A strong argument could be made that Paranormal Activity is one of the greatest horror franchises of all time. But before Jason & Freddy fanboys get out their pitchforks, just hear me out.
None of these rank among the best horror films ever made. As someone who’s seen just about everything the genre has to offer, I wouldn't even rank one in the top 50, nor do I think any of them are future classics. Not only that, the novelty of found footage became old hat a long time ago, overused by would-be auteurs armed with more ambition than talent (or resources).
But even though it wasn’t the first found footage film, Paranormal Activity was the first good one, with a simple story that exploits the inherent visual minimalism of video to great effect. Oddly atmospheric, deliberately paced and mostly free of special effects, what it lacks in blood and a body count is compensated by slow-building tension, with one of the mothers of all jump scares putting an exclamation mark on the whole thing.
Par for the course, the law of diminishing returns certainly applies to the sequels, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that, aesthetically, they dish-out more of the same. But in the context of the franchise, none of them completely screw the pooch, either, mainly because they still provide legitimate reasons for these characters to be filming everything they do. Found footage is never used as a cost-cutting gimmick. It’s integral to the narrative, even as later entries began to rely on the type of special effects and on-screen violence that bigger budgets allow (most notably, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension).
Even so, this isn’t just the same movie made over and over again. The first three sequels build on the events of the original, creating a story arc involving Katie (the original’s “antagonist”), time-hopping portals and a malevolent entity known as Tobi. Even the inevitable prequel (Paranormal Activity 3) ends up being a vital part of The Ghost Dimension’s story rather than a cynical attempt to milk a brand name. Sure, there are occasions when the series threatens to crawl up its own ass with these complexities, but unlike the Saw franchise, the pace, tone and structure of remain constant: The innocuous first act, the increasingly insidious presence and, of course, the downbeat climax where most of the characters meet a horrible demise.
|When termites go unchecked.
Unwavering consistency makes the Paranormal Activity franchise greater than the sum of its parts, each entry delivering more-or-less as promised while contributing just enough new story elements to justify their existence. Seven films in (and an eighth on the way), the concept may be wearing out its welcome for some - understandably so - but that’s not the same as shitty sequels tarnishing otherwise decent franchises. That’s why it deserves mention among horror’s best.
Paranormal Activity: The Ultimate Chills Collection is a terrific boxed set, 10+ hours of cinema vérité creepiness for longtime fans (or the merely curious). Not only is it a great way to get all the movies at once, this is the Blu-ray debut of Next of Kin (and as of this writing, unavailable separately). It also comes with an ninth disc featuring a brand new feature-length documentary about the entire franchise, as well as a faux security window sticker to amuse the neighbors.
UNKNOWN DIMENSION: THE STORY OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY - Bonus disc featuring an excellent feature-length documentary spanning the entire franchise (though shot while Next of Kin was still in production).
EXTENDED UNRATED VERSIONS - Of Paranormal Activity 1-6.
3-D VERSION OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION
DELETED SCENES - From every film.
WINDOW STICKER - Round window sticker that read, “Monitored by PA (Paranormal Activity).