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How Paranormal Activity Became One of The Most Popular Horror Franchise

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Back in 2006, the most popular sequel ridden horror film series was “Saw,” movies simply about torture and extreme gore. The public might have become sick of this tired same old story about people being ripped apart in the most gruesome ways possible, so why not do the exact opposite and capitalize on it? “Paranormal Activity,” is a very pathetic excuse for a new horror series. First released in 2007, the movie centered around the idea that there was a ghost or “demon” haunting an unsuspecting couple, which in the end will kill at least one of them. This idea is not original, but it could have still made a decent horror movie.

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However, with the use of the now new popular subgenre of horror called “found footage,” and lack of an interesting plot, the movie failed to live up to the hype. Yet somehow, 5 more films managed to be produced in the following years all of the way up to 2015, becoming the new “Saw,” as all but one movie was released in late October to get the extra revenue from Halloween. So why is it that a poorly written franchise could have such a popular following (if one could call it that) or people who are completely willing to fork out money as soon as a new movie was released in theaters? Based on the way “Paranormal Activity” was advertised, how it made the “found footage” subgenre more popular, the way it uses cheap jump scares as a replacement for actual horror, perpetrates the use of stereotypes, and profits from the idea that sequels are needed for horror, the series became one of the most popular horror franchise in the late 2000s to early 2010s.

Now probably the biggest and most important factor in sparking interest in a series for anything is advertising, and Hollywood never turns a blind eye to how much advertising they can put out for the public. With “Paranormal Activity” however, the way the movie was presented was a little more unique than most of the standard trailers and TV spots. The way it was advertised involved both of the previous items mentioned but with a slight twist. Basically, the trailers did not actually show the movie, hiding its mediocrity, and it instead focused on showing a theater absolutely terrified from watching the movie, with a night cam used to create a more chilling environment. This unique version of presentation made all of the difference in how the movie was perceived.

They did the classic show not tell to create hype for the movie. People can relate to others feeling scared, and if the theater was screaming, certainly they would be as well and have a great time doing so if they went to see this movie. This is probably the smartest move the franchise had made throughout its entirety. Since no one knew how the movies would pan out, they blindly believed that the theater was an honest to god live reaction to the “scary moments.” And it has to be mentioned that these trailers would be out around Halloween. Most horror movies that plan on becoming popular depend on the Halloween excitement to gain revenue. Previous examples of this are “Saw,” “Halloween,” and many others, as it would only make sense to get the audience in the spirit of the creepy season. The advertisements made such an impact on those who had never heard of “Paranormal Activity,” and without them, the movie would have probably not gained as much revenue as it did. The use of nonstandard advertising is definitely one of the things that the producers of the series are most proud of.

A huge reason that “Paranormal Activity” is as popular as it is is because it made good use of “found footage.” First used in 1999 with the movie “The Blair Witch Project,” “found footage,” has been gaining a rather large surge in popularity. While “The Blair Witch Project,” has grown popular in more recent years, back when it came out, people were more upset that it was not as real as they thought it was. In comes “Paranormal Activity,” to change the face of the subgenre. Even though “Paranormal Activity,” had the same claim to fame as “The Blair Witch Project,” by saying it was based on a true story, the way the camera work was done and the more satisfying ending with the disclaimer that it was fake all along gave it a larger impact. The footage felt even more real, as they had the better angles due to having multiple cameras instead of the single one used in “The Blair Witch Project.”

“Paranormal Activity,” had basically changed the face of “found footage” by using the multiple camera approach, which then inspired more “found footage” movies as it became a much more immersive experience for the moviegoer. Now why is “found footage,” used so much more now than previously? Simple, it saves lots of money for producers. By going in for a “cheaper” look by using simpler camerawork and less flashy shots, this allows a movie to be made for much less than normal. Hollywood being the money grubber that it is has been using this technique ever since they realized they could make more money for less work. Now of course this doesn’t mean a movie will be bad because it cost less to make, but that might motivate the people who work on the project to cut corners in other places as well like having good actors or a well written plot. This is where “Paranormal Activity” falls under unfortunately, but because that is what happened to the franchise, there has been more effort on other movie’s parts to do better.

Unfortunately for the series, the “horror” it uses isn’t actual good horror. Jump scares are used constantly throughout the “Paranormal Activity” series, and that is the only thing that is going for it. There is a “mystery” behind all of the disturbances and demons and whatnot, but that is not the part that scares the audience. The scariest parts are when a character is in the dark and it is dead silent, in which a loud noise barges in and causes everyone to be unnerved. That is the extent of the “terror” in the movies. This is the cheapest and most uncreative way of “scaring” the audience. This also then leads to the movie’s moments being rather forgettable. Because only jumpscares are used, one cannot pinpoint which part of the movie would scare them the most. Compared to movies like “Halloween” where there is constant fear in the audience, “Paranormal Activity” does not have a string of fear throughout the movie, only thriving off of the insignificant jump scares that create only a slight racing of the heart briefly instead of being heart pounding during long and important parts of the movie.

This could easily be called a downgrade to what horror movies had previously used. Horror movies have of course evolved like every other genre to reflect the fears of the time. In the earlier 1900s, monster movies were the most prevalent, with classic monsters like Frankenstein and Dracula. This changed to the more popular movies as the aforementioned “Halloween,” which are more part of the slasher genre, being afraid of some killer that is on the loose who for some reason refuses to actually die. And now we have the brand of horror that is more lazy and utilizes jump scares in present day. This is why “Paranormal Activity” cannot be considered a good horror series, nothing stays with the audience as they leave. No one will actually remember these types of movies in the years to come unlike the classic scares of monsters or slashers because these new types of horror movies are not memorable, which is quite sad as the movies had the potential for scares that could scar the viewer forever.

In following Hollywood suit, a horror movie or series would not be complete if it did not contain the stereotypical white suburban white family. Everyone makes the joke that white people are always used in horror films because only white people would actually stay in a haunted house or woods or wherever the place of danger is and think everything is fine. This joke was created due to the fact that horror movies usually only contain white families or friends that do not use common sense. “Paranormal Activity” is no different. In the first movie, it has a white couple who argue about the use of a camera and nothing interesting until the boyfriend dies via ghost demon. The second movie has a white family with a dad who does not believe there is a ghost demon until the mom gets possessed.

The third movie is about the women in the first two movies and their childhood of the white family in the 80s and no one believes the girls’ mother’s boyfriend about the same ghost demon. The fourth movie is about yet another white family who just willingly accepts a strange acting child which allows the ghost demon to torment and kill the family. One can get the picture that it is the same story about white people not believing the same thing over and over again. This becomes very boring very quickly. Now with such poor writing it probably would not matter if there were people of color instead of white people, but surprisingly, the fifth movie breaks the norm of these movies by using a Hispanic family. Obviously they were stereotyped as well however, living in a poorer and more dangerous area, but unlike the white families, they are sincerely concerned as soon as they realize what is happening. So why add a different perspective of the demon in a centralized white family horror series?

The producers wanted to have a wider audience for their low rated movies. Not to appeal to the white demographic, but to the Hispanic demographic. This half hearted attempt to grab more people into the audience makes the series seem to some, racist. There is no actual reason to switch up who these hauntings happen to because the fifth movie barely even relates to the other four. It was just to make a cash grab from not white people. This hits a very new low for horror, and these stereotypes quickly go from cliched to insulting, and that might be another reason only one more movie came out in the series, putting the final nail in the coffin.

So despite all of these flaws, why is it that a member of an audience can enjoy such bland horror? Of course any movie can become a guilty pleasure, something that is absolutely rotten can be loved by some people, but this series still begs more films to be released. Perhaps the audience wants to see an actual conclusion to the barely structured plot. Or maybe it is the fact that Hollywood has conditioned the audience to expect sequels. A single movie can no longer contain all of the answers for a franchise, it has to be dragged out to the fullest extent. The more movies in the series, the better the plot has to be right? Not necessarily. Hollywood substitutes quality for quantity in most newer movies. As long as a movie has some plot but not all of the answers, it will leave the average movie goer wanting more and more, so they will spend more money trying to figure out what those answers are.

The “Paranormal Activity,” franchise has 6 movies, and yet there is still no clear cut answer nor will Hollywood put more effort in as they have made the money off of it without even trying. If they gave the series a specific end, it would be harder to maybe make another sequel sometime down the line or even reboot it. Now there are definitely some good horror movies like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th,” which by themselves can stand alone as a good movie just tainted by several sequels and reboots. With “Paranormal Activity” however, the original movie does not satisfy the consumer needs because it has so many unanswered questions, which leads to the sequels having to fill in the gaps in a very lazy way. So the audience still wants more due to the idea of “oh the sequel will explain it,” and not actual quality of the movie. This is extremely disappointing, because a horror movie should be able to stand alone as an excellent piece of work and sequels should only benefit it, yet it is used as a leg to stand on because the first movie was simply not enough.

“Paranormal Activity,” is simply a series of films that got its big break from a different approach to advertising, capitalized off of the “found footage” era, used lazy scare tactics to keep its audience on their toes, had controversial stereotypes, and believed sequels were the answer to all of their problems. Did this series have the potential? Yes it did, but with a lack of memorable horror, even less memorable characters, and least of all a cohesive plot, the series had ruined all chances of being salvageable. It is quite disappointing, but also very curious, because while the series is overall very bland, it is still appealing to quite a few people. Maybe the style of the film left an impact for some. Maybe the plot actually did peak some people’s interests. Whatever the case, people still did enjoy at least the first few movies. If “Paranormal Activity” actually had a well written script, relatable characters, and more answers rather than questions in the series, there is no doubt it would be deemed as one of the best horror series in history.

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The idea of having a ghost demon in a house one lives in with no way to fully remove it is an absolutely terrifying concept, so it is very unfortunate that “Paranormal Activity” could not be the series to make it big. It would be even more terrifying with that “found footage” technique because of how real it would feel for everyone in the audience. But now thankfully, “found footage” is becoming even more popular, with movies like “V/H/S” and“Quarantine.” The movies themselves still are not as great as they could be because it is horror produced by Hollywood, but maybe they will be able to perfect it someday. It just had to start somewhere in a very popular way. So whether or not people truly liked “Paranormal Activity,” as a series, it paved a stronger road than “The Blair Witch Project,” for creating a different type of horror movie, and potential waiting to be unlocked.

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