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Can 'Paranormal Activity' be the new 'Saw'?

November 18, 2010 |  7:15 am

Paran
For a sequel that could easily have played like a cynical cash-in, "Paranormal Activity 2" drew millions of filmgoers and garnered some pretty solid reviews to boot. That challenge hurdled, Paramount has now set out to tackle the next one: turning the supernatural adventures of Katie et al. into an annual event.

The studio disclosed Wednesday that it was beginning work on "Paranormal Activity 3" for next year, with the idea to release the movie the week before Halloween, just as it did the second film. But can the "Paranormal" franchise be as durable as the "Saw" franchise created by Wan, Bousman and & Co.? [Warning, some spoilers below.]

There are some factors working against it. Bloodfests about a tortured man who becomes a torturer, as the "Saw" films are, have a history of becoming long-running franchises ("Friday the 13th" and "Nightmare on Elm Street," for instance). Movies about demonic possessions tend to be one-offs ("The Exorcist" or "The Omen," say).

And "Paranormal" is a lot more about the unseen than the explicit, which usually makes for better reviews (and maybe movies) but a trickier marketing campaign, since the trailer has to sell more on story than on image. (It's also an issue because "Saw" upped the level of explicitness to continue reeling in filmgoers, and to do that with "Paranormal" is to take away the creepy off-camera vibe that's made the movies distinct in the first place.)

But the "Saw"-"Paranormal" comparison is starting to seem a lot more plausible than it did even a month ago.

For one thing,  both franchises create a central mystery that can be teased out over multiple installments, "Lost"-style. (In "Saw's" case, the identity of Jigsaw and how he got to be that way; in the instance of "Paranormal," it's the demonic force pursuing the movies' victims.)

"Saw" also developed trademarks that were easy to sell even as characters and plot lines multiplied, such as someone (John Kramer) whom we come to hate even as we understand how he became that way. "Paranormal" has that with Katie, who after the end of "Paranormal Activity 2" is clearly set up as the normal-person-turned-havoc-wreaking-villain.

"Paranormal's" haunted-house franchise still has a way to go to create the mythology that "Saw" has managed in its seven years and becoming the kind of horror comfort food that is sold as much on familiarity as expectation.

And reliably putting together a new movie year in and year out isn't easy (something "Paranormal" learned this year with a frenzied, last-minute production schedule that resembled a college sophomore the night before a biology final). The machine creating it doesn't seem quite as developed yet, either. Outside studio Lionsgate, "Saw" had a number of key members of the so-called Splat Pack, while "Paranormal" at the moment has a smaller group (producers Jason Blum and Steven Schneider and original creator Oren Peli, now a producer).

But more people have turned out to see the first two "Paranormal" films than came out for "Saw," at least 25% more. And with "Saw" flagging, there's a Halloween slot begging for something new -- or maybe even, to use a "Paranormal" verb, demanding it.

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: 'Paranormal Activity 2.' Credit: Paramount Pictures

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