Paranormal Activity 4 Blu-ray review

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click to purchase

An extended “Unrated Edition” and a single bonus feature (30 minutes of “Recovered Files”) do little to enhance a sequel that seems to have given up the ghost.

When PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 appeared in theatres last year, it suggested that the franchise’s modus operandi had shifted from formula to template: whereas a formula allows for varying the ingredients, a template completely pre-defines the form and structure, allowing only for minor variations in the text being slotted in. The spooks were back, with new victims reprising the basic story line of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2; despite further hints of a cult worshiping the demon responsible for the hauntings depicted in the films, little new emerged, leaving less-forgiving viewers frustrated. The release of an unrated, extended edition of the film – first on VOD, then two weeks later on DVD and Blu-ray – conjured a glimmer of hope that additional scenes might fill out the story and bring PARANORMAL ACTIVITY a step closer to standing on its own rather than merely reprising the same old routines. Alas, that hope was exorcised by the simple expedient of watching the longer version.
Although the Blu-ray disc promises over 30 additional minutes, only nine of those minutes found their way into the unrated edition; the remaining footage is included as the disc’s only bonus feature, under the title “The Recovered Files.” The relative significance – or lack thereof – in the restored material will leave you wondering why certain scenes were deemed worthy of being included in the new cut while others were dumped into the bonus feature. None of these scenes enhance the film much, but the cumulative impact provides a hint into the filmmakers’ method, which apparently consisted of shooting endless variation on the same theme, then whittling it all down in the editing room.

THE BASICS

The PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 Blu-ray disc offers English, French Spanish, and Portuguese language tracks in 5.1 surround sound. The English track is DTS; the others are Dolby. There is also an English Description audio track for those who are visually impaired.
There are subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The film is broken up into 15 chapter stops; however, there is no way to access them from the main menu, which offers you options to play either the theatrical cut of the extended version; selecting either options starts the movie, without offering you a scene selection.
The only bonus feature is Recovered Files.

UNRATED EXTENDED EDITION

Clocking in at 1:37, the extended cut of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 runs approximately nine minutes longer than the theatrical version’s 88 minutes. The actual amount of restored footage probably comes closer to ten minutes; the nine-minute difference in running time is partly due to the deletion of the confusing post-credits teaser that appeared in theatres (a lead-in to a planned spin-off series, to be set in the Latino community).
Paranormal Activity 4 extended version trick-or-treatThe unrated version begin interestingly, with a a few brief scenes related to Halloween: Alex taking Wyatt trick-or-treating; Alex’s mother decorating cookies; Ben dressed in cowboy costume and sitting on alone in the living room, talking to Alex’s cat; Alex in her flimsy fairy costume (Dad jokes about where the rest of the costume is); and Alex and Ben out together at night, catching a glimpse of Alex’s spooky new neighbor Robbie, who will be the cause of so much trouble later. The sequence adds little to the story, but it establishes a mood of fun and safe scares that will gradually be usurped by the horrors that follow.
After the exterior scene in the park (minus the title card noting the date and location: Henderson, Nevada; November 11, 2011), with which the theatrical version opened, there is an unnecessary bit with a character named Jake showing his “palate expander” (a dental device) to Alex and Ben. The scene seems to be establishing Jake as a friend who will share the adventures to follow, but we never see him again (unless you catch a glimpse of him in the background of the sleepover party that takes place later).
The remaining additions are as follows:

  • Alex’s brother Wyatt and the spooky neighbor kid Robbie watch a brief online video that scares Wyatt but not Robbie (who obviously has a higher tolerance for horror).
  • Alex wanders around the house, glimpses Robbie (who mysteriously disappears), then suffers a false scare when a door suddenly opens, revealing Mom.
  • A bit of Wyatt wandering from his bed in the middle of the night is intercut with Alex awakening as if sensing something is wrong. Alex goes downstairs to the living room, where a book mysteriously falls off a shelf twice, and she puts it back (foreshadowing a similar event that will befall her mother later in the picture).

The new scenes provide a few more moments of the patented PARANORMAL ACTIVITY spookiness, but none of them add much of anything that was not already in the film. The inclusion of the book-falling scene is redundant, since almost the exact same action is repeated later in the film.

THE RECOVERED FILES

The confusion does not end there, however. Moving onto “The Recovered Files,” we see scenes that connect to the restored footage or attempt to fill some of the plot holes in the theatrical version of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4. Why were these scenes left out? Many of them are redundant, but no more so than those that were restored. Though most of the lost files simply offer more of the same, one or two of the scens might actually have improved the film, if only slightly.

  • The first recovered file is fairly typical of what will follow: an additional comic interaction between Alex and Ben, punctuated by a small scare; in this case, they hear a sound in the backyard.
  • When the motion-sensitive lights go on outside, Alex sees Robbie creeping around her driveway.
  • Alex does her geometry homework. Her door mysteriously closes behind her.
  • Paranormal Activity 4 recovered files hide-and-seek with Jake and AlexAlex, Ben, and their friends play a length game of hide-and-seek inside the house while Alex’s parents are away. Predictably, the scene is loaded with fake scares of the spring-loaded-cat variety; it ends with the friends finding the front door open while the chandelier swings overhead. Jake, the character introduced and then forgotten in the Extended Edition of the film, is featured prominently here.
  • Ben films Alex playing guitar while an electric fan blows her air, creating a music video effect.
  • An additional video chat with Alex; after a fade out and fade in, we see Robbie enter (as seen in the film)
  • Ben films Wyatt and Robbie playing in the sand.
  • While Alex sleeps, the bedroom door opens, revealing Robbie’s silhouette.
  • Alex shows the surveillance videos to her mother and asks when Robbie will be leaving.
  • After the chandelier crash seen in the film, Alex argues with her parents, insisting that something strange is going on.
  • At night, a toy falls on Wyatt’s bed.
  • Ben plays Foosballwith Robbie and Wyatt.
  • In a brief comic scene, the kids play on a slip-in-slide.
  • Dad comes down stairs to sleep on the couch. A shadow appears, which turns out to be the malevolent Katie.
  • Mom gives sedatives to Alex, to calm down her fears.
  • Mom and Dad argue about Alex’s fears. Dad almost seems to believe them, or at least think they should not be dismissed.
  • At breakfast, Wyatt calls himself Hunter (indicating his falling under Robbie’s influence). Mom and Dad shut him up.
  • Mom and Dad talk about Alex again. Dad does not believe his daughter is crazy.

The two most significant scenes are the ones in which Alex’s mother and father discuss their daughter’s growing fears about Robbie and possible supernatural phenomena. One of the major flaws with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is that the parents seem absolutely clueless, despite the video evidence that Ben and Alex are gathering. In these two scenes, we see that Alex’s parents are not completely oblivious to the situation; including them would have filled one small plot hole. (Of course, the parents still don’t actually do anything about Alex’s concerns, so including these scenes would only half-fix the problem.)

CONCLUSION

The Blu-ray disc of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 presents the film with good image and sound, along with additional footage that could please fans who want more than what they got in theatres. However, none of the additional scenes do much to improve a sequel that merely resurrects the same old ghosts.
Note: The unrated version of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (minus “The Recovered Files”) is also available on DVD and on Instant Video. You can purchase the disc here or watch the film instantly here.

Laserblast: What's Wrong with Redbox Rentals

paranormal activity 4 blu-ray redbox
Forget about getting the unrated version of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 at Redbox.

In an era that sees brick-and-mortar video rental stores resembling dinosaurs fated to extinction, the increasingly ubiquitous presence of self-serve Red Box locations in front of convenience stores and even inside some grocery stores is a good sign for those of us who do not want to wait for Netflix to ship us that latest DVD or Blu-ray disc. Redbox also offers other services, dispensing videogames for Wii, PS3, and XBox, and it recently started offering tickets to select events in Los Angeles. With a $1 price for a one-day DVD rental ($1.50 for Blu-ray discs) and a $1 service fee for ticket purchases, Redbox offers great value along with convenience. Unfortunately, it is not quite perfect.
First, Redbox offers only the latest home video releases. I’m not sure what the exact window is, but the standard “shelf life” appears to be about six months, after which a “last chance” warning is flagged on the title in question, which disappears shortly thereafter. Occasionally, an older title returns (e.g. SPIDER-MAN went  back in the box when THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN opened in theatres; PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 is back now that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is out), but generally speaking, if you are interested in anything more than what’s current, you are out of luck.
And by “current,” I mean something with a recent copyright date. New DVDs and Blu-ray discs of older titles do not get into Redbox. If you are hoping to see that new Blu-ray release of Mario Bava’s 1972 neo-Goth BARON BLOOD, you are out of luck, and you might as well forget about the upcoming Blu-ray of Hammer memorable THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970).
Still, these titles appeal to a relatively small slice of today’s homevideo audience, so I cannot blame Redbox too much. However, there is another problem, as I found out this week when I wasted $1.50 on a rental of the new Blu-ray disc of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4: although the DVDs and Blu-rays available for purchase through other outlets (such as Amazon) contain both the original theatrical cut and an unrated extended cut, the discs available for rent through Redbox contain only the R-rated theatrical version.
To be fair, the Redbox website’s FAQ section clarifies that Redbox does not carry NC-17 titles, but it says nothing about unrated titles. Also, the information on the website mentions the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4’s R-rating and the running time (87 minutes for the theatrical version), and nothing on the artwork suggests you are getting anything else. So I guess it is my fault for not looking more closely before renting the Blu-ray disc.
drag me to hell copyHowever, this is not always the case. Redbox sometimes displays artwork indicating that you are getting something more than an R-rated version. For example, the box art for both DRAG ME TO HELL and LOCKOUT clearly indicate “Unrated Edition,” while the accompanying text shows that the film you rent will actually be rated PG-13. This could certainly be construed as false advertising.
Obviously, there are other ways to view the unrated version of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4. The extended cut is available for rent and purchase through steaming and download services such as Amazon and iTunes, but you will not get the 30 minutes of additional scenes available as a Blu-ray bonus feature. For that, you have to purchase the disc or rent it through Netflix and await the arrival days later.
Obviously, a short waiting period is not a great burden, but it is strange that Redbox would cede this advantage to a competitor. Presumably, Redbox is leery of accusations that children might get access to unrated movies, but they already have a system in place to validate for age, in order to prevent R-rated movies from getting into the hands of youngsters. If the system is good enough to do that, then there should be no additional onus on unrated material, which should be available to adult renters.
Redbox remains a useful service. In addition to their current a la cart rental service, they plan to offer a subscription service that will include four one-day rental a month, plus unlimited streaming through Verizon wireless. But it is unfortunate that their selection is so limited. This is no doubt due to the size restrictions of the redboxes themselves (approximately equal to a jukebox), but if they have room for every piece of direct-to-video junk that comes out each week, there should be a way to include unrated titles and also older titles given new home video releases.
Although it may not be viable to stock BARON BLOOD, TWINS OF EVIL, VAMPIRE CIRCUS, and THE VAMPIRE LOVERS at a box in front of every 7-11 store, Redbox does have an online reservation feature and allows you to create accounts listing your order history and movie preferences. Certainly, these features could be tweaked to move discs with specialized appeal into locations convenient for people who want them.

Laserblast 4.2.2: The Sorcerer and the White Snake, Paranormal Activity 4 on demand, Dredd 3D TV

sorcerer-dredd-mark copy

Interested in what new horror, fantasy, and science fiction films are available on home video this week? You have two ways to find out: listen in to this week’s podcast, or read on. In fact, why not do both?

In the Cinefantastique Laserblast Podcast 4.2.2, Dan Persons and Steve Biodrowski run down genre titles coming out on DVD, Blu-ray, and Video on Demand for the week of Tuesday, January 15. Biodrowski reviews THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE – currently available as a “pre-theatrical rental” with a couple of big-screen engagements scheduled for February 8. Persons explores the potential of watching DREDD in 3D without a 3D television set, by way of the 3D Video Wizard Console, which translated the signal from your 3D Blu-ray or streaming service into a picture that can be viewed with blue-and-red 3D glasses.

After that, Biodrowski offers some home video recommendations for the late actor Jon Finch, who passed away last week. Finch starred in Alfred Hitcock’s FRENZY and Roman Polanski’s MACBETH, both of which are available on DVD and through Amazon Instant Viewing (click here for FRENZY and here for MACBETH). Finch also played the young male lead in THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970), which is available on both DVD and through Netflix Instant Video. The DVD (which also contains COUNTESS DRACULA and which you can purchase here) features a nice audio commentary by Ingrid Pitt, who starred as the voracious, voluptuous, and yet vulnerable Countess Mircalla Karnstein. A Blu-ray release is scheduled for April 30; you can pre-order now. Sadly, Finch’s most eccentric and interesting science fiction film, THE FINAL PROGRAMME (a.k.a. THE LAST DAYS OF MAN ON EARTH) is currently out of print, although old copies may be available for purchase at some outlets.

Next up: a new feature titled “Pinch-Hitter Films.” What are Pinch-Hitter Films? As the name implies (a baseball term), Pinch-Hitter Films substitute in a pinch for other films. If you have watched your favorite classic so many times that you never need to see it again, but you still feel a hunger for the sort of entertainment value it used to provide before you exhausted it through repeat viewings, you resort to a Pinch-Hitter Film.

  • Biodrowski offers up MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935), directed by Tod Browing and starring Bela Lugosi as Count Mora, as a pinch-hitter for DRACULA (1931), directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula. MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is no match for its predecessor, but it is a wonderfully atmospheric example of old-fashioned black-and-white Gothic horror, and it does surpass DRACULA in one or two ways (e.g., it actually shows the man-to-bat transformation only suggested in DRACULA).
  • Persons suggests that SILENT RUNNING (1972) is an adequate substitute for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). Although not of the same stature, SILENT RUNNING is a sort of unofficial successor to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, directed by Douglas Trumbull, who provided special effects for SPACE ODYSSEY (in fact, SILENT RUNNING’s sequence of a spaceship passing through the rings of Saturn was originally intended for the earlier film).

EARLY RELEASE STEAMING AND DOWNLOADS

Not mentioned in the podcast but worth noting here, are a handful of “Early Release” home video titles. “Early Release” is the designation being given to films that are made available to be purchased via digital download or cloud streaming prior to arriving on Blu-ray and/or DVD. The general pattern seems to be a two-week window during which titles are priced to sell, followed by release in other home video formats, including rental options.

The most high-profile early release for Tuesday, January 15 is PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4, which is now available in two versions: the original theatrical cut and an unrated extended cut that adds ten minutes to the running time. (Note: the theatrical version is available through iTunes but not Amazon.com, which offers only the unrated version.) Blu-ray discs and DVDs of both cuts will arrive on January 29.

Also available for early online viewing and download is HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, the computer-animated comedy about the titular establishment where monsters gather to avoid humans, until one stumbles in by accident and falls in love with Dracula’s daughter. The film is currently available for purchase in both high-def and standard-def versions at iTunes; Amazon.com has only the standard-def version. Rental options, along with DVDs and Blu-ray discs, will arrive on January 29.

Lastly, THE AWAKENING – the excellent 2011 British ghost story that arrived in U.S. theatres last year – is also now available for early release purchase. Amazon.com has a standard-def version for $11.99; iTunes has the same offer for the same price, plus a high-def version for $19.99. Again, the DVD and Blu-ray release will occur on January 29, at which time you should also be able to rent the film film through your preferred VOD method, whether digital download or instant streaming.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4: CFQ Spotlight Podcast 3:42

Pssst... Forget About Words with Friends and Take a Look Behind You: Kathryn Newton puts evil on the Web in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4.
Pssst... Forget About Words with Friends and Take a Look Behind You: Kathryn Newton puts evil on the Web in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4.

From Paramount’s point-of-view, there’s a compelling reason to continue the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series: It’s a cash-cow — a low-budget, high-earning (number one at the box-office this past weekend) crowd-pleaser.  The studio has some experience in this field, having previously cranked out the FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH films, a franchise that became so threadbare by the end that Jason wound up rampaging on a space station in the 25th century.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 hasn’t yet gotten that desperate — we’re still somewhat in the present day, rather than a future when the series’ found-footage concept would amount to people jacking in to virtual reality terminals — but the strain is beginning to show. Can bringing in a new family, throwing Skype and smart-phones into the voyeurish mix, and carrying forward on the series’ sinister cult story arc give the franchise some sense of forward momentum, or should we just be happy to once again be living through PA’s well-established assortment of ambient chills? Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French and Dan Persons discuss whether 4 makes them wish for no more.
Then, Dan gives his capsule thoughts on the home-video release of the transgressive amateur surgery horror film EXCISION, and we discuss what’s coming to theaters in the next week.

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Paranormal Activity 4: Review

paranormal activity 4 posterAt first glance, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 seems to offer evidence that, despite the filmmakers’ best intentions, the indubitably effective formula of the original PARANORMAL ACTIVTY has run out of ectoplasm. A closer look, however, suggests that this third sequel is a daring formal experiment, one that seeks to answer the question: How far can we run this franchise into the ground before the rubes stop paying to be disappointed?
A harsh assessment? Not really. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY takes all the weaknesses of the original and magnifies them exponentially, while reducing the strengths to ephemeral puffs of smoke that waft across the screen from time to time as vague reminders that, six years ago, this stuff used to be scary.
And that really is the crux of the matter. Forget the repetitive narrative, dull characters, stupid actions, and complete inability to create a convincing “real” world for the supernatural to overturn; PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is a bore from start to finish, seldom generating any suspense and almost never overwhelming you with the convincingly uncanny aura of dread that to a large extent cloaked the original film’s flaws like a funeral shroud.
Perhaps it is not fair to expect PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 to equal the suspense and shocks of the original, but the film fades even in comparison to the previous sequels. Neither PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 nor PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 advanced the narrative in any interesting way (in fact, both pile on the absurdities), but at least they managed to deliver their share of interesting and effective variations on the supernatural scare techniques established in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.

Katie Featherston does her possessed schtick again, in case you didn't get enough of it 2 films ago.
Katie Featherston does her possessed schtick again.

Not so this time out. For those who care, the story centers on pretty blonde teen Alex (Kathryn Newton), whose family rather foolishly takes in Robbie, the creepy kid next door, after his Aunt Katie is taken to the hospital. It’s no secret that Robbie (Brady Allen) and Katie (Katie Featherston, doing her possessed shtick again, in case you didn’t get tired of it two films ago) are the missing pair from the end of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, so it’s only a matter of time – far too much time – before things go bad for Alex.
Rather too much like the previous week’s release from Blumhouse Productions, SINISTER, it turns out that demonic forces are trying to turn a child toward the dark side, but you can bet there is no Obi-Wan around to balance the battle. As bad as SINISTER is, at least that film managed to set its microcosm (a family in a haunted suburban home) within a large (if mostly suggested rather than seen) context that suggested the story was taking place within a believable world.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4, conversely, amplifies the problem of the original, which seemed to take place inside a bubble. It simply goes without saying, at this point, that there is no such thing as social services to take care of Robbie instead of handing him off to a neighbor that doesn’t even know his guardian. Nor does the trauma within Alex’s home impinge on an outside world: there will be no visits from school officials worried that her sleepless nights are impacting her classroom performance. There is no network of friends or acquaintances, no one to run to for help, nothing.
The sole, mildly interesting innovation here is the use of computers instead of security cams to document the “paranormal activity.” This occasionally helps to explain why characters are filming stuff when they should have other priorities (such as: run like hell and get out of the house!), because there are actually a few believable moments when Alex is communicating live with her boyfriend over the Internet, trying to show him what’s going on that is freaking her out. Sadly, this strategy doesn’t kick in until a couple reels into the running time (up till then, it’s just good luck that a camera is pointing in the right direction at the right time). And towards the end, the pretense is simply dropped, when (SPOILER ALERT) Alex is apparently shooting her own demise with her cell phone instead of dialing 911 (END SPOILER).
paranormal-activity-4-levitationWe’re also left to wonder about computers that never go into sleep mode while filming 24 hours a day and that automatically switch to night-vision mode whenever the lights turn out. And why are we told that the demon doesn’t like being watched, even though the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY was based on the idea that attention fed and strengthened the unseen presence. Most of all, we wonder why we’re in the middle of another “Ignorant Plot,” with characters who do not know what is going on – even though they are recording the evidence 24/7! Late in the film, when Alex’s father offers to take her out to dinner to discuss what is happening, she agrees, like a typical movie idiot. Um… Alex, honey, why not pick your damn laptop and show your dad the video of yourself hovering over the bed like Linda Blair in THE EXORCIST?
But it’s not as if this matters, since drama and credibility are no longer what the the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies have on their minds; the scenario is just an excuse to string together the spooky set pieces, which in this case are starting to get tired and more than a bit rote. There is one nice bit with a knife that flies up out of screen, leaving us biting our nails, wondering when it will come back down. There are a couple decent jump scares, and one death is brutal and unexpected enough to generate a shudder.* But the disquieting frisson of fear that raises the hairs on the back of your neck? Forget it – that’s just the theatre’s air conditioning kicking in.
After the anti-climactic climax, diligent psychic investigators may torture themselves further by sitting through the credits, after which they will be “rewarded” with a brief epilogue, consisting of nothing much. A subjective camera wanders into a botanica in a Latino neighborhood, only to be chased out by a proprietor, who might be taken for a witch. What are we to take away from this? Will PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 5 leave white suburbia behind? Maybe those ethnic minorities with their superstitious practices would be better prepared to ward off spooks? This doesn’t sound particularly promising, but at this point, almost anything would be an improvement.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (Paramount, October 19, 2012). 88 mins. Rated R. A Blumhouse Production. Produced by Jason Blum. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Screenplay by Christopher Landon, story by Chad Feehan. Cast: Kathryn Newton, Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden, Matt Shively, Brady Allen, Stephen Dunham.
Paranormal Activity 4: scene from trailer, not included in film
FOOTNOTE:

  • *As with SINISTER, whose most memorable image of horror is its motion poster, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4’s best spook scene is not in the film itself. In this case, it’s the trailer, which offers a few tantalizing glimpses of terror, without forcing us to sit through an hour-and-a-half running time.

Paranormal Activity 4 in theatres October 19

Paramount Pictures releases the third sequel to PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Remember PARANORMAL ACTIVITY? More important: remember how the ending left the story wide open for a sequel? Well, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 and 3 filled in the back story without really telling us too much about what happened next. At last, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY takes us to a time five years after the disappearance of Katie and Hunter, telling the story of a family who begin to get a bit creeped out after a mysterious woman and a a child move in next door. Could it be our missing characters?
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman directed, from a script by Christopher Landon, based on a story by Chad Feehan. Cast: Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Brady Allen, Alisha Boe, Tommy Miranda.
paranormal activity 4 poster