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Video: Watch the 'Paranormal Activity 3' trailer

Image: Paranormal Activity 3
Paramount Pictures
Young Katie and Kristi, the 1980s versions of the characters from the other two "Paranormal Activity" movies, are the focus in the third film.
Hollywood Reporter
updated 10/20/2011 11:55:46 AM ET 2011-10-20T15:55:46

Horror movie franchises are the cinematic equivalent of fast food restaurants — the audience feels comfortable because it knows exactly what it’s going to get. Such is the case with the third installment of Paramount’s low-budget cash cow series. Although not exactly breaking any new ground with its by now all too familiar found-footage format, "Paranormal Activity 3" hews to the formula in expertly crafted fashion, mustering up the requisite scares and then some. With no "Saw" sequel to provide competition this year, this should be the trick-or-treaters’ movie choice in October.

Newcomer directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who have some experience with faux documentaries ("Catfish"), have collaborated with returning screenwriter Christopher Landon to effectively reprise the series’ trademark elements. But this edition — a prequel that concerns the younger versions of the adult sisters from the first two — is tighter and scarier than the previous installment. It also features ample doses of humor that both provides a pressure valve for the tension and brings a welcome self-conscious mockery to the proceedings.

After a preamble featuring Katie Featherston and Sprague Grayden briefly reprising their roles as the ill-fated siblings Katie and Kristie, the story goes back to 1988, when their childhood selves (Chloe Csengery, Jessica Brown) are living in a well-appointed suburban California home with mom Julie (Laurie Bittner) and her boyfriend Dennis (Chris Smith).

PHOTOS: Iconic Horror Movies

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Things inevitably start to go bump in the night, and since Dennis is a wedding videographer he’s well equipped to blanket the house with the video cameras that will provide the sort of spooky footage that always seems to somehow wind up as feature films in our multiplexes.

Among the creepier elements that the filmmakers have devised are Kristie’s interactions with an imaginary, ill-tempered playmate named Toby and a game of “Bloody Mary” (hinted at in the film’s trailer with a scene that isn’t in the feature) that goes seriously awry.

Why ghosts get spooked by HD cameras

But the most ingenious idea is also wonderfully simple. In addition to the stationary and hand-held cameras previously employed, there is a jerry-rigged camera on a slowly swiveling oscillating fan that provides some of the scariest moments. In such sequences as one involving a babysitter who probably won’t be returning to work for this family anytime soon, the audience is forced to wait breathlessly as the camera pans back and forth, back and forth, slowly revealing the horrific goings-on.

Although there’s an undeniably repetitive aspect to the films, audiences probably won’t mind very much. And certainly this series, despite the fact that it thankfully doesn’t need to use gimmicky 3-D, fairly demands to be seen on the big screen. Resembling cinematic versions of “Where’s Waldo,” the films demand intense concentration as the audience peers at the frame trying to spot the element that doesn’t belong.

As usual, the climax, in which the family makes the mistake of retreating to the sweet grandmother’s (Hallie Foote) house, replaces the air of mystery with an all too explicit explication for what’s been going on. But it does effectively fulfill its requirement of setting things up for the inevitable next installment. One doesn’t need a Ouija board to discern that it will probably arrive sometime around next Halloween.

What do you think of the "Paranormal Activity" series? Scary or stupid? Tell us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 The Hollywood Reporter

Photos: 10 horror-movie icons

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  1. Braaaaains!

    George A. Romero resurrected the zombie character with 1968's "Night of the Living Dead" and kept them alive for numerous sequels, including the film seen here, 2004's "Dawn of the Dead." Nicknamed "Grandfather of the Zombie," Romero created or popularized many of the characteristics moviegoers regularly associate with the undead, including brain-eating, shambling walks, and deteriorating flesh. The zombie in front seems to only be zombified to his navel. Whoops.

    Trivia: Blood in the original "Night of the Living Dead" was Bosco chocolate syrup. (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Don't mess with 'Texas'

    Human skin-mask wearing Leatherface of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is the boss of a cannibal family in Tobe Hooper's 1974 film. His chainsaw would later be picked up as the weapon of choice in numerous slasher flicks to come.

    Trivia: Leatherface was partially based on real Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein, who also wore the skin of his victims. (New Line Cinema) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. We're gonna need a bigger boat

    Steven Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster film, "Jaws," scared many Americans out of ocean waters for quite some time. It sparked the trend of releasing big-budget blockbusters during the summer season, and "The Omen" and "Star Wars" both followed suit.

    Trivia: The mechanical shark was named Bruce, supposedly after Spielberg's lawyer. (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Trick or treat

    In 1978's "Halloween," Michael Myers murdered his sister and was committed to an insane asylum. Years later, a now-grown Michael broke out and started a new killing spree, and launched a new genre of slasher film.

    Trivia: Michael's mask is the face of William Shatner, as the costume department found a Captain Kirk mask, decided it had the blank look they wanted, and painted it white. (Dimension Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Ch-ch-ch ...

    Jason Voorhees and his famed hockey mask played off the success of "Halloween" to help start the slasher genre with 1980's "Friday the 13th." In the first film, Jason was the young son of the camp cook, and when counselors let him drown because they're having sex, his mother takes revenge. Sequel after sequel follows, and Jason, who was not supposed to be the series' main villain, gained weird supernatural and mystical powers to become the unstoppable killing machine of the movies.

    Trivia: The character was originally called "Josh," but writer Victor Miller thought that name sounded too nice. (New Line Cinema) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. One, two, Freddy's coming for you

    Freddy Krueger of 1984's "Nightmare on Elm Street" and its many sequels, was a child murderer who was burned alive by angry parents. He now haunts teenagers in their dreams.

    Trivia: Creator Wes Craven reportedly was inspired to create Freddy's famed bladed glove in part by watching his cat scratch his furniture. (New Line Cinema) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Needles and pins

    Creepy Pinhead was introduced in 1987's "Hellraiser." He's a Cenobite, an extradimensional being created by author Clive Barker.

    Trivia: "Pinhead" wasn't really his name, it was just how he was described -- the other Cenobites have various other piercings and markings, not pins. (Dimension Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. My name's Chucky, wanna play?

    No doubt, some dolls are creepy. But the creepiest of all is Chucky, shown here in 2004's "Seed of Chucky." In the original film, released in 1988, a murderer dies in a toy store and sends his evil soul into the nearest doll.

    Trivia: Chucky's full name, Charles Lee Ray, comes from murderers Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald, and James Earl Ray. (Rogue Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. I ain't got time to bleed

    An elite army team on a mission in Central America stumbles across the "Predator," an alien who lives in the jungles and skins humans. The film spawned two sequels plus two crossovers with the equally popular "Alien" franchise.

    Trivia: Two future governors, California's Arnold Schwarzenegger and Minnesota's Jesse Ventura, starred in the 1987 original film. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. See 'Saw'?

    The creepy Jigsaw Killer was introduced in 2004's "Saw," in which he kidnaps people and forces them to perform cruel tests to try and save their own lives. (Usually, they don't survive.) The "Saw" franchise took off, and now a new movie comes out right around Halloween every year.

    Trivia: In the first film, all the victims who die are men -- unusual in horror flicks. (Lionsgate) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Universal Pictures
    Above: Slideshow (10) 10 horror-movie icons
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