21
Oct
11

Paranormal Activity Dragged Me to Hell with The Blair Witch

Kanye always be interruptin’

It’s hard to be original in the horror genre. That genre, more so than any other, requires very specific tropes. In order to create a horror movie, you must adhere to well-worn, extremely tired genre cliches. I suppose this is true for any genre, but for horror it goes to an entirely different level. Here is a list of genre tropes in general for horror movies:

  1. An average, identifiable person is the protagonist.
  2. A monster/villain will kill off the other characters, usually one by one.
  3. When the monster/villain starts murdering people and/or wreaking havoc, no one will believe the protagonist regarding what is going on.
  4. Most female characters will get naked.
  5. Any female characters that do get naked will die and therefore cannot be the protagonist.
  6. All characters that have sex will die.
  7. Black, Hispanic, Asian (any non-white race) characters will die and therefore cannot be the protagonist.
  8. The monster/villain will have exactly one weakness which coincidentally is the only way to kill it.
  9. The monster/villain must always be killed twice.
  10. When terrible shit starts happening, the characters must always “split up” in order to make it easier to be killed.
  11. Cell phones will never work.
  12. Cars will never start.
  13. Flashlight batteries will always be dead, and lighters will always be out of fluid, making it dark at all times.
  14. When running away from the monster/villain, one or all characters will fall down and be unable to stand back up.
  15. When wanting to get another character’s attention, the best way to do it is to silently approach them and quickly grab their shoulder, preferably in a dimly lit room or cemetery.

While these may be all-encompassing for horror movies as a whole, there are several sub-genres with even more rigid guidelines. For example:

  • Slasher Movie – All characters will be teenagers. The protagonist will always be female. People will die with copious amounts and blood and often times inventive deaths. The “scares” will come from the director having things pop out during tense scenes in order to startle the audience. There will be no three-dimensional characters. The only character growth allowed will be the timid, nerdy protagonist transforming into a badass monster killer. Examples include Halloween and Friday the 13th.
  • Haunted House – An unsuspecting family will move into a new home. The home will be haunted by evil spirits of previous occupants who were murdered there and/or ghosts from the Indian burial ground the home was built on. The “scares” will start off small and build up to more ludicrous things by the end. Typically a human character will be possessed at one point and go on a murderous rampage. Examples include The Amityville Horror and The Shining.
  • Torture Porn – This is the newest of the horror sub-genres. It is comprised of nothing more than the director’s attempts to gross out the audience as much as possible. To do this the director will film close-ups of the most disgusting bodily functions imaginable. The “scares” come while blood and guts fly across the screen and the audience tries to keep itself from vomiting. Examples include Hostel and The Human Centipede.
  • Exorcism Film – A young child (female) will become possessed by an evil demon and/or the devil. “Scares” come as the possessed child does crazy shit like speak in a deep demonic sounding voice, levitate, spit pea soup, etc. There will always be tons of Catholic imagery, priests, holy water, etc. These movies are ALWAYS “based on a true story.” Examples include The Exorcist and, well, anything with the word “Exorcism” in the title.

So now to my point. The horror genre and its sub-genres are so rigidly defined that it is almost impossible to write anything fresh or original. If you adhere too closely to the rules you create derivative crap, if you stray too far, then you cease to make a horror movie. It’s almost impossible to make a movie that is simultaneously good and considered a part of the horror genre. I am by no means a big fan of the horror genre. If you’ve seen one, you’ve basically seen them all. However, I recently and coincidentally watched two horror movies, Drag Me to Hell and Paranormal Activity.

Only the best “indie” horror movies come with swag.

Paranormal Activity is one of those movies that uses the bullshit “found footage” technique. This is basically Hollywood’s latest concept for maximizing profits. What they do is film a movie on hand-held cameras, pass it off as an amateur made movie, spit it into all the theaters nationwide, and then charge $10 a ticket in order to make a 500% profit margin. I really fucking hate “found footage” movies. They just look like cheap amateur garbage, which Hollywood tries to pass off as realistic, but they are just as badly written, directed, and acted as any of the high-priced turds Hollywood cranks out on a monthly basis.

The most famous example of a “found footage” movie is The Blair Witch Project. I remember the first (and only) time I watched this movie was in my freshman year of college. I hadn’t bothered to see the movie until this point, because I knew it was going to be a giant piece of shit. There was this guy who lived in my dorm, Blair Witch Dude, who was obsessed with the movie, and invited everyone over to his room for a “Blair Witch Party.” That’s what you do freshman year in the dorms, you go to room parties. Anyway, I was invited, and being a reclusive shut-in my initial reaction was to say no. However, my computer’s queue was still taking a long time to download all that porn, and I didn’t have anything better to do. I said to myself, “Maybe I could meet some real human girls.” So, I went.

I should have known things were going to be lame when I got there. The entire audience was made up of dudes with the exception of one girl, who was Blair Witch Dude’s girlfriend. How could a guy who looked like an anorexic scarecrow high on crack have a girlfriend? Anyway, just before he started the movie he announced, “LOL OKAY YOU GUYS AFTER I START THE MOVIE THE LIGHTS ARE GOING OUT AND NO ONE CAN LEAVE THE ROOM I HOPE YOU DON’T GET TOO SCARED LOL!” I leaned back and hoped for the best. What I got instead was The Blair Witch Project. The movie was non-stop shit. Like one of those shits you take where you can feel the turd hanging off your ass but it just won’t drop into the toilet. This movie was a tease like that. I kept waiting and waiting for something to fucking happen, but nothing ever did. All it consisted of was shakey cam-corders as the characters ran around, half the time filming the ground. I got to see plenty of dirty and fallen tree leaves. And of course there was the famous scene where we got to look up a girl’s nose and watch a long line of snot run down her face. (Her snot was the scariest thing in the entire movie.) The “scares” came when the characters were in their tents and the “witch” (a.k.a. the director) grabbed the tents from the outside and shook them. OOOHHHH THE TENTS ARE SHAKING I’M REALLY FUCKING TERRIFIED NOW! But everyone raved about this movie. Maybe the really awesome parts were at the end? All this fucking boring nonsense was just buildup for a mind-blowing finale? Nope. It just ends when the characters go into the basement of some house, some inexplicable shit happens, and someone stands in the corner taking a piss. That’s it. I was so fucking mad I had just wasted 90 minutes of my life on this trash. Blair Witch Dude jumped up and jubilantly exclaimed, “LOL OHMYGAWD YOU GUYS THAT WAS SOOOO SCARY! I WAS TOTALLY SCARED! WEREN’T YOU ALL SCARED!?” By this point, I was convinced that his “girlfriend” was nothing more than a coverup. Also, the fact that this was a hit movie spoke volumes to me about the movie-going public’s taste as a whole. I think that might have been a defining moment in my life, a time when I started to realize that most movies are terrible, and idiots are always going to love them.

Oh wow, some sticks, I’m really *yawn* scared now…

So, yeah, anyway, Paranormal Activity uses the same bullshit “found footage” technique that The Blair Witch Project used. Within the first five minutes I hated it. It was cheesy, overacted, and had crappy production values. Of course, this is how we are supposed to believe it was made on a low budget as it is “a true account of what happened to two jackasses.” But come on, we aren’t dumb enough to fall for that twice. Or are we?

Paranormal Activity fits neatly into the Haunted House sub-genre of horror. This yuppie couple Katie and Micah (although they pronounce it MEEKAH) move into a new home. Some weird stuff happens and they decide to film it. MEEKAH buys the biggest fucking professional camera he can find. Most of the movie is from his perspective as he holds the camera and films shit. This was actually quite brilliant on the part of the director as he didn’t have to hire a cameraman and incur additional costs. So, as the sub-genre requires, the scary parts start out slow and seemingly innocuous and build as the movie progresses. Some of the “scary” parts include: What’s that noise? It’s the icemaker. SCARY! Someone moved my keys to the floor in the middle of the night. FRIGHTENING! Look out, it’s a spider. HORRIFYING! To be fair, as the movie progresses, the “scares” become more solid. They consist of demon stomping around the house, slamming doors, breaking shit, setting things on fire, and possessing characters (which is a sub-genre requirement). To my surprise, the movie got better as it went along. By the mid-point I found myself extracting a small amount of enjoyment from it. The only really “good” part of the movie is a scene in which Katie is suddenly dragged out of bed in the middle of the night. Oh, and also the part where MEEKAH died (oops, spoilers!). I loved seeing that stupid motherfucker die, mostly because his name is pronounced MEEKAH.

The biggest problem with Paranormal Activity, is that it is extremely repetitive. “Scary” night scenes alternate with “safe” day scenes, ad nauseam. Even though the movie was only 85 minutes long, this predictable repetition made the movie become slow and boring. For a horror movie to be scary, you need to be scared at any given time, not told, “Okay, this is safe part, relax. Okay, this is scary part, get scared.” The structure works against the film. Besides, with so much of the movie at night, half the time we are watching the characters sleep in bed. And why is it that the demon only attacked at night? I think it’s so the filmmakers could more easily hide their shitty special effects. That’s why all Hollywood monsters only operate at nighttime. On the other hand, if they operated in the day, we’d be subjected to more horrible CGI creatures which look like the swirling turdbowls of Jackson Pollock’s nightmares, and no one wants to see that.

Paranormal Activity is another movie that got rave reviews from the critics. And at various times I found myself enjoying it. However, on further reflection, I’ve come to realize that Paranormal Activity isn’t good at all. It’s still an average piece of crap. It strictly adheres to all genre tropes and does nothing that hasn’t been seen before. So why did I find myself liking it during my viewing? It’s because at first glance it is way better than most other Hollywood horror movies. It had a low budget, so the filmmakers weren’t able to use a bunch of CGI monsters, which everyone accepts without question these days. Working around that, the filmmakers relied on an invisible monster and parlor tricks, and hoped that tension and silence would build fear leading up to genuine “scares.”

Unfortunately, Paranormal Activity doesn’t have any “scares.” There were a couple of surprises, but it is never scary. In fact, it is only “good” in the sense that it does things that all horror movies had to do back in the days before slasher films, before mega budgets, and before CGI. It’s almost like going back to the roots of old Hollywood horror. It’s refreshing it didn’t rely on shitty CGI monsters, but watching an invisible monster turn light switches on and off is hardly terrifying. I can’t believe there’s two more of these movies. Oh wait, there are seven Saws, twelve Friday the 13ths, eight Nightmare on Elm Streets, and six Leprechauns. Of course there are three Paranormal Activities. I should expect no less than six more. The tagline for this movie was “Don’t See It Alone!” but I say “Don’t See It At All!”

Drag Me to Hell hews closer to traditional Hollywood garbage. It uses famous actors, high production values, copious CGI, and paper-thin plotting. Nevertheless, this actually turned out to be a pretty good movie. It came from director Sam Raimi, who became famous for the horror/comedy Evil Dead films. And the Evil Dead films are fucking awesome. When I was a little kid I watched the original Evil Dead. I watched it alone, late at night, by myself. It scared the shit out of me. I think it gave me nightmares for a week. And not the kind of nightmares you get from watching a Kardashians reality show. Even so, I pressed on and watched the next two films in the series. The first one is heavy on horror, the middle has a nice balance of horror and comedy, and the last is mostly comedy. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but the progression worked nicely. That film series is a blast. Ash, the central character, is hilarious, and his super macho one-liners can be quoted again and again. Anyway, Raimi was able to bring some of his Evil Dead charm to Drag Me to Hell, and made it much more palatable than the average horror film.

Drag Me to Hell poster.

Drag Me to Hell breaks horror conventions by straddling two sub-genres, Haunted House and Exorcism Film. The protagonist, Christie, is possessed/haunted by a monster and she tries to exorcise it, but the “scares” she experiences are the type found in the Hounted House sub-genre. Christie works for a bank and denies some old Gypsy bitch a third extension on her mortgage in order to get a promotion. The Gypsy curses her to be tormented by a demon for three days and then be “dragged to Hell” by it. Personally, I think the old Gypsy was a greedy whore. Of course her mortgage extension was denied. She already got two others. Does she think that banks are charities or something? And getting denied is not cause to curse the woman working at the loan desk. If you are going to put a curse on anyone, put it on those fat fuckos in Washington D.C. and Wall Street, they’re the ones responsible for this goddamn financial mess. But I digress… The movie features Christie as she is tormented by the demon, and her various attempts at trying to rid herself of it. It culminates in a surprisingly cool ending, which I did not see coming.

I think the reason why Drag Me to Hell works well is that it realizes the horror genre is completely ridiculous. No other genre takes itself more seriously. You have to take yourself seriously when your subject matter consists almost solely of naked teens getting decapitated by deformed undead kids who wear hockey masks. Drag Me to Hell definitely shows us some scary things, but in a lot of those sequences it will go further than you expect. It will go so far that the scare becomes humorous, which eventually becomes funny enough to have you laughing out loud. My favorite example is a scene in which Christie gets a nosebleed, which becomes a trickle, then a stream, then a gusher, and finally sprays across the room into her boss’s face. In fact, there is a lot of gross-out stuff including people coughing up bugs, corpses vomiting formaldehyde, ghosts vomiting up bugs, people vomiting up cats, and so on. In all honesty, the campy nature really adds to the movie’s appeal. It’s not overdone so much that it takes you out of the movie. It’s scary enough to be a horror movie, but then has a little bonus to remind you how ridiculous the genre as a whole can be. Overall, Raimi did an excellent job with this movie, and is probably one of the very few horror films that is able to be a success while not strictly adhering to the rules.

Horror is a tough genre in which to be successful. A film has to follow the rules enough to be accepted into the genre, but following them too closely will end up making a piece of crap nobody likes. A big-time glossy production like Drag Me to Hell can still rise above the typical genre entries if it utilizes one thing: a solid script. Yes that right, even in horror, a good script will get you everywhere. When will Hollywood ever learn this lesson? Apparently never. Using tricks like “found footage” is nothing more than a gimmick. Sure, Paranormal Activity ended up being OK, but not from any semblance of originality. Trying to make a “fake indie” horror movie is meaningless. It’s still a horror movie. Nothing is enhanced by sloppily filming it with hand-held cameras. I know they were going for an “authentic” amateur style, but the only amateur videos I’m interested in is amateur porn. Of course, even though I hate “found footage” movies, I would rather watch a thousand of them than a single movie made by M. Night Shyamalan.

Verdicts:

The Blair Witch Project – Shitty

Paranormal Activity – Average

Drag Me to Hell – Good

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14 Responses to “Paranormal Activity Dragged Me to Hell with The Blair Witch”


  1. October 22, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Funny as always Brik. Insightful as well. You definitely do find the achilles heel in those sub genres, and slice it up really well.

    As a fan of the Blair Witch AND Paranormal Activity, I would debate your points… probably specifically the ones that assert that I’m an idiot for liking them… but I realize, what’s the point? 😀 Your logic is infallible and iron clad!

    Once again, dumb movies had best not get in your way!

    I recommend “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” its a low budget satire piece that sends up slasher movies by pointing out eveything that you did. I’m a big fan of the sub genre, and it had me laughing pretty good!

  2. October 23, 2011 at 10:36 am

    Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll have to check out that movie.

  3. October 25, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Great genre breakdown! Thank you for sharing!

  4. 4 Tarnsman
    November 3, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    The reason ‘found footage’ shit looks so crappy is because the Blair Witch Project really was a low-budget piece of crap. All they had was a crappy camera and some monopoly money to make a movie. Unfortunately, it became a hit and Hollywood needless continued the trend despite having the means to make films where I don’t have to look through what appears to be the camera man’s anus for the entire film.

    On a side-note: Now I have to see Drag Me to Hell.

  5. 5 Rosemary's Baby
    July 21, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Paranormal Activity is one of three pictures that actually scared me. The other two are The Haunting (not the one with Liam Neeson), and Grown Ups.

    • July 22, 2013 at 7:05 am

      I haven’t seen the 1963 Haunting movie. I saw the Liam Neeson version which was pretty bad. Grown Ups looked too scary for me, so I stayed away.

  6. 7 Edicimoh
    July 21, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    So, I watched The Shining again tonight. I didn’t get as bored as I had previously. But a few things about the movie still pissed me off: One, Jack Nicholson’s eyebrows. For the first half-hour, at minimum, they’re constantly bouncing up and down and slithering hither and thither like weasels on PCP (I get it–his character’s nuts). Jim Carrey’s forehead pubes are sedate by comparison.

    Two, the goddamn soundtrack, which elbows its way in at the most inopportune times. Jack Torrance is trying to tell his kid he’ll never hurt him, but I have to turn the cocking subtitles on because of the stentorian, screeching score. Only High Noon and The House of Sand and Fog have music as obnoxious. Three, the dissolves. Nearly every transition from one scene to the next is a drawn-out ass-rape of a dissolve.
    Four, similarly, for the bulk of the picture, every other shot is a perfectly centered one down a brightly lit corridor. Variety is the spice of life, Kubrick, you fucking dead douche.

    Five, even though I managed not to fall asleep, the first two-thirds of the movie really ought to have been sped up and cut down dramatically. Just because Stephen King doesn’t edit himself, or have an editor with any balls, doesn’t mean that the picture needed to be as overlong and languid as the book. The scene in the men’s room with the waiter, for instance, could’ve been shaved by at least a couple of minutes. Especially since it involved no cocksucking, or even foot-tapping.

    I was mightily impressed by Danny Lloyd’s performance, though. I guess all children aren’t talentless assholes. Also, Scatman Crothers rules, and it was nice to see Tony Burton, too. That dude really ought’ve been a huge star.

    Oh, and the last 45 minutes of the movie are damn-near perfect. Thanks in no small measure to Shelley Duvall.

    • July 22, 2013 at 7:09 am

      All the complaints you make about The Shining are definitely valid. Well, maybe not the eyebrows one. 😉 I understand how the perfectly centered and framed shots could be annoying. For this movie, most shots were very symmetrical, with near-identical objects on either side of the object in the focus of the shot. I think it made for an interesting style. But yeah, it could look bland at times, I suppose. I’ve read the King book, it’s before he got too wordy, and it has virtually nothing in common with the movie except for the bare-bones premise. The last 45 minutes are amazing. Shelley Duvall really sold the movie. Apparently, Kubrick instructed everyone on set to be mean to her, in order to alienate her, so her emotional pain would be more real. LOL, Kubrick.

      • 9 Rethgualsnam
        July 22, 2013 at 11:21 pm

        Thanks for validating my beeves with The Shining. It’s nice to be reminded that not every fan of a movie necessarily considers it beyond criticism. I mean, I love T2 to death, but if you were to say that, given all the amazing set pieces that preceded it, the final brawl in the foundry is a bit of a letdown, I’d have to agree with you. Also, as much as I adore Jaws, Marty McFly was right–the shark looks fake as shit.

        I don’t know–I think King’s been a verbose wanker from the get-go. ‘Salem’s Lot, for instance, could have been a 20-page short story for all that actually happens in the goddamn monstrosity. All the remaining 636 pages do is (a) recount really long backstories for oodles of townspeople who drink shitty beer, none of which ends up being remotely relevant, since all of those characters go on to do nothing but die summarily; and (b) blather on ad absurdum about how bad vampires smell. It’s like reading a phone book with encyclopedic entries for each citizen, with tons of ads for Budweiser and Summer’s Eve scattered throughout.

        That said, when King is on, he rules. Apt Pupil, The Breathing Method, and The Jaunt, for example, are some of the best stories I’ve ever read.

        Wow, Kubrick really was a douche. I mean, Duvall was great, but at what cost? I guess I should be thankful that he didn’t trip any horses.


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