recent attempts, like THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES, which reveals itself as fake as soon as the actors open their mouths and start saying lines. I believe Drew McWeeny did try and pass that one off as real at some film festival or another, and the audience just about lynched him for it.

  105. Eddie J. Olmos love =

    “It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again…”

    Amongst other stuff.

    He’s an excellent crazy naked guy, as well. I mean, truly, aren’t we all? But he does it in a werewolf movie, and the rest of us… well.

    And I truly will get back to that DISTRICT 9 thing, if the interested parties ever check back–I haven’t been around the virtual for a time, and I have to go now…

    (ellipses… so evocative… of having… no closure…)

    And rainman, hey, bump into me at a party. I totally lavish praise on Udo Kier. As the doctor (I believe) said: “Two women. He must be very powerful.”

  106. It’s interesting that a young-teen cousin of mine (not in high-school yet, 8th grade I think) recently watched Paranormal Activity, and liked it and thought it was really scary, and wanted to know if I (or my Mom of all people) had seen it yet. I said no, but I was looking forward to it; Mom said she would consider watching it.

    We then got into a discussion with my cousin concerning other ‘found-tape’ first-person movies, none of which my cousin had ever heard of (except Cloverfield, and she had forgotten how it actually ran; possibly from not ever having really seen anything but snatches of it on someone’s iphone.) I mean, my Mom fondly remembered BWP! (Or anyway, she had been impressed with it.)

    Which led me to think, why do I still like BWP and its predecessor (The Last Broadcast, which isn’t really found-footage so much as pseudo-doc), after all these years?–enough so that I’m looking forward to PA? And I decided it’s because I like the character interaction, as well as the creepiness factor of the stories, plus just the unusual way of telling the story. I never watch movies to be scared anyway, not even horror movies–if they don’t have some other substantial hook, then never mind, I have better things to be doing with my time. So the fact that these aren’t scary per se doesn’t bother me. But on the other hand, I can understand why a lot of people might not like the character interaction in BWP (and in Cloverfield for that matter).

    Incidentally, I asked my cousin if she had seen Poltergeist yet, and she squinched up her face and said, “No. What’s that?” “Think PA, but made by Steven Spielburg, and vastly much scarier.” No point mentioning Tobe Hooper, she wouldn’t know who that was. “Does the family die?” she asked, after I had given a few non-spoilery details. “No. The house implodes.” “What does _that_ mean?” I knew she wouldn’t know. {g} “I dunno,” she eventually decided. “I guess not. I can’t get into old movies.”

    {gasp}{wheeze}{OLD movies!!}

  107. Actual employee conversation:

    “Watched an old-ass movie this morning.”


    “The Sandlot.”

  108. To be fair: Poltergeist is already 28 years old!
    To be honest: People who only watch movies that aren’t older than a few years are full of shit.

  109. Ordered a blu of Poltergeist yesterday. (And a DVD of BWP, which has the advantage of having the pseudo-doc about the Blair Witch, which some people have said is actually better than the movie. My VHS needed updating sometime anyway.)

    God willing, I’m gonna set her butt down in the den sometime soon, and show her how geniuses with (by today’s standards) a low budget made OLD MOVIES!!! {g}

    (My mind reeled when I saw how Poltergeist was and I guess still is rated PG… {rofl!})

  110. The chair scene in the dining room is one of my all-time favorites. I think it gets a little long towards the end (with the swimming pool etc) and the first half is better than the second, but oh well.

    People who say Spielberg is a hack just don’t know good movies. He consistently made one great “summer” movie after another along with some other great more serious movies. Very few missteps (HOOK being the thorn in my personal side, oh and he produced FLINTSTONES…). How many times have you heard “it’s a summer movie, it’s not supposed to be smart, or engaging on anything more than a stuff-blowing-up level”? Well, these hack directors who make millions nowadays pumping out trash aren’t worth being mentioned in the same sentence as Spielberg. Can you imagine watching TRANSFORMERS, or NATIONAL TREASURE 30 years from now? And yet I’ll watch a good half hour or more of JAWS every time I see it’s on TV.

  111. I think what sets Spielberg apart from other blockbuster filmmakers is that his camera always gazes upon the special effects in awe and wonder, and that feeling gets transferred to the audience. You can’t do “awe and wonder” at 2.5 cuts a second.

  112. This adds nothing to the (old) discussion and will probably buried within a few hours, but while randomly browsing on YouTube, I found a German musicvideo that came out around 2001 or so and is a pretty entertaining entry to this kind of mockumentary subgenre. It even ends with a policeman who tells the cameraman to turn the camera off!
    Anyway, here it is: Die Ärzte – Rock ‘n’ Roll Übermensch


    (You have probably guessed it, but the bad picture quality was intentional.)

  113. CJ, I’m going to have to demand that you change your name to Rock ‘N’ Roll Übermensch immediately. Maybe you could have a picture of Herzog in his mustache years to go with it.

  114. Nah, one has to earn the right to bath himself in the awesomness of Herzog and his mustache. And if I would change my name now, nobody would realize that it’s me. :)

  115. Vern, I loved Paranormal Activity. I love scary movies, and this one really got me. The psychological tension was enormous for me because I believe this story could happen. The part where she just stands there, sort of swaying back and forth really creeped me out. I think they could’ve come up with a better ending…but I watched it to get the creeps and I got them, for sure! Thanks for the review! Gina

  116. Seven long years later, and nearly every new release of a supernatural found-footage demon-blah is proud to be presented from “the producers of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and/or INSIDIOUS”, like it’s the pinnacle of horror cinema. The funniest one I saw on the shelf recently was reaching for credibility by stating it was “from A producer of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY”. Singular. If they get really desperate they might start presenting them “from the nephew of the third grip on PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2”.

    I succumbed to one the other day called DEMONIC because Frank Grillo was in it, but since demons are liars they surely possessed the marketing team to give Grillo top billing, when he was only on screen for about ten minutes. Holy shit, can’t we bury this sub-genre already?

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