The Good, the (not so) Bad, and the Ugly: Paranormal Activity

Love them or hate them, horror franchises have done a lot to make horror what it is today. Some of the most iconic villains have come from franchises such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play and Halloween. For most horror series, it is universally accepted that the first in the series is amazing; why would they makes sequels if it wasn’t, right? Some of these sequels are the comfort food of horror movies; you have them on in the background every time you fold your laundry. Others are, shall we say, less than stellar. In an effort to help newcomers to some of these franchises know what they’re getting into, I will binge and rate. It has nothing to do with the fact that I have been itching for an excuse to feel productive while watching A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors for the millionth time. Honest!

I begin this ranking adventure with Paranormal Activity.

The Good: Awesome, essential viewing. These are the ones that make you want to see any and all entries in the series.

Paranormal Activity (2009): The original found-footage demonic presence story sees couple Katie and Micah encountering a spirit in their home. Katie explains that she has felt this presence her whole life, moving with her wherever she goes. While Micah quite possibly gets a nod for biggest dumbass in a horror movie EVER, this first installment is an instant classic. The effects are minimalistic and effective, using sounds like footsteps, creaking doors and banging extremely successfully. The viewer’s level of discomfort mounts as tension between the couple builds during the day and the intensity of the demon’s presence mounts at night. Definitely essential viewing.

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010): This one has received mixed reviews from what I’ve read, but I LOVE it. What I loved when I first saw it was that early on in the movie they reveal that what you are watching is actually a prequel, not a sequel. This shift in tone throws you for a loop right off the bat. The back story is very clever, and goes a long way to explaining what happened to Katie and Micah in the first one. Again, minimalist effects, but this one involves a family with a new baby, so add freaky toy related noises and babies staring at “nothing” and you get a pretty darn creepy movie.

The (Not So) Bad: Your go-to fun horror movie. While not as effective as the original, fun to watch, and may contain a fair amount of awesome cheese. While there may be some issues with logic or execution, it maintains the spirit of the original.

Paranormal Activity 4 (2010): Ah, the solid Sunday morning horror movie. Love it. This one stars Supernatural‘s own little Claire Novak, Kathryn Newton. The premise of this one is a lot of fun, and it does tie into the other ones in that you wonder how this family is connected to Katie and Kristi’s family, but that’s where it lost me. It just didn’t make sense in terms of the big picture storyline (if she already had the kid and wanted/needed the kid why did she even put the kid up for adoption?????!!!!). However, this one makes good use of the creepy children factor, and the interactions between the characters felt genuine. There were also some cool effects involving X-Box Kinect tracking dots. Overall, fun to re-watch and while not a necessary installment, one that uses the elements that made the first two so fun and scary.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014): This one is the fifth installment in the series, and I have to give it some props. First of all, I’m surprised that it hasn’t gotten mentions for being a horror movie with a non-white cast. On top of that, this one tried to start a new and fresh idea: maybe this demon isn’t sticking around waiting to snatch a particular first born male baby as part of a barter…perhaps it’s doing something a little more insidious. The problem is the ending. Time travel and dimension shifting is a pretty loaded implication to drop on an audience in the last five minutes. Execution aside, this one had a great storyline, but really in the end just wasn’t all that scary.

The Ugly: Enough said. Leaves you wondering why (WHY???!!!!!), and has the power to make you question any investment of time you have put into the franchise to date.

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011): Ugh. This one hurt. When I saw the trailer, I was PUMPED! Seeing all of the things from the backstory mentioned in the previous movies was a very exciting idea. The house fire! An insane séance! The unspoken promise of seeing their mom go bonkers! I was THERE. Then, unfortunately, I saw the movie. The movie, bizarrely, is missing a huge chunk of what was in the trailer. You know, the good stuff? I was so disappointed. It felt like a really big missed opportunity to reward the fans. This one is 100% skippable. There is zero information in it that you won’t figure out from watching the previous two. Then, as a genesis story, it frustratingly leaves you with more questions than answers. For example, they have a stepdad who had never been mentioned before, and the nature of the series leaves you wondering what happened to their biological father, who has also never been mentioned. There are some fun retro moments, such as their stepdad mounting a GIANT video camera on to an oscillating fan, which also creates a couple of dread inducing scenes as the camera pans SSLLLLOOOOOWWWWWLLLLLYYYY back and forth. Unfortunately, those few moments are nowhere near enough to save this one. Not even close.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015): Okay, I remember reading somewhere that the Paranormal Activity producers do have an endgame in mind. I hope that’s true, because this sixth entry sucked out loud. First of all, there are two people staying with the couple in question that serve absolutely no purpose to the story. The vagabond brother with the horrendous moustache is fairly entertaining, but doesn’t really need to be there. On top of that, they’ve stuck with the time travel/dimensional shift theory that they started in The Marked Ones, but have done absolutely nothing to explain why it is necessary at all, other than to give fans a brief satisfying moment when they recognize sets from previous films. Is it to explain where these people disappear to for years at a time? Also, no one has done ANYTHING to explain if Katie and Kristi had recollection of any of these things that happened or not. On top of that, why is this demon suddenly jonesing for this “special” little girl? Why is she even special? Last we heard, he was after a specific little boy, and building a demon army out of marked first born boys when they turn eighteen. There are just too many holes in this for people who have seen all of the installments. Who knows…if a Paranormal Activity 7 comes along and makes sense of any of this, my rating might change. Until then, it’s a solid NO.

Hope you enjoyed! Feel free to comment with suggestions of any horror franchises you would like to see ranked here!

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