Did I just watch Paranormal Activity 3…or Poltergeist 4???


Okay. So I made it through the third film in the Paranormal Activity franchise last night, and I have to say, it is by far the best of the three…until the end…

Let’s start with the good. The film scared the bejesus out of me. I was sitting there in the dark with a great big case of stomach flops. The newest introduction into the camera-POV series is the most effective visual device yet: the oscillating camera. The main dude in this film sets a camera up on the base of an old oscillating fan, and it slowly swings back and forth, moving from a shot of the kitchen to a shot of the dining room, with a big bulky wall in between. Each time the camera shifts, you brace yourself for what might be waiting in the other room.

The Oscar for best performance in this installment goes to the friend of the main dude. There’s a scene in the bathroom in which you barely see the guy’s face (since he’s holding the camera), but you can HERE the terror in his voice and see it in his trembling movements. This is one of the “Bloody Mary” moments, and it’s possibly my favorite scene in the film. However, if you’re looking for the Bloody Mary scene that was shown in the film’s trailer with the two little sisters in the bathroom, you won’t find it. It’s not used in the movie (there’s an alternate version) and it isn’t even in the “lost footage” in the extras on the Blu-ray.

The on-camera effects in this one are pumped up, so there’s definitely a bigger budget (and probably more computer enhanced moments?). The film also relies on a load of cheap scares, with characters jumping out in front of the camera as a prank. While a really lame way to get jumps, it worked like you wouldn’t believe. I so wanted to get these people back by hiding in a closet and waiting for them…but unfortunately, this wasn’t the 80s in the house I grew up in with my brothers.

Actually, correction. It IS the 80s. The movie takes place in 1988. Sadly, there isn’t an 80s song to be heard or an 80s fashion in sight (maybe the mom’s hair if you imagine a metal head chick who forgot to use her hairspray). But there are VHS tapes! The lead guy, her boyfriend, works in the wedding video business, and back then we were using VHS tapes. The other interesting thing to note about it being 1988 is that this is the year in which little Carol Anne was living in a high rise apartment with her Aunt Nancy Allen and Uncle Tom Skerritt. Yep, it’s the year Poltergeist III was released. Coincidence? I don’t know…

Paranormal Activity 3 is loaded with references to the original Poltergeist. Most of the haunting takes place in the bedroom of two little children (both girls in this case). The younger girl is the one communicating with the ghost. There’s a demon closet that likes to drag blankets, beds, and little girls into it. The ghost likes to fuck with the furniture in the kitchen. There’s an homage to the snowy television (snowmage?). And there’s a bedroom pot smoking scene in which the parents are conscious about hiding their fun from the children. Oh, and in this scene, while the mother is puffing up, she is wearing a long men’s shirt and just her undies. Remember JoBeth Williams’ wardrobe in Poltergeist???

This installment gets bonus points for paying tribute to one of the best haunted house movies of all time, and there is a babysitter segment that could possibly be a tribute to The Amityville Horror as well. But Paranormal Activity III also gets points for REALLY fucking with your head. The feeling of dread you get as you try to absorb what’s happening in every corner of every room is just awful (in a good way). I mean, seriously, there’s a part with the oscillating camera that you REALLY need to watch closely. I was sitting there agonizing over this camera moving slowly back and forth, when all of a sudden I was like “did I just see what I think I saw in the dining room section?” only to find out when the camera gets back to the kitchen that I really wasn’t imagining things. I don’t think this scene can be nearly as effective if you don’t notice the approaching horror….

Of course, like all these found footage films, the movie also has issues, most obviously the big one: PUT DOWN THE FUCKING CAMERA!!! Sorry. I’ll never get past this. The amount of offending moments in this film are ridiculous. The guy even films himself watching the footage he already shot!!! WTF? I know the filmmakers need us to see these moments for a reason, but they make NO SENSE. He calls his woman in to tell her the bad news that there is some seriously horrifying and most likely life-threatening ghost attacks on his footage and that her kids are at risk—and he’s FILMING her while he does it. They flee the house and go to her mother’s house—and he sets up cameras there! His woman gets FLUNG down a flight of steps right at him—and he STILL grabs the camera and continues to film. He’s being chased by—well, I won’t spoil it—hiding in a closet so he won’t be found, yet he has the camera light on to FILM himself in the closet. RIDICULOUS. Not to mention, there’s a part where he actually captures his soon-to-be mother-in-law trashing him on camera, and yet it’s never addressed! That’s the scariest footage of all for a man on the verge of taking a bride!!!

And finally, there’s the end of the film. Paranormal Activity appears to be going in the direction of the Saw series in more ways than just releasing a new film every Halloween. The interconnected storylines are also getting increasingly more convoluted, jumping all over the place as far as a timeline. In part 3, we are left with a total cliffhanger that insists on a sequel for an explanation and also takes us into a whole new realm of plot complications. It looks like it’s heading the direction of how the Halloween series tried to make Michael Myers so much more than the simple evil-born killer that he was in the first film. So essentially, just as the Paranormal Activity series might be hitting its stride in terms of fear factor, the storyline is falling apart. We’ll wait and see, but I’m thinking part 4 may really begin to suck the life out of this ghost story.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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