It’s so true it’s almost cliché: Paranormal Activity is this decade’s answer to the The Blair Witch Project. Like the horrifying ’90s cult classic, Paranormal is shot in a budget friendly mockumentary style, is responsible for frightening audiences out of theaters and is inspiring nightmares across the nation.
Even Oren Peli, director of Paranormal, admits that it’s easy to compare the films. In a phone interview with The Miami Hurricane, he said, “Blair Witch is the most successful movie that employed the cinema variety mockumentary style, but I’ve been a fan of that even before, since Spinal Tap. But Blair Witch definitely showed that if it’s done right, with good acting and good writing and good editing, that type of movie can actually be very commercially successful.”
To date, Paranormal has a domestic box office gross exceeding $40 million. The film tells the story of a young couple who moves into a new home in the suburbs, only to discover the home isn’t so peaceful when they shut off the lights. Peli said he knew from the get-go that the simple plot would strike a chord with audiences.
“If you set up the setting for all the horrific things in someone’s bedroom, then that’s what you’re going to be thinking about when you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep,” Peli said. “After people watched The Blair Witch Project, people said, you know, ‘I’m never going to go camping again.’ Or after Jaws people said, ‘I’m never going to go swim in the ocean.’”
But Paramount Pictures wasn’t always convinced that former video game creator Peli’s $15,000 film would be a bankable hit. The studio made a strategic move by coinciding the Sept. 25 limited release with the promotion of a website moviegoers could use to “demand” that the film come to their town.
“Paramount knew that you can’t really release this movie in a standard type of a way,” Peli said. “There’s really not a whole lot you can show in the trailer and you don’t have any star power behind it. So they didn’t want to just throw a lot of money into it, and frankly didn’t even know how fans were going to respond to it. So they figured the best way to just put it out there slowly, you know, release it and let fans be in control of deciding if they want to see it or not, and where they want to see it.”
The plan worked: one million people requested the film, driving an Oct. 16 wide release. But it remains to be seen if Paranormal will outperform Blair Witch, which has grossed nearly $250 million worldwide in the decade since its release.