Remember grisly franchises like Friday the 13th, Halloween and the Saw movies? Now, Paranormal Activity is the latest horror saga to earn cult status, and on a tight budget.
Paramount, the studio behind the films, launched the fourth outing in a suitably noctural midnight screening at the Fantastic Fest for horror fans in Austin, Texas, ahead of its release later this month.
An audience which appeared to be 98 percent male -- the core horror movie demographic -- squeezed in to the Alamo Drafthouse, an arthouse movie theater strangely jammed between a yoga studio and a scooter retailer. Bizarrely, while there was a strict cellphone and talking ban, movie-goers were offered full restaurant food service during the film, with an army of waiters zipping up and down the aisles, crouching to avoid blocking the screen.
Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the film has similar ingredients to the first three: a family terrorized by strange nocturnal activity in a darkened house, filmed in amateur found footage style. "The first one really kicked back in the sort of found footage style. It revamped the thing," said Will Sullans, who traveled all the way from Casper, Wyoming to see the movie last week. "It's doing pretty well. It seems he's got some lasting power," added Sullans, a fan of Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, the 1980s classics which he says set the bar high for the genre ever since. Paranormal Activity is doing great business for Paramount. The first film in 2007 had a ridiculously small budget of $15,000, and made $183 million at the box office, echoing the success of 1999's "The Blair Witch Project."
In all, the first three movies -- Paranormal Activity 2 was in 2010, and "Paranormal Activity 3" in 2011 -- have grossed nearly $560 million. "I think the Paranormal Activity franchise doesn't get the credit it deserves because it's always dumped in that 'found footage' category and there are lot of bad 'found footage' movies,"said Brad Henderson from Florida. "The series is elaborating and it's much better than 'the killer dies, comes back, dies, comes back.' They actually try to build something," he added.
The first film, starring Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat and Mark Fredrichs, told the story of a couple moving into a suburban home and becoming increasingly disturbed by a nightly demonic presence. Paranormal Activity 2 again had Featherston and Sloat, but was made as a prequel to the first film, with the family setting up security cameras around the home, while the third movie is also a prequel to the first two.
Speaking after the new movie's first screening, Henderson said: "I'm happy with it. The scares were excellent. I'm glad they kind of elaborate more on the cult, but it's still not very detailed. It keeps your adrenaline pumped in."
And, like those other franchises, in plot and character terms the way is open for a Paranormal Activity 5 and then six, and seven. "They didn't close anything off, they opened another portal. They had all these open things and they didn't seal anything up. They just left it all open and there's no closure for us," he said.
Paranormal Activity 4 will be released in North America on October 19.