31 Days of Our Favorite Horror Films, Day 7

NOTE: This entry is actually a repost from a blog entry that I made three years ago after watching Paranormal Activity 3. I was going to write an original post for this movie, but then I revisited this blog entry from three years ago and feel that it captures what I feel about the Paranormal Activity series in general, and specifically about part three. – Jay

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011, dirs. Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman)

MONDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2011

The Paranormal Affect of Activities

On Friday afternoon, I sat inside of Theater 3 at the Alamo Drafthouse Park North, eagerly awaiting the start of the third entry into the Paranormal Activitymovie series. I anticipated the movie even though I knew how deeply the movie might affect me afterwards.

If you don’t already know this about me, dear readers, then let me be the one to tell you that although I consider myself to be a man of rationality and refined opinions and tastes I am in reality as superstitious as an illiterate 15th century peasant farmer. I believe in ghosts, or displaced energy if you prefer the term, as well  as demons. I also don’t dick around with forces that I can’t comprehend by playing with Ouija boards, tarot cards, or palm reading. They’re all probably harmless parlor tricks, but I don’t take a chance with my eternal soul; I’ve done and witnessed things that have probably done the trick for me already.
When the first Paranormal Activity came out in October 2009 I was hesitant to see it because my overactive imagination kicked into high gear when a classmate at UTSA gave her testimonial about the movie during a class discussion about ghosts. She was a devout Christian (or so she said in class) and she gave what I could only consider was the greatest marketing testimonial statement possible, “I regret seeing that movie (Paranormal Activity) because I am pretty sure that some entity or something worked its way into my life. I haven’t been able to sleep, my boyfriend and I are fighting more often since I’ve seen it, and I have horrific thoughts.” My first thought was “maybe she’s just naturally predisposed to nuttiness. I don’t know how a movie can influence one’s life for better or for worse.” I had my own thoughts on the subject, and the more I thought about it, the more credence I gave to her comments. I thought of the stories my dad and grandfather told me about the hysteria created when The Exorcist came out, and the claims that people made about evil spirits attacking them as punishment for watching the movie. Now I really wanted to see that movie.Ever since I was a wee lad, I always found a way to push the envelope of my tolerance towards media that frightened me. I wanted to prove to my parents that I could handle whatever they could, especially whatever my dad could handle. I remember watching parts of John Carpenter’s The Thing on cable, episodes of The Twilight Zone, and movies hosted by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Although I watched those movies with my dad in the room with me, I was adamant that my parents know how strong I was. I remember them being uncertain at first but eventually relented as it seemed that they had agreed to limit my exposure and discuss the movie with me afterward to give me context to what I had just seen. My father constantly reminded me that “It’s only a movie. They (the monsters, ghosts, demons, etc.) can’t hurt you. It’s all make believe.” I nodded assuredly and sat through the movies or television shows that I was scared of.

When driving home after the first movie, I thought to myself: “If the crucifix hanging above my bedroom doorway was on the ground or damaged in any way when I walk in, it’s gonna be ‘Peace out bitches! I’m burnin’ this mofo to the ground!'” Then again, I was moving out of that apartment at the time, so I could have probably made a few phone calls to make that move happen quicker if I needed to, but thankfully my Lord was still peacefully perched above my doorway when I got home. I did however make the sign of the cross over myself several times just to be safe (such a good, superstitious, Catholic boy!). And the second movie was similar, except that I kept hearing noises in the house that I knew were just a part of the house settling (that’s what I still maintain to this day). After I saw the first two Paranormal Activity movies I had trouble sleeping; rather I had trouble letting myself fall asleep.

With the third movie, I was definitely left with many thoughts about the movie. I wasn’t “disturbed” per se, but I was definitely caught off guard by how effective the scares were in the movie. More so I was unnerved at how the mythology of the titular paranormal activity was constructed. By making the third movie a prequel and setting it during the childhood of the two sisters, the audience is given insight into just how far back the inclusion of the entity/demon goes. There are larger ideas that I won’t go into because it is “spoiler territory” and I won’t do that for those who haven’t seen the movie yet. I will say this: that family is pretty much screwed from the word “go”, especially the two daughters. What really stuck with me was the fact that one seemingly arbitrary character was willing to let great harm come to the family in the name of personal gain.

As a movie geek, I love the conventions experimented with throughout theParanormal Activity series and how the “found footage” genre has evolved over the years, especially since one of the most successful examples of the genre, The Blair Witch Project. That movie was another one that kept me up listening for strange sounds around the  house and other places I found myself alone. And what I think makes these types of films successful is the amount of imagination is required by the viewer to truly enjoy the experience. For me, I have a crazy imagination and that feeds my superstition, which in turn really adds to my enjoyment of these types of movies. The genre doesn’t have to be limited to the supernatural for me to really be drawn into the movie, but it helps.

One example that I can think of that is not supernatural in nature, but was an early example of the found footage genre was Nine Inch Nail’s infamous Broken (aka The Broken Movie) that was made as a companion piece for the EP of the same title. When I first saw this video it was on VHS and was procured by one of my best friends at my constant urging (“buy it dude, buy it!”). When we watched it I was at once mesmerized, revolted, and horrified. The texture of the video, the distorted images and color imbalances, combined with the “realistic” look of the video added to the believability of the scenario. Between the violence of the VHS portions was actual professionally shot videos for the album; or perhaps it was the other way around. I was in shock by the end and to an extent convinced that some poor soul was tortured to death while filmed with a camcorder; I was pretty convinced we had just watched a “snuff film”. Seems that the FBI was also convinced as they investigated the video for the same reason, at least according to legend. The short film lives on in infamy, and rightfully so because of the framing of the disturbing content.

While the Paranormal Activity series is not quite as disturbing as Broken, it still affects the way I view portrayals of “reality” in media, as well as in my own life. Could there really be such demonic entities that will go to any lengths in order to “collect” someone’s life? Should I be concerned about my own spiritual well being, or even my life, if I am exposed to media that portrays demonic entities? I don’t the answers to either of those questions, but I do know that like most people, I like a good scare every once in a while. A good night of sleep afterward doesn’t hurt either.

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