Thyurl Varpenshield shouldered the mighty broadsword, NapeSplitter, and double-checked his provisions bag. “Old man!” he cried good-naturedly into the depths of the household.
From out of the kitchen, a gnarled, ancient figure emerged, wiping his hands on a dish towel. “What be on with ye now, yon whippersnapper?” he snarled cantankerously.
“Father, I am off!”
“Good with ye, then,” the wizened figure chortled crankily. “What be it this time? Giants? Orcs? Or be it that comely serving wench over at the Bard’s Uvula?”
“None of those,” Thyurl responded jovially. “I go to confront a motion picture: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES.”
“Be it that spin-off chapter of the franchise I’ve heard tell about?” the old man groused darkly. “The one conjured specifically to court the Latino market, members of whom follow the series most assiduously?”
“Indeed it is!” Thyurl chirruped happily.
“Not at all,” Thyurl mused sunnily. “I fear this may be my undoing. I hath spoken upon my colleagues, Steven of the Biodrowski, Lawrence of the French, and Dan of the Persons, of the kingdom Cinefantastique Online, and they beheld bad tidings. Said Daniel, “Steve and I have checked out the first film of 2014, and found it ushers the New Year in not with bang, but with a decidedly derivative whimper.”
“Oddly worded,” the old man surled snarkily. “But such is the lot of the pre-technology movie critic.”
“‘Tis true,” Thyurl keened brightly. “This bane may prove my final match.”
“Pffft,” the old man spurted gnarledly. “Ye shall have a good snooze, and emerge refreshed, if not at all enlightened.”
“From your mouth to the great god Lowarken’s thorax,” Thyurl barked wittily, as he gathered his provisions. “Fare ye well, Father, I am off!”
“Hold up!” the old man snapped grouchily. “Have ye brought enough adjectives with ye?”
“I do believe so,” Thyurl replied replyingly, glancing within his sack. “I have mighty, vast, imposing, dark, twisted, menacing, gnarled, beautiful, bewitched, enchanted, bedeviled, ensorcered, and chipper.”
“That be enough for such a quest,” the old man cranked nonchalantly, waving an arthritic paw. “Off with ye now.”
Thyurl grasped the sack, and strode determinedly from his home, out into the bright sunlight of the kingdom of Thyrystia. Whereupon he was promptly run over by a runaway manure cart and died painfully several days later of dysentery.
DC Entertainment chief has interesting choices for film adaptation… Latino PARANORMAL ACTIVITY gets delayed… FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY is on the march, we wish we could show it to you…
From the luxurious Cinefantastique Online studios in NYC, Dan Persons brings you up-to-date on what’s happening in fantastic film & TV.
In defiance of conventional wisdom, the second week of 2013 sees yet another film that doesn’t aspire to the bottom-of-the-barrel stature usually typified by early-in-the-year releases. Quite to the contrary, A HAUNTED HOUSE sets out to deflate found-footage horror in general, and the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise in specific, and more often than not hits its targets quite capably. It’s raunchy, yes, and willfully offensive to any number of special interest groups, but funny is funny, and Marlon Wayans as a boyfriend confronting weird goings-on — including a ghost with a taste for both weed and strange — when his girlfriend (Essence Atkins) moves in turns out to be pretty damn funny.
Come join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski and Dan Persons as they sit down to discuss the hits and misses in this uninhibited satire, weighing the relative, comedic value of menacing household help, foul-mouthed exorcists, and the reintroduction of the word “Mandingo” to the popular lexicon. Plus: What’s coming to theaters next week.
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.
At 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.
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). We’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. 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.
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.
And so the story of two sisters vexed by supernatural forces — as captured by conveniently located video cameras — continues, or begins, or ends depending on how you want to look at it, in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3. Another prequel set in 1988 and purportedly recorded on VHS equipment — which doesn’t really account for the broadcast-quality image — the film purports to show how sisters Katie and Kristi Ray were first courted as children by forces malevolent, leading to the chaos depicted in the previous entries.
Those who are acquainted with the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise will know what to expect (although maybe not when to expect it), but is more of the same enough? Join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons as they patiently await the manifestations and debate whether this strung-out origin tale fills in narrative gaps or just restates already established history with more ungainly video equipment.
Also: A discussion of the Wachowski’s imminent return to genre and Bryan Singer’s bid to retell the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA legend once more. Plus: what’s coming in theatrical and home video releases.
Deadline New York have the scoop on the director for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, and it’s Tod Williams. Originally scheduled director Kevin Greutert (SAW VI) would have done the job if it were not for Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures forcing him to direct SAW VII 3D.
Williams doesn’t have much on his filmography thus far (and even less involving horror), but was the director of 2004’s THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR. He seems like a strange choice for director and it seems even stranger that Lionsgate would pit PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 up against SAW 3D on the same day; Halloween 2010. The original PARANORMAL ACTIVITY was a nice breath of fresh air for the horror genre, drawing on the power of the imagination rather than relying on shock tactics to scare. Whether or not Williams can make a worthy sequel is yet to be seen but as usual we’ll keep you updated with any news on the project as it emerges.
Production for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 starts in May, with the studio aiming to release the film this Halloween season.
PARANORMAL ACITIVITY presents itself as “found footage” shot by a couple who became the victims of a demonic entity. Nearly a decade after THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, the faux-documentary approach is a little tired, as is the attempt to pass this story off as “true” (including a closing title card dedicated to the “victims”).
Fortunately, once you get past the artistic contrivance, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is frequently terrifying. The story – essentially a two-person character drama – focuses on Katie, who has been haunted all her life by some kind of spirit or demon. Her boyfriend Micah buys a camera hoping to substantiate her claim, but it rapidly becomes obvious that he is less interested in helping her than in documenting the phenomenon; if anything, the camera seems to aggravate the situation, as if the unseen demon is feeding off the attention focused on it; the haunting intensifies, eventually reaching lethal proportions.
One way in which PARANORMAL ACTIVITY’s allegedly true story betrays itself is the presentation of Katie and Michah: despite absolutely convincing performances, the couple are obviously movie people with no real life outside the events we see in their house. The camera never follows them outside; there are only fleeting references to life and work, and they seem to have absolutely no support group of friends or family to help out when things almost literally go to hell.
In spite of this, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY works because of the low-key approach to the scares, which start so simply and build up so incrementally that you believe every one of them as if they were actually happening. Sure, there are passages where you may find yourself wanting to yell at the characters for being so stupid, and one or two moments are unintentionally funny (as when a psychic investigator bails out in a panic, having barely entered the room), but that doesn’t diminish the icy hand you will feel climbing up your spine when the floorboards start to creek and shadows shift in the darkness.
Unfortuantely, since screening at the 2007 Screamfest in Hollywood, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY fell of the radar. DreamWorks purchased the rights, with the intention not to release the micro-budget independent the film but to remake it as a glossy Hollywood production. In order to protect their investment, the studio suppressed subsequent festival dates and shelved the movie. Too bad – the original deserves to be seen. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007). Written and directed by Oren Peli. Cast: Amber Armstrong, Michael Bayouth, Katie Featherston, Mark Fredrichs, Randy McDowell, Tim Piper, Micah Sloat.