I’ve never been a big horror/scary movie fan. When I was growing up, the Nightmare/Friday/Halloween movies never really scared me so I never had much interest in anything else. Now, I love ghost stories, and I think my problem with those movies was that you saw everything, and what has always scared me was the idea of what you can’t see.
The one movie I remember being scared from as a kid was The Lost Boys. Not because of all the vampires, but just one scene: the guys are at their house after they’ve gone to attack the vamps in their cave, and they have prepared the house knowing the vamps will be coming for them. Corey Haim realizes that his dog is still tied up outside and runs to go get him. It’s very windy out, and as he’s untying the dog, he looks up in the sky and starts freaking out because he sees the vamps coming. He and the dog make it back to the house just in time. The audience never gets a shot of the sky, just Corey’s scared face. Later that night, after seeing the movie, we went to bed with the windows open. I woke up at some point that night to a lot of wind and all I could think of was what Corey saw in the sky. I freaked out, but not wanting to let my mom know the movie scared me (I was 11 or 12 at the time), I went and climbed into bed with my sister. My sister who is 5 years younger than me. Like she would protect me.
Scary things for me have always been about the possibility of things unseen, not knowing what might be lurking out there. (Is it a surprise that I am a control freak?) Two movies have scared me in my adult life: The Blair Witch Project and The Ring (spoilers ahead for these movies). The Ring is certainly not about what is unseen, but I think the movie scared me because of the creepy video, the even creepier little girl who comes out of the tv and scares people to death (the audience never sees what happens when she scares you to death, so I guess it is a little bit about what is unseen), and my experience after seeing it. I saw it with friends late at night and had to drive home alone. I was freaked out and tried to call my husband at home to ask him to be waiting for me at the door so I wouldn’t have to run across the yard alone. He didn’t answer the phone and all I could think of is the scene when Naomi Watts is driving to her ex’s house, hoping to save him before he dies, and he doesn’t answer the phone. When I got home, I ran into the house, and the TV was on in the den. I walked in and my husband was asleep on the couch and his face was covered. Again, all I could think of was Naomi walking into the guy’s apartment and seeing him sitting in the chair with his back to her, and she had to walk up and turn the chair around to be greeted by his dead face. It took me half a minute to walk over to the couch and uncover my husband’s face to confirm that he was just asleep.
The Blair Witch Project scared me because it is the epitome of not knowing what is out there. I waited in line for hours to see it when it opened at the Angelika in NYC. I had followed the internet hype for a long time and was so excited to see it (knowing all along that it was a movie, not a documentary). When I went home that night, walking from the subway to my apartment in Astoria, Queens, I was scared witless, terrified of the possibility of a Blair Witch in Queens. The ending really freaked me out because you don’t know what happened to Josh, you see the brief shot of Mike, and then Heather drops the camera and you don’t know what happened to her. Frea-key. Just thinking about it now, 10 years later, gives me the willies.
And 10 years later, I go to see Paranormal Activity.
(Editing in my final paragraph here because it is non-spoilerly and can be read by someone trying to decide whether to go, but jump past it if you plan to click beyond the cut and read the whole post: I think that if you plan to see this, doing it in the theater is your best bet. Despite the higher price, you can’t beat being surrounded by an equally jumpy crowd. Tension was briefly relieved tonight when, after one moment, a guy yelled out, “Aw, hell no!” I can’t imagine the atmosphere of the movie will be the same if watched at home. But it certainly isn’t the scariest movie ever made, and despite the fact that my bedroom door is making weird noises due to the wind tonight, I am not afraid to leave my bedroom alone in the dark house, and I’m not afraid to fall asleep, which are my biggest signs of ghost/scary movie/things that go bump in the night fear.)
Spoilers to follow, so I don’t advise reading unless you have seen the film or don’t plan to.
Paranormal Activity has been compared the TBWP because it’s indie and uses lots of handheld cameras. I’d read reviews claiming it to be the scariest movie of all time, and reviews where the scariest thing is the time wasted seeing it. My friend Anne said after the movie tonight that what is scary is how much the house they filmed in must have cost. (bah-dump-bump) My reaction is “eh.” It has some scary moments. When the couple goes to sleep each night, you can’t help but focus on the doorway, worried you will miss something, scared of what you might see. The noises that happen for unseen reasons make you jump, and the swinging lamp gave me chills. The attic investigation really freaked me out since we’d been cleaning out our attic today. Every time Micah investigated a dark room with the camera and its light, I was afraid of what might be lurking just out of range of the light and the lens. The sleep walking scene was scary – Katie zoned out, staring off the side in the yard, as if she can see someone beyond Micah.
But there are unnecessary moments, too. The first half hour is just to set up the relationship, and I think that could have been accomplished with a much shorter piece. I also grew very tired of watching Katie tell Micah to stop filming throughout the daytime scenes as she’s in the bathroom or wandering around the house. I understand the purpose is showing the negative energy building between them that contributes to what the demon feeds off, but it still took a lot of time, time that the audience grew bored.
I didn’t find the ending scary, and endings can make or break a movie. First off, I blame the trailer monkeys. I don’t know who hires people to make trailers for movies and tv shows, and I don’t know who the monkeys are that put these things together, but all those people need to be better at their jobs. It drives me crazy when a trailer gives away the climax for something. My husband claims he knows the mystery in Shutter Island just based on the trailer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s right. I remembered the clip in the Paranormal Activity trailer where a person comes flying at the camera so I spent the whole movie waiting for it to happen. Once it does, and you see Katie coming towards the camera, everything is right there for you: dead Micah, possessed killer Katie. The final titlecard tells you everything that might have been left to question: Micah is really dead, Katie is conveniently missing in case they want a sequel.
After I came home, I Googled the movie to see what others said, and I discovered that this ending is not the original. The original ending can be seen over at Roger Really (via You Tube). You don’t see Micah after he leaves the room to go help Katie downstairs, you only see Katie return after the screams end, with her creepy rocking as time passes. The clip is given an extra creep factor when you notice the bathroom lights and noise that could signify the demon leaving Katie (as pointed out at that blog). I don’t completely love the end with the cops, but it wraps up Katie’s story. There is also something admittedly funny seeing demon-possessed Katie crawling toward Micah and then toward the camera. Our audience laughed, just like they laughed at the trailer for Legion as the old lady crawled the walls and the creepy guy crawled on all fours. Katie just slowly walking in, knife in hand, and then rocking is far creepier, especially as the time passes.
At the same blog, I learned that after the film was purchased, several different endings were shot, one of which had Katie coming back into the bedroom with the knife and slitting her throat. What I like most about both this and the original ending is that they bring the knife back into the scene. Micah makes a big deal about swinging that kitchen knife around early in the film while talking about taking care of the scary situation, and you know what they say about how if a gun is brought on stage in act 1, you can expect it to go off by act 3. Yes, we see bloody Katie in the released version, but we don’t see the knife, and since knives don’t make a noise, I find myself preferring to see the knife again at the end.
I think that if you plan to see this, doing it in the theater is your best bet. Despite the higher price, you can’t beat being surrounded by an equally jumpy crowd. Tension was briefly relieved tonight when, after one moment, a guy yelled out, “Aw, hell no!” I can’t imagine the atmosphere of the movie will be the same if watched at home. But it certainly isn’t the scariest movie ever made, and despite the fact that my bedroom door is making weird noises due to the wind tonight, I am not afraid to leave my bedroom alone in the dark house, and I’m not afraid to fall asleep, which are my biggest signs of ghost/scary movie/things that go bump in the night fear.