The law of diminishing returns strikes the hardest in the horror industry. To fans of any particular franchise, this may not seem evident. I’ve seen fans of FRIDAY THE 13TH tie themselves up in rhetorical knots in a desperate attempt to justify the continued existence of a franchise that should have died in 1984. I’ve seen HALLOWEEN fans try to explain why we need another damn HALLOWEEN movie, going on about plot lines that could be explored and scenarios that have not yet been taken advantage of. Both of those groups of fans are wrong but they cannot see it. They’re too in love with the idea of Jason and Michael to see that these films ran out of intellectual steam ages ago. And worse, their blood stained horror hijinks no longer have any real impact. The desire to keep on keepin’ on, churning out sequel after sequel, appeals to producers and studio men. The development cost is cheaper on a franchise film than a new property. There is an existing fan base that will spend money on tickets. It’s a safe bet. That’s why they exist. That’s why they always have existed.
And fans keep on going, swallowing up the regurgitated bits and pieces of the previous films, lost in a deluded haze of pretentiousness, that this somehow all means something, that this new film is continuing a real story. But there is no story. A new FRIDAY THE 13TH film could exist without any of the other films. HALLOWEEN ditches any kind of continuing story at the first sign of audience displeasure. It’s just the same thing over and over again, a fact that turns many of these sequels into little more than remakes. Fans of the SAW franchise think the whole series of films were planned in advance, that the whole ordeal was meant as a kind of horror movie mega-epic. Truth is, the box office returns for SAW 2 were good, so someone started writing SAW 3. The box office returns were good for SAW 3 so they started writing SAW 4. Had any of those films bombed, SAW would have ended there. And what did we gain for allowing SAW to run all the way to part 7? We got seven films of the same fucking thing. Nothing more.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY should not have been a franchise. The original was good for what is was: an exceedingly simple exercise in the cheapest form of horror imaginable. It was a film predicated upon the jump scare. Why is the jump scare the cheapest form of horror imaginable? Because it doesn’t take any skill to accomplish. We’ve all used this technique on our friends. It’s simple.
Everyone jumps. And the producers make millions.
That isn’t good horror. That isn’t even passable horror. That’s cheap, amateur shit. But the film made a fuckton of money and out came the sequels. The second film tried to expand the story past two people. It now expounded on a family haunting whispered about in the first film. Fair enough. The third film decided to then explore the childhood of Katie, the protagonist of the first film (and antagonist of the second film) and Kristi, Katie’s sister and the protagonist of the second film. It threw in a coven of witches (or Satanists, or whatever) to spice up the proceedings. Taken as a whole, we have virtually nothing in terms of a story. All we have are three examples of how to wring money out of a shitty joke.
None of these films have a story. They just have a formula. The first third is an explanation of how it is that these people have video cameras all over their houses. The second is when we get a lot of bangs and bumps. The final third always features someone getting tossed or dragged around by a ghost. None of the films break that structure. We get a few lines providing exposition. But exposition isn’t a story. It’s what you write when you’re desperately trying to make it appear as though you have a story. The other thing missing from all of these films is an ending. None of these films have one. They just end. That makes the entire series of films feel episodic. We’re expected to want to go see the next one, if only in hopes that the producers of these shit films finally figure out how to end one for a change.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is basically PARANORMAL ACTIVITY for younger teenagers. Look, they’re using a Kinect! Look, they’re using webcams! Look, there’s a pretty, young blonde in the lead! It fucking screams “pandering to a younger audience”. The rest just screams “pandering to the sheep”. The set-up is exactly the same. The lead starts hearing noises. The lead starts thinking the house is haunted. The lead sets up an elaborate camera system, watching footage of all kinds of spooky shit, does nothing as a result, all the secondary characters are CGI killed, lead character gets assaulted then the film just stops. There you go. You now know everything that happens in every single PARANORMAL ACTIVITY film. Save your money.
The only thing I find interesting about these shitty films is the camera set-up sequences. You can tell that it’s the only real thought that goes into writing them. I can imagine the meetings for the sequels.
“How do we solve the camera set-up problems?"“I know, we can have them attach a camcorder to an oscillating fan!”
“Brilliant! The idiots will eat that up!”
Now, of course I don’t think that the people who enjoy these films are idiots. I think they’re just people who enjoy idiotic films. They’re the kind of people who piss their pants on roller coasters despite being able to see the drop coming from a mile away. These are horror films for the easily frightened, like the Goosebumps version of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. There is no inventiveness, no striving for anything more than routine “boos!” and nothing by way of a story. They’re lazy and pointless, and the more of them that get released to theaters, the more that becomes obvious. I finished PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 in a state of confusion. If this is what popular horror has become, then perhaps it was time I found a new favorite genre.