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'Paranormal Activity': Do midnight sell-outs suggest it's the next 'Blair Witch'?

October 1, 2009 |  4:51 pm

Producer Jason Blum spent nearly two years bringing the ultra-low-budget thriller "Paranormal Activity" to theaters. "It finally feels," he says, "like we're entering the third act."

When Blum saw long lines snaking around the ArcLight Hollywood last weekend for midnight showings of writer-director Oren Peli's $15,000 tale of things that go bump in the night, he choked up. Had he visited the box offices selling tickets for this coming weekend's late-night showings, Blum might start bawling like a baby.

Paranormal After taking the movie to a dozen college towns for a series of midnight-only screenings last week, Paramount Pictures is cautiously expanding the film's release, adding another 21 cities. The film will be shown in midnight-only screenings on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, and theater owners say few seats are left for many showings. The ArcLight (which has other late-night screenings besides midnight) already has sold out many of this weekend's shows.

"The sales are incredible," says Maurice Peel, a manager at Santa Cruz's Nickelodeon & Del Mar Theatres. "We are looking to sell out every show this weekend."

"People are coming from Pittsburgh, Indianapolis -- four or five hours away," says Eric Brembeck, the owner of the Studio 35 Cinema & Drafthouse in Columbus, Ohio. The demand for "Paranormal Activity" is so strong, Brembeck says, that he's thinking of finally getting an online ticketing service for his 300-seat auditorium.

"I haven't seen anything like this for a long time," says Michael Stockhaus, a senior manager at the AMC Loews Universal Cineplex 20 in Orlando. "The level of excitement -- I can't compare it to anything. You just didn't see it coming."

It's far too early to tell if "Paranormal Activity" can approach the success of the almost as inexpensive  "Blair Witch Project," which grossed more than $140 million in 1999. But the early indications for "Paranormal Activity" -- lots of Tweets, Yahoo searches and online demands to bring the film to cities around the country -- are encouraging. What's more, the movie is selling out with hardly any paid advertising.

On Oct. 9, Paramount will bring "Paranormal Activity" to a total of 40 markets, with showings at all hours. It will be over that weekend, most likely, when the industry will know if the film is a true phenomenon or a flash in the pan. "It's not like we're opening Champagne yet," Blum says. "But we just continue to get positive responses: 'It's the scariest movie I've ever seen.' "

-- John Horn

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