Midnight screenings have long been a popular attraction at the Del Mar Theatre—especially for night owl, indie-flick enthusiasts, who, like vampires, loathe sunlight almost as much as big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. Indeed, late-night showings of movies, such as “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Fight Club,” draw a different kind of clientele than one would expect to find at a multiplex matinee.
And it was precisely this group of witching-hour movie watchers that Paramount Pictures was targeting when it chose the Del Mar as one of only 12 theaters across the country to hold a series of limited midnight screenings for “Paranormal Activity,” a low-budget horror film that is quickly turning into a cult phenomenon and drawing comparisons to 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project.”
Maurice Peel, a manager for The Nickelodeon Theatre, says he thinks such comparisons are well deserved, owing to the film’s miniscule production cost (about $10,000) and its found-videotape style. However, Peel adds, “Paranormal Activity” is “much more effective” than “Blair Witch.”
Unlike “Blair Witch,” a movie that relied on shaky, handheld shots, he says, “Paranormal Activity,” consists of mostly still “unnerving” shots, as main character Micha works with his wife, Katie, to document the haunting of their San Diego home.
“This movie delivers so much with so little,” Peel says. “It really works wonders on an audience. They get hypnotized with what’s going on onscreen. When I was watching it, I was afraid to blink because I was afraid I would miss something.”
Oren Peli, a video game designer with no background in filmmaking, shot the movie over the course of a week in 2006. For the next two years the Israeli-born Peli shopped “Paranormal Activity” around until it finally made its way onto Steven Spielberg’s desk.
According to a Los Angeles Times article, published Sept. 20, after Spielberg watched the film, “the door to his empty bedroom inexplicably locked from the inside.” This, the article continues, prompted the renowned director and producer to get the DVD out of his house. He brought it to DreamWorks in a garbage bag.
Whether Spielberg actually thought the movie carried supernatural powers, he and his studio nonetheless believed in Peli’s film. Over the course of 2008, DreamWorks and its parent company Paramount Pictures debated remaking the film with a larger budget. Ultimately, Paramount Pictures decided to give Peli’s original film a limited release after preliminary screenings garnered positive feedback.
Peel says his audiences have mostly echoed the sentiment observed by Paramount.
“So far the audience demand has been so off the charts that we’ve had to step up to the plate to handle that,” Peel says, adding that people have come from as far away as Sacramento to see the movie. Starting Friday, the Del Mar will be showing “Paranormal Activity” on a regular daytime schedule.
“It works,” Peel says of “Paranormal Activity,” noting that he is a very jaded movie watcher and would not rave about a film he didn’t believe in. “It’s not gruesome. It’s unsettling. It’s an intriguing piece of filmmaking. I think people are going to feel like they missed out if they don’t see it.” See film trailer >
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